Monday, September 28, 2009

Visitors and Sleep

I don't know why I feel I have to be out until the ungodly hours of the morning when JDE is visiting, but we always are.

We had a very nice time. Just say around the house Friday night drinking homemade margaritas and wine until 0230. Had a really fun cooking class at the Chopping Block then Dinner (with MMcM and JDE) at Sunda, then visited the Zebra then Boystown. Sunday, of course, was spent lounging on the couch watching TV and napping a bit. A very fun visit indeed.

I made the Panko Crusted Mustard and Herb chicken for dinner last night. Tonight I am going to grill some turkey burgers. I am trying to eat better and take better care of myself again. I am displeased with how flabby and out of shape I am. Unfortunately, complaining about it while eating poorly and sitting on the couch hasn't helped...maybe taking an active stance finally will...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gettin' my hair did

I think I am in love. Let's start at the beginning, HIMYM style, shall we?

Picture it: Wednesday June 3, 2009. This day and the day following will be two days that I will never forget. I was invited to the first ever Hugo Boss sample sale in Chicago by a wonderful friend. Another fab girl joined us. Have you been to a HB sample sale? It is fantastic. Suits were on sale for 3/$1195 (retail between $795 and $1595 each), shirts were $50 vs. $175 each, shoes were $125 vs $295. Its a dream come true for a cheap ass suit lover, like me. We attended the preview event (which cost is $25 each) but got first shot at all the clothes, plus all we could drink (cha-fucking-Ching).

I had one goal that night (from a shopping standpoint), buy a funeral suit. I knew my dad was very near the end, I needed a new suit (writing this now makes me feel bad that I went shopping the night before he died--which is why the next day will never be forgotten).

I found some suits, some shirts, some ties and some shoes. I drank white wine until the bar was dry (its a big gay event, how do you run out of booze?). there were three great things that happened that night: I got a great deal on fantastic clothes, I was able to step away from the death issues and have a great time with some friends, and finally-- the goodie bag!

This Goodie-Bag is legendary (again, HIMYM style). It wasn't a small bag with a soap sampler, it was a huge fucking shopping bag full of heaven. It had full size samples of premium shave cream and gels, shampoos, conditioners, self tanners, body scrubs, soaps, colognes and styling products. This goodie bad (as described thus far) is worth about $250.

There is an envelope containing a large number of gift certificates. These weren't certs for 5% off first time visitors to a dry cleaner either. It was a 90 minute massage for $15; 5 gift certs for full haircut/shave/mani/shoe shines; 40% teeth bleaching and so on.

I divided up the certs between me and my mom (some were more geared towards women). I found a cert for a place I had never heard of: John Allan's. Who is this guy? It wasn't a cert for a free service, but a very for a haircut, hot facial towel, shoe shine, manicure and a drink for $38... I know, this isn't a free thing. What's that all about?

The demographic of the people attending the HB sample sale was more of a higher end shopper, so freebies are not necessarily the attention grabber you'd think. I decided to try out this John Allans. It was unlike anything I had been to before.

It is in the Penthouse of an office building in the loop, on Jackson, near the Board of Trade. I walk in and it is modern, yet classic. I knew not what to expect. I was greeted by the receptionist (very bad word for her, but she receives the clients). My bag was taken away very quickly and I was helped into a smock -like at all salons (the smock not the helped into the smock). I was lead into the lounge while I wait for Amy (my stylist) to get me. I was offered a drink (half a dozen beers, but if I join I can have scotch)...if I join??

I drink a Fat Tire. The lounge consists of a bar, a pool table a 4 seat shoe shine stand and a small seating arrangement with a couch and 2 chairs. Current mens fashion, sports and adventure magazines sit atop the coffee table. Yes, I said CURRENT, my first visit was in June and the July GQ and Outside were on the table. This is no dentist office.

The room has a shoe shine guy, a bartender and another guy just hanging around waiting for something to do. A few minutes later Amy retrieves me from the lounge. We chat about my hair, I get a wash, a condition, a hot towel on my face, a haircut, a manicure and another beer. After the treatments I go to the shoe shine station and get a very nice polish and another beer.

My services were done, so I decide to leave. The receptionist (ugh) asks how things went. She then tells me the "deal" with this place. Its like a modern gentlemens club (don't read this as a strip club). You pay an annual membership and you can come as often as you like for the signature services (shampoo, haircut, mani, shoe shine, hot towel, and a drink or 5). Interesting concept.

