I planned this trip about six months ago: five days in Chicagoland to see Mom and family, a long weekend with Natasha and Mike McGirr in their new home, Asheville, NC, and then nine days in New York, a long overdue reunion with Manhattan and my friends, leading up to a wedding, and then working a few days in the New York office.
It didn't quite turn out like that, though. Shortly before arriving, I got bad news from my sisters that Mom's taken a turn for the worse. She'd had a scan and her tumours had grown and she was a lot weaker. She's off her strict diet and ready to go to all her old favourite haunts, so the timbre of the visit was very different than when planned. We did have some really good times though; went to my Mom's favourite steakhouse, had awesome Chicago style pizza, White Fence Farm chicken (well, I had Taco Bell that night - we all have our guilty pleasures! [That's a lie - I feel no guilt.]), late nights playing cards and boozing, lazy afternoons trying to put together Mom's impossible puzzles.
Next in the grand tour was Asheville - my third time in the South (Florida doesn't count - it's its own sort of evil). It was an awesome weekend for so many reasons. Most obviously was Natasha & Mike, who I hadn't seen in a long time, and who laid out the red carpet and cruise directing. From start to finish, we moved from one perfect spot to the next - drinks, food, views and gay bars. Asheville is quite a gem, too: it's liberal, Democratic, gay-friendly, organic-local-foodie, beer heaven, laid back, walkable, pretty. It belongs in Northern California more than North Carolina, but that foible of geography means that you can enjoy all the good of the Napa Valley lifestyle without the pretence or crushing expense. We went to so many great restaurants, but still we walked by so many others I'd like to try, and I'd go back anytime. If I were a small city guy, it'd be an ideal place to call home.
New York came on the back of Sandy and just before a nor'easter. (That bitch knows how to welcome you back.) Due to the downed L, housing had to be rearranged and my friends Niels and & John stepped up and let me stay at their place. The first night followed tradition, a gaggle of gays (and Rachel) at Pongsri Thai, and the next day Obama smacked Romney down. But as great as it was, my mind was still in Naperville. So the next day, after talking to my sisters and hearing Mom had some bad days, I bought tickets and headed out of the Big Apple and back to the Midwestern plains to spend more time with Mom.
And I'll be heading back to Naperville a week from Sunday to stay with the family some more. I'll be there at the very least to the new year, but indefinitely, depending on how things go. I am very lucky that work's letting me work remotely from there, despite the fact that I can't possibly work full London hours. They even offered a leave of absence, but my bank manager declined on my behalf. But I can be there as long as I need to be, and just not having to worry about that is great.
Cheers from London, for the last time for a bit,
Mom and her monster steak at Jack Gibbons. It was an awesome place - straight out of the 20s, I expected Al Capone to walk through the door. Loved it!
Mike, Natasha and me on the bank of the French Broad (the river that runs through Asheville).
The Grove Park Inn - one of two competing Gilded Age masterpieces in the area. Unfortunately, didn't get to see Biltmore; but I'll be back.
Asheville from the Grove Park Inn. A bit hazy in this pic, but it's nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Asheville's turned its once derelict riverfront into the River Arts District, full of studios, galleries, restaurants, bars and hippies.
This pic tells you just the kind of place Asheville is (the only pic that would have been better would have been of a white guy with dreadlocks).
Asheville's very own flatiron building.
A typical cute street in Asheville's very walkable downtown.
Old piano and piano garage door on Chicken Alley.
9/11 Memorial looking towards the WFC and the new One World Trade Center. After a decade of wrangling and heartache, I think they've done a really good job.
Look at me being a tourist! In New York!
My old home! 278 W. 19th St. Rent-stabilised at $950/month for a one-bedroom. One reason I could never move back: I'll never get that kind of deal again.
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