My brother-in-law Jeff turned 40 today, less than two weeks after my sister’s 50th birthday. I’m so glad we get to celebrate this milestone with him. We managed to escape the monsoons of Chicago last night and wing our way back to California. On Thursday it was warm and sunny when we entered the bunker-like Museum of Science & Industry but when we emerged four hours later, images of coal mines, hatching chicks, and Nazi submarines dancing in our heads, it looked like Armageddon had hit. A freakish thunderstorm had barreled in out of the blue with winds up to 75 mph and tornado sightings, and trees and power lines were downed all over the city. It took us hours to crawl home in the paralyzed traffic. As much of a cliché as it is, I have to say how much I prefer the boring climate of southern California to the wild meteorological mood swings of Chicago. As a kid I enjoyed the crazy weather which included everything from sudden 50-degree temperature drops to furnace-like temperatures that enabled me to literally fry eggs on the sidewalk in front of our house to dangerous arctic freezes that had me pulling tiny icicles out of my hair during morning classes. It’s fun to witness the ominous crackling of late summer electrical storms when I’m visiting but as a rule I prefer walking out of my house in L.A. and not having to worry about what extreme weather phenomena might hit before I get home. I’m sure my family members would laugh at that comment since they firmly believe that the imminent threat of a city-destroying earthquake we live with in southern California trumps anything they might face in the Midwest.
I do love Chicago, though. I always get defensive when Chicagoans (including my family members) trash Los Angeles, and there’s so much here that I enjoy, but overall I think Chicago has a lot more going for it than L.A. Its rich cultural life, stunning architecture, fantastic restaurants, beautiful parks, and diverse neighborhoods combine to create a kind of quality of life that I find extremely appealing. I won’t be moving back anytime soon, but I can imagine doing that some day in the future. That is, if the current spate of violent storms doesn’t wash the entire city into Lake Michigan.
My sister and nephews came back with us last night, thus violating my grandparents’ neurotic rule of too many relatives traveling on a single plane “in case something happens.” There were a few moments last night when we wondered whether they had the right idea. Just before takeoff, an irate and seemingly drunk passenger insisted that he be let off the plane. To my surprise, the crew allowed him to leave, but this set in motion an intense search around his seat and the necessity of removing ALL of the bags from the baggage compartment to make sure this guy didn’t plant anything. All a little jarring, especially when the flight attendants invoked the memory 9/11 in their supposedly calming explanations of why we were delayed.
Today we’re celebrating with my brother-in-law who has a day off from the current west coast Wilco tour. I’m so looking forward to the Santa Barbara, San Diego, and L.A. shows this week, and you can check out Wilco’s performance on Jay Leno on Thursday night. If any of you folks are at these shows, be sure to say hi. I met up with two bloggers while in Chicago. Leah Jones of Accidentally Jewish was nice enough to brave the downpour and come to my nephew Spencer’s Blisters gig at Millennium Park. Leah told me that she didn’t know how to find me because most of the photos I’ve put on my blog are over thirty years old. Is that a symptom of my arrested development? Just open those images in Photoshop, add a hundred pounds, delete the hair, and you should have a pretty good idea of what I look like. We also had a wonderful dinner at a lively kosher restaurant on Devon (only Jews could make that much noise while eating) with True Ancestor’s David Gottlieb and his very fun family. I’d already met David before but every time I see him I feel some kind of weird past-life connection between the Gottliebs and the Millers. Also current-life—his son Gabe and my nephew Spencer became close friends at their summer camp last month. What are the odds that they’d be at the same camp and in the same cabin?
I’m grateful for this time with Sue, Jeff, Spencer, and Sammy, and thrilled that Jeff’s 40th birthday coincides with the opportunity to hear him share his powerful music on four different California stages. If there’s one thing that my obsession with old photographs has taught me over the past two weeks, it’s how important family is and how much we should all value our loved ones while we have them near us. Happy Birthday, Jeff!