Dallas and the Midwest Swing

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hello!  For almost everyone reading this, I have already long come and gone to your part of the United States. However, now you can read about how you fit into my eventful journey back home. The following includes the middle of my 18-day trip home: Dallas to visit my sister and Chicago, Madison, Twin Cities for my other sister, grandma and lots of wonderful friends. This is how the story goes.

Yee-haw! Go Mavericks!

Prior to landing, my experience with Texas was absolutely minimal (only north-western tip of a road trip due to a lost pillow: a different long story). I landed Wednesday night from Florida after a beautiful flight over the gulf, blue below the whole way. After deboarding I started the search for my sister sans cell phone, not an easy task at a new airport. Family found, I jumped in shotgun and we headed for downtown Dallas for the Mavericks game. Immediately from the drive, I started to understand Texas sizes.

Everything is just bigger: the cars, the freeway system, the churches and the natural gas refineries (a new money maker for the area). Being from the Twin Cities, it seemed like a steroid-injected southern version of the Minnesota metropolis. It's green, highway 35 divides it and two major cities are surrounded by all kinds of suburbs. If everything wasn't so big and brick (most houses and many businesses are brick), I might have confused the Dallas-Fort Worth area for my childhood home. For example, 10 miles separate the Twin Cities, but you have to drive 30 plus in the Metroplex, aptly named for its 'hugeness.'

Alissa and Sean (my sister and brother-in-law) being Keller residents, suburb between the cities, had also never been to a Mavericks game. After avoiding some blatant parking scams, we parked in an adjacent lot and walked to the arena. Upon entering, I immediately noticed how new and classy the arena felt. Used to the Metrodome and Target Center of MN, it really doesn't take too much to be impressed by an arena. I was also impressed by the Maverick play. Post-Kidd trade the Dallas team had not beaten a plus 500 team. With the Warriors in town, the game not only had playoff implications, but also was a legitimate test of Kidd's worth to the franchise.

Despite arriving mid-first quarter, we saw a heavy beating of Baron Davis and his Warriors. A couple rows from the top of the nose bleed section, we still had great views of the game and the crazy acrobatic halftime show. Thanks again Alissa for buying those tickets. It was a wonderful introduction to your new Texas home.

Cute Nephews and Modern Art

I woke up from my sister's incredibly comfortable queen-sized bed in probably the cutest way possible. Ian, the younger of my two adorable blond, blue-eyed nephews, wanted to see me in my room. Cullen, the elder enforcer, said, "No Ian, you can't go in there, Uncle Billy is sleeping. If you wake him up, that's not very nice." Unfortunately for Cullen, his instructions were so loud that he woke me up himself...oops. 

This was not a problem for me. I laughed, smiled and headed downstairs to see what was going on. I found the boys waiting for Mommy in the car. Catching up with the boys was pure joy. We were so happy to see each other and it was amazing to be able to communicate with Ian. The last time I had seen him, he was barely talking. Now, he is eager as ever to share anything and everything he knows and sees.

After dropping off the boys at day care, Alissa and I went on some errands. First, to the dentist, then the car dealership to fix a car remote that wasn't broken. Lesson learned: best to try things before driving 30 minutes to fix them. Sorry Alissa, I couldn't resist. Returning home, we ate lunch and developed a plan: art museum and dinner with the neighbors.

The Forth Worth Modern Art Museum was surprisingly impressive. The front of the building was one of the more boring structures I'd ever seen. However, the inside and back lawn were really beautiful and modern. Plus, I fell in love with a new artist: Puryear. His huge wood sculptures are so unique and fun. Giant ladders leading to the sky, massive shoehorns, etc. If you don't know his stuff, you should check it out. To top it off, the food was great. Alissa and I shared a tasty fruit and cheese plate overlooking a picturesque fake pond and a new silver tree installation.

We headed to Target for groceries and the new Spoon CD. In case you're interested, it sounds a lot like their other CDs. Alissa whipped up some burritos while I played soccer with the boys. Five boys to be exact. The neighbors, who served in the military in Korea, have three boys under five. The dinner had a twofold design: birthday celebration and Korea sharing. The first was definitely one of the funniest experiences I've ever had. Five young boys and parents seranding me with "Happy Birthday." Despite the hilarity, I greatly enjoyed the sentiment along with the energy and emotion of the boys. Lots of crying and fighting was involved.

