Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I have only been to Chicago one time, and it was in January. Needless to say, I froze my buns off. This time it was a little different, but only on Sunday. First off, my flight was delayed leaving Atlanta. I have never been so happy to hear that my flight was delayed, as I would have missed it otherwise. Once I got to Midway, my bags took FOREVER, which put me right in the middle of rush hour traffic. Overhearing someone talk about how long it was going to take to drive into the city, I opted to try and be a "city girl" (or imitate one as best as I could) and take the "L" train. It may be the "T", the "Tube", "Marta", "Metra"..who knows. It was a train, and it went underground, and it was scary. I hate subways and trains, and have learned they are not for me. (I much prefer to travel in style with my parents, ha, ha). I was lugging a 50lb bag that USED to be my favorite bag-large duffel on wheels, with an extra long handle that pulled out from under it that was perfect for my extra long monkey arms. Mistake #1. The lady told me to take the "Orange line" to get to the Fairmont hotel. She failed to mention coming from Midway I needed to get OFF the orange line, get on the brown line (or some other color..I am trying to block out the entire experience of getting to my hotel, so the details have started to fade away), then get BACK on the orange line...or I'd get stuck on the loop...which is exactly what I did. As I am sitting in the seat, looking at the map, I slowly realized I was going to go in a square around downtown..when I would have been THE NEXT STOP if the train didn't turn (hence, the changing of the trains I was supposed to do). So, I take a little extra ride around the city in the nasty train, where I am guarding my purse with both arms, have my sleeves covering my jewelry and am just trying to stare at the ground. I finally get to my stop, and ask the oh so nice man with no teeth working the subway station how to get to the Fairmont. Apparently his Fairmont is different than the one I was staying at, because he told me to go to Lake St., then to Michigan Ave, up 3 blocks...and that's where he lost me. On a different note, I am not sure what people with disabilities do in this city-there are NO elevators. Every train station was nothing but steps. By the end of the weekend I felt like I should file a formal complaint, as I am now a member of the Americans with Disabilities group after hurting my back lugging 50 lb suitcases up and down 3 flights of old, shaky stairs. Back to heading to the hotel. So I head down the steps, with my bag bouncing one step at a time. Then I hear it. The god awful sound of something cracking. Yup, wheel broke, so the entire bottom right corner of my bag is caving in. I started up the block to Lake, literally sliding this bag along the cement...sure it was going to rip open and all of my stuff would be all over the streets of downtown Chicago. Get to Lake St, make the right, go down a block to Michigan..still with the gimp bag behind me in one hand, and my rolling computer bag that was filled to the top in the other. At one point I had to turn around and pull the bags and walk backwards, because it was starting to feel like my shoulder was getting pulled out of the joint. I get to Michigan Ave, and turn left and started heading the three blocks, those not from Chicago may not be aware, but Michigan Ave is like Atlanta's"Peachtree Street"..LA's "Robertson Blvd", NYC's "5th Ave"...its busy, its packed, and there are people everywhere. I am walking BACKWARDS, dragging a huge bag on the ground that is caving in one one side and making a nails on a chalkboard sound, and just trying to find some humor in all the people staring at me. I get up 3 blocks and ask another sketchy looking person where the Fairmont is. No clue. So I call them from my phone, and give the lady the intersection I was at...and of course, I was no where near where I needed to be. I had to back track 3 blocks, then cross the street, go up 3 flights of stairs, go to the next light, make a left, and the hotel should be on the left. Seriously? You've got to be kidding me. I went to Australia alone when I was 23, and I cannot even navigate around a major US city by myself? Ugh.
Seeing the sign of the Fairmont is only what I can imagine seeing the gates of Heaven will be like. It was like I had reached the Holy Land. ;-) So, I get to the hotel, meet up with Erin Melick for a drink, and we head out to dinner. After dinner we decided to check out the local "scene" and it was insane. Apparently no one wears jeans in this town. I had on a sundress and an Under Armour (see previous blog for my die hard love for all that is Under Armour) fleece (it was COLD) and flip flops. The bar we were at was packed, and all the girls had micro minidresses on, super high heels, and they were just dressed UP. In the bars in Atlanta, the girls wear expensive jeans, cute tops, and fancy heels. I do not think there was a single pair of jeans on a girl in the entire bar. Erin and I just thought that was weird. I am sure if they didn't even wear jeans, they loved my UA fleece. It is quite chic, in my opinion.
So we left there and started headed back, and Erin and I started talking about how we prefer "dive bars" where you just go in and have a good time, and you don't care what you have on, or if your hair and make up are done. Just as we say that, we pass what is sure to be the worlds best description of a "dive bar"...and as equally disgusting and dirty as the train. The door was a simple door, with a piece of construction paper on it that said "come in", under scaffolding on a super shady corner next towhat appeared to be a very popular 7-11. We looked at each other and decided we had to check it out. They had been open 30 years, and were still "cash only". Erin and I took a seat at the bar, and the older lady bartending was very proud to say she had been bartending there over 20 years. Luck of all luck, we end up next to the 23 year old nephew of the owner...and we know that because he told us no less than 20 times. He must have said "so what are you ladies doing tomorrow night?" 15 times. He invited us to a "hotel party", then, and I quote, "a kegger", and last, but certainly not least, a party he had saved up all summer for, that he was hosting the following night. Funny, becuase he had all these "amazing" options, yet was sitting as this nasty bar, alone. He asked our ages and when we told him he goes "wow. I thought girls your age are usually at Home Depot, bed bath and beyond, or home watching CSI on a Friday night...not out at a bar, having a good time". Nice one, guy. We asked him if he had graduated college yet (he said he "went" to U of I) and he said "No, not yet. I'm kinda doing a victory lap...again" (meaning he was about to start year 6). As Erin is sipping the worlds smallest vodka soda and I am trying to explain to this guy we aren't interested in his "kegger", this little man comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says "I play this song for you". He had very broken English and was probably 5'3...and when I turned around he was sitting on a bar stool right behind us, just staring at us. The song was a Dave Matthews song I had never heard, and as soon as it was over, he left. Weird.
So then two huge men came up and asked if they could take their picture with us. They completely grossed me out and I found one to be actually quite frightening. We gave the bartender my camera and he bent down and put his arm around me and I think I just about jumped out of my skin. As we were leaving they were outside, and he was VERY proud of his convertible Thunderbird, that was "sittin' on 22's" and asked if I would take a picture with his "ride". Erin jumped on this one and grabbed my camera and quickly got on his side, with "yea, Allison, pose next to the car". I tried to get the picture taken from behind the car, but ended up having to stand in front in order for them to let us say goodbye and go home. Just like on the subway, I had my sleeves down to my fingertips, my purse UNDER my UA fleece, and my arms double crossed in front of me to hide any and all things valuable. The walk back to the hotel was long and not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of "safety first".

