Zero to 60: Christmas Week in Chicago

What a wild week it was… worthy of a blog post, of course (for those who hate suspense, the zero-to-60 reference refers to Chicago temperatures from landing last Sunday to departure last night).

Sunday – we start at Richmond International Airport, on a cool, clear afternoon.  We were supposed to go off gate at 1:55pm – we were finally able to push off around 2:15pm… at which point we started wandering around the airport.  Why?  The plane was overweight.  We had to burn fuel so we could take off.  OK, that’s bad enough.  We finally do take off… for the two-hour flight to Chicago.  Now if you know the route, you know flight time is usually 90-100 minutes.  BUT… we had headwinds.  So we wind up later still… and to make it more fun, about halfway through the flight, the Embraer’s lavatory fails.  Great.  But we’ll be landing in an hour, so it’s OK.  And we did land in an hour, about 3:30pm Central.  At which point we start wandering around the airport in a winter nightmare (it’s 0 degrees, with snow blowing around the airport).  Why are we wandering?  We lost our gate because we were late.  After two gate announcements, and almost 90 minutes stuck on the plane (with no lavatory, remember!), we finally got off the plane at 5:00pm… after waiting for a gate crew to show up, of course.  My luggage finally turned up around 6:00, my credit card wouldn’t work to reserve the car (so I had to guarantee it with my debit card), and I finally staggered into my parents’ place around 7:00pm Central.  Or about 3 1/2 hours after I expected to.  Needless to say, that was it for the night.

Monday – zero-degree temperatures pretty much keep me in the house… I did get out to pick up the Official Secret Santa gift (my family does a Secret Santa among the adults, as it saves a ton of money in gift-giving)… it was a tie-in to another gift my mom was giving to one of my sisters-in-law, so she gladly gave me a ride to the local frozen shopping mall… if nothing else, it made for a joke later in the week (“he went to Jared”, anyone?)

Tuesday – I had kind of planned to go to ComedySportz Chicago… but we got freezing cold, icy roads, and light snow… so I wasn’t even about to try driving from the west Chicago suburbs to (almost) Wrigleyville.  Instead, all I did was run out and pick up Christmas cards.  I tried to do that in Richmond, but… well… between crowds and the lack of any Hallmark stores near me… I waited.

Wednesday (Christmas Eve) – More cold, more morning snow to start our family Christmas.  I figured that we weren’t going to see anyone (both of my brothers, and their families, live a distance from my parents; one isn’t anywhere near anything resembling a highway – he’s closer to Wisconsin than Chicago)… but in a pleasant surprise, everyone (save one sister-in-law who had some last-minute details to tie up) showed up by 11:30am (the wayward sister-in-law made it by early afternoon).  This allowed for the key moment of the weekend – as my parents gave their grandchildren their new Nintendo Wiis.  Two notes here, to make this make sense for anyone who isn’t part of my family 🙂 – first, my parents (both 66) have had a Wii for more than a year.  They claim they bought it for the grandkids to play.  I realized this year that my parents may have had ulterior motives — there’s a well-used Wii Fit and a copy of Tiger Woods PGA Golf 2008 on the “games rack”… 🙂  Second, my parents wanted the Wiis to be a surprise for my brothers and their wives… but had to spill the secret to the adults to avoid each family buying their own Wii (after my parents had picked them up in October!)… My gift to each of my nieces and nephews was a Wii game (of course, I happened to “find” the games in a random corner of the room after the Wiis were unveiled).  Otherwise… it was a simple Hoffmann family Christmas, with sauerbraten and stuffed shells on the menu (we have our own traditions, what can I say?)… and a lot of time watching the kids open and play with just about every gift they got. 🙂

Thursday (Christmas) – More cold, more snow… so I stayed home and had a great day playing cards and Wii Tiger Woods Golf with my parents.  I played one game as Tiger… if I ever meet him, I owe him an apology… 🙂