Once all the young ones were in bed, Sean and I watched the L.A. Galaxy win their first game. Beckham scored and assisted. I haven't seen an MLS game since.

The Zoo and More Mexican

After lounging around until noon, we picked up the boys early from daycare. They were surprised and excited to learn they would be going to the zoo on  a Friday! Sean joined us for the fun. The boys loved every minute of the nice weather and animals, running from one exhibit to the next. The highlight for me was the bird feeding. Instead of paying, we picked up a used feeding stick and began the feed. I got to hold Cullen up to a bird while he got his feast. Any excuse to hold those bundles of joy is a good one.

Animaled out, we headed to a famous Mexican place called Garcia's. Known for it's family style small menu and massive facility, it was delicious. Serioulsy, the place is huge. With two outdoor dining areas, it can seat at least a 1,000 people. Plus, the grounds were lush and complete with Spanish-style fountain and buildings. Cullen and Ian enjoyed turning the well-landscaped grounds into a track, running around again and again until they were too tired to run anymore.

At home, I played some more basketball with the boys and helped put them to sleep. I did my best to read some Korean to Cullen from a bilingual penguin book I gave him for his birthday and then fluently read an English story.

Two Cities, One Day

With little time remaining, we decided to visit an adjacent suburb called Grapevine. The main drag is full of brick shops and restaurants, perfect for casual Saturday pedestrians, which we were. We stopped at a cafe with outdoor seating for lunch. Only Alissa, Ian and I were able to make it, as Cullen and Sean were busy with tee-ball practice. After lunch we walked the rest of the short main street and headed to the airport. Overall, I had a great time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and can't wait to come back. Thanks Alissa and Sean for hosting me. Also, thanks boys for helping to make it a wonderful time.

Whatever time I saved with the quick, painless commute from Dallas to Chicago was quickly eradicated with slow public transit. Elissa (with an E, a good friend and not my sister) picked me up from the airport. I found her after roaming around for 30 minutes and unsuccessfully using the public phones numerous times (cell phones make travelling so easy). We then took the L (subway) a couple stops before we were forced to get off and a take a bus due to construction. Then we boarded another bus and finally walked 15 minutes to Travis' work. All this was done while lugging large bags. I wasn't thoroughly pleased.

However, my mood changed quite quickly upon seeing Travis. This is the guy I lived with all four years of college, and who I haven't seen since in a year and a half. To say it was nice to see him would be a gross understatement. Unfortunately my mood soured a bit when I learned how we would be getting home: more walking and at least one transfer on the subway. When we finally arrived at Travis' absurdly small, triangular studio, the decor seemed like heaven and Travis' Finnish, carmel-offering girlfriend (Katri) seemed rather angelic as well.

The college reunion continued as Pete came over to join us for dinner. We went to a vegetarian, hipster cafe that was absolutely delicious. We followed dinner with a pub serving over a hundred brews from all sorts of countries. I was feeling pretty tipsy after I finished a few pints of an 18% variety. Jordan and Joe joined us, and we played some hackey-sack outside. At this point I couldn't separate our present lives from the one we were living two years ago at Madison (my college). Wow, do I love American dining and drinking. The selection is so varied compared to Korea, where they regulate beer imports and only make 3-4 varieties (that taste like Bud Light) themselves. In Korea, it's a treat when can find one beer on tap that isn't Korean. Thus, I was loving my good ole' US of A diversity.

Chicago, Madison, Minnesota

We returned to Travis' house and slept on his floor of his cramped apartment. Yeah, for college flashbacks! I woke up rather early, hungry and hungover, another throw-back. We went to a cool diner, meeting Melissa (college friend) and others for a grand total of 9 rowdy post undergrads. Melissa and company parted ways and our diminished group walked to a park on Lake Michigan. The weather was particularly warm and sunny for Chicago in early April, and we enjoyed the frisbee thoroughly. Even indulging in a little ultimate game, which ended quite quickly due to poor play and lack of effort.

After a Starbucks (there was no other place to go!) run, we parted ways with Joe, Travis and Katri and dropped Elissa off at the subway. She had to go to to Master's classes the next day in Ann Arbor. Then, there were two; Jordan and I heading to her house for relaxation. Once cleaned and well rested, we met Pete and his new girlfriend for sushi, delish!

