My trip to Chicagoland, Part One.

I arrived in Chicagoland last Thursday night after a 1,100-mile drive. My first stop was at my old apartment in Wheaton, to hang out with my old roommate Kenny. I had forgotten that the place was essentially a live-in chimney. However, my old room was vacant, had a clean bed, fresh paint, new carpet, and nearly no hint of cigarette smoke since the door was usually closed. I couldn’t figure out why the building next door looked different through the bedroom window until I remembered that there used to be an A/C unit there, blocking the view. Better view, but warmer.

Both Kenny and his new roommate are out of work and collecting unemployment. Such is life. However, Kenny is trying to make some money through a multi-level natural gas marketing company. I asked him what exactly that meant. For future reference, when the first words you use to describe your company are “pyramid” and “scheme,” you really shouldn’t wonder why you aren’t making any money–especially if you aren’t at the apex of the pyramid.

I stopped by a quaint little shop called Maison Russe in nearby Lisle, and found a beautiful set of nesting dolls to give to my cousin for her upcoming tenth birthday (her grandfather, my step-grandfather, was Russian). They had a lot of items from the old Soviet days and I think a few from before the Revolution. The owner said that even the most expensive items in the store were marked way down from their original “prices” in the USSR. He said that whatever goods were subsidized and regulated by the Supreme Soviet, whether they were beautiful or broken, whether they were “left boots or jewelry,” were usually overproduced and badly overpriced. He did not seem fond of the old way.

On Friday, at half past one in the afternoon, I pulled into the parking lot of the Portillo’s on Ogden Avenue in Naperville. I got out of the car and strolled past the white-clad waiters as they walked out to the drive-through line, taking orders from cars further back in the line because there are just that many people who love the place.

I spun through the revolving door, and took in the Roaring Twenties deco, and weaved through the contented patrons sitting at red-and-white checkered tables, and got in line to place my order after three long years without. Years. The anticipation had driven me to the cusp of madness; my vision blurred and the room spun. When I came to, I was sitting in front of an Italian roast beef sandwich adorned with mozzarella and sweet peppers, and blessed with just the right amount of its own broth. It was bliss-made-edible, and I ate it.

Oh, my aunt and my cousin were there, too. They treated, so I got to save my gift cards for the two other times I went to Portillo’s that weekend. It is my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world.

More tomorrow.