Rock chalk weekend

We’ve just returned from a trip to my beloved, former stomping grounds in Kansas …

This time, our trip was centered on Lawrence, home of Kansas University and those reigning national champion Jayhawks … We made the trip to participate in a good friend’s wedding. Sure, that and the prospect of reuniting with some of my closest friends was reason enough to be excited, but I could hardly wait just to be back in Lawrence. To drive down Mass Street again, to walk the campus again, to step inside Allen Fieldhouse again -- but to do it all with Kates and Phoebe …

If you know me or you’re familiar with previous posts, you know Lawrence and the university hold a special place in my heart. There were a lot of good times there from shows at The Grenada and the Lied Center to camping trips and festivals at Clinton State Park to KU basketball games. I have no regrets of the path I chose (I was so close to attending KU I had a dorm room assigned to me before opting to attend Northwest instead … ), but it will always hold that specter of what might have been …

For all these reasons, I’d been looking forward to this trip for months. And when Kansas won the national championship last spring -- well, that made the anticipation even sweeter

As Kates and I arrived home last night, we felt refreshed and smiled at the memories of our mini-vacation. It went off even better than we had envisioned … Phoebe behaved wonderfully. We made plenty of time to enjoy the sites and the campus, without ever feeling rushed. We ate lots of excellent local food. And we got to see some of our best friends and marvel once more at how much we’re aging and building families. None of it gets old.

* * *

The flights to Kansas City and back were Phoebe’s first plane trips. Going in, we were bracing for a load of airport chaos and jumping through hoops with Phoebe and all of her luggage, not to mention our worries of how she might behave during the flights. We found the opposite, though, and the airlines couldn’t have been more accommodating … Even our shuttle bus drivers couldn’t resist at poking Phoebe and smiling at her cuteness.

After a whirlwind night of packing, we were up by 5 a.m. Thursday and on the road around 6:15; not bad since our goal was to be out by 6 and get a head start on the Chicago traffic … We were pulling up to our airport parking at 8:45, loaded our cargo and then began the process of checking in …

As we headed to the counter, we figured we’d thought of everything. We had Phoebe’s car seat and packed it in a box with address labels. We packed a suitcase with all of her clothes, toys, bottle, etc. And we had her pack n’ play packed cleanly in its casing.

Then the checker -- a hefty black woman -- asked to see Phoebe’s birth certificate. Kates and I looked at each other and back at the checker. We didn’t bring it.

“You need to make a copy of her birth certificate and have it with you at all times,” the checker said. “You will need to show it whenever you fly with her.”

“So we can’t fly today?” Kates asked.

“I didn’t say that,” the checker said.

The checker worked around the system and gave us a special boarding pass for Phoebe. Then we checked in our 109 pounds of luggage, breathed a sigh of relief that we beat the first phase -- without having to pay any extra fees -- and headed for the security check area.

That test proved much easier, although we needed about eight bins to put all of our shoes, coats and carry-on bags through the x-ray machine … I carried Phoebe through, and with no alarms sounding, the agent sweetly directed us to the "little giraffe chairs" where we could set Pheebs to put on her shoes again.

At our gate, Kates spread a blanket on the floor and sat Phoebe for some breakfast, playtime and a diaper-changing. I walked the gate area and picked up a Tribune to read about the day after Obama’s big win and Chicago’s glow-basking.

I loved this lede ...

We split the atom, invented the skyscraper, reversed a river, linked a sprawling continent by rail and air, butchered the world's hogs, rose from the ashes of a historic blaze, rigged a World Series, raised graft to an art form and all but trademarked the political machine.

Yet Chicago, a city defined by superlatives and cunning, had never in its 175 years produced the ultimate American leader. Until now.
By 10:40 we were boarding and getting settled in a window seat within the back third of the plane. We sensed the nervousness from some people around us -- or maybe it was just us -- when we sat down with a baby in tow. I heard one woman say optimistically to her seatmate, “She’s going to sleep the whoooole time.” Let’s hope, I thought.

Almost immediately Phoebe started squirming. “Come on, Phoebe. Don’t be one of those babies,” Kates told her. … Thankfully, she fell asleep in Kates’s arms just before takeoff and stayed there until we began our descent ... Her eyes burst wide open and her head bounced off Kates’s shoulder like a boomerang when the pilot came over the intercom to announce we should be prepared for landing.

After touching down in Kansas City, it didn’t take us long to find our luggage. We loaded it on one of those awkward $3 carts at every baggage claim area and then headed for the rental cars … We got a Dodge Avenger, which looked nice, but it felt like driving a boat … We hit up an Arby’s for lunch, and Kates fed Phoebe another batch of cereal while I served as her hi-chair … Then it was off to Olathe to pick up my tux, and, as usual, my mouth was agape at how much the city has grown and changed in the decade since I lived there. “This used to be a two-lane country road!” and “This place used to sit out here in the middle of nowhere!” I kept saying … We also took a run to the Sprint store to investigate phone chargers because I’d forgot mine at home; aside from waiting a couple hours for a technician to charge my phone, we came up with no valid answers … By 4:30, we were settling into our better-than-average digs on the river, just one block from Massachusetts Street.

On Thursday night, we met Glen and Heather and other members of the wedding party at Zen Zero, a happening Asian restaurant on Massachusetts Street. Turns out it was the place Glen and Heather shared their first date, and it’s where Glen proposed … Great food!