I have lived in Chicago for 8 years and haven't found a person or place that I loved to do my hair. The Linfielders know that I loved going to that Oompa Loompa Sylvia in Mac every 3 weeks, and she just did a mediocre job. So if I pay a membership I get as many free haircuts (et Al) I want in a year? The membership price is steep, but if you figure the annual price of haircuts it isn't outrageous. You must tip each visit (or you should): the shoe shine guy, the manicurist and the stylist.

I decided to join. It has a semi elitist feel to it, but not in an unwelcoming way. Anyone can join, but not everyone will.

I just paid them a visit tonight before JDEs flight lands. It is nice to be greeted by name (Norm!) and have good service. From an Economics stand point, the membership is a sunk cost, if I use it or don't I still paid the same amount, the variable cost is the tips associated with frequent visits.

A guy I chatted with tonight (hot, but this place is NOT a gay club or a hookup joint) comes every Friday. I would come every week too, if my office weren't 12 blocks away. Its a 7 minute train ride, but its not super convenient. I really enjoy that place too.

As a member I have a few free passes for friends to come in and try it out. It would be even more fab if a few friends would meet up regularly. I will have to work on that.

I only wish they offered more spa services like an esthetician or massage therapist.

Google it. And if you live in Chicago or New York (new location in Beverly Hills soon) sign up and treat yourself.

Cancun - Final Full Day

We woke up on Saturday hurting a little bit. Not hung over just a headache, mostly from the 252 degree weather at Chichen Itza, but the tequila shot and margaritas didn't aid the hydration issue at all.

Started off, as everyday, at the breakfast Buffet, which was included in our room rate. Still hurting a little. JFB had to meet with the marketing guy to take a quick tour of the hotel. EAD and I wandered around the property for a bit then went back to the room. I was excited to have European TV stations like the real BBC and Deutsche Welle. While getting ready in the mornings and before bed I would watch DW and again become depressed for being mono linguistic. I am trying though!

Anyway, at 11am we had a private cooking class at the hotel. The class was Real Mexican. Viking built the kitchen we were using so we got a small sales pitch and got to try the induction cooktop. It was great. I would totally upgrade right now to induction. You must try it out!

The cooking lesson was to be private, as the cooking school was closed for the season, we always seem to travel off season. JFB worked his magic and got them to open the class for us. Instead of a regular head chef teaching the class, we had Chef Rainer, the Executive Chef conducting the class. He is responsible for, and in charge of 2 of Mexicos only 3 Five Diamond Restaurants, both of which are in the Ritz.

Chef Rainer is from Germany, and has a very scary German accent. When I speak German I have a southern accent - not like I am from Alabama, but like I am from a very certain part of Austria. It usually surprises German speakers when they hear my accent and immediately ask if I studied (or on the very rare occasion, if I am from) the suburbs of Vienna. Nein.

Our private lesson for 3 was actually crashed by a guy and his girlfriend from Frommers Travel Guides. He was reviewing the hotel for an upcoming publication. Unfortunately, it was off season, so many/most of the hotel amenities were not at full capacity. The fab restaurants were closed, the culinary institute was closed (er, geschlossen). The marketing Veep asked if we were ok with the crashers. What could we say.

The Viking Cooking School at the Ritz was amazing. I fell in love with the induction stove tops. I had a great time in class. We started out making margaritas, which I was in no mood for, still being a little maggoty from the night before. After one sip of the heavenly margarita I was in tip top shape. I have made these margaritas a couple times since I've returned from Mexico.

We also made ceviche, which I have always wanted to try, but the whole raw fish thing made me nervous as a home chef. It was so good! For the entree we had chicken and poblano enchiladas. And to top it off, we made home made churros with a chocolate sauce. The entire meal was fantastic. I replicated this meal the Thursday after my return for my friend KS. I think it turned out very well.

After the cooking class we had 2.5 hours to kill until our spa appointments. We decided to go out in the ocean. It was only a single red flag day. Still so very rough and scary. I quickly moved to the pool, much more my speed.

The spa was nice, but very small. We had our individual treatments then retired to the outdoor area with the hot and cold plunges. I tried a new spa experience, it was an aromayuvedic massage (a combination of aroma therapy and ayuvedic treatment-- google it). They warned me that I would be SUPER sleepy afterwards, I was.

We left the spa at 630 and just hung out in the room for a while. We weren't hungry but didn't want to waste our last night together falling asleep early.

We went to Luxury Avenue, a mall of sorts packed with luxury retailers. It wasn't duty free, but it had all the standards-LV, MB, a nice watch store, etc. They also had a great veuve clicquot bar. How fab is that?

