I was standing on the corner of seemingly the most random street in Chicago. Paranoid about being late, especially given a too rapidly dying cell phone, I had grabbed a cab to outside of Nilsa's gym earlier than necessary, and thus found myself in an industrial-looking area.
I decided to waste time walking around the block, but was only greeted by automotive shops. I wedged myself up against a wall, put on my head phones, only to hear my name being called out from between the beats.
Nilsa is adorable and ridiculously charming. Conversation flowed easily as anything as we hopped into her car, doing the standard blogger tactic of introducing one another to the basics of our lives, and querying about the deeper aspects that we both already knew about one another. She played tour guide of sorts, pointing out notables through the window, as we made our way to Cafe LaGuardia in Bucktown to meet Nichole, who was visiting from California, and
Dan Mega, another Chicago-ite. In yet another tell-tale blogger move, both were already at the restaurant, but one at a table, and one at the bar, since they didn't have any way of recognizing one another. A server had just figured out the blogger connection between the two of them by the time we walked in the door.
So the four of us sat down to some tasty eats, non-stop conversation, and, oh, did I mention many different kinds of mojitos? There was also loads of baseball talk, as I learned about the viciousness of the in-town Cubs/White Sox rivalry. I tried to interject in with a little hockey chatter, but it didn't get seized upon quite as well.
Overall, it was just a lovely night. There were no awkward pauses, and conversation just flowed across all the variety of topics. It is funny how four people who have all only technically "met" that night can feel like any other group of friends over two hours and a few mojitos.
Things I learned about Damsel in Digress
- She can kick my ass in MarioKart
- She is exceedingly skilled at hailing cabs, having mastered the appropriate flail.
- She never gets the hiccups... well, almost never.
- She pours the strongest drinks I ever did see
- We both have love for The Rescuers Down Under, wildly singing and gesturing along to ridiculous songs (Bohemian Rhapsody, anyone?), cheap wine, and making up stories about silly drunk people.
Wednesday night, after much back and forth, I found myself knocking on Damsel's door. It was only after the fact that we realized the level of trust we had shared for two people having only met on the internet, with her providing me with her exact address, and me wandering into a stranger's apartment in a city where I knew no one.
Foreshadowing: Neither of us ended up being serial killers.
Or maybe we both did, and set up one hell of an awesome gang.
The initial idea was just to do dinner. However, once we sat down, one of Damsel's signature mega-drinks in hand, we forgot to look at the clock for a little while. A little later than intended, we made it to a different, closer restaurant than planned, where we discovered our mutual affinity for cheap wine by order a carafe of it. I think I may have lamented the lack of a box (mmmm... boxed wine).
My head a little more spinny than when I began, and my belly full of meatballs and other assorted goodness, we then went to a pub in Wrigleyville to meet Damsel's man and some coworkers. There I was greeted by perhaps the most fertile people watching grounds ever-- a bar full of very drunk celebratory Cubs fans. And, let me tell you, there is nothing more entertaining than drunk celebratory Cubs fans trying to be sexy on the dance floor to Jack & Diane. Nothing.
I was then taken to an apparent Chicago institution-- the Wiener's Circle. Though apparently I was missing it in its full weekend glory, I did get to experience a side of vitriol with my hot dog. The entire premise of the restaurant is essentially verbal abuse by the staff and customers alike.
Example: "Give me cheese fries, bitch!"
"Fuck you, asshole. Gimme twenty bucks."
And that is one of the tamer interactions.
Oh, and another reason Damsel is great? She totally tolerated my enthusiasm to get our photo taken by the Wiener Road sign.
We then (yes, it was getting a little late at this point, and Damsel & her man had to work the next morning- what troopers!!) went back to the apartment for a MarioKart fest with a friend who was apparently the best of the best (and is off work and has been spending his spare time doing nothing but MarioKart) and took pleasure at slaughtering my ass. Eventually, I just chose to see how far I could go backwards in a race, simply because I would place the same whether I was trying or not.
