Good morning, friends! Or good afternoon, depending on the time zone you call home. This journal is special because it spans two time zones and three airports. I started drafting my thoughts while nibbling on a breakfast sandwich at the Gerald Ford airport in Grand Rapids. I wrote the first draft in the air over lake Michigan. I fixed up words and scanned for typos in the middle of the bustling O’Hare airport. Hopefully by the time these words appear on your computer I’ll be home safely, sleeping off a fulfilling, action-packed wedding reception weekend.
After being cooped up so much last year, simple airplane trips feel like such an adventure, and even a busy airport like Ohare can be a relaxing getaway. As an introvert, I feel safe when I slip into a crowd of strangers. When I find myself in a sea of people, each of them too preoccupied with their own travel plans to notice me, I take great comfort knowing that nobody is going to talk to me unless I want them to or they absolutely have to.
Ironically, while I was drafting that paragraph, I felt a gentle tap on my right shoulder and a subsequent bolt of panic run through the rest of my body. Who spotted me - an old classmate from high school? A friend of my parents? Nope - just the guy from the bagel counter telling me that my mask rolled off my lap and fell on the ground. Close call.
Sip. While flying into Grand Rapids Michigan yesterday, I saw rolling fields, quaint farms, and the occasional billion dollar mansion sprinkled throughout. Before this weekend, I had never been to Grand Rapids. I didn’t meet as many Dutch people as I expected, but the people were friendly. Many American states carry the trademark Midwestern accent, but Michigan has truly mastered it. The first bartender I spoke to effortlessly squeeze every long vowel sound out of her nose. “We have OberAHHN and Bells Two HeaAAARted on draAAft.” Somehow these Grand Rapids locals speak better Wisconsin English than my fellow Wisconsinites back home.
Ben gave me a lift from the airport to the hotel. He told me he would be picking me up in his new “people mover”, so standing outside the Gerald Ford airport, I scanned the curb for something in the realm of a minivan. He caught me off guard when he popped out of the driver side of a beige Ford Flex parked right in front of me. Shout-out to Ben and Beth for acting like my personal Uber all weekend. If it were a real Uber, my review would read “prompt, friendly, and their ride smells like crayons and car shampoo - an uncommon but pleasant pairing.”
We met up with everyone, grabbed some drinks, and later met at the reception. It can’t be easy throwing the second half of a wedding almost a full year after the actual wedding, but the reunion of old friends made the whole place feel electric. Vanessa looked beautiful, and Jordan had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen plastered on his face for the whole evening.
During dinner, I sat next to Erik and Lauren. I finally got the privilege of meeting their baby Jason in person. I already knew about his big gaping puppy dog eyes from zoom calls, but they’re even more charismatic in person. Erik and Lauren told me he screamed the entire drive from Peoria, and that left him so tired that he slept through the entire reception. Of course, being so well rested from the reception gave him the energy to cry the entire drive back to Peoria. Babies can be as cruel as they are cute.
We ate. We drank beer. We danced. The last time I saw Jordan shake his ass to a Bruno mars song, it was in our college dorm while we were getting ready to leave for morning lab. We’ve come a long was since then, but Jordan’s dance moves are the same. Pure silliness never goes out of style.
What a beautiful site. A room full of friends and family gyrating in the name of love, bonding together, doing their very best to give back the wedding reception COVID-19 took from Jordan and Vanessa last year. Congratulations, Jordan and Vanessa, God bless you both.
The party began to wind down. We tumbled into the back of the Parks family’s Ford Flex so they could cart us back to the hotel. But instead of heading up for the night, Caleb, Tanya, Joel, and I decided to hit the streets and get one more taste of Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids felt wild at night. Young people filled the sleepy streets. Distant fireworks exploded in the sky and the smell of cannabis hung thick in the air. We stood on a street corner trying to find a bar that was still open. I approached a nearby group of teens.
“Hey, we’re not from around here. What’s open this time of night?” I asked.
“Nothings open!” shouted the girl. “We’re out here too just trying to find something to do. It’s all closed.”
Suddenly Grand Rapids felt like a city with more kids than they knew what to do with. While the rest of the town slept, they drank, smoked weed, and rode bikes in the streets. We followed the crowd around the corner to the only bar for Miles that was still open. Two bouncers sat at the doorway, eyeing a rowdy group of teens loitering around the building. The four of us patiently waited for our turn.
“So you ever have any trouble here?” I asked the bouncer. He laughed and shook his head.
“Nah.” He took a pull from his vape pen. “I’m just here one night to help with the crowd. I don’t care about what all them are doing over there,” he said waving at the people beyond the roped off patio. “They do what they want, I’m just watching the door.”
The four of us grabbed a table, and we chatted over snacks and drinks. The smell of hot pizza wafted through the air, and the waitress cleared space on our table for the sizzling metal tray. But once we where the delicious smell was coming from, we gasped in disappointment.
“It’s… very greasy,” said Tanya, politely hiding her disgust. The cheese slipped off the wet cardboard crust like melted candle wax. Each slice left a shiny slug trail of glistening orange oil. The waitress asked us if we wanted a to-go box. I chirped “Sure!” before the rest of the group had a chance to answer. There was no way in hell any of us were going to finish that pizza, but I just wanted to torment our table with one last view of that wet cardboard crust flopping into the box, followed by a glistening drizzle of orange pizza grease.
Everything about Grand Rapids was fun - except for the pizza. Thanks for stopping by tonight, everyone. Hope you have a holiday weekend. Jordan and Vanessa, I hope you have a long, happy life together.