I'm typically quite eager to get on the plane headed to wherever. Even in these days when the papers are full of complaints about overcrowded skies and delayed flights I'm happy to be traveling. So I was a little surprised yesterday to be feeling so blue as I drove out to the airport for my flight to Chicago -- particularly since Chicago is one of my very favorite cities.
It's largely because this time Lynn isn't going to come up to join me. Back when she was on the MLA Board, I would come to Chicago following the February & September board meetings. We'd stay until Sunday and go to museums & galleries, out to a show, try out new restaurants. When I was elected to the Board, we set up the same pattern, and so she was initially planning to join me tomorrow. But then, with all of the chaos surrounding the opening of Gymboree, she thought better of that plan and decided to skip this one. I don't disagree with her decision at all, but it just doesn't feel right to be up here without her.
My reaction is particularly unexpected because generally I relish solitary travel. I like being able to explore cities, to get lost in them, to find my way into unexpected places, on my own schedule, without having to deal with the long list of compromises that are usually part of the experience of traveling with someone. But then, compatibility in traveling is one of the hallmarks of my relationship with Lynn. I remember, very early on, during one of the first trips we took together, we were walking along having such a good time, and I blurted out, "Being with you is almost as good as being alone!" As soon as the words were out of my mouth I was aghast, because it sounded horrible, but she just laughed and knew exactly what I meant.
So I should have been glad for the chance to have an extra day on my own in Chicago, but the fact is that I identify this city so much with her now. It's where our romance began, although neither of us knew it at the time.
I felt better once we landed and I was in the cab heading to the hotel. The weather was ugly -- drizzly and hot and very humid, but weather never makes a huge difference to me. It's the energy of the city, that particular informal, brash confidence that Chicago has no matter what the weather, that I admire. This is a place where people are used to coping with months of those icy winds blowing in off Lake Michigan -- they're not about to be slowed down by a little late summer heat & rain.
Before I left home, I'd picked out the restaurant that I wanted to go to for dinner. I've been to Bistro Zinc several times and only taken Lynn there once, but I've written letters to her there, written in my journal about her there, so I associate her with it even so. It's the perfect type of a French bistro that I seek out in whatever city I find myself.
I get a table by the window and look out over the bustle of State Street. I write for a bit, sip my wine, and feel myself relax. I've brought along MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me to read while I eat -- what can be better than reading superb prose about great food while I'm sitting in a favorite restaurant having an excellent meal of my own! It's almost as good as being with Lynn.
I call home as I walk back to the hotel. "Did I have a good time?" Lynn laughs. Oh yes, I say, and tell her what we had to eat. I'm feeling much better now. I'll read for a bit more before sleep, and in the morning I'll work for a few hours. The magic of modern travel is that I can get just about as much done from my hotel room as I can from my office. Then in the afternoon the board meeting starts and for the next two days I'll be too busy and occupied to miss her too much. Come Saturday afternoon, when the meeting is done, I'll seek out a restaurant for lunch that I think she'd like. I'll take out fountain pen and stationery to write her a letter. Years from now, when I remember the afternoon, I'm sure I'll see her sitting right across from me.