Met my old Boston friend Dawn for dinner tonight. We used to work together oh, 17 years ago, back when I was young and recently divorced and nobody had internet. Except for our company and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was one of our company's clients (we were helping them through their identity crisis now that there was no more Cold War).
Dawn works in marketing for a software manufacturer, so she travels a lot doing trade shows. She's in town doing one this week, so we got together. Now, the one thing about Chicago is that if you need a convention center, you either have McCormick Place in Chicago (and the attendant union madness), or you go to Rosemont, which is the area around O'Hare International Airport, a small city comprised of convention centers, large music venues, and lots of hotels. She was in Rosemont. It's a bit of a hike, as are a lot of things in this sprawling metropolitan area, but I really wanted to see her. I made the trip in under an hour, which is pretty good, considering; traffic is usually pretty bad.
There's not a lot out that way, and I don't know the area well. Dawn needed to get some containers in which to ship back some materials, so with help from the super-nice front-desk clerk we got directions to a local Target. As luck would have it, the Target was in a shopping area where there were restaurants. Dawn burst out laughing at the Steak and Shake sign.
"Yes, that pretty much sums up the gastronomic desires of this part of the country," I said.
We settled for Chili's, where there were actually two things on the menu I could eat, including -- shocker! -- a black bean burger.
What's this? I asked, picking up a tabletop device that looked like a large GPS.
"It looks like you can order from here," Dawn said.
Our waiter, Frank, a nice young man (did I actually use that phrase? Cripes, Im getting old) came over, took our order, and demonstrated the device.
"You can order your meal, entree and desert, pay right here, and a receipt will print out," he said. Or, there are games you can play, or you can see movie previews...
Dawn and I looked at each other, and I could tell we were thinking the same thing. We laughed and pointed at each other.
"Or we could talk to each other," we said.
"You have a TV in each corner of this place," I laughed, "and I need this on my table?"
Dawn picked it up and put it on the divider above us. "I think this can sit here."
"Besides, Frank," I said, "what about your job?"
"Well, I won't have one soon, if this catches on," he joked.
So after a lovely meal and catching up and having a great time (I have to say, not many people here make me laugh the way my friends back East do. There is a cleverness, a quickness that I miss so much), I dropped her off and faced the challenge of getting home.
See, the area around O'Hare is all service roads and concrete, and I get lost so easily. And it was night. Add to this that when I backtracked the way I'd come, I was STILL heading toward O'Hare and not towards Chicago. I knew if I just drove through I'd eventually see signs (I learned this the hard way on another trip; no matter how many times I drive to O'Hare, I find myself in the most improbable dead ends, or on exit roads leading to Rockford or Indiana).
I drove. And drove. And suddenly found myself in front of about six lanes with gates and lights and signs telling me I was entering a huge city-unto-itself parking area.
No. No, no, no.
I couldn't turn around, so I went in, took a ticket, drove to the exit, explained the situation, was let through, and finally saw signs for Chicago.
So here I am, past midnight, tired but happy and wishing more and more that I could get back East. I know that when the time is right it will happen. Life is always an adventure.