We ate a mediocre dinner at the hotel, ocean side, with margaritas of course. Then we called it a night.

Up early for a buffet brunch then off to the areopuerto to return home. As always it was a fabulous trip with these guys. The final brunch of each trip is so sad, we are heading back to reality.

What did I learn on this trip? I love home made margaritas, I can make ceviche and churros at home, 3.5 hours in coach isn't as bad as 3.5 hours in coach on a plane full of fatties, life is short-always plan time with friends, and languages are like bikes, if you haven't used it in a while a little tequila makes it easier to use.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cancun - Day 2

On Friday I had arranged a private tour of Chichen Itza-Mayan ruins about 2.5 hours from Cancun. We had a private van, a driver and a guide. We were up at 645 so we could have breakfast before the tour at 745.

When I was waiting for the flight at ORD, a man came running up to me. He was wearing a safari hat and camouflage pants. He could barely utter his question to me, as he was out of breath. He wanted to know if the plane had finalized boarding yet. I love to travel and I spent more time than the average person in the airport, but questions like this annoy me. The big board at the gate said boarding will begin in 2 minutes. Come on! He volunteered that he was from Syracuse and had won a sales competition at his office for a 3 night stay at the Ritz (dammit!) plus airfare for one. He left his wife and newborn son (8 months old) home while he went to Mexico. Seems odd to me. And what kind of company rewards its employees with a single ticket?

Anyway, after breakfast on Friday we are waiting in the hotel lobby for our van to be ready and Safari Hat comes over to talk to me again. I tell him we are going to Chichen Itza for the day and he invites himself along. I tell him it is a private tour and everything is pre-arranged and paid for. His response was "Oh these people are very flexible, I will go talk to them"-what balls, eh? I quickly ran out to the tour leader while JFB ran interference with Safari Hat. He did not come on our tour. It would have been miserable if he had joined us.

The drive to Chichen Itza was 2.5 hours. We stopped off at a cenote (sink hole) and drove through some Mayan villages. Honestly, the Mayan villages were not what I was expecting. I thought it would be like Jamestown, replica ancient Mayan villages. Nope. We were shown how the Mayans live today: in cinder block houses with thatched roofs. They make hammocks and dresses and other linen type products. Very colorful, but not really my style.

We get to Chichen Itza around 1045am, check in, use the WC and begin the tour. I really liked the idea of the private guide. He really picked up on what interested us and what did not. We walked around the North, South and Central Zones and saw another Cenote. The architecture was very cool. I didn't know the 4-sided main pyramid had 91 stairs on each side, which when you add it to the top platform equals 365, the number of days in a year. We got lots of fun facts like that throughout.

There weren't many people at Chichen Itza, so as you can see from my pictures, there aren't too many people ruining the shots.

After the tour we went to a lunch buffet at the Mayaland hotel. We watched a Mayan woman hand make corn tortillas for us. As everyone knows, I am not a buffet (pronounced BU-fay) guy. This buffet was great. Nice mix of chicken, need, pork and fish. Nice tortilla soup--nothing is better after walking around in the blazing sun for 3 hours than a boiling bowl of soup! We gorged at the buffet. We decided not to take the side trip to a cenote where you can swim, instead we hung out at the Mayaland for a while (just to confirm we weren't going to have any GI distress, as there are no places to stop between Mayaland Hotel and Cancun-we had no issues), we decided to dead back to the hotel.

We slept on the bus back home. Once back at the Ritz we showered and hit the empty pool. Edy was our server again. Margaritas and Pina Colladas with Dark Rum Floaters really hit the spot. While lounging in the pool we meet a couple from New York-Jeff and Rueben. They met on Facebook the week prior. Jeff was 39 and Rueben was 24. Jeff paid for their last minute flight down and all the close they would need (which wasn't much). We talked for a while, concluded that Jeff was dumb and Rueben was a fraternity boy. We also decided that the 5 of us should venture into town for dinner and go to a club.

The dinner was great. For some reason we decided to do tequila shots, but they came with a spicy bloody mary mix chaser. Food was so good. We left to find a club. There aren't a lot of gay clubs in Cancun. We found one, it was empty, but there were a lot of pros working the street outside, which is always a sign of a quality establishment--like all of those place in Toronto we visited.

We managed to get home around 230am and went right to bed.

Strange to think this was only Day 2 -the first Full Day in Cancun.