After dinner, while Kates and Phoebe returned to the hotel, the guys and I headed out for a night together. We donned matching KU basketball T-shirts and drove to a Dave & Buster’s in North Kansas City … We played arcade games, drank our share of beer, caught up on each other’s lives and reminisced on the past.

On the way back to Lawrence, I passed out in the back seat of Glen’s car ...

* * *

On Friday, we took our time getting out of bed and took advantage of the hotel’s continental breakfast …

Next stop: the Lawrence Target. We had to pick up some food and things for Phoebe, but we hadn’t planned on buying what proved to be our most important investment of the weekend -- a collapsible, umbrella stroller for Phoebe -- for $15 …

See, we’d left Phoebe’s big stroller at home because one, we already had so much Phoebe stuff we couldn’t bare to saddle more, and, two, it’s one of those heavy duty strollers with cup holders and pockets and storage compartments -- excellent for a walk around the neighborhood and a day at the park, not so much for loading on an airplane and carting around the Midwest. Besides, Kates had been thinking it was time to get Phoebe a more grown-up, lightweight, front-facing stroller, anyway … We wasted little time buying the stroller, and we carted Phoebe everywhere in that thing the rest of the weekend, complete with her fleecy Bundle-Me. She loved it.

After a quick lunch at Culver’s -- My friend Tom is right, Culver’s burgers aren’t nearly as good in Kansas -- we walked the KU campus. Some things have changed, and there was a lot of construction underway. But much of the campus was just as picturesque and charming as I’d remembered. We visited the bookstore and settled on a little Jayhawk T-shirt for Phoebe, which she will be wearing prominently during basketball season. We strolled up to the Campanile and looked down at Memorial Stadium. We walked along Jayhawk Boulevard, past Strong Hall, past Stauffer-Flint Hall and back to the Union. We walked among the students, musing at how many of them were tuned into iPods and text messaging, things that were still in their infancy as Kates and I were finishing college.

We returned to our hotel room just in time for me to get ready for the night’s rehearsal and then I met back up with Kates and Phoebe later for the rehearsal dinner at the Free State brewery

* * *

With the wedding not scheduled until Saturday evening, we had plenty of time to take in more of Lawrence on during the day …

We visited the house of worship that is Allen Fieldhouse, first. The last time I was there, I saw arguably the greatest KU basketball team ever give Brown University a 50-point thumping. And the fieldhouse atrium looked nothing like it does today … Now it’s equipped with a full-scale store, loads of display cases and tales of Jayhawk lore. Cases spelling out the word K-A-N-S-A-S … And now there’s two national championship trophies.

The one blemish on the visit was that we couldn’t get into the arena. Apparently it’s closed to the public on weekends.

We spent the afternoon walking Mass Street and downtown, starting with a stop at La Prima Tazza; I ordered a hot apple cider, Kates had a white chocolate mocha. And we did lunch at the Global Café, a cozy joint serving up Cuban sandwiches that almost melt in your mouth … We visited antique shops and art shops … The air was chilly and brisk, but hardly unbearable …

Glen and Heather were married Saturday night in a beautiful wedding that went off without a hitch … We celebrated afterward at the Eldridge, where we got to catch up and reconnect with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years … And there was Phoebe sitting contently in her stroller as two of my best girl friends from high school squatted to greet her and shake her little hands. On one level, it’s amazingly gratifying to see two of my worlds blending together, and yet it’s somewhat surreal -- There’s a part of me that still sees us as vibrant, energetic youth, and here I am introducing them to my daughter.

* * *

All of the celebrating behind us, we were up and at it again on Sunday

We were checked out of our hotel by 10 and returning our Avenger by 11. Kates and Phoebe went inside the rental center to wait while I worked again to stack our cargo on the tiny airport cart. I also endured two spills in the parking lot before finally getting all of it inside … Not fun.

Then, I forgot my backpack on the shuttle bus to the terminal. Not a big deal -- if you discount the fact it had all of our travel information, my camera and valuable reading material … I realized it as I’d left Kates and Phoebe at the drop-off area to find another cart (if only we didn’t have so much stuff!), and immediately snagged a shuttle driver to check on the missing bag. He radioed his cronies, and a second later, the driver of the shuttle we’d been on radioed back to say he had the bag, he hadn’t left the terminal yet and he was swinging back around to drop it off. A couple minutes later, my bag appeared and I was thanking that driver from the pit of my heart.

Inside the airport, we had an even easier time checking in and passing through the security checks in Kansas City than in Chicago … Then Kates and I barely had paid for a quick lunch at a Burger King stand before it was time to start boarding our plane.

But Phoebe was a little more fussy for the flight home. She’s become a champ at fighting sleep and she was at full throttle for the plane ride back to Chicago. Once again she was squirming and whining in Kates’s arms …

Finally, about midway through the flight, I took her from Kates and, within a few minutes, got her to fall asleep on my shoulder. She was zonked out for the rest of the flight; attendants had her stroller set up for us as we exited the plane, Kates laid her in it and she stayed sleeping all the way into the baggage claim area … It was great!

We summoned our shuttle to our parking area and got to share the ride with a nice couple who also had returned from Kansas City with their 3-month-old son. We enjoyed swapping stories around traveling with the little ones, and it turned out the mother had graduated from a rival of my high school alma mater …

By 5 last night, we were back home. With lots of stories to tell. We weren't in Kansas anymore ...

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