I found myself at O'Hare airport waiting for my flight for my annual trip to visit with my friends in Phoenix. The relationship goes back 2 decades now and I always relish the few days I get to spend with them each year.
Chicago's fabled winter arrived late this year but made up for it's tardiness with constant cold and frequent snow. Although there were never sustained periods of below zero temperatures and we never experienced a single outlandish snow storm, there was a consistency to this winter. Thermometers held fast below freezing for weeks at a time and 6 to 7 inch snowfalls appeared on an almost weekly basis. A brief respite of 70's and sun is sorely needed. This coupled with the steep learning curve of a new job leaves me yearning for this break from my day to day routine and change of scenery.
My down jacket is in my suitcase in the baggage hold, I am in my seat, my seat belt securely fastened and will soon be in the air. Ironically, our most significant snow occurred just two days earlier. 8 to 12 inches, depending on location, fell over a period of 24 hours. The roofs and yards of the houses lining the sinuous streets of the suburban subdivisions are covered in a winter mantle of white. In the forest preserves clustered around O'Hare the flat white blanket is broken by the irregular brown shapes of bare trees. Soon clouds are beneath me obscuring the landscape. In a little over 3 hours I will find myself in a topography of sand, cactus, mountains and the austere beauty of the Arizona desert.
I wake up from an unexpectedly deep nap and find the clouds no longer block my view. Below me are red rock canyons topped by a layer of pale yellow, the color of a cantaloupe shell. It is an amazing perspective. It tells the story of the ages spent building the earth up and then the ages spent by rivers and wind creating the deep crevices, revealing the striated colors. High snow covered peaks appear, late season ski meccas. Newer, yellow canyons begin to mix with the red in the pale brown desert beyond the snowy mountains. The plane begins to descend over Phoenix. It is low slung and spreads out for miles.
The pilot comes over the PA system. "Sometimes you get lucky" he announces "We have arrived early!" 25 minutes early to be exact. This is only lucky if the person you are expecting to pick you up is not still on the road as you are getting off the plane. I call and find my "wheels" are, indeed, 15 to 20 minutes away. The online info he looked up says that I am several thousand feet over New Mexico. I assure him that is false and I am on the ground in Arizona. By the time I get my bag we are mere minutes apart and all ends well as I chuck my bag into the trunk. We depart for lunch at on outdoor restaurant, a rare treat in March for a winter challenged Midwesterner like myself. We while away a couple of hours before leaving to pick up my other host at work en route to the symphony that night.
The guest conductor that evening is a small, highly animated Asian woman. Not only is she highly skilled she was a joy to watch. Her delight in music and her work was evident in every move. The main piece that evening was a work for cello involving a guest musician who, were it not for the mastery of his instrument, would verge on pretentious. He seemed to be infatuated with flinging his slightly shaggy hair about as he performed. During this piece the orchestra is essentially background to the cello. The conductor was extremely adept at maintaining them at the proper level of both volume and energy level, not an easy feat.
Prior to the symphony we stopped at a bar down the street from the hall. One of my hosts has been on a year long exploration of scotches, whiskies and bourbons. This bar vends a number of different varieties, some of them rather exotic. It's previous incarnation as a men's clothing store is evidenced by it's showcase windows and the signs still hanging on the wall noting the men's clothing designers formerly carried there. In the basement, within a wire mesh enclosure, is a homage to Di Vinci's "Last Supper" recreated using a collection of, mostly female, children's dolls. It is an imaginative and witty installation.
Upon returning to their home I sampled a white whiskey, a brew unbeknowst to me up until that point. It tasted like whisky, although seemed somewhat lighter. It was a pleasant night cap to my day.