So Terry and I went to Chicago over the last week to meet up with my DCL buddies. For those of you who don’t know that’s my Neopets/Fantasy writing group friends. We don’t really play or write much anymore but when we do it’s all about dragons and crap. We decided to have a meet up January last year and it finally came around. Also I’ll be referring to a few of them using their online names, since that’s what I know them as.
I was travelling the furthest for the meet up, since everyone else is located in America. Well, we have other Brits in the group but I was the only one willing to go.
Wednesday (Day 1)
Our flight took off at 12.20pm on the Wednesday. The flight was great! We were sceptical at first as American Airlines seemed to be a lower budget flight compared to our previous flights to America. However the fact that there were no TV screens on the backs of chairs was quickly forgiven when the lady serving drinks kept giving us MASSIVE QUANTITIES of wine. What a darl’! I spent most of the flight trying to get a Dratini for Nicole in Pokemon Blue as she was trading me a Growlithe for one. Four hours in and I got one for her.
We were served shepherds pie on the plane shortly after having breakfast in the airport – we were expecting food later on! It was lovely though, we were just food and wine filled, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.
When we arrived in Chicago we got the train to downtown and had a Starbucks along the way. We were upgraded to a King room at the Travel Lodge, which was ace!
We didn’t make ourselves comfortable as we needed to last until the evening in local time as not to mess up our sleeping patterns. So soon after dumping our suitcases we ventured out in to Chicago to find travel plugs and beer.
We found this great little place called Bar Below which was round the corner from our hotel. We were having some drinks and abusing the jukebox until a guy, who I swear was part of the mafia, came and started dissing England to us! Haha. The guy would talk some smack about the queen and England and every so often he would stop mid sentence to talk to some guy and he’s return will a roll of money. It was rather random!
We moved on to have a beer in a local hotel at double the price and then crashed.
Thursday (Day 2)
We woke up fairly early, around 6am. Because our time zone works that way. We weren’t jet lagged though, because the way it fell meant we only had to stay up an extra few hours the night before. So thankfully we were all pumped and ready to go. Terry and I had arranged to meet Garfy outside the Starbucks closest to our hotel. When she came over we had arranged to take a commuter rail cart type thing, which probably has a technical term. It was basically a HUGE two floor train which went to and from Indiana every few hours. Pretty handy and would have been something good to know for the last time we went to Indiana.
The train was cool, but the ride was a little uneventful so I’ll skip across to where we got off. We arrived in Munster, Indiana. This was where the house we arranged to stay in was. We didn’t go straight to the house. We’d arranged to meet Phex for breakfast so she met us in her car shortly after we arrived. Everyone in America drives, it’s ace. I felt like a movie star being taken everywhere haha.
It was my first time meeting Phex on the way to the breakfast place. She was as lovely as expected. In fact everyone was, so just assume that rather than me type out the same sentence for everyone as I go through our meetings. C:
We also met Danielle at the breakfast place. It was called Niko’s Breakfast Bar. It was super nice! $10 bought me the biggest chicken avocado sandwich I ever bought, and it came with fires and a salad. Needless to say I didn’t eat it all. Nicole and Joe came and met us at the breakfast place. Nicole is like, my main DCL homie, so it was awesome to finally meet her! We’ve been writing and drawing together for over 14 years.
After breakfast we made our way to the house. The AirBNB images didn’t do it justice. It was a five floor suburban den of awesome! The second basement (that’s right, there was a second basement!) was a games room complete with air hockey, pool and darts. The basement was a really cool bar area where I, Terry, Nicole and Joe decided we would be the stockists for it. The ground floor was the main living room and kitchen, with a conservatory which looked out on to a pool and hot tub. The two floors above had our four bedrooms spread out across them. Needless to say there was plenty of room for twenty excited nerds.
Kougie and Luke were at the house when we arrived and we all were really giddy with how big the house was. Nicole and Joe had already drawn their characters on the white board of the house. Before the end of the day the guy who lived there was bound to be freaked out by the surplus of dragon themed drawings.
Before getting too settled those of us who were there ventured out to Michael’s Art Store to grab some sketchbooks, Danielle bought Origami paper and Terry bought slate coasters, which look great in our flat.