I returned to Jordan's house tipsy on Sapporro, a pefect state for watching the Royal Tenenbaums. I went to bed tired and ready for 6 hours of driving the next day, sort of. We left at 9:30 a.m. and a groggy Jordan steered us into Madtown by noon. We met Brooke and Annie for lunch at Sunroom Cafe. Normally a safe bet for good vegetarian/diner food, my mozzerella sandwich sucked. Oh well, the company was great. Especially when Annie hid under the table and scared the crap out of me. After a quick walk to the Union Terrace, Jordan and I hit the road for Sota! Four hours later we arrived at my sister Brooke's (I know there are a lot of Brookes and A/Elissas in this story, but try to keep up) house in Minneapolis.

Home Sweet Home?

I received the usual crazy welcome from Lili, Brooke and Jason's (sister and brother-in-law) wonderfully insane pitbull. Magdalena, their amazingly cute daughter, was talking more and funnier than I had ever seen. As usual, Brooke provided delicious food and outstanding hospitality in her lovely little home. The main course was child friendly macaroni and dessert was a quirkily delicious star-shaped, cherry-flavored chocolate cake.

For post-dinner entertainment, Magdalena performed her mermaid act along with a fairy dance. Putting both of her legs into one pant leg she flopped around the floor making silly noises in hilariously cute fashion. For the dance, she put on an adorable pink dress and jumped around. After my third birthday dinner was complete (thanks family!), we headed to my parent's new apartment. Decorated with the furniture from my recently sold childhood home, it was strange to be living in a familiar city in a new home without my parents (they were still in Florida). However, the apartment was comfortable and spacious for two people. We loved it! Thanks again Mom and Dad. After some beer, March Madness and a movie we passed out easily.  

WAC, MSG, Gramma and MOA

The next morning I woke up early and finished reading my book (Water for Elephants, worth reading!) and wrote a bit. Jordan stayed to finish work, and I took my Dad's car to Brooke's house. We headed to a delicious cafe called French Meadow and then to the Walker Art Center (WAC). The exhibits were ok, but way to dominated by a rather negative exhibition by Robert Prince. We stepped outside and had much more fun looking at the Cherry in the Spoon and the giant glass carp of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (MSG).

After a brief visit to Jason's shop (he is a high-end wood furntiture maker), Brooke and I headed to Maplewood to visit my Gramma. It was very interesting to visit her in a nursing home. This is the Gramma that lived with me and took care of me for ten years. She is more than family, she is a good friend. Because her memory is 'shot' (which she will tell you often), she is located on the memory-care floor. She was one of the happiest people there and absolutely ecstatic to see us. Besides being a little thinner and constantly asking the date, she seemed like the same old Gramma I knew and loved. Overall, it was a wonderful visit, and I hope I can do it again soon.

Next stop was the Mall of America (MOA) for Minnesota gifts, fun and dinner. We met Jason and Magdalena, and headed to Nickelodeon Adventure, the amusement park formerly known as Camp Snoopy. Magdalena was pretty grouchy due to a shortened nap, and didn't really enjoy herself until dinner at Rainforest Cafe, A jungle-themed restaurant complete with animal noises, waterfalls and stampede-like rumbling for effect (a bit annoying). We departed ways after a fun dinner and I met Sean, Emily and Jordan for drinks at Sweeney's in St. Paul. After not enough catching up (theme of the trip), we hit the hay.

Vegas Bound

Again the day was started with some quality lounging, this time until noon.We headed to the UM campus to meet Lauren at a fun coffee shop. She bought me a cookie for my birthday and then we walked to her work a couple labyrinthian blocks away. I got to see the inside of a real-life labratory, but unfortunately bored fairly quickly. I wasn't bored with catching up with my long-lost roommate from college though. We departed ways and were thankfully reuinted after her shift, picking her up at her apartment near campus. We returned to my parents place, drank a lot of beer and played cards with my high school friend Andrea. All the ladies left and I slept without any friends or families in the apartment for the first time since Korea.

The next day was rainy and the lounging reached a new height. We finally left after cleaning, watching movies and playing with the internet around 4:30 p.m. I parted ways with Jordan (tear) and met Brooke and company at a fun pizza place called Pizza Luce. I was dropped off at the airport and when I finally reached my gate, realized my 10:30 flight was delayed until 1:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, I did not have a cell to let my sister or my Vegas friends know this. I tried pay phones, but they really don't work that well. 

After hours of laying around and listening to music, I finally got on the flight to Vegas. Just as I had promised a year earlier, I was going to reunite with all my Teach For America friends. I was excited and incredibly exhausted. You can read all about it in the next entry. 

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