Self-portraits in the Third-Life

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

It’s been more than a while since I have drafted anything on my blog, and I like to think that there is good reason for that.  My wife and I have bought a house, are expecting a baby, and have just completed a strenuous 6-month intensive Spanish-language course. What did I do to celebrate having survived some of the most wonderfully consuming months of my life? I decided to ditch town (thank you sweetheart) for a weekend and head to Chicago to meet up with some of my closest friends before we have a baby and move to Honduras.

Life has a way of pushing and pulling you in directions that lead you further and further from your closest friends of yesteryear.  First you graduate college, the place where many these friendships form.  Being that it is somewhat rare for “young professionals” to stay in the city where they graduate — at least for very long — inevitably, you find yourself on opposite sides of a country nearly the size of Europe.  Soon you realize that the real world has prevented you from maintaining these friendships in a meaningful way, since doing so means trekking across France, Germany, all of Eastern Europe to Moscow to reach them, and with the notable exceptions of bachelor parties, weddings, and chance encounters, the 15 days or so most young people get off a year is just not enough to provide time to meet up with these close friends with any regularity.  Or is it?

In the years since I graduated, my core group of friends has traveled to meet up and rekindle the spirit of our college days more than a few times.  We skied in Utah and Colorado.  My crew joined me in DC for a long weekend before I started my tour abroad in Bahrain.  We met up for an adventure in Turkey and Jordan while I was abroad.  And just this past weekend, we met in Chicago, to catch up and devour no less than three deep dish pizzas.  I appreciate these moments more as we enter what can only be described as our third-life (no longer quarter, and certainly not mid).  In short we have made it a priority to do two things: one, to meet up to ensure that our friendship remains an important part of our lives and two, to choose interesting places to entice ourselves to make that a reality.

Chicago was no different.  In fact, it was incredible.  As I already mentioned, we consumed deep dish Chicago-style pizzas from Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East, and Giordano’s, the three most renowned pizza establishments in the Windy City (UNO’s just seems lame).  Consensus says that Giordano’s is the overall best pizza, although Malnati’s crust was pretty incredible.  We visited a number of local bars near our AirBnB (try it while it lasts) in West Town, but were not very impressed with many of the local beers, although I was pretty happy with my Bell’s Oberon and some billiards.  We saw amazing works at The Art Institute, which turned out to be a royal flush amongst a sea of four-of-a-kinds, full-houses, flushes, and straights.  We watched the Chicago Fire win a game in their awesome soccer-specific stadium, walked all around downtown (the bean {aka Cloud Gate} is so cool), got our money’s worth from the Chicago Transit Authority, visited historic Humboldt Park a Puerto Rican barrio, played mini golf, went to Lincoln Park Zoo, saw the Cubs lose to the Reds at Wrigley, relaxed in a Russian Spa, had breakfast Puerto Rican, Filipino, and Mexican-style, saw an improv show, and finally, the icing on the cake was a hot dog (really a sausage dog) from Hot Doug’s.  And our soundtrack was a mix a Blurred Lines, Daft Punk, and Macklemore, with a taste of Florence.  We even managed to find time to play our obligatory rounds of backgammon, the game I imagine we will play when can no longer walk or talk and receive our food from a straw.


But let’s be honest, that incredible list of activities only served as a backdrop for what was really a weekend catching up with my crew.  It would be difficult to find four guys at more different points in their lives.  There is the newly single guy, who ended a long term relationship and successfully works a somewhat autonomous gig in the city he grew up in.  There is the divorced guy, who has found new love and a new non-profit job on the West Coast far from his roots.  There is the small town guy who just moved in with his girlfriend and is hoping to get a promotion and a raise in the job he has worked for a while in one of the closer big cities.  And then there is me: married, having a baby, and headed to the most dangerous country in Central America (and the world, if you don’t count war zones).

Art imitates life...

Art imitates life…

You would think that we would have little in common, but the truth is that we have so much in common and so much to talk about.  Philosophy, religion, politics, global warming, relationships, and sports are topics that only start to cover the breadth of our conversations.  My friends’ ideas have given me new perspectives on life and the world we live in.  They have provided me with some “real talk” on America, the country I love, but have not known intimately in a few years.  The time spent apart gave us an opportunity to color the images of our personal paintings, abstract or impressionist, modern or post-modern, beautiful or grotesque, and to display them unashamed and inspired, ready to accept both criticism and praise.  And as with all artists, this painting, this self-portrait, is just a phase, a moment in time, to capture the reality (or surreality) of now, but what future phase will arise is a story yet untold.  Where in the world will we paint next?

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