Tag Archives: Illinois


A donut shop we drove past that made Casper think of inside joke he has with a good friend of his. So, this is for you, Ian.

We left Lindsey’s, and Chicago, on a Monday. Casper went to another successful Craigslist gig; he was paid $75 to have his hair cut on camera. He wanted one side shaved, “like Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element”, but the barber wasn’t game. So, instead, he shaved both sides and around the back. When combed down, it looks like a mop top, which has always been one of Casper’s favorite hairdos. When combed to one side, he gets a little of that Gary Oldman look that he was after. It took me a week to get into it, but I’m quite fond of the cut now.

Casper's new hair cut.

Our plan upon leaving Chicago was to drive to the suburb of Palatine, where a funeral home has a free mini golf course and arcade in their basement. We had an appointment but couldn’t find the darn place so gave up. We found a beautiful forest preserve and I built a basic fort off of the trail a ways. We set up our bedding and then went to Dunkin’ Donuts for wifi.

And this is where stuff started getting rough. Casper lost his wallet. In that wallet was his hair cut money, our food stamps card and our prepaid gas card. So, basically, we had no money. We had no way of continuing our travels or getting dinner.

We made it work. The canned food we’d brought from Cincinnati and two nights in our fort allowed us to wait out the payment from our writing work. With that, we were finally able to move on to Milwaukee.

But, before we left, we searched the car in its entirety – we took the opportunity to reorganize, too – checked every place we had visited since the disappearance, and tried to come to terms with the loss. It was hard not to fight when we were both stressed, Casper in particular. I was amazed at how well I took it in stride; I kept expecting to have a breakdown about it, but nope! I have no explanation,

Along with Casper losing his wallet, I lost one of my lenses while in Palatine. Luckily, I soon found my spare.

but I’ve lived in this head long enough to just take some things like this as blessings and not question them too much.

When we finally had the money to move on, we stopped by the funeral home. We had good directions this time and were really excited to finally play. We both love mini golf but have never played together. And I have only played once or twice in my life. The guys who gave Casper his haircut knew about the place – apparently they and friends had gone on some epic Midwest road trip seeking out the best mini golf courses – and said it was totally a place you could just drop in on.

They were wrong. We pulled into their parking lot and used some herbal incense. It was such a relief to finally relax, to finally be on the road. We just sat in our car for quite a while, enjoying the sense of relief moving on brings. But, when we finally went in and asked to play – they told us on the phone they had free hot chocolate in one of those machines where you just press the button! – they said we couldn’t just drop in and we had to make an appointment.

There was no chance in hell we were staying in Illinois any longer so we grumbled to ourselves and headed north to Milwaukee!


Chicago Memories: Becky and Lindsey’s

After the kosher house, we moved to Lindsey’s house for our last three nights in Chicago. Lindsey lives with her friend Becky – they met while studying abroad in China – but she was out of town during our whole visit due to a family emergency.

Our second day there was a Sunday. We stayed in all day and wrote online to make some money. Per Casper’s request, I choose articles for him, he writes them and then I review what he’s written. Often, he’ll need me to add a few dozen words to reach the word count. The system works really well. I think we ended up pumping out about $50 – quite satisfactory.

Our second night, another couch surfer arrived. Kasha is Polish and working as an au pair on the east coast. She told us that when she started doing that nearly a year ago, it was her first time in the US. She had one week of vacation and she was determined to see as much of Chicago as possible. She’d been sightseeing in Boston right before. She was gregarious and talkative. Her style blew my mind: a quarter of her head shaved while the rest was past her shoulders, brightly colored shoes…very hip hop, but in a European way. Well, that’s my guess, anyway. My modern European education comes entirely from Skins.

Around this time, I was struggling with nightmares galore. I had three straight nights that I woke from feeling shamed, terrified and anything but rested. Because of that, we didn’t really do much around Chicago those last few days. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally.

