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November 08, 2008

Pictures From Chicago And More

I've put up a gallery of photos from our overnight trip to Chicago. It has pictures of the sunset from the John Hancock building. Forgive me if you notice reflections, I did my best to avoid them, but they are sometimes inevitable when you are shooting through a window.

Chicago Photos
Chicago Photo Gallery

Also, there are three other recent galleries I've put up, including one from Madison, and one several photos of Jess in a cornfield. Be sure to check those out, and more, from my On Assignment page, with all the photo galleries taken during travel nursing assignments.

Travel Photos
On Assignment Photo Galleries

Until next time, be safe.

A Night In Chicago

I'd been itching to get back to Chicago, hopefully for a night. This week, we had a couple of days off, so we jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be great.

We had a rough start, finding the kennel for Zuri (a place called Camp Canine, which was really nice), then being too late for the train from Harvard, Illinois. We ended up driving further down the line to a town called Crystal Lake, but still missed our train by a few minutes when we parked in the wrong lot, so we ate lunch there to wait for the next train an hour later. We did make it to Chicago early in the afternoon, and set out to find our hostel.

We were staying in a place called The Arlington House, which is in the north end of town up by De Paul University. I'd made reservations there several days before, not realizing that we were coming into Chicago on Election Night, so it was fortunate to have gotten them when I did. I'd reserved a private room, including a toilet and sink, which cost us about $65. In comparison, when Jess went to Chicago with some friends to see a Madonna concert, they stayed in a hotel that was $450 a night.

Looking on a map of Chicago, it's easy to think that the hostel is only a short walk north. We did end up walking up from downtown later, but only because we couldn't find an L station (for the elevated metro station in Chicago). We found some two-day passes for the L, a great value, and headed up to the hostel. Of course, when you are paying $65 a night for a private room, you shouldn't expect too much. Granted, there were no frills, but the place was clean, comfortable, and adequate for the few hours that we planned on spending there. The window looked out into a loading dock, but I wasn't in Chicago to sit next to a window, or sit in a hostel at all. We dropped the bag, jumped back on the L, and headed downtown for the evening.

The great thing about this particular November day is that it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit, absolutely beautiful. Throughout the evening, the wind picked up a little, so sitting in the breeze could be a little chilly, but I don't think it dropped below 60 that night, and the next day was gusty but in the high 60s. We had really excellent weather, it was almost easy to pretend that it was November. The problem with November, though, is that the sun starts to descend by 4 pm, 3:30 if you are in a city with large skyscrapers. So, once back downtown, we had to hustle a little bit, since we wanted to watch the sunset from the Signature Lounge, a little bar and restaurant at the 95th of the John Hancock building.

On our previous trip to Chicago, we'd gone to the observation deck in the Hancock, which cost $15 a person. Going to the Signature Lounge was free, although buying a drink was certainly expected. Beer was about $7 a glass (for Bud), so we opted for a glass of wine and a martini, which at $12 each still was cheaper than going to the observation deck. We stayed through the sunset, which was beautiful, then headed out for some dinner. We didn't really have any particular idea for food, so when we passed a little authentic Italian pizza place, we stopped in, eating pizza and pasta.

The idea was to go to a little jazz club even further north, so we tried finding the L station. We were walking on the road that I had expected the L to follow, but alas, looking later at a map of the route, we were several blocks off. In the end, we walked all the way back up to the hostel, which was fine as it enabled us to burn off the Italian carbs. I dropped off my camera in our room, and we caught the L at the nearby station to head up north to the jazz club, a little place called the Green Mill. A quartet was cooking up some well-known tunes as well as some of their own, which we enjoyed until the news came across on the TV that McCain had conceded. The band sort of dropped the ball at that point, stopping the music to listen to his speech, then restarting again only to literally stop in the middle of a song to listen to Obama. Fair enough, but following his speech, they sat around the bar and talked politics. Hey, if I wanted to watch a jazz band sit around talking politics, well, I can't even think of a venue where such a lame event could be found. Other than at the Green Mill that night.

Fortunately, I'd discovered Manhattans that, so I was having fun anyhow. We both were having fun, for that matter.

After the jazz, we headed back the hostel. What I like about big cities is that even on a weekday night, at 2 am, there are still loads of people, having fun. It's exciting. Cities like Madison shut down at midnight. I think we're going to have to take an assignment in either Chicago or NYC.

The next morning, there was no rest for the weary of any sort, as Jess had me up and trotting by 8 am. She really can't sleep in for anything, I think she was up by 6 even though she wasn't in bed anytime before 2 am. We had breakfast at little mom-and-pop nearby, then took the L all the way through the center to the south district of Chinatown. This area was interesting, but not nearly as lively or large as the Chinatown in NYC. What I noticed were the throngs of elderly Chinese people loitering along on the main street through the area. I felt like I needed to either squat or lean against a wall, looking somewhat disheveled, chain-smoking and drinking coffee. When Jess asked what I was doing, I told her, "Loitering, of course!"

