Chicago: Paris of the Midwest

I got to the Santa Barbara airport at 7:00 a.m. last Thursday and nine hours later I was at the Sheraton in Chicago ordering room service and trying to decide between "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and "I Love You, Man."

Chicago is awesome. Did you know that? You probably knew that.

There was a conference going on downstairs, a lot of bloggers milling around and thinking that everyone else looked vaguely familiar. Meanwhile, I'd settled on "I Love You, Man" and was sort of regretting my choice. I think everyone was doing the best they could, but I had higher hopes for that movie. I think in general I like my comedies to be a little angrier.

Yeah, so! I guess I didn't leave my room Thursday night, which I rationalized by telling myself that the conference didn't officially start until Friday morning.

Friday morning I got up and did my yoga practice on the surprisingly-slippery-yet-also-inconveniently-grippy hotel room carpet. I made some somewhat terrible in-room coffee with a Starbucks "pod" and a tiny container of unrefrigerated half-and-half that perhaps had been irradiated or somehow futuristically modified never to expire. Countless informative blogging sessions were going on downstairs and there I was locked in my room, happy just to BE ALONE for god's sake. I love my husband and my son and my dog and my tortoise and I guess even the hamster but I could not in any satisfying way justify piercing the veil of this rare solitude.

Oh, wait, yes I could! I had a lunch date with mimi smartypants.

Mimi, like Chicago itself, is formidable from a distance and yet approachable once you get within, uh, spitting distance*. She asked me to meet her and Nora at this place in Wicker Park that had such a long menu of crazy sandwiches that I started to wish that I'd taken her more seriously when she'd sent me a link to it a week in advance and suggested that I might want to take a few days to decide what I wanted**.

*Let the record show that it never occurred to me to spit on, or near, mimi smartypants.

**Brie, apple, basil and chutney on Tuscan white, as it turns out. It was very good.

Nora was wonderfully impressive as well. She showed me her loose teeth, the "Beast Quest" book she was currently reading, her sweet Converse kicks, and her badass ink.


I made it back to my room and began to prepare for my event, the Community Keynote, that was due to start at 4:45. I had gone to a Walgreens near the hotel to pick up some index cards, and then I busied myself writing out introductions for all 21 speakers. I'd given myself about ninety minutes to do that, which was a BIG MISTAKE. I didn't realize until I was actually on stage how wildly inconsistent and scribbled my introductions had become the closer I got to showtime. And I was horrified to find I had no index card at all for Catherine Connors.

Catherine waves at me before discovering what a giant dork I am, while Tanis coolly remains above the fray.

I had meant to take pictures of all the readers and blah blah blah, but in fact I ended up just doing my bit and listening to everyone instead. How about that! I fully participated in the event instead of spending three-quarters of my time wondering what I was going to post about it. Surely they'll suspend my blogging license when word gets out.

This year's event was just as much of a rollercoaster ride as last year's. Posts that I'd thought were terrific on-screen turned out to be far more funny and/or heartbreaking when performed by the people who'd actually lived through the events described. (The list of readers and links to the posts they read is here.)

Afterward, I stood in the lobby and began the long and rewarding process of calming the fuck down. Heather B. helped by being disarmingly lovable, as usual:

Look, it's Polly again! Honestly, she looks like about twelve of my cousins:

Basking in the afterglow as well were readers Nina and Danielle, who both kicked ass.

I missed having my usual gang of lady friends with me, but going it alone gave me more freedom to hide in my room drinking beer hang a little longer with people I normally see once a year for two minutes, like Kelly:

who has some stories, my friends. I sat with Kelly and Heather in the hotel bar and finally relaxed into this whole conference thing. For me BlogHer continues to be a purely social event. Earlier that day I had poked my head into a session about monetizing your brand, but as someone who thinks the point of blogging is to be funny and awesome, the main thing I got out of the session is that I love Liz. And that I need to write more about cleaning products.

And then I saw a unicorn!

There was some incredible thunder at the end of the night, which I enjoyed from the 19th floor.

Saturday morning, I had a much-anticipated date with the aforementioned Danielle to go meet the Byrneunit.


These Chicago kids sport some tuff ink, I tell you what. Henry has long been one of my Flickr favorites, and it was a joy to meet him in person and to really get to the bottom of the Swedish fish vs. lollipops conundrum.

We met Henry and his mom and dad at a place called the Eleven City Diner. I got a plate of lox and a bagel because THE RABBIS TOLD ME TO.

I don't know if I've ever been in the presence of so many awe-inspiring tattoos.

The Byrneunit abides.

The rest of Saturday was spent dorking around the hotel, doing an interview for Frontline, and wishing I had the strength to go to the devastatingly generous Isabel's CheeseBurgHer party. But I was starting to exhaust myself and was frankly still somewhat emotionally fragile what with the events of the last few months and all, so I retreated to my bed with my giant book so I could get up at the crack and find my way back to California in the morning.

There were a lot of people I missed seeing in Chicago and I'm sorry about that. I was pretty selfish about my time there, but I think that was the only way I could have made it through without losing my shit altogether.

I think my Twitter feed sums it up best from here on out:

Oakley outlet at O'Hare blasting Led Zep's "Going to California" at 8am, just for me. 6:29 AM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

should have been in the air an hour ago. 9:01 AM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

Some airlines personnel are taken aback when you chuckle blackly at the news that you'll be home 7 hours later than expected. 9:09 AM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

United airlines owes me dinner if they're going to fuck me like this. 9:48 AM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

Rerouted from SFO to LAX, so I'll be flying *over* my house but it will take me an extra 4 hours to actually get there. 2:40 PM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

I've found the cloaca of LAX and am drinking a beer within its glistening mucoidal folds. 5:23 PM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

But at least I've been able to read a lot of Infinite Jest. In fact I may have read about 2,000 more pages than DFW actually wrote. #infsum 5:38 PM Jul 26th from TwitterFon

16 HOURS from Chicago to Santa Barbara. I shall now remove my bonnet and beat my calico dress against a rock, then feast on mini pretzels. 9:28 PM Jul 26th from web