Salem was allowed in at Lindsey’s and, after the fright at the kosher house, he did so well! He quickly surveyed the room when we first brought him in: noting dark corners, learning which furniture could be crawled beneath, and locating Lindsey’s comfy bed. Lindsey and Kasha were both great with him and it was really good to see him have such a good, relaxed time.

Chicago Memories: Friday the Thirteenth

Crazy art in downtown Chicago's Millennium Park.

Writing these memories from Madison, two weeks after the fact (and posting them from Minneapolis, a month later!), I can’t believe how much about our life and financial situation has changed since then. It was our last day at the kosher house and we were moving that evening to Lindsey’s.

On Friday the thirteenth, Casper and I participated in a cognitive learning study at some psychology center in downtown Chicago. I’m always on the lookout for paying studies when I browse Craigslist and this was our first time trying it.

We went to a really tall building and took an elevator up higher than humans are meant to go. Then I waited in my vagabond clothes in this fancy little waiting area while Casper did the study. Everyone who I saw was wearing suits. The only guy I saw wearing jeans apologized to the guy he was meeting for being so “casual”. Such a strange world to peek into!

The study was fascinating. We basically were asked to discover the pattern the computer was showing. Each page had a line of either exclamation points or percentage symbols on the top, then a strange, pixilated image in the middle, and then a row of four or five pixilated images below. We had to choose one of the bottom images and the computer would tell us whether we had picked the right one. So, by trial and error, we had to figure out what symbols on the page effected which bottom symbol would be correct.

I was told to go as fast as I could and it was stressful! I couldn’t imagine how Casper had lived through it; he’s not the fast-as-you-can type of learner. At the end of the study, the tester (who was really rad and working on this for her masters, I think) told me that Casper had been part of the group that was encouraged to take as long as they needed when answering the questions and I was part of the timed group. I said, “Wow, that is so us. I work better timed and he works better when he has all the time he needs.”

She looked at me with a grin and said, “You know, that’s exactly what he said at the end of his test.”

After she handed us our cash, I set up the laptop at a Starbucks – it was so busy they didn’t notice we didn’t buy anything! – and Casper walked to an occult bookstore he had his eye on. He had this nutty, esoteric-geek moment with the guys who ran the place and another customer where they all were seeking and discussing Golden Dawn tarot theory. When he returned, we headed back to the kosher house to get Salem and the rest of our things and headed towards Lindsey’s.

She wasn’t home at the time we arrived, so we drove to a grocery store parking lot and watched Lost on the laptop until it ran out of power. By that time, Lindsey was home and we settled in quickly.

Chicago Memories: La Bagh Woods

I am a big fan of feet and photos of feet/shoes.

On some day while we were at the kosher house, we headed out to Bagh Woods, which looked very green and wooded on the map. It was only a few miles from the kosher house, but it was so beautiful and lush!

We were scouting the place out as our possible next home because at that point we hadn’t found a place to stay for Friday night onward. We took my guitar, Casper’s newly acquired saw and bow, our favorite tapestry and a picnic out into the woods. We set up under a fallen try where I knew I could built a cozy, warm fort if we did end up sleeping there.

We were about to start playing cards when it started raining. We put our shoes and things as close to a big tree trunk as we could to keep them dry and then, on a whim, decided to go hiking n the rain. It was evening; the setting sun provided a glowing light. We trekked along a path, my feet caking with muddy clay, admiring the dramatic lightening that kept splitting the sky. The thunder was overwhelming.

Casper was all gung-ho about continuing, but I made us turn back. It’s a good thing, too, because by the time we got to our little camp and gathered our belongings, it was dark. We headed in the direction we thought the parking lots was, but ended up on some peninsula, with muddy, standing water on three sides.

So we trekked back to where we’d come from and guessed at another path. It was at this point that we were both getting a little frightened. We could definitely sleep outside if need be, but we were wet and tired and had a warm, dry bed somewhere. We just wanted to get home!