Cancun Day 2

The first day in Cancun was so great. JFB got our rooms upgraded to a 3 room suite, with 5 balconies, overlooking both the pool and the ocean. The Ritz Carlton had a car waiting for us at the airport. After we checked in, we went right out to the ocean side restaurant for a great al fresco lunch.

We had fantastic margaritas and Mexican food. After a few more margaritas we headed to the pool. Unfortunately the hotel was at 20% occupancy at most while we were there. The plus side: the pool was almost empty and the restaurants and bars were easy to get a table and had quick service; the negative: only two of seven restaurants were open. The hotel has 2 of Mexicos 3 Five Diamond restaurants, both of which were closed for the season.

Our pool waiter Edy was very nice and attentive. He took care of us every time we were at the pool. The ocean was very calm on Thursday, but the rest of the week it was very rough: 1 or 2 red flags. Obviously I didn't spend much time in the ocean. I did go out, up to my mid-thighs, but felt very uncomfortable, plus we couldn't really get bar service in the ocean.

We weren't very hungry that night, since we ate lunch around 4pm. JFB and I split a bottle of bad Baja wine and appetizers. EAD was sleeping. As soon as we finished our food and drink EAD came down to join us. We sat with him, while he ate and had a cocktail. I must highly recommend the Don Julio Margarita, it has everything a margarita should have. The Ritz Margarita was good, a little sweeter than it should be, if you go, stick with the Don Julio.

That night we were in bed sound asleep by 11pm.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cancun Recap Day 1

I wrote much of these blogs while in Mexico and am posting them now that I have returned to the US.

I sit here at the Cancun airport bar called Berryhill, after customs etc. waiting for EAD and JFB to arrive. It have about 30 minutes until their flight lands, so about 60 minutes until they get out here. I was starving, which is why I ducked in here for a beer and a nosh. The food is good, but I can't help but wonder why everything on the menu says it is Texas Sized. Obviously big day Americans are here a lot. Then again, I am a big day American tourist.

The flight down here was really nice. My row was empty except for me. It was a second row exit, so I had a ton of legroom. No free drinks even though UAL said it was free booze down. Fine. I paid for a screw driver. The movie was supposed to be "The Proposal" -snore. It was actually "Star Trek"-YAY.

I was very emotional on the plane. I think my mind and body realize that this is now time only for me. I am so excited to be here.

My americanized Mexican food is really good, especially with a corona (I know, I know) but I think I just ate a big chunk of sand...well, we are near the beach, right?

I hate that I cannot speak the language. Everyone speaks English, but fuck, I am in their country, they shouldn't have to adapt for me. Now I am a big lazy dumb American. My trip to Spain is in 10 months. I must learn/relearn spanish by then. I can read the signs ok here, but have a hard time understanding spoken words and my attempts to speak come out 60% German 35% Spanish and 5% Idiot. As an example "Buenos Dias, Ich mochte ein cerveza, bitte.". Or "Wo ist der bano, por favor?". Christ!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pre Vacation

I am in a taxi to ORD right now. It is a beautiful late summer day, people are out running, waiting in line at Starbucks and schlepping to the trains. I am en route to Cancun for a long weekend with EAD and JFB. It feels like I haven't had a vacation in years.

I think the last vacation I went on was to Palm Spring for my birthday. I've taken time off since then but it has been mostly to go to Oregon to deal with the craziness that has been the past 2 years of my life.

Cancun is looking to be a very nice 4 day trip. We are staying at the Ritz Carlton Cancun until Sunday. We arrive around 1pm today. Tomorrow I set up a private tour of Chichen Itza that picks us up at the hotel at 745am. We have the car and the guide all day.

Saturday JFB set up a private class at the Culinary Center at 11am. After class I think we are going to the spa for a few hours of treatments. Not sure what our plans are for dinner any night, but I am sure the hotel will have some great options.
Sunday we leave around 1pm, back to the grind. I am already getting depressed thinking about it.

My next trip after this one is to Denver for a few days of work meetings then a weekend with the boys again. I feel better when I have trips in the hopper.

My taxi driver just asked me if I mind if he "takes liberties" with traffic patterns. Uh, what? Evidently that means he rides the shoulder in a residential street passes the expressway on ramp, makes an illegal U-turn cutting into traffic this getting on the feeder ramp from the opposite direction and cutting our wait time down dramatically. Yes, I am ok with that. We board in 55 minutes, so I have plenty of time, but I don't want to risk a delay. UAL only offers one flight a day to CUN, no way I will miss this one!

3.25 hour flight to CUN in an old Ted plane - as in a single cabin, or a No-Class plane. I managed to get an exit row aisle seat. So, it won't be all that bad, plus I think the plane is pretty empty in economy plus too.

