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I was born and raised in the Midwest and it is there that I feel most at home. I’ve lived in nine US States, but have spent 55% of my life in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. The US heartland is my “comfort food.”

Over the weekend of November fifth and sixth I took a short pilgrimage to Chicago. It was unrelated to, though slightly effected by, the 2016 World Series where the Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year drought. No, I did not go to Chicago for love of a game, but I did go for the sake of love. More on that later.

Along with my wife I currently live in Tampa, Florida. Tampa is a spread-out, congested, fairly densely populated spot on Florida’s west coast. I moved there after living in the small city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for 18 years.

The differences between the two locations are pretty obvious and can be overwhelming. One of the differences in living in a smallish city for 18 years versus a big city for 14 months is my expectation of spying an acquaintance when I’m out and about. When I used to fly out of Cedar Rapids  (aka the Eastern Iowa Airport) I expected to see someone at the airport that I knew. When flying out of Tampa’s airport I do not have the same expectation. Of course, expectations and reality are frequently at odds with one another.

Thus, I found myself in the delightful company of my wife, sitting at a gate in the Tampa airport, waiting for a flight to take us to Chicago. I leaned into her and whispered, “I wonder if we know anybody on this flight?”

“I doubt it,” she said placatingly, “but you never know.”

‘But you never know’ prompted me to stand and swivel in a 360-degree arc looking for someone that I knew. The ‘I doubt it’ part of her statement proved true as my quick scan for faces came up with a zero score for facial recognition. Ah, well. Worth a try.

So, as a loving, middle-aged couple my lovely and I boarded our mid-sized jet and headed to The Mecca of The Midwest, Chicago, Illinois. We boarded and made our way down the jet’s aisle to our row where a woman already sits at the window seat. Patricia says, “You get the middle seat.”

“I get the middle seat?” I ask. “Pray tell why? My legs are definitely longer than yours.” Patricia is 9% taller than the average US woman while I am only 5% taller than the average US man. Still, I am three plus inches taller than she and appreciate the extra leg room afforded by the aisle seat.

My darling just waves the tickets under my nose and says, “Assigned seating.”

“Didn’t you select our seats?” ask I.

“Nope,” says she, “just the row and two numbers side by side. I get aisle, you get middle. Get in.”

I got in. The woman sitting by the window smiled during our exchange. She sits but her seat belt is not yet fastened. I sit, reach down and grab the two, long straps that hold the male part of the buckle. They are the same. I say to window seat, “Guess it doesn’t matter which one I use, huh?”

“No. Doesn’t look like. Go for it.”

I do. I buckle my seat-belt and ask her, “Staying in Chicago, or just connecting?”

“Staying. I’m there for a conference. You?”

“Staying. For a little visit. First time.”

“This is your first time to Chicago?” she asks. “You’ll love it.”

“Well, I hope so. Kind of a reunion.”

“To a place you’ve never been before?” she asks with a laugh.

I laugh too. “Well, I grew up in Illinois; I’ve just never been to Chicago.”

“You’re kidding? Never? Wow. I grew up in Michigan.”

“You grew up in Michigan? I was born in Michigan! Where about?”

“West Bloomfield?”

“Nope. Bigger?”

She smiled and replied, “Detroit?”

“Sure, sure. I had an uncle who lived in Detroit. I was born in Lansing, but my folks’ family was from the Saginaw area.”

It turned out that window seat was living in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, a scant five miles from my home north of Tampa. We exchanged vague identifiers of location and she asked, “Caliente?”

I looked at her and replied, “Salsa? Are you hot?”

She laughed. “No. I live right next door to Caliente. It’s a clothing optional resort. I didn’t know that when I moved in.”

“Oh, yeah?” I asked with a chuckle. “How’s that working out? And why is it that most folks who go to clothing optional places are people you really don’t want to see naked?”

“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that; but you’re right!”

“So how long have you lived in Florida?”

“Fourteen years. Can’t wait to get out.”

“Really?” I asked. “I’ve been here fourteen months. Hated it at first, but I’m coming around. I was depressed for a year. Like really depressed.”

“I’ve been depressed since we moved down here. ‘Forced frolic,’ as I like to say. My husband moved us down. Four more years and I’m out of here. Going back to Michigan.”

“Four more years? Sounds like a campaign slogan.”

“Four more years and then my son graduates. I might hang in for six but then I’m moving back to Michigan.”

“Detroit?”

“No, Leland. Up by Traverse City?”

“Never been but my cousin lives up that way. I’ve been to the U-P.”

“Oh!? Where abouts?”

“Uhm, to the U-P? To Aunt Minnie’s and Uncle Bert’s. I think I was twelve or so. I have no idea. I do have a funny story about Traverse City.”

“Shoot.”

“I work retail and a youngster came in; looked like late teens, maybe early twenties and he asked a question that made it obvious that he wasn’t familiar with the area; so, I asked him, ‘Where are you from?’ He said Michigan so I asked where. ‘Traverse City,’ says he.

“‘Traverse City?! What year did you have Diane Kenel Truelove as your English teacher?’

“His jaw dropped. ‘Diane Kenel Truelove?! You know Diane Kenel Truelove? I love Diane Kenel Truelove! I had her for freshman and senior English!'”

“Now, I know there are only two high schools in Traverse City so chances are pretty good that this kid had my cousin but this is just too good to be true. ‘You did? She’s my cousin. What’s your name?'”

“And his name, I swear to God, was Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr! So, I asked him how the duel went and he of course got the joke, because the kid’s name is Aaron Burr! And that is my truthful story about Travers City.

“So,” I continued, “Your son’s a freshman?”

“Yes. And once he’s through I’m moving back to Michigan.”

I paused at this point as I wasn’t sure about etiquette. She moved down with a husband but is moving as soon as possible after her son graduates. Is there still a husband? Is this a polite question? I ask anyway. “So, husband? Still around? Moving back with you?”

“Still around. And we’re moving. He brought us down here, it’ll be almost twenty years that I’ve spent in this hell hole and I’m moving back. So, what are you going to do in Chicago?”

“Visiting holy doors. Do you know what that is?” I asked.

“No idea what-so-ever,” she replied, thus earning a quick tutorial on Boniface viii, Papal Indulgences, Pope Francis’ Year of Jubilation and my oddball view of God, the universe and everything.

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