To visit my brother in the 3rd largest metro area in the US, we camped at Woodland Lake Village in Portage, Indiana. This was our first stay in a straight-up mobile home park. It was 45 minutes away from Chicago without traffic, but it was the closest campground we could find. But despite the rough appearance, everyone we interacted with at the place was super nice, and the nights were quiet except for the train tracks so close that our trailer shook as trains passed, and occasional fireworks, which I suppose were being set off by people who love America so much that they couldn’t even wait until July 4th to celebrate its birthday.
As we pulled into the check-in area of Woodland Lake Village, Brad and I got out of the truck and switched places. Although we try to split the driving responsibilities between the two of us, Brad still does more of the forward driving, and I do more of the backward. An employee named Don was assigned to escort us to our site and back us in. As I put the truck in reverse, and Brad positioned himself in the site with a walkie talkie, it seemed to slowly dawn on our escort what was happing here. Don leaned in my window, cigarette in hand, to ask “So, you’re doing this, huh?”
“Yep. We share these responsibilities,” I answered.
I managed to back the trailer into the site even though it was an awkward angle, I had to jump a sidewalk, and the fact that it was hard to hear Brad’s navigation directions over Don’s opposite directions coming in the window. After we had Stumbo in the right spot, Don commented, “Well, that wasn’t bad, for a girl.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked with a smile. No response. I guess he was trying to compliment me, and I guess that wasn’t a bad attempt…for a dude.
Clay lives in Chicago in the neighborhood of Pilsen, which was historically Czech but is now a very Hispanic neighborhood. (read: delicious tacos available) We drove to his apartment on Sunday morning in time to go to church with him. He attends the St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago, whose bell tower still bears black smoke stains; scars left behind from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The cathedral’s bell tower is one of the very few pieces of the city that wasn’t burned or demolished due to the fire, but the rest of the structure has been rebuilt.
Over the course of the next week, in a couple of different overnight visits to the city, we got a tour of many local sites, amazing food, and hip cocktail bars that still have trap doors in the floor from the days of prohibition.
We spent one entire day checking out the amazing exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry. We watched baby checking hatching, saw our own DNA, and learned about an amazing thing called “The Golden Ratio”.
In between treks out into the city, we enjoyed Clay’s classy and comfortable bachelor pad. Our computers backed up their entire hard drives on his blazing wifi, and we utilized his espresso machine, pumping out beautiful shots topped with luscious crema. Our girls played with their legos on his plush living room rug, watched movies in his giant TV, and made up games of sorting his collection of beer mats from all over the world. One evening while Brad and Clay went out, I stayed at the apartment while the girls slept. I lounged on the comfy couch, nibbled on chocolatey snacks from Trader Joe’s, and watched limitless TV.
When we got back to Stumbo after our final visit to Clay’s, parked in between dilapidated mobile homes with our tiny bathroom, the all too precious limited wifi, and no comfortable place to sit except the bed, for the first time in 10 months, I kindof missed the comforts of home.
Before we left the area we also managed a couple of quick visits to friends in nearby areas. One was a trek up into Michigan where we met up with Mike & Crissa Boyink for lunch. They left their hometown for a year on the road with their 2 kids….6 years ago. Mike has been blogging prolifically the whole time and has created quite an online community of readers. His writing was helpful in both practical and inspirational ways as we considered and prepared for this year. We had even exchanged emails a few times as we prepared to launch, and he was always available to advise and encourage. Since they had been such important online mentors to us, we were thrilled for the chance to meet them in person.
We also hit the suburb of St Charles on our way out of the Chicago area to see another one of Brad’s cousins and his kids. We had a great little lunch with him and did some catching up. In the course of the conversation, as we rattled off all of the family we’ve been able to see over the past 10 months, we realized that we had now seen all of our extended family (besides the family living in South Africa and I think we get a free pass on that one) except for one other cousin. This would have to be rectified….