So, onto Saturday. Erin Straight got there bright and early, and we had a great day at Wriggleyville, eating at Gino's authentic Chicago pizza (which was bizarre looking and not at all what I expected), the race expo, an architectural boat tour, and then we walked the miracle mile. It was FREEZING cold, so we had to run into a souvenir shop before the boat tour and we all got the ugliest Chicago sweatshirts...not on purpose-everything in the store was god awful ugly. If there was a cute option, we would have gone with it, but they were all pretty heinous. But, they kept us warm, or at least warmer than we were before we had them, so mission accomplished. Erin got her daughter a princess dress and I ran into Macy's to get a replacement bag for the trip home...I was not going to lug my broken luggage all the way back. We found a very cool 80's restaurant/bar to have dinner at, and they played all 80's big hair band music, and all the decorations were pictures from tv shows/movies from the 80s. The food was great, but we were beyond exhausted, our backs hurt and our feet were tired and sore from walking literally all day long. WE finally got back to the hotel at 10:30, and got to bed sometime around midnight, only to take up around 4:30.

Race day was beautiful and much warmer than the day before. The course was GORGEOUS, and ran all along the lake and had beautiful views of the Chicago skyline the entire second half. The first half was all through downtown, which was also very cool. This was the first race I ran in my vibrams, which was awesome, except for the drawbridges (which there were a ton of)...the 10 feet where the bridge comes together was spiked and killed my feet. Luckily I am a quick learner, and after the second one when I saw one coming up I jumped up on the sidewalk for the 10 feet, and then back into the street after we passed over it. Erin M was a "roadie" (volunteer) and Erin S was a track star. It was her first half, and she absolutely rocked it. The course ended up being 13.64 miles long, and for that distance I got a 2:01:22 and she got a 1:55:12, but I set my Garmin to tell me the time at 13.1 and I was a 1:56:28 and she was a 1:50. That girl is a natural athlete, and was on a mission to break 2 hours, which she did easily.

