Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meet me in ..... nevermind, that's too easy.

This past weekend, Ken and I boarded an Amtrak train to St. Louis. Since we're trying our absolute best to be tree-hugging, soy milk drinking, Envirosax-using consumers, we figured the more environmentally-sound public transportation option was best. We took the Metra to Union Station and easily boarded our train. We were supposed to arrive in St. Louis around 3:00. However, as we moved slowly along and gradually came to a complete halt, it became apparent that we were not going to be arriving on time. Our snacks were consumed and Ken had discovered the beer on the snack car before we arrived around 5. Strike one for Amtrak.

Our hotel was a block from the Arch and you could actually see it from our room...if you craned your neck a bit. The real reason for coming to St. Louis on a Thursday was to catch a Tom Waits concert at the historic Fox Theatre. The theater is something else. Completely garish and yet stunning. As for Mr. Tom Waits, who I had never really listed to, what a performer! It was a completely unexpected show. I couldn't understand more than 10 words all night, but that's okay when he's kicking up dust and dancing on the stage.

On Friday, we got up to be typical tourists. First stop, breakfast at The Landing area. Then a short walk to the arch for some artistic shots.

It's not easy being artistic ---

Mustering up some courage, we boarded the tram to the top where we met a mother/daughter duo from Montana on the way up and a family from Georgia on the way down. The scenery is nice from above, but really chatting with complete strangers is close quarters is far more exciting.

Then on two empty stomachs, we grabbed the hotel shuttle to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. We were able to join a tour within minutes of showing up and were soon touring the area. I have to say, the tour itself was a bit of a disappointment. I think it was the fact there were 80 people with us and the tour guides were little robo-trons spewing information into a microphone. We did a Victoria Bitter one in Melbourne and it was awesome. I did enjoy the old buildings and the sense of history on the grounds. And the huge horseys. And this time no animals were harmed in my presence.

And then the best part. Tasting! I don't like beer, but I did drink their wheat ale, which was not bad, especially with free pretzels. Ken might have had a few.

From here we headed to the historic Union Station via public bus where we saw a gamut of crazies and lunatics in a short 10 minute ride. St. Louis never ceased to amaze us with its sheer number of absolute weirdos. Really nice, talkative weirdos, but strange folks nonetheless.

At the train station, we grabbed some calamari at a waterside cafe and splashed out on expensive truffles at a gourmet chocolate shop(pe). Superfancy. Then, strangely enough, Ken's brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and grandmother were passing through, so we all grabbed lunch together.

On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled (literally) across a guy passed out on the sidewalk who was non-responsive. We were asking people if anyone had called 911 as he was bleeding and not looking so great. We were told that "someone called" at "some point." Not feeling very confident about it, we called 911 just as a cop was showing up. Once she actually got the guy to sit up, we discovered he was positively covered in drool. Chalk another weird encounter up for St. Louis.

On Friday night, we headed out for some dinner, drinks, and live music.

Our first stop was the Broadway Oyster Bar where I ate some alligator for the first time. Meanwhile, Ken gorged on oysters on the half-shell and fried. Plus some fried clams.

A $10 cover charge kept us from staying for their live music, but thankfully the joint across the street had R&B music going on. It was great to sit outside, have some wine, and enjoy some great music.

We turned in late and got up at 5:30 a.m. to catch our train back to Chicago. We were supposed to arrive at 12:15 with plenty of time to get back to watch the White Sox. Once our train just flatout stopped on the tracks for 90 minutes with the lights off and talk of a "failed computer in the engine," we knew that wasn't going to happen. 8 hours later, we pulled into Union Station Chicago. Ridiculous. No wonder no one wants to take the train. Apparently the trains are constantly late. Two late trains = 3 strikes. They will be receiving a letter...

Anyway, our short little minibreak to the south was great fun. We met some interesting characters, ate an obscene amount of fried foods, and were typical tourists. It was pretty much perfect.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ta-Ta Sisterhood!

Finally, it's time for a post about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer! I know you're all excited for this moment! I figured I would post a bunch of photos for your amusment with a few little antecdotes. I wish I could take all of the emotion, the spirit, and genorisity of the weekend and put it in a bottle. You truly have to experience an even like this firsthand to know the power of humankind. I encourage you all to sign up for next year. It's a challenge, especially the fundraising bit, but it is worth it! I plan on being there next year, but probably as a cheerleader on the side. Honestly, without those random strangers cheering you on every single step of the way, it would be much more difficult.

