Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm Finally Home (or am I....)

Hi everyone - I hope this message finds you all well.

I feel a bit like I've been around the globe lately - my recent adventures have taken me about half way around the globe and back. Not too bad in terms of frequent flier miles - not too good in terms of being away from Kate and the girls - what's a guy to do???

The fun started innocently enough. I was invited to a friend and colleague's wedding in Chicago that was to take place this past weekend. My friend Adam Wakefield and I worked side by side for five years at my previous employer and his now current wife Katie Sullivan Wakefield and I also shared time in the same pod (term for bank of desks in our offices). My plan was to make a quick Friday to Sunday trip from Paris to Chicago and back; never to miss any work because the previous Thursday was a Bank Holiday (love em!), the Friday was equal to our Friday-after-Thanksgiving, and I'd be back in the office by mid-Monday morning. Turns out, this wasn't meant to be. Another friend and colleague, Chris Strijbosch who lives in the Netherlands and works with me at Coyote, has never been to the US and also happens to be a big car racing fan. These facts combined with my company's desire to send Europeans to the US and Americans to Europe, along with the Indianapolis 500 falling on the same weekend as Adam's wedding, meant that my trip would now be extended.

Chris left Caen on Wednesday afternoon to fly out of Paris on Thursday - he worked in our Lake Forest IL office on Thursday afternoon and Friday. I left Caen on Thursday afternoon to fly out of Paris on Friday. My first stop was to Kim and Tom's house in Villa Park IL. Kim is Kate's sister (as you all already know by previous blogs, current relative status, or other means) and her husband Tom recently had some work done on his back. They were both home to meet me when I arrived on Friday afternoon fresh off my flight from Paris and packing a large tin of fois gras. Tom and I had some beers at 7-10 (yes, it's a bowling alley and bar referring to the seven - ten split), I gave some French candy to their kids Jordan and Cooper, and even hob-nobbed with both sets of neighbors. It was great to see everyone back on their own turf and it gave me great memories of the Sunday afternoons and evenings that Kate and I used to spend with Kim and Tom in years past. From their apartment in Wrigleyville, to the first condo on the West Side, to the house in Minneapolis, and at their current pad in Villa Park, Kate and I have spend what feels like a hundred days at Kim and Tom's eating, drinking, talking, playing with the kids, watching the kids grow up, etc, etc. I for one am sure that even though these days are fewer and further between that they are in no way over as they certainly can not be missed. Oh, and by the way, Tom was still able to rake dirt for a new garden and power wash his deck even though he was still hobbling from his run-in with the back doctor - I wish him the quickest of recoveries.

When my cell rang that Friday afternoon, it meant that my old friend Brian Miller was almost home from work and that I needed to hit the road for his place in a town nearby called Clarendon Hills. After a short drive I was pulling into his driveway and being greeted by his three beautiful girls and his wife Ann. The night at the Miller's couldn't have been better. It was great to see Olivia, Macey, and Ruby getting so big and Ann was amazed at how quickly they seemed to attach themselves to me. I'm sure it was the French candy, but I'll never tell. I also was able to swoon Brian and Ann with a tin of fois gras and luckily for me we cracked it open for an appetiser. It was a little hot from sitting in the trunk of the car - however - you can't beat any food that has "fattened duck liver - France" written on the tin. After the girls went to bed, it was time to get down to business. Brian and I cracked open some Bud Lights (what happened to Miller, my friend Miller???), we BBQed the ribs that Ann had pre-cooked, and the three of us sat down for an amazing meal. Unlike previous nights with Brian and Ann, this night was cut short at around 10.30pm - it seems that the bit of jet lag had caught up with me and I couldn't make it happen for any longer. The next morning was a quick home-made breakfast, some general hanging out, and my departure so that Brian could start spreading mulch and I could get downtown to get ready for the Saturday wedding.

After a short shopping spree at Nordstroms and a quick check-in to my hotel at the W City Center, I hopped in a cab and headed to the wedding on the West Side - not too far from UIC. A beautiful day, wonderful ceremony, historic church, and the reunion with some old friends made it a perfect afternoon. It got even better with some beers outside while waiting the 2 hour delay between the wedding and the reception (hey, a wedding party has to take some pictures sometime, right??). The rain stayed away and the reception went off without a hitch - you can see some lovely pictures above.

Even though I could have stayed to the end of the wedding and gone out until 4am that night, I had to hit the road around 9pm. The two main reasons were that Chris Strijbosch had also checked into the W City Center and we had a plan to meet up and also that we had a wake-up call for 5am so that we could head to Indianapolis the next morning. This is where the story connects - you see, Chris used to work as a mechanic on Formula 3 cars here in Eurpe (think of F1 / Formula 1 - it's 2 series below) and he also loves the Indy 500. Check out his picture above - he was a good sport when I told him that he had to bring along a black shirt and probably black pants too if he wanted to look hip in the W City Center. He told me that he hates black and never wears it - luckily for him the downtown Sears sold him a nice black button-down shirt with black dragons and eagles super-imposed all over along with a black pair of Lee jeans. When he walked into the lobby I thought I was meeting a Gold Coast Local as opposed to a guy from Venray NL (population 600). Just like the night before and like the wedding, this night ended kind of early because we had the impending 5am wake up time looming and a big day the next day.