Friday – The snow stopped, and temperatures got somewhere near freezing… so I decided to go out in the morning to see how Chicagoland looked since my last visit (last year)… there was a ton of snow on the car, and it was icy, heavy, and deep… so, of course, I used the official Hertz snow broom to try to clear it.  The broom wasn’t up to the task, and I did a lot of pushing to get the snow to move.  A couple of times, the broom stopped in the middle of the snowpack, but I didn’t… 🙂 We’ll hear more of this shortly.  Later in the day, I took the drive to Chicago to see two ComedySportz shows (6pm and 8pm)… it was my first look at their new permanent (15-year lease, at least) theatre on West Belmont Street (around the corner from their previous home in 2005 and one flight up from a previous home in the late ’90s).  It’s AWESOME.  The stage set consists of a props rack in the back, with an entrance in the center and the two team benches winging off from the sides.  Beyond that is a flat-screen TV used as scoreboard, whiteboard, and advertising display.  The framing concept for Chicago CSz shows is that the “home” team is the Downtown Chicago Bosses… and the visitor name changes for each show, so the two benches are labeled “BOSSES” and “VISITORS” (in, ironically, the same font used for the ESPN SportsCenter logo).  The 6pm show wasn’t sold out… but the 8pm show was (it apparently sold out while I was driving in).  Fortunately, CSz Chicago has a very cool staff… so when I explained that I had driven in and really didn’t have anywhere else to go… they asked me to wait until showtime and sold me one of the reserved “emergency” seats they keep for wayward staff or surprise large parties… and they couldn’t have been nicer about it, while I was falling over myself apologizing for being your typical last-minute problem… having been on the other side, I know what they might have been thinking (they weren’t, but they could have), and they were great about it.  So to Jason and Jennifer and Monty… thanks for making my night (and the 8pm show was hysterical).  I even got a high-five from the 6pm referee (who was playing for the Visitors at 8pm) when she recognized that I’d stayed for the 2nd show.  They’re funny, they’re always friendly, and they go out of their way to make their guests feel welcome.  That’s why I go out of my way to visit CSz Chicago each year.

Then, of course, there was the ride home.  There was several inches of snow and ice on the ground… and the temperatures had shot up to 45 degrees (at 10pm!)… it was amazing watching the fog just rise off the snow piles… it was also frightening, once I got past the Chicago city limits and found myself in 30-foot visibility fog on the Addams Tollway (I-90).  I pulled off the highway into a rest stop just to allow the crazier traffic to pass… then got back on the highway to slowly drive home through the horror-movie fog.  Since you’re seeing this, you can assume I got back to my parents’ place.

Saturday – a quiet day.  I got up late, did United’s online check-in, packed, watched the rain fall as temperatures hit record highs near 60, and listened to the reports of epic flooding as the heavy rain and melting snow brought every river in Chicagoland to its banks by early afternoon.  It got so bad that my dad, an Itasca “Civilian Corps” (auxiliary police) member, was called in to help block off flooded streets.  I drove to the airport at about 1:15 for a 4:20 flight — a decision that paid off right away as I had to slowly drive through a foot of standing water a few blocks from my parents’ place.  I took my time, got to the Hertz return lot around 2pm… and stood in line for 30 minutes to return the car (remember, I had guaranteed the car on my debit card, and needed to switch it back to the credit card, which worked).  I figured I was in for a long line at United… but since I’d done the online check-in, and prepaid my baggage fees, I got to use the Easy Check-In line.  Actually, I *was* the Easy Check-In line.  So I checked my bag in 2 minutes… and was directed to a less-used security checkpoint that I cleared in less than 5 minutes.  Then… well, with all the rain, the 4:20 flight was moved to another gate… delayed to 4:45… 5:20… 5:40… 5:55… and finally went wheels-up at 6:15pm.  90 minutes later, we were in Richmond.  Well, the clock said it was 90 minutes… this was the point where my snow-clearing misadventure on Friday turned bad… my right arm (specifically my shoulder) started throbbing in the terminal, and escalated to serious pain (not quite “cut my arm off and hit me with it”, but close) during the flight.  By the time we landed, I wasn’t using my right arm for anything but balance, and I’m right-handed. 🙂  So when we landed at 8:45pm Eastern (by being welcomed to Albany, then Rochester, then Richmond — the crew were VERY tired!) and were told that all of United’s regional jet gates (two) were in use, it was frustrating.  When we were then told that they were trying to open one gate for us, but the tug that was supposed to push the departing plane out had malfunctioned, it was more frustrating.  After being told twice that it’d be “2-3 minutes”, then “it’ll be soon now”, we finally got to the gate around 9:20pm.  Luggage turned up around 9:40pm, and I got to my car around 10:00pm.  After hitting a 24-hour Walgreen’s for some Icy Hot (that stuff ROCKS!), I finally grabbed some drive-thru fast food and headed home… about 2 1/2 hours after I expected to be home.  I think I got some sleep (I was in too much pain to notice, alas, but the Icy Hot helped!)…

Today I woke up to a much duller pain in the shoulder.  So I did my radio thing (of course, I had a whole weekend of work to do in one day!), then went to Patient First where two X-rays and some range-of-motion testing confirmed that I had, indeed, sprained my right shoulder on Friday.  I now have a sling and some industrial-strength Motrin (the Motrin has scaled back the pain enough for me to type this) and an advisory that if my shoulder is still hurting next Sunday, I may get to go to physical therapy!  Yay! 🙂

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), improv tech guy, generally nice person (if you ask me).

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