We also went to the grocery store. I think it was a Walmart. We spent a ton of cash on Booze, snacks, food and breakfast things. To make things worse – none of the food was to be eaten that evening. Well, we snacked a bunch. I was a typical tourist and bought Twinkies to share. When we got back to the house we set up a table in the kitchen with ‘communal snacks’ that everyone could share. It had our twinkles, some Reece’s cups, Nicole and Joe’s weird ass Shrimp Jerky and Beef Dust. I swear they brought beef dust! 😛
With there being only a few of us in terms of how many we actually expected to show, we played a game – I think Kougie suggested it, maybe Garfy. It was called ‘Pictorials’. The aim was that you take a piece of paper for everyone at the table and make a pile. so we had nine pieces of paper. The first person write a phrase. The second person draws that phrase, the third person writes what they think the drawing was, and so on and so on. To make it better, here’s the one I kept: (see picture to the right).
They got much weirder than this. Especially when our characters came in to play, since only the girls and Joe knew the characters we write about there were some weird occurrences where Terry and Luke tried to depict what they thought ‘Dawnfire’ or another character we write about was. There was a great ‘Sherlock / Detective Pikachu’ one.
After a few rounds of Pictorials Hill and Kate arrived. Everyone obsessed over Hill’s sketchbook (it was pretty amazing!) And she’d drawn scenes from her and Kougie’s stories so I was all ‘No no spoilers’ As I spazzed. We ordered Pizza, drank and drew for a while before going to bed. Terry and I took the bunk room on the top floor. It had a huge fan in it, which was appreciated as it was a warm night!
Friday (day 3)
This was another early 6am start for Terry and myself. Nicole woke up shortly after she heard us walking around the main room trying to make coffee. She creeped up on my and scared me half to death! But anyway we needed her to work the coffee machine as Terry and I were a little clueless.
Nicole drew a wake-up message and stuck it to the fridge, it was her character (who we all know) named Kyoti saying something like ‘Good morning, coffee is made.’ Or something to that effect but cooler. Everyone loved it anyhow. Terry and I cracked open a box of Lucky Charms for breakfast, as we usually have to pay £8 for that privilege in the UK!
There were a few less of us today, so we decided to venture out into the city before the girls with kids/babies on the way came, just because they’d have a harder time getting around. So myself, Terry, Garfy, Phex, Kougie, Luke, Danielle, Nicole, Joe Hill and Kate all went to the Shedd Aquarium. It’s the largest Aquarium in the world! It was pretty epic.
We saw plenty of (shock) fish, as well as Octopus, Otters, Sharks, String Rays and so many things I honestly can’t remember them all. Terry made a really nice gallery which I will steal and post here soon. Nicole and I went to the place where you get to touch the fish together. There were starfish, and some big creepy fish which upon feeling it felt like it had armour on, not scales. It was nifty. We messed around in the gift shop, Joe did a dance with some flashy light rods, Terry made rude objects out of sculpty sand, and then Joe pretended to step on a baby penguin toy. Hopefully no kids saw that, but it was pretty funny.
A few of us ate in the Aquarium too, I had a turkey sandwich. America makes our sandwiches look rubbish by the way. The sandwich had about ten layers of turkey on it. I’m jealous we don’t go that far with our wafer meats.
After the Aquarium we went to visit The Bean – A giant bean-shaped mirror in the centre of Chicago. We got some pretty ace pictures, including this one of myself and Nicole with some sailors. After we got our tourist pictures someone, I forget who, had suggested we visit the children’s park. Well, there were no age restrictions. So let’s pretend it was okay for us to crash the climbing frame and go down the slides. This was way more fun that I should admit, though, I did bang my head pretty bad on the twisty slide. That’s what you get for being too big for the park.
On the way back we got noodles from a local takeaway, more amazing food. America is totally worth visiting for any kind of food you have there. Except White Castle – ick.
When we returned we sat around and drew together some more. Then Terry, Nicole, Joe and myself went out to the liquor store. We bought some ‘Mike’s hard lemonades’ Which is my wimpy drink of choice, and Terry got some Jack Daniel’s alcopops, because that’s totally a thing over there. There were also random Canadian beers.
We got back and had more silly house fun. Then Auri arrived with three month old baby Andrew. Auri also brought amazing art supplies, paintings for us all of our characters, and home made cinnamon rolls! She totally went all out, and it was great to have her join the fun.