We ended up back in the center shortly after, stopping by the Chicago Cultural Center for an hour long piano and voice Bach/Schuman concert. Again, a nice thing about a big city like Chicago, is that there is always something interesting going on, like a noontime classical concert. We had lunch at a little Thai restaurant called the Silver Spoon, then walked around the center for awhile longer. There was nothing really left on our agenda in Chicago, but we were reluctant to leave. It seemed a little unlikely we'd make it back in the last three weeks of our time here in Wisconsin, particularly on a day as grand as these two had been. It was a little sad, really. Eventually we boarded the L to go back to the hostel to retrieve our bag, then rode it back into the center for our train. We took a different line of the L, the Brown Line (whereas we'd been taking the Red Line), which was great because it offered continuous great views of the skyscrapers and the city. We were even more morose at the idea of leaving by the time we disembarked. We found a small neighborhood bar, the kind you wished was in your neighborhood, and had a sorrowful beer before heading out for the train station and our long trip home.

We made it home fine, and I decided to sleep in the next morning, tired from sprinting around the city. I was up by 9:30 or so, then relaxed until after 11 when I decided to go retrieve Zuri from the kennel. In the car, I found my phone, and upon turning it on, heard several messages from work wondering if I was planning on coming in for my shift. So much for my relaxing day, recovering from having too much fun in Chicago.

Until next time, be safe.

November 04, 2008

10 Shifts To Go

Whew! I just finished a long stretch of four day shifts. I found it to be very long, then I remembered that most people work five days a week. That helped me feel better.

After today's shift, I am down to the last ten shifts of this contract. I have one more shift left this week, then there are only three weeks left. It's hard to believe, but this contract is nearly finished. Soon, I'll have to change the subtitle of this blog, since we are no longer new travel nurses, having two assignments under our belts.

Speaking of which, we have already taken our next assignment, in Tucson, Arizona. This will be a very exciting assignment for me. I am a little disappointed about this assignment in that there weren't any male travelers here with the exception of one. I'd hoped to have some other guys to hang out with, since after all, there is a limit to the time that I can stand to spend in the company of women (no offense). I've ended up spending a lot of time by myself, fishing and whatnot, which I have enjoyed, but it would have been nice to have spent some time hanging out with some guys.

On the other hand, at the MICU that I accepted an assignment at in Tucson, there is already a couple who I used to work with at the Big D. Even better, a good friend of mine from the Big D is starting his first assignment as a traveler in that unit, so there will be four of us. Then, Jess and I have our good friends Scott and Amna in Phoenix, where an old high school friend of mine also lives. So, I'll be back in the company of people I know. I won't know what to do with myself, I'll have to take trips alone into the desert to get that solitary feeling back.

It's really a good situation that we already have our assignments, though, since we're going to be gone for the first half of December in China. I had been a little worried about trying to secure assignments while being out of the country, but it doesn't seem like it will be an issue. We'll come back from China on the 18th, divide our time around Christmas between our respective families, and be in Arizona by the 3rd or 4th of January so that we can start on the 5th.

So, it's just a waiting game at this point here in Madison. We are experiencing what I imagine is a typical feeling for travelers. We've made our next arrangements, now all that is left is finishing up our assignments here and heading out. I know we felt the same way in Connecticut, once we'd taken our assignments here. Once we signed our contracts, we could have packed our bags and headed out. We feel the same way, like we could bid farewell to the Swiss Cheese and Madison in general and head south to a warmer climate. It's not that we are so sick of being here, but that we are eager for the next adventure. Once you know the next segment, it's hard not to look forward to it, which has the risk of decreasing the enjoyment of the current circumstances.

Our arrangement in Tucson will be a little different than our first two assignments. Primarily, we've taken jobs at two different hospitals, both of which are large teaching facilities that are only four miles apart. That will be new for us. Also, Jess will be working day shifts, while I will be working nights. I think it will pretty much work out for us, though, because we've learned a few tricks. We made sure that our contracts stated explicitly that we would have the last weekend of every month during our contract off, meaning Friday through Sunday. That way we at least have one weekend off together. Hopefully, it will also mean that our schedules will resemble each other more, unlike this current assignment where we have worked opposite days. Starting the month with the same days will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the month.

We will also have a tax home. This is absolutely essential for travelers, I can't believe that we have completed two assignments without it. That means that we have a "permanent home" for tax purposes, which provides us with up to five thousand or more dollars each a year in tax breaks. Fortunately, the rules of these tax homes are vague, so we can easily qualify. That means more money in our pockets.

Tomorrow we are heading for a two-day trip to Chicago. Since our last day trip, I've been looking forward to spending a night in the city. There is a jazz club that I really want to visit. Also, it is election night, so that will make it even more interesting. I'll put up a post about our trip, as well as the inevitable picture gallery on my website. I also have three other photo galleries ready to post, so keep updated.

Until next time, be safe.

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