Monday, July 24, 2006

The Chicago Blog, Vol. 1

Back in the Windy City, with free wireless internet to boot. Sounds like time for live blog updates...

After a seven year absence, my dad and I touched down at O'Hare on Saturday afternoon, bringing me back to a long-neglected home. Along the way I met the Jazz's second round draft pick, Illinois shooting guard Dee Brown (who was flying home from the Rocky Mountain Revue), and attempted to use an airplane bathroom at 15,000 feet--quite the challenge.

Rather than go directly to the city, we first rented a car (Pontiac G6) and drove out West to Freeport, where I spent five months of my mission during the summer of 1996--a full ten years ago. We spent the rest of the weekend catching up with old friends I'd almost lost touch with, taking pictures, having food, and making a few new memories along the way. It's almost startling to see how much has changed, how many people have grown up and moved on. People that were starting high school when I served there are now returned missionaries and married adults building families of their own.

By Sunday evening we had left the rolling hills and dairy farms of northwestern Illinois and returned to the Loop, pulling in at the Allegro Hotel around 11pm. Most important observation about the Allegro so far? Our room boasts perhaps the most powerful toilet I have ever seen. One yank of the handle and you'd swear the thing was going to shake the tile floor to pieces.

This morning the real "Chicago" phase of the trip began, and Dad and I kicked it off by driving down to the South Side in the hopes that anyone dangerous enough to cause us any trouble would still be hung over or passed out until at least 11. The streets seemed narrower, and some of the neighborhoods actually looked a little more run down, sad to say. I guess memory puts a gloss on things sometimes...or it could be that whole ten-year gap thing again.

Regardless of appearances, the cold reality of our southern swing was that the man I drove down there to see, the immortal Dan Giles, turned out to be mortal after all. While trying to remember his house number on Ada street, I pulled over and asked a nervous woman ("who are those white boys driving around this neighborhood?") if she knew where Dan lived.

Apparently he passed away only earlier this year.

Sadly, it wasn't a tremendous shock, though I did wish I had done a better job of keeping in touch with him. Dan made it about ten years after retirement, and according to his neighbor, was sick for the last few years before he finally expired. As great a guy as he was, the notion of his eventual breakdown wasn't exactly an inevitability. He had been ill off and on when I was serving in his area, and the simple reality is that eventually people need to move on from this stage. And maybe that's why I wasn't overwhelmed with grief: not because I didn't care, or because I had become numbed to him; it was because I know he's moved on to a more peaceful existence. I'm going to see old Dan again. I still look forward to catching up with my old friend.

Coming up: Return to the Blue Chicago