At long last, we found our way to the parking lot and to our car. It had a parking ticket for being at the park after sunset. To make matters worse, all the entrances to the parking lot had been chained and locked. We drove around, looking for an open exit, but finally just drove up onto the curb and over the lawn for a few yards to escape.

Chicago Memories: Lakefront Painting

On Mother’s Day, Casper and I walked to the beach, passing by a small farmer’s market and beautiful murals on the way.

Part of a huge mural under an L station. More here.

We played in the waves a little bit – Casper was disappointingly cautious – and I ended up dropping our camera into the water by mistake. It’s a goner.

Beautiful Lake Michigan.

We laid out our tapestry on the grass, off the beach to escape the brutal wind. It was chilly, but I set up my paints and worked on some pere on the back of cereal boxes. Casper wandered off to find us some food and while he was gone a girl showed up and started watching me. I asked her if she wanted to paint. She said she’d have to ask her mom and ran off.

She returned with two siblings. So Margo, Daniel and Olivia painted with me. Margo was the one who originally approached me. She was 8, I think, and definitely extroverted. She added sand to her painting and chatted incessantly. Daniel was 5, I think, and rather quiet. Olivia was 11, I think, and just hitting those awkward preteen years. Margo sat right down and started painting; when I asked Daniel, he didn’t say anything but sat down and waited for paper; Olivia said “I guess” when I asked if she wanted to paint and made a point of regularly correcting her siblings’ stories and claims.

The two girls looked at me with skepticism and wonder when I said that I live on the road. And when I took my hat off to show them my completely bald head, Margo was the only one brave enough to touch it.

Chicago Memories: Salem on the Loose

Casper cuddling Salem at Abby's. (I dropped the camera in the lake our first or second day at the kosher house, thus the lack of relevant pictures).

The kosher household was gracious enough to let Salem stay inside. We brought in his stuff, but just risked it as far as him staying in our room (the vast majority of rooms in the house didn’t have doors). He disappeared pretty quick. We told ourselves we wouldn’t worry until 24 hours had past. It did. We asked housemates and searched. Nothing. We waited a bit longer and then did a thorough inspection, starting in the basement.

The basement was full of…not “junk”, but the typical stuff that fills basements. There were bicycles in various states of health, luggage, etc. We took flashlights down to look for Salem and I started to walk about, calling the kitty’s name. Casper, on the other hand, being an honorary feline himself and basically possessing connected souls with our own legit feline, scanned the walls with his eyes trying to find the “place with the most corners”. Casper found him nearly immediately.

The wooden steps down to the basement were up against bare dirt. There was some stuff stuffed (oh, I have such an enormous vocabulary) between the stairs and the wall and Casper navigated behind that and shone the flashlight up under the stairs. And, there, with his tail curled around him and tucked in between two stairs, was Salem J Earle, Puddleby Ticklewhiskers, President Howard J Kitty Taft, looking absolutely terrified and covered in spider webs.

I helped Casper move more of the stuff out of the way and he was finally able to grab Salem. He was shaking and we took him upstairs to the loft. We gave him food and water and treats and wiped him down with a warm cloth. We barricaded the door and from then on he progressed from hiding under pillows in the loft to eventually trotting from under the bed, up the loft stairs and wherever he pleased in the room with confidence.

That was our most frightening time with Salem but I think it reinforced to him that though we may be moving around a lot, we’ll never abandon him. When we moved on to our next couch at Lindsey’s, he adapted quite quickly and has been doing well ever since. We are so incredibly proud of how well he handles our crazy lifestyle.

Chicago Memories: Downsizing Possessions

Chicago, as seen from the greatest Whole Foods in the world.

The night we left Cincinnati we knew we needed to get rid of a lot of our stuff. The car was packed to the gills even though we ended up throwing out a bunch of stuff at the last minute. It was heartbreaking!

Most of the stuff we decided to get rid of was clothing; nice clothing in particular. So, one day in Chicago while staying at Abby’s, we sorted out all the clothes we thought might sell at Buffalo Exchange and then hauled a huge tub of clothes to the store.

