Monday, April 28, 2014

We're Engaged!

So Saturday, April 26th started out like any other weekend day.  KB and I were hosting our "Second Time in the Second City" party - an open house event to which we invited just about every person in Chicago we knew and had missed during our time in Miami.  While it would take weeks to get around to visit everyone, we thought this would be a better way of seeing out closest friends sooner.

Kevin jumped out of bed sometime before 9AM and was already cleaning the living room.  I was a little surprised he had gotten such a jump on this as we had the whole day to start tackling the cleaning project, not that our placed really needed much primping.  He jumped in the shower as I was eating breakfast and, when finished, told me that he didn't squeegee the doors because he figured I would be getting in soon enough.  I thought showering this early when we had cleaning to do seemed weird, but Saturdays are my days for trimming the beard and shaving the head.  It's a lengthier process than the usual 10 minutes I take in the morning, so I figured maybe it wouldn't hurt to get it done now.

While I was in the bathroom, I could hear Kevin using a staple gun someplace in the condo.  Now most people would probably poke their heads out to find out what's going on.  But since I never really know what project he is doing or what's floating around in his ridiculously creative brain, I simply ignored it.  I mean, it's Kevin.

So after finishing all my duties in the bathroom, I opened the door and Kevin met me with a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and said, "Here, you might want to put these on."  Is someone here, I asked?  Just put these on.  So I got dressed and walked out into the apartment and noticed that Kevin had secured this to the wall:

It's a king-size 9'x9' sheet on which Kevin has written every inside inside joke he and I have been sharing for the past 8.5 years.  

He tackled this project during the 6 weeks we lived apart from March 5th to April 19th.  And it struck me then that during the 6 weeks we were apart, he had to be thinking about me almost every minute while he was creating this amazing token of love.

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

He then turned to me and said a few private things about how much I mean to him, and then while giving me his most loving hug, he asked me to marry him.  And I got to say the word I've been waiting to say for the last few years:  yes.  Of course, yes.

He then presented me with a small black box tied with a white bow.  This is where I got really thrown.  Kevin and I have been casually talking engagement and marriage over the past year as we've watched other friend-couples go through this same rite of passage.  Each one we watched, we compared how that one would parlay into how we would do ours.  And the one thing we pretty much agreed upon was no engagement rings.  So as I developed what I later dubbed "stroke face" because I know my face fell and froze in a sagging position, I went along for the ride and opened the box.  Inside was a "ha-ha"note whose message was essentially "this ain't us".  As I stood there deciding whether to laugh or cry from it, Kevin gave me the real engagement present: a small box which housed a white tee shirt with the simple saying "he said yes".  I looked up to thank him and he unzipped his hoodie to reveal himself wearing the same tee shirt.  I can't remember if the champagne came before the tee shirt or after, but I know there was champagne.

And then, almost on cue, Kevin goes to the front door and in walks our friend Jessica Sladek to take our photos.  She took over 300 and there are some great ones of us smiling and being happy, but I chose one that I really liked.  We aren't cheesy or overdoing it.  It's just us, happy and very content with life.

We called our families who are all very happy for us.  We've been part of each other's families for many years.  Between us, we already have 13 nieces and nephews and 2 great-nephews.  But now we will each officially gain another mom, dad, and a few sisters and brothers.

Oh yeah, and our party went on as usual.  Our guests, who were coming just to welcome us back to Chicago, were surprised that the event was also our ad hoc engagement party.  It made it all the more special that we could share it with our friends.

I guess I am now experiencing all the feelings that anyone who goes through this wonderful experience feels:  How on earth was I lucky enough to find someone who thinks I am as terrific as I think he is? 

No date has been set yet, but we are giving it a lot of thought.

Things I Have Since Learned:
  • Kevin started emailing our inside jokes to himself several months ago in order to remember all of them. 
  • This means that he had been thinking about proposing for several months but wanted to wait until we got to Chicago because he didn't want this memory to be made in Miami.
  • Kevin went through 25 Sharpies to complete the mural. 
  • And it took him over 30 hours to complete it.
  • Kevin brought me clothes to put on because he knew I would not want to recall the day when he proposed to me when I was only wearing underwear.  That's true love.
  • The matching tee shirts were delivered to David and Sean's apartment across the street so as not to arouse my suspicion.
  • Kevin borrowed the champagne flutes from our neighbor.  (Note to self:  put champagne flutes on the gift registry).
  • I was miraculously obedient the entire morning.  If I had fought on the timing of waking up, eating breakfast, getting a shower, getting dressed, or even poked my head out when I heard the staple gun - I could have ruined the whole thing.
  • I'm the luckiest man in the world.

Monday, April 07, 2014

One Final Look, In Retrospect...

Let me be clear, our time in Miami was not an endless parade of things we hated; we didn't just sit around complaining all the time.  Much good came from our time there.  We met people and went places we otherwise would not have.  We made some lifelong (I hope) friends and visited places I never thought I would ever see.  While Miami may have not been the best culture fit for us, it still yielded some amazing experiences for which I will be forever thankful:
KB did an amazing job choosing an apartment for us:  a 2B/2B penthouse on the 36th floor with almost 270° views of North Miami Beach, South Beach, Port Miami, Brickell and further views of Coral Gables and beyond.  The apartment and views were quite spectacular. If I couldn't work and had to stay home everyday, this made it worth it.