We had a great time at the post race expo, and met some really nice people (see blog about "why I run", as this was a perfect example). I exchanged some emails today with a very nice girl we met afterwards, and we met a guy who offered to take our picture, and then ended up insisting on taking about 20 to capture all the different views. Grant Park and Millennium Park were BEAUTIFUL and it was amazing to see parks like that the downtown of a city. They had a tent for kids to come make arts and crafts, bike rentals, everything. It really did live up to everything people had said about was an amazing place in the summertime.

We headed back to the hotel, showered, changed, and then started back towards the arch nemisis of the weekend. Once again we had to carry our bags up three flights of steps, fight the turnstile to get me AND my bag through on one "pass", and wrestle our way back to the airport. It was a quick goodbye for everyone, as all of our flights were boarding by the time we made it through the airport. My flight ended up delayed, and then Delta decided to board in "free service" mode, which I had never heard of before. Basically, it was every man for him or herself, with no seat assignments. As luck would have it, I was next to the worlds most annoying mom and her two year old. She spoke so loud people 10 rows up were turning and looking at her, and everything was in the 3rd person. "Does Eliza want some juice?" "Does Eliza want some play dough?" Now "Eliza" was not a baby...she was probably a little over 2, which I found odd that the mom spoke to her that way. We finally boarded, pushed back and OF COURSE, the captain came on and said we were delayed an hour. Then after an hour, another hour. What was supposed to get me home by 4:30 ended up getting me home around 9 pm sunday night, with a final to study for for Monday.

Even with the subway/train ride, the sketchy people at the bar, and the hellacious flight home, it was a great weekend in Chi-town. The Burbage/Straight duo rides again!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is the special ingredient??

