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Archive for July, 2008

I’m back from vacation and returning to a semi empty house was weird. No wife and no dogs. All of their stuff is gone too. It made me pretty sad but I am looking forward to Bell Guy moving in tomorrow. Saying goodbye to her a couple weeks ago was tough. Saying goodbye to the dogs last Friday seemed even worse. I think it was because I know I will see her again, maybe as early as a day over Thanksgiving weekend,  but I am not so sure about the dogs. I’ve had about ten months to prepare for all of these changes but I do not think I could really prepare. It was a nice vacation but I am looking forward to all of the moving being over with and getting settled again with Bell Guy. We will put the house on the market after Labor Day but have also talked about buying my wife out. We’ll see.

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My Chicago trip report is not done but will have to wait a few days.

My wife leaves for a trip to France Wednesday. When she gets back, I will be at the beach and she will move to Florida. When I return from the beach, she and my dogs will be gone. Her portion of the house is packed up and we are faced, after essentially living as friends since I came out in September, with one more night in the same house. We’ve been together ten years and while I know I did the right thing in coming out to her, it will be a difficult adjustment to life without her and the dogs. I’ve tried to stay busy and ignore all of my feelings but that is becoming more difficult as time is running out.

Tonight, after helping her pack, she went to watch TV and I got in bed. After a few minutes she came into my room and laid on my bed, upset that life as we know it will never be the same. I did everything I could to not cry.

I just want to get through these next few days and begin my new life with Bell Guy.

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Bell Guy is a somewhat early riser and when he tries to be quiet he is generally louder than he would be if he were not trying so hard to be so quiet. I call it him being a bull in a china shop. The bull got up fairly early, made his way through the china shop and then left for the lobby to get his coffee.

He returned an hour or so later and I got up and got ready to go. We had a big day planned: Hancock Observatory, double decker bus tour of the city, Art Institute of Chicago and meet an old friend.

We walked up Michigan Avenue to the John Hancock Building and Observatory where there was only one person selling tickets and she was also answering the phones (why wouldn’t they have more people working on a holiday?). They had an auto ticket machine and, although we had coupons, I became impatient with the line that was not moving and we went and used the machine. The cost was a little more but my blood pressure went down so it was worth it.

The elevator ride to the top is “the fastest in the world” or the “fastest in the US” depending on who is telling you the story. Anyways, it was fast and the view from above was terrific.

We spent awhile at the observatory and waited for some clouds to move so we could get a good view of all four directions.

After departing the observatory, we went and ate at a yummy French bistro a few blocks away. I cannot remember the name of it but we had a nice view of the street and I remember a shirtless guy walking by which grabbed my attention for a moment. He also caused a ruckus at a table of a couple of other gays nearby.

After lunch, it was time for the double decker city tour. Rosita was our tour guide and I thought she did a good job. It was a hop on-hop off tour but we hopped on near the observatory and stayed on for the entire two hour tour.

Wrigley Building with flag for the 4th.

Art somewhere downtown. I'm sure Steven or Justin will remind me where.

Soldier Field. I loved the '85 Bears and Jim McMahon. Hero.

Navy Pier. This was as close to the pier as we got this trip.

We got off the bus back at the observatory and went across the street so Bell Guy could get his free Hershey bar from the Hershey store (bus ticket had a coupon). We quickly ate the chocolate while looking at Bentleys through the windows of the Bentley store down the block. We continued around the corner and found an Italian place that we decided we wanted to eat at later in the trip.

We headed back to the hotel and were able to relax for about an hour or so before meeting one of Bell Guy’s friends at the Art Institute of Chicago. This museum is free on Friday and Saturday evenings. Bruno, Bell Guy’s friend, was quick to find us in the museum. He and Bell Guy were close pals in college but had not seen each other in 8 years! Bruno is a super nice guy and the reunion of the two old farts was nice as well. Bruno gave us an abbreviated tour of the museum, which was huge and had lots of works of art. Next time, I want to go back because it turns out the museum has the famous American Gothic painting and I only realized that after we were leaving. From there, we walked back across the river and ate at a decent restaurant we had found earlier on Open Table. I got to hear all about Bell Guy and Bruno’s “gay adolescence” in college. Bell Guy was quite a character. Wait, he still is.

After dinner, we walked around the Tribune Tower, which has pieces of different buildings from across the world built into the side of it.

Bell Guy and Stone from his Home State of Vermont

Bell Guy at the Tribune Tower and stone from his home state of Vermont.

Wrigley Building from afar.

After walking around a bit more, we were really tired and went back to the hotel around 10pm. Another good day. Has Chicago become my favorite Summer city (right now that title goes to Denver)? Or even my favorite overall city (that title goes to New York)?

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While my wife continues preparations for her impending move out later this month, Bell Guy and I took a trip to Chicago for the long weekend. He had never visited and I had been twice, just for a day each time, but not in ten or twelve years.

Happily our flight landed early and our luggage was landing on the luggage belt as we walked up. We quickly grabbed a cab to the Hyatt Regency and were there without any traffic issues. We were checked in early and the room was nice. The location was great, right downtown at the Chicago River and the Magnificent Mile. We used Priceline and only paid $100/night. The only annoyance were the elevators were packed and slow but that was made up for by the location.