Unfortunately, they only wanted a few things. Apparently, our things were either too wintery or too “wash worn”. We put the clothes back in the car and put getting rid of them on the back burner. Then, one sunny day while we were at the kosher house, we decided it was time for a complete car reorganization session and drove to a nearby park.

It happened to be near a school and all the kids who passed stared and a bunch of them asked if the stuff was free or for sale. We took everything – and I mean everything – out of the car and put it on the lawn. We went through our clothes again, keeping things we’d only put in the giveaway pile because we thought they’d sell. We still had a huge pile of give-away, though, and were planning on taking it to a thrift store when a woman walked up and asked if anything was free. We looked at each other and then pointed to the pile of give-away clothes. She ended up taking quite an armload and we felt quite pleased.

Though it broke my heart, we got rid of Stu, the computer Garrick left me when we broke up. Garrick had built that computer for his sister a few years ago and then reclaimed it when she didn’t want it anymore. And then he left it for me when he moved home. It was the second computer that I’d ever been able to call my own and it was the first good one. But desktop computers are huge and by Chicago I knew it was rare that I’d ever want to set him up and use him. So, goodbye, Stu. Or, goodbye computer case. We kept the new hard drive we’d put in back in Cincinnati.

Getting rid of him opened up a lot of room in the trunk and by the end of our reorganization, the car was so much more livable. Salem had more room, everything was better organized, we had less stuff in general, and things we actually planned to use regularly were easily within reach.

Plus, getting rid of so much stuff was us making a bigger commitment to our life on the road, too.

Chicago Memories: The Kosher House

Cute growing method at the kosher house. (I somehow took no pictures of the indoors...)

After we stayed with Abby, we stayed in a three story communal house home to eight young Jewish folks. They kept a strict kosher house but also dumpster dived most of their food. It was really amazing to see how religion brought them together and gave them, from my point of view, a common ground that simplified communal living.

We were a little freaked out at first because it was so empty during the day: we would wake up around 9 or 10 and the house would be empty except for maybe one quiet person upstairs on a laptop. No one was very friendly at first. We’ve decided that we just hit the house at a bad time, because by the end of our six day stay the feel in the house had changed drastically. The house was warmer – literally and in terms of friendliness – and there was more laughter.

We slept in a loft that one of the housemates had built, under half a dozen soft, heavy blankets. He, we were told, was very into making beds. There were two bedrooms on the first floor, both with lofts as well as beds on the ground. Even the kitchen had a bed in it, built beautifully out of light-colored wood slats. And almost all the beds had lots of slatted shelving around them, too. Our room was also home to a big computer desk covered in papers and a comfy chair. The steps up to the loft had shelves underneath them, perfect for setting things on when sitting in the chair. The other room had a hammock, too, and steps that led to the basement.

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Leaving Chicago

We’ve decided it’s time. We almost slept out in a beautiful park Friday night, but since it’s been pouring down rain and freezing and windy we’re really grateful that a couch host came through at the last minute.

It feels so good to be able to decide when we’re done with a city and be gone within days of making that decision. We’re thinking Monday, after we visit a free, mini golf course in the basement of a funeral home in Palatine, Illinois.

While mostly this trip is about escaping our anxiety and proving to ourselves that the world is good, I’m not about to say that we don’t have any of that numb depression that makes running away the most satisfying option in the world. I have that more than Casper, I think, and I’ve been listening to this song all morning. We’re ready to roll outta this town. We’ve built a fire and we’re surviving it; we’ve found a storm and we’re riding it.

We Love Chicago!

Playing cards at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We stayed at the first couch, Abby’s, from May 2 to May 7.

Maia and Sophie, Abby's kitties.

By the second day there, we decided to bring Salem inside for good and let the three cats just have it out. There was lots of hissing and picking of fights. Casper hardly slept the first two nights because of all the 2am hissing fits. Abby’s kitties are Maia, who is very simple and reminds me of Brittany from Glee, and Sophie, who is more like Santana. They’d fight all night and then seem to agree to take a nap around 10am each day and there would be peace. Eventually Salem kind of won out as the king of the house and the last few days there were times when all three cats were quiet.

