Sunday, September 25, 2011

Musings: Do I Miss Chicago?

Sometimes I get nostalgic and dreamy about "the region" and Chi-town, but I usually stop myself.

Why be nostalgic? What is the damn point? I left. I'm gone. That's it. There was a time where I felt a ton of pride at being from Chicago. I still do. Yet while I grew up in the rust belt and had experiences that were certainly unique and definitely defined by place, I always desired to leave the area in search of adventure and perhaps something more.

Home will always be home I guess. I can't change that and would not. All of my close friends that I grew up with left to find their own way. Jason and Tim ran off to Cali, while Jake married Tim's ex and moved to Valpo. Jimmy D is a master electrician at this point and owns the house he grew up in.

All that said, I could have gone back. I could have returned to a life of WTF, where the seasons of the year are as much hockey and baseball as they are spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Occasionally I ruminate about what it would have been like to purchase a bungalow, fix it up, go to Sunday mass in a handful of regional Churches that look like an old school cathedral. To forget about what's happening in the world and follow the Hawks' every game, hitting up the best pizza known to man at my very whim, and being around lots of people who think in the same "regional" way.

The good news is I am not totally deprived, to my way of thinking. Good pizza exists east of Chicago, although it's taken me years to discover it (it's authentic Chicago style, of course), and the mountains and valleys make up for lack of Blackhawks' and White Sox coverage.

At the end of the day, I would rather be on a couch in front of a fire place in a country cabin (or the proximation of) with a cup of tea than chillin' in a Lincoln Park flat with my Intelligensia. To be sure, I've had my taste of city life excitement--in Georgetown in Washington, DC--and realized during that time that I'd rather be in the mountains in front of the hearth.

Now that I am here, I can honestly say that I am satisified with my decision and that my desires were not unfounded.

Still, sometimes the homesick nostalgia lunges for my throat. At this point I beat it down with ease and it's my choice to think about home. But really, while home is a place, it's also in your heart. It's also where you choose to rest your head for the night. Many people have passed through Munster and Chicago since I've lived there and rode my bike to Route 30 to visit 10th planet. It's a changed place since then, as all places change, but the memory and the nostalgic factor in the earth underneath it all remain. And there's more Schoop's too.

Regarding returning for a visit, it's mixed bag, hit or miss. Sometimes people are on their A-game and life is good. At others, people are dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death. I guess I'm glad they're real, but in the end it's all a toss up, and that's just family I'm talking about.

It's cool to be from some place. It also can be cool to venture out to go some place and live there as well. If there's one thing I've learned, however, it's that regardless of whether or not you're playing bocce and drinking a Corona on your 1/10 acre plot in Munster, the grass has an odd way of seeming greener on either side of the fence.

But really it's greener in the mountains. Really.

Over & Out,


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Western NC Adventure

Well, in about 4 days or so, I got to do just about everything I've always wanted to do. The only thing is, our vacation had to end.

Instead of making an extended beach trip, we drove down to Black Mountain, NC this year to see what we've been missing in the Appalacian State. Unfortunately, it is more than we would have liked to admit.

Day 1: Driving into Asheville was stupendous. Our kids were great and we left under the cover of darkness and fog. In Blacksburg we broke our fast at Gillie's, my favorite breakfast joint East of NW Indiana, aka "the Region." With full stomachs and extra coffee, our route continued through the hills in Tenessee directly into the Blue Ridge proper, which form an enormous fortress wall to the surrounding countryside. Entry was exciting as hell to this flatlander. Going through these guys blew me away.

We landed at our accommodations, a cabin called "Byrd's Nest," at half past 3PM. The structure, a cozy artistic timber-frame, serenely bestrides the mountain summit, overlooking the hills around it. From our bedroom window we watched the sunrise in majesty each morning over the Blue Ridge as our kids begin their daily routine of mayhem.

Day 2: We spent our first morning getting acquainted with our immediate surroundings, making a trip into the quaint town of Black Mountain. That day and each day thereafter began with a trip to The Dripolator Coffee House. The coffee was supreme, and quickly became an all-time favorite.

Black Mountain is a chill town filled with numerous crafts from relatively local artisans, and had shops that catered to nearly all of my interests. Craftsmanship and things handmade are cherished in the area. Like most of Western NC that we visited, Black Mountain stood in stark contrast to the pretentious, self-important Northern VA area in which we generally dwell.

For lunch we picnicked amidst a park/creek/retreat in the small town of Montreat. The setting was beautiful and perfect for the kids.

Day 3: Waterfalling adventure. With Dripolator in hand, we took to the Blue Ridge Parkway to stop first at Sliding Rock Waterfall and then at Looking Glass, Bridal Veil (the lame one), and Dry Rock falls.

Sliding Rock was the most fun and we had it virtually all to ourselves. Basically, it's an 80-foot or so waterslide in 50 degree mountain water. You sit down and scream for your life as you smoothly descend with ever increasing speed into an 8ft deep pool. The water was shocking at first. Once my body acclimated to my personal insanity, I didn't feel it at all and it actually became quite refreshing.

The other falls were beautiful to behold as well. Our drive was full of switchbacks on a US highway, taking us all the way to Franklin, NC and ended at an Asheville Brewery for Pizza and decent craft beer.

Day 4: We returned to Asheville to peruse the shops, with lunch at a place called "Boca," which is Spanish for "mouth." That evening I joined Clare's dad and brother on a trip to Troy & Sons moonshine distillery for a tour and then a beer at Highland's Brewing Co. We celebrated that night with a game of cranium as we fantasized about how fun it would be to live in Black Mountain and own Byrd's Nest.

Day 5: It was hard leaving. The grass is always greener on the other side, and I was able to sample living in a beautiful cabin at the top of a mountain, after visiting waterfalls, creeks, pottery stores, Dripolator, and all the rest. You couldn't make for a more biased opinion from me, I guess, regarding the place, but no matter how you cut it, Western NC is simply breathtaking.

Anyway, we hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiked Linville Falls, and continued to Boone, where we were happy to find a bustling college town and some Mellow Mushroom Pizza. Being Labor Day weekend, all the hotels were booked, but we were lucky to find a room in Abingdon, VA. We drove back via Damascus, an Appalacian trail town, and obtained our lodging.

Day 6: We raced north on I-81 to Blacksburg for mass at St. Mary's, and joined Clare's brother and girl friend for brunch at Cracker Barrell. The trip home ran smoothly and we were deposited in Strasburg by 6PM.

Summary: Black Mountain, NC and the area that surrounds it, is the jam, notwithstanding some of the liberalism in the place. But you don't get that sick feeling of liberalism that you get in San Francisco or Adam's Morgan. The area is completely chill, with mom and pop institutions dominating over the big-box stores. The beauty of the mountains fosters tranquillity, creativity, and adventure. With the exception or Spruce Pine, NC, all of the town we visited were upbeat, not depressed and down on their luck.

In a word, I would definitely go back.

Peace Out,