We were starving so we ventured out to find some food. The weather was spectacular and I wore shorts and a light jacket. We walked up the Magnificent Mile, which was only a block from the hotel. We spotted a Grand Lux Cafe after a few minutes and decided to eat there as we had eaten at the Grand Lux Cafe in Las Vegas so we knew the food was good. The food was good and the service outstanding.

After lunch, we made arrangements to meet with Steven from Heterosexually Challenged at Shedd Aquarium. Unfortunately, traffic was horrible due to the Taste of Chicago and everyone coming into the city for the fireworks that night. So, we were unable to meet Steven this trip. It was a long walk from Grand Lux Cafe to Shedd but was worth it. That is the best aquarium that I have been to and I’ve been to many.

We spent a couple of hours at the aquarium before walking back towards the hotel at about 5pm. I changed into some jeans and we tried to decide on a restaurant for dinner, which is a chore because I am too picky.  We went to the concierge and he recommended Tavern at the Park, which was right across the street from the totally awesome Millennium Park. We only had to wait twenty minutes or so and the food, ambiance and service were great. (That is one of a few noticeable differences between Chicago and DC: Service was so much better in Chicago. People were so much nicer in Chicago. Ambulances somehow sound like firetrucks in Chicago.)

Chicago has its big fireworks display on July 3. So, after dinner we crossed the street and waited for the fireworks. We were not in a good area so once they started we moved a bit but then had a great view and did not have to wait around all day to get that great view.

After the fireworks we walked a few blocks back to the hotel and I lamented about how my feet were already hurting after only one day. So were his. We’re so old.

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I’ve written about Chris McCandless and the movie Into the Wild quite a bit (here, here and here). Turns out that movie has resulted in many people wanting to visit the bus in Alaska where Chris died. I swear I still want to do this too…

HEALY, Alaska (AP) — Ron Alexander has long been intrigued with the true story of a young idealist who met his death in Alaska’s unyielding wilderness in 1992.

The film adaptation of the book “Into the Wild” only cemented the mystique for Alexander and others heading to Alaska this summer, hoping to retrace the last steps of Christopher McCandless along the Stampede Road near Denali National Park.

Alexander and his fellow travelers want, in particular, to see the old abandoned bus where the 24-year-old Virginian starved to death after more than three months alone in the harsh landscape.

“That’s sort of the heart of the story,” said Alexander, 44, of Arlington, Virginia. “It’s almost like a Jim Morrison grave site, where people just want to go see it.”

This is exactly what residents in the interior town of Healy, 25 miles east of the bus, feared with the release last fall of the movie adapted from Jon Krakauer’s best-seller of the same name.

They envisioned hordes of copycats making dangerous pilgrimages in the footsteps of a character often seen as a spiritual visionary rather than an ill-prepared misfit, as many Alaskans view McCandless.

People from all over the world have journeyed to the rusted bus over the years. But there are signs this could be a boom year for those captivated by a college graduate who turned his back on his wealthy family for his restless wanderings.

The local chamber of commerce has already received a few dozen e-mails from would-be visitors wanting to track the unmonitored route taken by McCandless to the 1940s-era bus, used for decades as a shelter for hunters and other backcountry travelers.

Former chamber president Neal Laugman warns visitors about a terrain — about 180 miles north of Anchorage — with no cell phone service, unpredictable weather, clouds of mosquitoes and the raging Teklanika River, whose swollen banks prevented McCandless from seeking help. Laugman has gotten replies from people who are determined to make it to the bus no matter what.

“I don’t want people to go out there and die. It’s that simple,” Laugman said. “We won’t know that they’re there until it’s too late.”

The EarthSong Lodge is among the last developments along the Stampede Road, which eventually gives way to an old mining trail that traverses the Savage and Teklanika rivers, although the Teklanika is often too high and swift to cross.

As the weather warms, lodge owner Jon Nierenberg sees hikers walking past the lodge every couple days, starting the 22-mile trek to the bus. Most of the travelers are young men.

This year, most of his guests are familiar with McCandless. Or rather, Nierenberg said, they’re aware of a romanticized figure, a characterization not shared by many Alaskans or others.

Released about the same time as the big-budget movie was the independent documentary, “The Call of the Wild,” in which filmmaker Ron Lamothe attempts to debunk what he calls lingering myths about McCandless.

“I don’t look at them as nut jobs,” said Nierenberg, a musher and former backcountry ranger. “I can easily see where they’re coming from. But I think they’re sort of idealizing an idea rather than a person.”

Alexander, who plans to make the trek with a friend or two in late August, considers himself a bit of a wanderer with a passion for the untamed West. Leaving his urban surroundings as much as possible is crucial for him, said Alexander, a salesman for a Washington, D.C., documentary production company.

Alexander said he’ll be much better prepared than McCandless and will visit other parts of Alaska not connected to the doomed young man.

“We’re not coming up just to do this little pilgrimage,” he said. “This is one little element. We’re not completely nuts.”

Ridership is significantly higher in the “backcountry safari” offered by Alaska Travel Adventures, which this summer is noting the “Into the Wild” connection.

Also up are the backpackers tramping past a cooking camp where safari riders stop for a wilderness meal, said manager Nick Prosser. Many hikers heading back are dehydrated, blistered and “pretty beat,” he said.

Prosser, who has read “Into the Wild” and seen the movie, plans to hike out to the bus himself before he heads back home to Celina, Texas, at the end of his seasonal job.

“I just would like to go for the adventure,” he said. “I’m up here. I might as well go.”

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