Amazingly enough, Chris and I both woke up on time and were on the road by about 10 till 6 on Sunday. I forced him to bypass the junk coffee in the hotel lobby coffee pot and introduced him to Starbucks in Merrillville IN. Chris was amazed that I could drink my Venti Black Eye (extra large regular coffee with two shots of expresso poured in) before we hit the Indiana Beach and he was still drinking his at the Crawfordsville exit on 465. You see, in Europe, the coffees they drink are about two ounces - these are about ten times the size. Yes, everything in America is bigger. Our goal for that day was the Indy 500 car race - our parking place was a guy's lawn about a half a mile from the track ($20 even got us a bush to pee on) and tickets in turn one. We spent about an hour walking to the track, talking to random people, and hitting up scalpers to see what they had. We enede up buying tickets from a family of sorts (guy, girl, and two kids who all may or may not have been related) and headed into the race.

I'm 100% positive that my blogging will not do the day justice - all I can say is that I had one of the most amazing times of my life and I happen to be an American who has been to about 10 car races in recent history. Chris lives in a tiny town and has surely never seen anything like the Indy 500. Take that point and combine it with the 40 or so amazing people that we met and talked to throughout the day and you come to the assumption that he will be back next year. I really had fun with my friend and tried to introduce him to as big of a slice of America as I could in one afternoon. Even though the Dutch driver crashed a few times and came in 27th or something we really had an amazing time. After the race we spent almost two hours getting our way back to the car, spending most of the time stopping in people's front yards, businesses, and BBQs to say Hello and have a coversation about Holland (and anything else that came to mind). We spent the night and were heading back to Lake Forest by 10am the next day.

Two Memorial Day pic-nics later I was able to lay down for a quiet's night rest in a hotel just next to my company's main office in downtown Lake Forest. I spend a short day at the office on Tuesday and was at O'Hare by about 3pm so that Chris and I could head back to Europe. Our 9 hour flight was followed by a 4 hour drive to Venray NL which is the town where Chris lives and also where our Dutch office is located. Chris and I spent a short while meeting his wife, checking out his expansive gardins, watching his dogs run around, and even collecting eggs from two of his chickens. His wife let me pet one of the chickens too - amazingly, they are much more like a cat then I had ever imagined. Later that day I met everyone in his office, took them all out to dinner, and fell asleep in the 85th minute of the Barcelona - Man U Football (Soccer) match (Yes, Barcelona won....).

Some of you may remember the last time I was in Holland (The Netherlands [it's the same thing]), I had my car broken into and my GPS stolen. Well, this trip was a bit more forgiving. Chris and I had 2 meetings during a day that had seven hours of driving - after dropping him off I only had 4 more hours to drive to get back to Charles de Gaulle airport so I could return my rental car and take the train back to Caen. I would have been home that night, except I had to take a 30 minute nap on the side of the highway (because I kept driving off the side of the road) - that extra time meant that I missed the last train and had to spend the night at the aiport hotel. I made it in Caen after lunch on Friday, dropped off my bag, drove to the office, worked for a few hours, and then finally, finally made it back home.....

Wait a minute - what did I just say?? Did I make it back home???? OK, OK - yes, my home as I see it is in Crested Butte Colorado - and it always will be. That being said - I'm finally getting to have some sort of feeling that our apartment here in Caen is feeling a bit more like home every day. Each day, Kate, the Girls, and I all are starting to feel a bit more comefortable with our surroundings and are able to enjoy each day that much more. We are learning about and enjoying more and more about our little corner of the world each day. Just tonight, Kate and I tested out our first baby sitter and celebrated with a night on the town. You'll see by the pictures that amazing French food is alive and well in Caen. Even more amazing is that the GM, host, and sommilier of the restaurant knows Jeff Silver - the CEO of Coyote Logistics and my friend and colleague of 13 years. It really is a small world.....

I'm looking forward to two upcoming trips to Belgium in the coming weeks, visits by my parents, visits by Kate's parents, overseas trips by my colleagues in the US, all followed by our first trip back to Crested Butte in August. Assuming we can all survive a visit by Barack Obama to Caen next weekend, the Swine Flu, and the global auto crisis this summer will proove to be more amazing than we had ever hoped.

Best to all!



  1. Oh, Andrew!! What a great blog! I so enjoyed reading it. You are having the most amazing adventure!! Love to you all, Maryann

  2. Great to see you like old times Andrew. Always fun to fire you with questions!! We love you!