And then, nearly at the verge of passing out, WiiMote in hand, I bid my new fabulous friends adieu, and I went back to the hostel to find my pyjamas had been stolen.
Friday evening had left me somewhat grumpy. Not only was I set to be late for the massive blogger meet-up due to the timing of my poster presentation, but due to some miscalculations in space, I'd been relegated to the back of some random room. I thought all was about to be healed when I saw some mini-cheesecakes coming my way, but at one person away from me, my arms already outstretched, another server ran up and said "The organizer doesn't want the dessert served until later." I think I may have actually shouted out "Now that's just cruelty!"
Of course, with the session set to be ended at 8pm, and nearly the entire time being spent pacing like a caged jaguar in front of my deserted poster, it was then than the crowd apparently realized about us poor neglected souls in the random room, and then bombarded me with research love.
As such, it wasn't until nearly 10pm that I found myself wandering about the streets of Wrigleyville. A quick scan of the massive, multiroomed bar didn't help, so I ordered a drink, and called Deutlich. It was only then that I realized that a corner of the room had been taken over by a veritable blogger extravaganza: Angela, Deutlich, Maxie, Dan, Jamie, Jenn, Jessica, Joy , Renee, Rachel , Kayleigh , Peter, Angie and Veronica.
I also realized that I had by far the most ridiculous blogger name on the planet, and that it is an exercise in humiliation to introduce oneself as Princess Pointful.
Admittedly, it was a little overwhelming at first, trying to put faces to urls. But, as seemed to be the trend across all the bloggie encounters, things rapidly became comfortable, and we were all hopping to different corners of the table to try to catch up with all the wonderful people that had collided in one small space.
Sadly, the outdoor beer gardens closed at midnight. A few of us tried to convince the masses that bloggie karaoke was the next logical step, but apparently weren't incredibly convincing. Instead, a group of us went to an all night diner, where Jessica and I bonded over over our belief that breakfast is indeed the superior meal, and Maxie wowed us with her singing skills (girl's even got moves when trapped in a booth!). After all my big talk about breakfast, I barely made it through a third of my omelette.
Unfortunately, that was the end of my bloggie collisions for the week. I know that a group of these fabulous folks had a cupcake crawl the next day, but unfortunately I was stuck in learning-about-important-stuff-land at my conference.
Seriously, though, despite the fact that I am getting more and more opportunities to meet the fantastic people I have had the luck to know first via their words, it never ceases to surprise me how natural each encounter has been. I keep on holding my breath, expecting their to be awkwardness and silence. I keep on doubting that the written word is really enough to have genuinely connected me to all these people, that at some point, there will have to be someone who I can adore online, but not really like in real life. Yet that never happens. I don't know if it is just that bloggers are more friendly, intelligent and funny than average, or just that I read the right people, but it is so refreshing to have these connections translate so well into real life.
The flip side of all this? The bigger a part that blogging becomes in my life, the more I am having to lie about it. I now have my default series of lies about these people that no one else in my "real" life knows about, and it feels like someone will have to catch on that not every friend they don't know is someone I met on last year's two week summer institute. I'm so used to blogging being top secret that I have an automatic negative reaction when people speak of blogging in front of others ("You can't talk about our blogs in front of the server!"). I also realized that I am one of the only bloggers out there who is so neurotic about their anonymity. While everyone else was posting photos all over their Facebook, or talking about how awkward it was when their mom found their blog, I was avoiding posting photos for fear of people querying me about the rest of the group's identity, and panicking about the thought of even a neighbour finding my blog. And, admittedly, I am a little envious of them. A secret identity can be fun, but sometimes I wish I felt more comfortable talking about these relationships and my writing.
And a PS... I know I still haven't even came close to clearing out my Google Reader since my return from Chicago, but now I'm off again! The Duke's parents are coming into town today, and have rented a house on a gorgeous nearby island. We're off for a week of delicious R&R (and for once, one of those R's is not reports. Well, not much, at least). I'm unsure of the internet situation while there, as it is a pretty isolated place, so I may be MIA again. Wish me luck in spending an entire week with the man's parents without doing something humiliating!