Later that night Terry and I played ‘Cards Against Humanity’ with Kougie, Luke, Hill, Kate, Nicole and Joe. We expected it to be a funny game, but it was SO funny because we didn’t realise how our desk was catered to Britain. So every few goes someone would place a card down and have no idea who it was or what it meant. Nicole put down the worst sentence of all, and I can’t repeat it here because it was actually that naughty. I think Luke ended up winning, so he’s clearly the most terrible of us all.
After cards a few of us tried to stay up late because our friend Marsi was arriving from the airport after midnight. There was a few who crashed before then, so anyone who left drew one of her characters on a piece of paper ready for her to arrive, which made for a nice welcoming gift! Mars and her husband, Justin brought little gifts for everyone, and they made amazing fudge!
Saturday (day 4)
The next morning Garfy was up with all the early risers. She was making pancakes for her pack! Garfy is sort of our unofficial leader, I see her that way because she’s the one who visits us all the most and keeps us interested in the forum by doing so.
I had pancakes with bacon and egg, as well as a chocolate chip pancake afterwards. Real American pancakes > Every other pancake ever. I’m sad I’m not being made these every morning haha.
Shortly after breakfast The final expected member of the group arrived – it was Beaky! she brought along her husband and another three-or-so month old baby; James! I was surprised how okay I was around the kids. It’s totally a thing that you don’t mind your friends kids. Strangers kids are annoying. >:| Beaky was stoked to see everyone, and made me emosh when she gave out her hugs because of it haha.
Saturday we decided to stay in the house mainly, because it was such a large group we weren’t even willing to attempt organising something for everyone to do which they’ll enjoy, plus Marsi was pregnant and we had very young babies with us. Not that anyone minded staying in! I actually think Saturday was my favourite day of them all! We spent lots of quality time together.
David brought along a card game called ‘Smash Up’. the aim of the game was that you get two randomly selected geeky fandoms (for example Unicorns and Vampires) and you have to battle the other players with your cards. I failed miserably on my first go, but Pirates and Fairies saw me do better! While we played Garfy and a few others went to the store to get barbecue and lunch things. She bought a turkey sub which was so big I swear it could have fed each of us for lunch. It was just something to pick at while we all played.
After Smash Up I went looking for Nicole, because we had agreed to trade Pokemon on this trip – I needed a Growlithe, and she needed a Dratini. We both gave them suitably rude names which means we can never use them online, but what the heck. All the DCL girls at this point were in the main room, so we were drawing together and snap-chatting some of the forum members who couldn’t make it.
We then played the splice game, which I loved. Each of the DCL girls has a few dragon characters they write about on the site. So, we each put two named of our characters in to a bowl, and then we would take two random names. The two names you got – you had to draw a dragon splice. So for example, I got Auri and Phex’s characters. So I drew them merged into this colourful super dragon you see here to the right.
The best part was guessing which two characters we were drawing – we’d display our sketches one by one and the others had to guess who they were. It was ace because we all take a real interest in each other’s drawing and writing, so most of the time we could easily guess which characters were spliced together.
As an example of how much we write together and enjoy our creativity – Kougie dropped a bomb on the group, saying she planned to kill one of her main characters off soon. Think of the writing and a collaborative fantasy story between the group of us. So when she said this, Beaky got all emotional and it was actually a pretty dramatic 20 minutes.
During the splice game we could hear the rest of the group having loads of fun downstairs playing some board game where they had to escape a sinking island – it sounded loads of fun. Joe lit up the barbecue and we all had burgers with American cheese and giant pickles on them. We then went outside for a bunch of group pictures. Terry handed the selfie stick to Garfy, because of that thing I said before about her being our leader.
We also Skyped Kathy – another member of the forum. She stayed in the room via computer with us for a good three hours I think? We had some good laughs with her, it was a real shame she couldn’t come.
Most of us had pads and address books to sign so we all had the most up to date contact information. But Joe went one further and had us all sign a glass skull. I drew a British flag next to my name! The evening got a little weird after that as we randomly inflated some balloons, and drew character’s faces on them. We proceeded to punch dragon heads around the room for a while. Kathy was still on Skype at this point.
It was getting really late by that point, so Hill and Kate said their goodbyes as they were off very early in the morning, I think they had trouble getting time off work for the event. It was great to see them, though!