Barring metal fatigue, pilot error or Bolivian hijackers, I will be pool side in about 8 hours (which sounds horribly long).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hitting some balls...

HC and I went to Diversey Driving Range and hit a few balls around tonight. It was fun. I hit the ball about 98% of the time, which I consider a win. I hit a large and a small bucket while HC only did a large. I was blowing though that bucket of balls (tee hee). It was such a nice relaxing and cool night.

I was distracted partially by one of our neighboring ball hitters. Quite a fine specimen.

I also got my first sports injury in the past 15 years too. I have a small (quarter inch) blister on my left hand. Looks like I will need to pony up the $10 and buy a glove.

Returning home for some left overs from last night (naked macaroni and cheese) and to enjoy Frasier. Evidently I have gone from 29 to 30 to 78 in just a matter of months. All I need now is Lilly on my lap and I will officially be an old man.

Hopefully Cancun with the boys will bring out the kid in me again. I love vacationing with these guys. So very relaxing.

MIA Posts??

I updated my blog last week, but see it didn't post. That's a shame. I will recap here and hope for the best.

As we all know, I am still trying to find "normal". To help in this endeavor, I have set some goals for September that will reenergize me, hopefully. I will be doing something new twice a week for the month of September and reporting back on how it went.

For the first week of September I went to a photography opening at the Junior League Club. A friend of a friend was exhibiting some black an white prints from his travels in Italy. About 20 prints in all, I really liked 10 and liked 5, the rest, eh....

One of the goals of this "September of Tim" is not only to try new things, but to meet new people and to learn about myself and others. The art opening was good because it was pretty small, but had people that are not normally part of my network. There were several community college people there, I believe the artist teaches at the College of DuPage. There were several militant community college people there too. One guy kept telling me that Junior Colleges are the ONLY school people should be allowed to attend.

Of course I had to challenge this assertion. I do believe that everyone has their own path. Some it is a 4 year university, others a junior college, others the military. Additional education is not right for others. The issue is choice. Don't tell me I wasted my college life and money by attending a 4 year school and that private education is for chumps. It was good to be slightly out of my element. I am pleased.

On Friday night JM and I went to First Fridays at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). It is designed to be more of a party atmosphere and get people who usually aren't the museum crowd to enter the doors. It was a Friday before a holiday, so the crowd was a bit light. We got in for free but wine was $9 per glass-from a bottle that probably cost $8 at the grocery. We talked to a few people but the best part was the people watching. There were a ton of guys wearing designer jeans with longs sleeve button up shirts untucked cruising the crowd in hunting packs. We would stand on the upper terrace and watch them circle their female prey and go in for the kill. One would break away from the group with his target-standing just a few feet away from her friends she felt safe but he would have just one goal in mind. As she returned to her group and he and his friends left rejected a big smile came to my face. This isn't HIMYM and the game isn't "Have you met Ted?"

We left the MCA around 915 and I went out with a friend from the UK for a few hours then headed home. On Saturday I worked out a little bit and just hung around the house and watched a movie.

Sunday (when I initially started this post) we went to Arlington Park, the local horse track. I went with JM, P&TH. We sat at a reserved table at the Terrace Cafe. It was a beautiful day, perfectly warm, a bit overcast-just a great day to be at the track. The food was mediocre and the service was horrendous... And I didn't win any money, but it was really fun. We just basically sat around eating, drinking and talking, but since we were at the track it felt like we were doing something.

We decided to take the Metra to Arlington and we felt so urban doing so, although I don't know why, it's a suburban train line. On the way home from the track we stopped off at JOs new home in Mount Prospect. It was a nice place. They just moved in so lots of boxes and unpacking to do. We stayed for 90 minutes then got back on the train into the City.

After a day of drinking and eating fried food we decided to have an uptown sushi dinner at Takami. It was good, but we forgot it was Sunday night and the kitchen closed EARLY.

Yesterday I marinated a flank steak and made a baked macaroni and cheese. It was pretty good. Back to work today. I am in the office for two days then on Thursday morning I am off to Cancun with the bois.

Tonight I am going to the driving range to hit some golf balls with HC. Summer is almost gone. Today is the first day of school so surface streets are clogged and LSD is a bit of a parking lot. On the plus side Oprah is blocking off several blocks north of the River on Michigan Ave for her show. Luckily I get off the bus long before that mess. Here is to a short week and a nice vacation.

Here is to a short week and a nice vacation.