(Click image to enlarge and see panorama of our balcony view)

One of my hopes was that one day, KB and I would go to Disney World together.  And while living in Florida, we went 4 times.  We toured all 4 parks, several times each.  We also visited Downtown Disney and Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.
We visited St. Augustine, the oldest city in America.  I always wanted to go there but knew it wasn't a destination enough on its own.  So I figured I probably wouldn't see it.  But we grabbed the chance to walk the streets and tour Castillo de San Marcos.
We spent a great weekend in Key West and stood at the southernmost point in the US.  And even more special to me was the day trip out to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson, a place every Lincoln Assassination-phile dreams of going, but logistically decides is simply impossible.

Visits to South Beach brought us fun experiences like people-watching on Lincoln Road, lunches at The Carlyle, and walking past the Versace Mansion.

We enjoyed local food at some great places like Perricone's, The Filling Station, Pubbelly, Pride & Joy, and Yardbird.

We fired automatic weapons at Lock & Load Miami, and found out that we actually weren't bad shots!

We visited the Adrienne Arsht Center to see Pilobolus and the Broadway tour of Once.

We made great friendships that I hope will last a lifetime; friends who I truly believe understand why we had to leave and why Miami just was not for us.

And for me personally, I was able to do some things that I either didn't have time to do before or just never thought possible, like scanning in all my photos, obtaining my PHR, speaking to my lifetime hero

And there are definitely things I will miss, like:
  • The Wynwood Arts District, arguably our favorite place in the city for obvious reasons, 
  • Our favorite neighborhood hangout, Elwoods, where they make their own condiments and where we came in 2nd place during a trivia contest,
  • Bayfront Park, which was directly across from where we lived.  A great place to have lunch and just watch the cruise ships,
  • And sitting on our balcony at night, drinking Red's Apple Ale and watching the lights of South Beach. 
The decision to leave Miami was not made lightly.  But we knew that Chicago was the place we belonged, at least for now in our lives.  But we had to try Miami, or risk forever wondering, "what if?"  Looking back now I think, "what if we would have missed all this?" How can I ever think that my life in Miami wasn't worth it?  Especially when through it all, I had the man of my dreams right there beside me. 

The fun thing is that someday down the road, we'll be sitting around with friends and say, "well there was that year we lived in Miami...".  And these will be the things we remember.

Friday, April 04, 2014

I'm A Lucky Man

As I mentioned, I had a hard time finding a job in Miami.

At the start of my job search, I decided to keep a spreadsheet in order to keep track of the companies and positions for which I applied, when I applied, and when I conducted a follow-up.  In total, I sent out resumes or applied for 133 jobs using various online search methods, personal and professional contacts, and even 5 recruiters from 5 different agencies.  And with all this help, those 133 resumes yielded just two phone interviews and 0 (that's ZERO) face-to-face interviews.  Again, that's ZERO.  The two phone interviews I had went very well, and ended with the interviewers telling me they would bring me in for next steps.  But that didn't happen in either case. 

After revising and recreating my resume several times, I decided to obtain my PHR in the hopes that having that certification would give me some kind of boost.  It didn't.  Finally out of desperation and just on a whim, I went online and found a job in Chicago that I would not only be perfect for, but believed I would enjoy as well.  So I sent in my resume.  Five days later, I got a phone call.  A week after that, I flew to Chicago for an interview.  Two weeks later, I was offered the job.  After sending out 133 resumes in Miami, I got an amazing job in Chicago after sending out just 1 resume.

But as I have said before: post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  I found a job in my favorite city that excites me and will challenge me for a long time.  This would not have happened had any one of the 133 places in Miami attempted to at least meet me.

For anyone who has been unemployed for months or even years at a time, it's a soul crushing experience.  Along with the financial problems, there are frequent and lingering instances of self-doubt and a lack of confidence that grows exponentially.  But I had an ace-in-the-hole;  I had KB with me through it all.  He constantly reassured me that we were okay on every level.  It didn't stop us from taking some great weekend trips and traveling around the state of Florida.  My ego would have disintegrated without him.

Looking back on the past year of my life, I realize I am such a lucky man on so many levels.  

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

No Habla

In the city of Miami, 78% of residents count English as a second language with half that percentage saying they don't speak English well, if at all.  Add on top of that the percentages that speak Portuguese and Haitian-Creole, and English falls further down the ladder.  The Non-Hispanic White population is about 16%.  As a businessperson, it is impossible to get anything done unless you speak Spanish and/or one of the other two languages fluently.  There's simply no need for residents to learn English because of the vast number of people who either cannot or choose to not speak it.

I ran into this problem almost immediately when I began my job search in Miami back in June 2013.  I underestimated the need for me to be bilingual, if not multilingual.  It's imperative to know Spanish in order to live and work in Miami-Dade County.  It would also be helpful to know Portuguese and Haitian-Creole as well.  So many companies and industries here do business with Cuba and South America.  I am not fluent in Spanish.  I guess I am just the bearish version of Demi Lovato.

To be honest, I don't even know if my finding a job in Miami would have changed anything about how we felt about living there.  Latin culture dominates the city and causes Americans to feel alienated, perhaps unlike anywhere else in the country.  Race isn't the issue in Miami - but rather culture.  And if you are from a non-Spanish speaking culture, life in Miami is inherently frustrating.