I have made friends over the years from all over the place-living in California, Washington DC, growing up in Atlanta, various jobs/careers, and also just chance encounters that turned into great friendships. I met my friend Whitney when we went out with a mutual friend one night (Whitney and I had never met) and the mutual friend ditched us to go off with some "hot guy", and Whitney and I ended up having one of the most fun nights that I will never forget. We started off the night as strangers, and ended the night as good friends. We are still friends to this day, and I was lucky enough to attend her wedding last fall. I went to high school for four years with 2400 other kids, but from my graduating class I still keep in daily contact with only ONE person...yet I went on a week long graduation trip with a rival high school, and from that one week's vacation I have been a BRIDESMAID in 2 of the GUYS weddings (the guys had me stand on the brides side), and am very close with a handful of other guys from that trip that are like family to me, still 15 years later. Through facebook I have reconnected with a lot of friends that I both made and lost touch with over the years...some of the exchanges are the typical "How are you, where are you, how are the husband and kids, etc" and then that's the end of that, and no more than seeing their status update here and there...while others have actually rekindled the FRIENDSHIP all over again, and in some cases, they are even stronger than before. So what is that special ingredient that allows for the friend "connection" with some people, but not others? Why does that connection have a limited life span on some people, and others that bond lasts a lifetime? Some people you feel that connection with while you are in similar stages of your life, but as soon as one moves into a different stage, the connection seems to weaken or break. How do you go to school for four years with the same group of people and have one life long friend 15 years later, but go on a weeks vacation and end up with 10 people you still are in close contact with, our families are friends, and we even do holidays together on occasion? Then there is the reverse situation. You were best friends with someone years ago, you think you'll be best friends forever, and then you loose contact for awhile only to eventually somehow reconnect...and find the connection that was once there is definitely gone and you have zero to talk about. That sucks.
I know I am now a much different person than I was in college. Over the last year, through facebook I have gotten back in touch with 3 girls that I have not seen since UGA, 10-12 years ago. Katy and I were sorority sisters, and was definitely one of my two closest friends in the sorority. Last December I saw a post of hers on FB about having to put her cat down that absolutely broke my heart. I emailed her and told her to come to ATL (she was out at Lake Oconee), and we'd go shopping and out to dinner, and just have a fun weekend of catching up. She did, and that's exactly what happened. I hadn't seen her in at least 12 years, and it was like not a day had gone by as soon as she walked through the front door. She ended up coming out to Park city with my family just a few weeks later, and it was like we had never lost touch. Around February my adopted "big sister" in our sorority and I were emailing back and forth and she mentioned wanting to go on a girls trip. Elizabeth was a year older than me, and had a serious boyfriend her last two years of college, so I really hadn't seen much of her since '96. Again, I hadn't seen or talked to her since then until I saw her on facebook sometime last fall. I told her to get on a plane and come skiing with us in March..and she did exactly that. The first time I saw that girl since I was a sophomore/junior in college was at 8am in the Crown Room of Hartsfield in March...and we went out to Park City and had the greatest weekend skiing, catching up, and just laughing and having a good time-just like we used to in school. We are at two totally different places in our lives-she is married, has 2 kids, attends MOPS meetings, and I am...well, not doing any of those things, yet we still had that "connection" that we had all those years ago. Which brings me to my third and final example for the night. My sophomore year in college I was "hanging out" with a guy, (in college its kinda like dating, but not really wanting to label it dating, so you just say you are "hanging out"...lame, I know), and we did a lot with his best friend and the girl he was dating. Her name was Erin, and her smile was infectious and her laugh even more so. This girl was ALWAYS happy, and she made you happy just being around her. She was truly genuine, and there was never any doubt that she said what she meant, and meant what she said. After graduation, she went off to grad school and I moved to Atlanta..without cell phones (we had them, but they were the size of a small carry on, and cost about $5.00 a minute to use) or email (we had email addresses associated with the school, but once you graduated the account was disabled), it was close to impossible to keep in touch with anyone. We got back in touch this year through FB (so for all the people who hate FB, there are days that I agree, ...but I think it does have the power to do good once in awhile), and she is every bit as amazing as I knew she would be if someone had asked me our senior year "where do you see Erin in 10 years?". Erin is married to a surgery resident who works 90-105 hours a month, and gets 3 days off TOTAL for the month, which includes weekends. Her 3 year old daughter Avery lost her sight due to congenital cataracts at 20 months, has gone through countless surgeries, and cannot see without her special glasses..and with them her sight is still far from ideal. She has an 11 month old little boy, that is just learning to walk, and being married to a surgical resident, she is chasing after both of them by herself the majority of the time. She was in grad school to be a transport/flight nurse, but left to follow her husband to St. Louis with his residency. In the years since I last saw her, she has done one amazing thing after another-gone after her pilots license, quit her Phd program mid dissertation to be a pediatric nurse, been a supportive wife and has had the heartbreak of watching her daughter have her sight and then lose it, followed by the struggle of watching her baby girl go through countless surgeries trying to get it back. We exchanged a couple emails and it didn't take more than 1 or 2 to see she was the same ol' Erin I knew back at UGA...and like Elizabeth we are at total opposite places in our lives, but still our friendship "connection" remained as strong as it had been over a decade before. She is a natural athlete, and we were emailing about a half marathon I had done, and she mentioned she would like to try one at some point. After much convincing that she needed to do something FOR HER since she has dedicated her life to the hardest job in the world-being a caring and loving wife and an amazing mom to two small children, she made the arrangements to have everyone at home covered and we decided we were going to Chicago to run a half marathon together. It was much more than a race was reconnecting with an old friend, it was Erin getting out of St. Louis and getting to do something for her, it was getting to see her achieve such an awesome accomplishment, and the best part was getting to hang out and feel like we were still the same "Burbage/Straight" dynamic duo we were back in the day, and we always would be. It was like not a day had gone by, let alone close to 4,000 of them (over 11 years). You know you have a special friend when life can take you in different directions, you each can have your own struggles, accomplishments, hardships, etc...and then you can pick back up years later and it's like not a day had passed.

So, my original question remains...why do some people have a special connection that creates friendships that last a lifetime, and then there are other people you think you have that lifelong connection with, but in the end it fades away? Or in a certain stage of your life, when you and another person are in similar situations, the friendship is one way, but as soon as one person moves to a different point of their life, it changes...and yet with others it doesn't matter what changes, or what doesn't-you will always be the best of friends no matter what? I wish I knew, because I would bottle it, sell it, and use it for a business plan for my entrepreneurship class that starts on Saturday.

p.s. Blogger will only allow me to post 5 pictures, so I am going to post more tomorrow about the Chicago race, with more pics.
The pics in this picture are Katy and I in park city, Elizabeth and I in Park City, and the Burbage/Straight with our medals!