Sunday (day 5)
I woke up pretty late on Sunday, I’d had about five hours sleep every day so far. So I came down at around 9am and we had an appearance from Heather! She’s another forum member who we weren’t 100% sure if she was coming or not, so it was a nice surprise to see her there as I jumped at the remaining pancakes from Sunday morning’s batch.
Most of that morning was dedicated to cleaning the five floor house which was covered with balloons, drawings, food and art supplies. I’m not gonna lie, it looked like an illegal daycare – certainly not a house where 20 adults had spent the weekend. Kougie, Luke, Beaky, Auri and the babies had to leave at this point. So the rest of us went back in to Chicago before going our separate ways.
We went to the big fountain near Millennium park and got some more pictures, then we went to get some food from ‘Beef and Brandy’ – it was the restaurant above the bar we spent the first night in. No mafia guys around this time though. Oh! Beaky actually came back into town for an hour or so and got some pictures with us at the fountain too. Yay!
Everyone went their separate ways after lunch, because most of the people who came had long drives ahead of them. I’m really glad everyone made the effort to come though despite how long it took them to get there. Nicole and Joe’s drive was longer than our flight!
It was back to being just Terry and myself at that point, so we had a wander around Chicago before going to our hotel to watch game of Thrones – because we simply couldn’t wait until we got home for it. I fell asleep pretty early, all those late nights/early mornings had caught up with me. The Congress Plaza was where we spent our late two nights in Chicago – it was really nice! You wouldn’t have thought it was one of the cheaper hotel options when you saw inside.
Monday (Day 4)
Our last full day in Chicago. Terry and I had been to the city before over New Year one time. We were staying in the same location as the last time too, so we went and found the ‘Corner Bakery’ – which is where we had breakfast nearly every day last time we were in Chicago. I’d gotten the taste for pancakes for breakfast by now. so I did. It’s a really goos place to eat if you ever find yourself in the windy city.
More exploring happened, I went to the art store, we obsessed over Target because it sold nice things at nice prices. I bought a top!
After wandering for a while we went to the Hard Rock cafe in Chicago, as pin collectors we always plan a visit there as part of our holidays. Terry bought a couple of pins for the collection and we had many beers out in the sun – it was a really nice day! We talked about how awesome the weekend had been, and how I was so glad Terry liked all my American friends; I was worried we’d be too weird and scare him away haha. Turns out just our writing is weird, everyone was awesome and cool, and I educated him about a couple of our characters, since he isn’t a member of the forum. Apparently a few of the plus ones plan on signing up now, so that’ll be nice.
We had dirty McDonalds that night, I know, what a waste of a dinner, but we were drunk. It was nice I’m not gonna lie. On the way home we went past Millennium park and decided to go on the same playground we went on with the group. Here’s the view atop the highest slide.
We weren’t the only adults there this time either, seems the park is the place to be at night!
We got back and must have fell straight to sleep, as I don’t recall anything really past the park. Maybe that was too many beers in the sun. Whoops.
Tuesday (Last Day)
The last day, boo! It was only supposed to be a short trip, though. We had breakfast at The Corner Bakery again. Then we had to get ourselves ready for the airport. We had a bunch of alcopops left and no way to realistically bring them home as our bags were soft and pretty roomy – the glass bottles would have smashed. In case you can’t tell this is me trying to justify us drinking all the alcopops we had left right after breakfast.
We turned up at the airport regretting it though, it didn’t exactly make us drunk, but it made us super tired! The flight home was hugely uncomfortable, so we didn’t sleep, and it was a night flight. I won’t moan too much about the flight though – we were sad to be leaving Chicago and the time difference saw us get back Wednesday at 9am. So a sleepless night and some crazy jet lag happened. It’s all good now, though!
Wow, so that’s a very messy, long blog about my time in Chicago. It probably sounds lame to say we went that far to spend the weekend in a house. But it was the first time I’d met the vast majority of these really good friends I’ve known for 14 years. We’ve been gaming, chatting and writing together on and off for the entire time, and are really close. I won’t get too mushy, but it was totally worth it. Everyone else thought so too, check out some awesome Facebook posts:
And finally, a collection of images from the event, sorry all the images are tiny I was having mega fights with my phone to hand these over: