Love at the Eagle or the Magic of Carrots

Once again, the Internet has wrought cross-country friendship for Yours Truly. Departing today after a whirlwind Windy City vacation are Seattleites Café Kasey and John Dramatist. Emerald City barista Kasey originally contacted me after visiting a link to my blog. He and actor-boyfriend John were ready for a change of scene and were coming to Chitown to see if the flatland urban shores of Lake Michigan would fit the bill.

I met up with them yesterday after their afternoon at Wrigley Field. “The sun was out when we got to our seats behind third base,” said Kasey. “For about five minutes. Then we froze in the wind and had to buy sweatshirts.”

I could have told them in advance to bring a blanket, but they said they wanted the real Chicago experience. Their newbieness reminded of the last out-of-town couple I helped shepherd around Chicago. In 2006, New Yorkers Adam and Vicky were similarly wide-eyed about this place. (“How do the tall building stay standing without touching each other like they do in New York?” asked Adam as he peered out at the Loop for the first time from the Marina City roofdeck.)

Kasey and John’s happy gaping continued as I led them on a final-day tour of Millennium Park. Somewhere between the Bean and the Plensa fountain, I asked John how Chicago measured up to his expectations.

“This is way better than our New York trip was,” he told me. “New York has a million things to do, but Chicago feels like it gives back to you. There’s a real civic pride that we don’t have back in Seattle.”

“Chicagoans really like where we live,” I replied. “We’re aggressively amiable about it, and we like the folks who come to see our town. We go out of our way for each other, too. That’s the attitude that got me to move here six years ago.”

(Video: Facebook friending brings prospective Chicagoans Kasey and John to town–and their Seattle weather along with them.)

It really is a magical attitude most native Chicagoans downplay, but I have yet to meet a longtime Windy Citizen who gives the lie to this relative civic truism. Not long ago, I visited my old professional stomping grounds at Chicago community-garden land trust NeighborSpace (whose staff and gardeners work their green thumbs off to protect neighborhood gardens all across Chicago from the bulldozer). I was in the neighborhood and wanted to ask head honcho Helpinghand Ben if he had any favorite bloggers to clue me into for my super-spy-secret web project.

He did. In return, he handed me an envelope of seeds. “Do me a favor and blog about this,” he asked. “After all, it’s The Year of the Bean.”

Amazingly enough, he didn’t mean it ironically. A vote among members of One Seed Chicago, a project of NeighborSpace to promote urban community gardening through seed distribution, selected Blue Lake Pole green beans as the giveaway for 2009. More than 100,000 seeds will be mailed around Chicago to interested gardeners. (Mine are in my shoulder bag waiting for me to develop the urge to buy a balcony planter.)

I told Ben it felt like Chicago magic for the two of us to meet up unannounced and both have blogger business to tell each other about.

“It is like magic, look here,” he said, pointing to a chart of planting instructions. “All you do is plant the magic seeds and water them and wait a little while. Then these little ones like I gave you? They grow from bean magic.”

I’d have kicked him in the shin, but he’s the most adorable straight guy I know, so I let the deadpanning continue.

Ben went on. “The round red things? Wait a little while and they’ll grow because of tomato magic. These orange ones over here? They’re my favorite. That’s carrot magic!”

I came to recognize magic as the theme of the entire week of Kasey and John’s visit. I pondered the obvious enchantment between the two lovers as we sat at a table in the backroom of Cellblock on Saturday night.

Something made out of ice slush and vodka at our evening’s first stop, enormous grande-dame gay video bar Sidetrack (“You could break up with someone in here, neither one of you leave, and never run into them again,” said John), and a manly pint of Smithwicks in Cellblock’s front bar help explain why normally Pollyana I was sitting in the back of a wanna-be-1970s gay leather mecca.

On “Furr Party” night.

As I pondered the relative emotional health of myself and the cowhide-clad daddies and boys surrounding our table, I told the Seattle duo I was uncharacteristically tipsy.

“I’m a lightweight too,” said John. “I usually don’t get drunk at bars.”

“That’s not what you told me the other day,” I said. During the obligatory visit to my high-rise Marina City home, the pair recounted how John stood three-sheets-to-the-wind in a Pike Street bar on the eve of his 39th birthday, thinking he’d be alone forever. Out of nowhere comes the eight-years-younger barista and sweeps the unsuspecting birthday boy off his feet.

“Who knew you could find love at the Eagle?” said Kasey.

Rare that may be. Rarer still is finding me on a Boystown bar crawl. At all–much less ’til 2 in the morning and having a good time straight through from entering the glass bar at Sidetrack to heading off the hangover with a wee-hours visit to Halsted street’s late-night lifesaving Taco & Burrito Palace.

“The food here’s cheaper than Seattle,” said Kasey, between mouthfuls of an enormous torta.

“And really good, too,” said John.

Last night, after Millennium Park, as we tucked into hulking slices of Lou Malnati’s deep-dish in River North, I had a feeling Kasey and John were past the point of no return.

Little do they know, it’s the food magic that really sucks in those prospective Chicagoans.

(Click the HQ button for a higher-quality video. RSS subscribers, click here to view the video on CHICAGO CARLESS.)

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