During our time at Abby’s, she was gone at work pretty much all day, every day. We spent quiet mornings drinking too much green tea (accidental caffeine overload) before heading out for sightseeing. In the evenings, we would chat and laugh with Abby. She works in a long-term care facility for folks with mental illness so she and I had lots to talk about. Her bookshelves were full of books Casper and I both recognized. Her walls displayed beautiful, goddess-y art and even some Frida. Casper cooked an incredible soup the second or third day as well as a nice breakfast on Abby’s day off.

A yak-thing :)

We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday because that is their free day. Jim Nutt’s work blew my mind and inspired me, too.

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is free everyday! After it closed at 6pm, Casper and I went to a head shop and then a grocery store. We sat under one of the super noisy L overpasses and ate tasty challah and salami and cheese and juice. Then we passed by the Oz Park – which we’re definitely planning on visiting again when my feet aren’t killing me – and wandered our way home.

As we were getting some stuff out of the Pearl before heading up to Abby’s, Casper called out that there were ducklings in the road! They turned out to be geese: two parents and 11 goslings. There was a long line of cars behind them, driving at goose-speed with their headlights on. The family was headed for a big, nasty street so I immediately started guiding them to the sidewalk and to the right, towards what a bystander said was the nearest park with water.

Mama, Papa and 11 goslings on Wieland Street in Chicago.

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On the Road to Chicago: Part II

A can of applesauce I went at with a pair of scissors and a spoon and a beautiful butterfly sculpture outside of the Michigan City library.

We woke up feeling rested around 6 or 7. We packed up and drove towards the dunes. It was still dark so we couldn’t see the lake or the dunes, but we did see two adorable raccoons and a bunch of deer. We headed back to town and looked for a diner with no luck. So we headed back to the dunes and, with the sun up, were awed by the incredible blueness of Lake Michigan. I had to reeducate Casper in the fact that rivers and lakes do not have tides, only oceans, seas and Lake Superior.

We pulled over to the side of the road just to sit and look at the lake and, though we felt alert, I quickly fell asleep on Casper’s lap. A state patrol woman woke us both up about half an hour later, telling us we couldn’t sleep there. We apologized, grumbling to ourselves that we had seen maybe one car since parking there so it wasn’t like we were blocking traffic, and then got back on the road.

Now on the 12, we again returned to Michigan City, finding the actual city this time instead of just abandoned factories and the terrifying nuclear thingy (the first one either one of us had ever seen in person). We found a pretty library and spent several hours online, sharing Casper’s laptop. I cut up old magazines, tried in vane to walk to a grocery store, and ended up eating a stale-bagel-with-peanut-butter-and-a-carrot lunch in the car while Casper read news online.

When it was my turn, Casper read Atlantic Monthly, tried to drive to a grocery store (also in vane) and created some sort of lunch out in the car. I looked for couch surfing hosts, when the Chicago Fellowship of Reconciliation was meeting, work for us while in town, and lots of other things to do and see in Chicago for free.

Lake Michigan!

Around 4pm, we departed, first finding a grocery store at long last. We snacked on oranges and Reese’s and Casper drove us all the way into Chicago. Our first stop was the FOR meeting. After some struggle, mostly caused by wanting to stay off of freeways, we finally found the place. We made sure Salem was fed and watered and then went inside to meet the chapter and watch that night’s feature: William Stafford. This was Casper’s first experience with FOR and I was pleased to see he enjoyed the lack of pretentiousness that keeps me coming back to the group. The meeting was only about seven people, all at least 40 years older than me, and we ended up grabbing our speakers from the car to help out.

Before and after the movie, we all sat around in comfy chairs and discussed the Chicago chapter’s actions, my experience and news from the Western Washington FOR chapters and Osama Bin Laden’s capture. I continue to feel completely safe, at home, appreciated and inspired by every FOR event I attend.

