The professor had gotten out of bed and I squinted at the alarm clock to see how many more hours I could lie in bed before having to accept the fact that I had managed to turn forty, after all. The small rectangular box held the time like a fading secret I had to decipher before it disappeared forever: 4.25am. Which meant it was roughly 4:12am – because the clock is fast, but nobody knows just how much.
My better half returned to our room and flicked on the lights. In our nearly eighteen-year domestic partnership, this was a first. ‘What are you doing?!’ I protested. ‘It’s time to get your present,’ he announced.
‘It’s 4 o’clock in the morning, we do not need to go get anything right now,’ I reminded him of the facts of the situation. And then he stuck a homemade birthday card in my face. One that I was, ostensibly, supposed to read. Though my bleary, sleep-deprived eyes refused to cooperate.
He cut to the chase. ‘You’re going to Chicago. To see First Aid Kit. Your sister’s meeting you there. We need to leave in 15 minutes.’
It’s slightly surreal, having to digest that much information before the sun has risen. ‘I tried to pack for you, but you might want to take a look,’ he motioned to the small grey carry-on in the living room. I pulled back the zip cover and found a black sequined t-shirt that’s at least 10 years old. Along with some jeans that don’t actually fit me.
I shoved some more clothes and shoes in the carry-on along with a bit of makeup, a toothbrush and a comb. Ta-da.
‘Here are the cards the boys made you,’ the professor pointed to a small pile on the dining table. ‘Oh, I’ll just take them on the plane,’ I tried to save time. ‘You might want to just look at them and leave them here,’ he suggested, as one in the know.
Sure enough, the Gort’s card had a three-dimensional appearance courtesy of the 7 Lego figurines he’d taped onto the inside. I looked at the Hen’s more conventional (flat) card. On the back he’d written ‘Thank you for Shopping at Wal-Mart.’
‘I’ve no idea why he wrote that,’ the professor shook his head and we laughed somewhat hysterically considering the hour.
I pulled on a denim skirt and t-shirt while he woke the older boys, who staggered out to the car with their blankets in tow. And, roughly 20 minutes after I’d first heard the news, we were en route to the airport. The boys complaining about being tired and cold and sleepy.
The unfashionable minivan pulled up to the Departures curb right around 5 and I bid my boys farewell. Really, just Percy and the professor, as the other two were fast asleep in the back. I’d just walked inside and found the customs declarations sheets when my phone rang.
‘You’re 40!’ Percy yelled into the phone.
Lest we forget.
With the help of one of the airport’s white-hatted, red-vested seniors, I located the Alaska Airlines counter named on my itinerary. Before proceeding to check-in, I noticed I was surrounded by a half dozen (or so) young women clad in various iterations of black. The copious amounts of self-tanner and makeup, and faintly boozy aura, suggested they were traveling ensemble for celebratory purposes.
That, along with the matching black t-shirts that said: RIP Dignity on the back in hot pink letters.
A sentiment echoed by a fellow traveler who, upon observing the gaggle of vociferous girls boarding her (my!) plane muttered: ‘if those girls don’t shut up, they better open the bar.’
Finally, at an hour when I’m usually still lying in bed, my petite plane took off into the clouds, heading toward Seattle. Away from Chicago. But no matter, because I was sitting in an empty row with nothing else to do but take pictures of the clouds and the mountains.
(Yes, I realize everyone else in the world would have slept. Welcome to my [insomniac] world.)
After a brief layover, in which I ate tomato soup at 7:30 in the morning (local time), it was back on a (bigger) plane headed for Chicago. My phone-camera glued to the window. Because I need more pictures in my life.
Just before 3pm Chicago time, I met my sister in the baggage claim at O’Hare Airport. With three and a half hours before the concert doors at Park West Theater were scheduled to open, we headed for The Coffee Studio in Andersonville, because my sister patiently indulges my coffee obsession. After downing lattes as big as our heads, we drove to Lincoln Park where the Theater resides. We drove past Molly’s Cupcakes on the way, and my sister pulled over while I ran inside for some chocolate peanut butter birthday cupcakes. Which we ate in the [moving] car.
After texting a friend for restaurant recommendations – the same friend who was graciously letting us crash at her apartment after the concert – we found a (free!) parking spot and walked to Gemini Bistro. But not before changing our clothes in the car. ‘We’re like groupies,’ my slightly-younger, almost-as-funny-as-me sister observed. Indeed, this groupie couldn’t even find the comb she was sure she’d packed. This groupie also threw her plane shoes in the trash on the way to dinner because they’d worn out their welcome.
We passed the Theater on our way and stopped in to verify the doors were opening at 6:30, just as First Aid Kit was doing their sound check. Behind closed doors, but still, groupie dreams come true.
At the restaurant we inhaled asparagus risotto, braised beef short rib ravioli and brussels sprouts, along with lychee martinis. (My instagram feed contains my attempt at documentary restraint.) We declined dessert on account of the car-cupcakes, but also because it was mere minutes before 6:30 and I was bound and determined to get a good spot for the show.
Which we did. ‘I can practically touch the keyboard,’ I texted the professor, who would have surely loved to join us were it not for those pesky boy-children. (Or the fact that he’s going to Italy this week. Ahem.)
For an hour and fifteen minutes, I marveled at the music before me and how three of the people in this world who’ve known me the longest (and still put up with me) managed to pull off the best birthday a girl could have.