So, without further ado ---

The night before. I stayed at David and Patty's house (my boss and his wife). That evening, Patty's neighbor Betsy stopped by to see how our walk preparations were coming along. She walked two years ago and has been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She's too weak to walk it again and it was heartbreaking to hear how she has started planning her goodbyes. She doesn't look sick in the least, but her lungs are constantly on fire and when she goes for a short walk, she has to sleep for hours afterwards. She's a fighter, but eventually this battle will be lost. She encouraged me to take photos of everything, so I did... for her. Here's all of my stuff set out. Our shirt had three women currently fighting and two who have passed away.

Here I am with Patty at 5:00 a.m. getting ready for our drive to Soldier Field where all of the festivities began.

We were welcomed by the cheering Youth Crew and immediately we were swallowed in a sea of pink and some very interesting characters, like this Sweep Fairy who we later saw driving a van and picking up those who couldn't walk any longer.

Here's a man signing the wall in honor of someone he was walking for. We started the day with some group stretching, dancing, and laughing. We were also introduced to three survivors who told their stories to us. Already the tissues were being brought out from everyone's fanny packs.

I couldn't have done this without the support of friends, family, and semi-strangers who donated for the cause. Together, Chicago raised 9.1 million dollars!!!! Unbelievable!

I love this van. (I can relate to the mosquito bites bit) These vans were decorated with bras, hilarious sayings relating to the ubiquitous mention of boobies, and all sorts of fun things. Every time they passed, they would honk and scream and encourage us. It was the crew that truly made this weekend possible and inspired us.

Most people had cute little shirts with funny stayings such as "Save Second Base" and my favorite quote of the weekend, "I'd give a BILLION dollars if I could. I love boobs that much!!!" There was some extreme creativity involving pink and catchy boob-related phrases. And solidarity. It was awesome.

Patty decided in advance that she was only going to walk the half marathon (13.1 miles) on the first day to avoid injury. Jane couldn't join us because something came up at the last minute. I decided to press on and by 5:00 p.m., I was walking into the Wellness Village after 26.2 miles of solid walking. We had rest and quick stops along the way to refuel with food, water, and Gatorade. And there were cheering sections that you'd walk through with tons of people ringing bells, using clappers, giving you high fives, handing you Lifesavers, telling you "THANK YOU FOR WALKING," encouraging you with "YOU CAN DO IT. YOU LOOK GREAT! KEEP WALKING!!!" I have never seen such spirit in my life. Complete strangers all turning out for the cause. And all of them affected in some way or another by breast cancer. This was the most inspiring bit for me.

And here I am at the end of Day 1. I may look happy but I was in some pain and had booked it for the last 4 miles because I figured my hips wouldn't hurt any worse if I was walking fast, and that way I'd be done quicker.

Day 2 began with me feeling hungover. I had a terrible headache, so apparently all of my hydrating wasn't enough, and was feeling extremely nauseous. I had to choke down a muffin and was wondering if I was going to make it through the day. By mile 4, I was doing great. Jane got to join us and it was hilarious to hear her talking about her impressions of all that we had seen the day before.

We crossed busy roads with the assistance of some Hell's Angels types who decked out their bikes with boob references, kept us laughing as we stretched and stood waiting for the light to turn, and regularly entertained us with some music and dancing. They were unbelievable.

And some photos along the way...

With the "udderly" amazing cow people---

Copping a feel at a street crossing with Jane ---

And for once, Chicago produced some amazing weather as promised. We could not have asked for more beautiful weather. I can't imagine doing all this walking in the rain. how horrible. We soaked up the sun and the lakefront. Beautiful.

At the finish line (after devouring huge ice cream cones for the last .5 mile & 39.3 miles of walking), we met up with Betsy and Robin, another neighbor on our t-shirt. They were so emotional as they knew that they had inspired us to keep walking and to help with the fight against breast cancer. They were a fabulous welcoming committee!

Our days ended with a closing ceremony. I thought I was prepared for the emotion, but I wasn't. I can't sum it up for you. You just have to experience it. In fact, you should sign up for next year!!!!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Helping to "Save Second Base"

I did it. 39.3 miles and boy! are my legs tired!

More to follow because apparently my soles and brain are connected.