Earlier in the day, in Michigan City, I had contacted several Chicago couch surfing hosts and one responded nearly immediately. Her name is Abby and it is from her home that I type this. Even though we have yet to be verified on the couch surfing website, she invited us into her studio home right near the lake. We arrived at her home around 10pm. She gave us a parking pass for her street and we immediately felt at home. We have many shared interests and the evening was spent trading stories and discussing books.

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On the Road to Chicago: Part I

After leaving Cincinnati at around 2am on May 1, we headed north on the 127 because Casper wanted to skip as much of Indiana as possible. I fell asleep in the front seat, surrounded by our excess of belongings. Salem hid in the trunk and Casper drank an energy drink.

We stopped at the Wall first, a brick wall outside of Stop-n-Go where we had the most important conversations of our early relationship. Last fall, it was the only place we both felt capable of opening up and talking. Per usual, at 2am the place was packed. We sat on the Wall, watching drunken college students make fools of themselves. The clerk always buzzes folks in at this our as the place is notorious for being robbed (some call it the Stab-n-Go). The security guard kept an eye on everyone, the college students lined up outside the door. And all this in the flashing police lights reflected from some crime happening around the corner. I’ll miss Cincinnati, but it was time to leave.

Our perfect sleeping spot near Lake Wawasee in Indiana.

I slept until around 4am. Casper pulled over at a rest stop and we slept in the uncomfortable front seat for a few hours before continuing north. Somewhere around Bryan, Ohio, we headed west on the 6. We’re avoiding freeways because we’re not hurrying anyway, we want to see the world we pass through and slower speed limits conserve gas (a theory we weren’t sure would be proven to but it has!).

The 6 took us across the entirety of northern Indiana. We missed Michigan by a few dozen miles so I still can’t check that state of my list.Around 11am, we stopped near Syracuse, Indiana, and followed our atlas to Lake Wawasee. We couldn’t find a way to get down to the water, but we found a most glorious square field full of lush grass, chirping birds and dandelions. We laid out our big red blanket and slept, thanking the sun when it appeared and cursing it when it slipped back into the clouds. We ate stale bread and delicious hummus for lunch. No one bothered us, though a cop car slowed down near us at one point and that freaked Casper out. Luckily, we were just strapping the car top carrier back on and he or she hadn’t seen us sleeping.

Me, waking up from my nap, and the glorious abandonment across from our field.

About a mile from our Wawasee location, we heard a weird thumping noise which turned out to be a flat tire. What are the odds?! Less than 24 hours into our road trip! Luckily, we broke down right near a farmhouse and northern Indiana feels like home to me because it looks like Wisconsin. I went up to the house, the young boy mowing the lawn eyeing me curiously, and asked the woman who answered if they had metric tire wrenches. For some reason, the tire wrench we currently have does not fit our car’s tires. It’s pretty silly.

The woman said no, but within a few minutes a man about the same age came out with some tools. We were unloading the trunk to get the spare tire and Casper was jacking up the car. The man, whose name I think was Dan, was accompanied by his second grader Lily. When he went back to his garage to get some tools, she returned with a hula hoop but was too shy to show us her skill. She made it clear, though, that she was a better hula-hooper than her dad. He agreed.

Dan was incredibly nice. He told us he’d never really left the Syracuse area in his life, but he didn’t treat us like weirdos even though I was barefoot, wearing sweatpants, a torn up pink vintage church dress, and a long red coat. Casper in his sleeveless black hoodie covered in obscure band patches, a blue bandana and patched up tan jeans probably didn’t look too rural either. Lily couldn’t keep her eyes off us, me in particular. She said she does, in fact, like school and she was very interested in the fact that we had a cat in the car. Her eyes looked like they were taking in all she saw and adding it to her growing list of things and lifestyles that are possible.

She, and her relationship with her dad, made me think so much of myself as a little country bumpkin 15 years ago in rural Wisconsin.

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