Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade that Was

New Year's Eve, 1999

This time 10 years ago I was in Montreal with my then-girlfriend, preparing to celebrate the "millennial" new year (having finally conceded to the forces that proclaimed, one year prematurely, the dawn of the new era).

A few things have changed in the past decade. To begin with, as evidenced by the photo, I was fat. Okay, not fat, but a good 20 lbs. heavier. I was working out regularly and eating somewhat healthily, but not yet fanatical about it.

The other big change, of course, is the absence of that girlfriend. She was gorgeous and, um, considerably younger. People always asked if the long distance (she lived in NY) was tough on the relationship and I secretly suspected that the time apart actually extended it. If we'd lived in the same city we probably would have gotten sick of each other much sooner.

I was flying a lot, traveling to and from New York a couple of times a month, where I'd spend 5 days at a time. For a couple of years, New York was my second home. I loved it. The Sunday paper in Central Park, running along the East River or around the reservoir, the little Japanese place around the corner, H&H bagels.

1999 was a big year. In addition to meeting her and starting a two-and-a-half-year relationship, I quit my job at the PR agency. I took the summer off, did a cross-country road trip, got a tan for the first time since I was 11, and started my own solo practice. (One of my first big projects was writing and editing a weekly newsletter for the global IT department of BP -- it digested all the developments in "e-commerce," "e-business," "web exchanges/electronic marketplaces," and other hot topics on the exciting, new frontier.)

I lived in a highrise apartment downtown that was half the size of my place today and actually cost more than my current place (and I'm talking real dollars, not inflation-adjusted).

I bought my very first home computer (a Dell laptop with a 10 or 20 GB hard drive and 32 MB of RAM, I believe) and my first personally-owned cell phone (a big ugly gray Nokia). There was no Facebook, no blogging, no texting, no mobile Internet, no wireless and no broadband. Yet I still managed to waste a good amount of time on the two or three web sites I knew of then.

At that point I'd never acted a day in my life. I'd thought about it. Second City was sort of a semi-suppressed dream, or a notion at least. But I didn't start pursuing that until after Liz and I broke up, in 2002. So put that in the "things happen for a reason" category.

I still owned a car and had never ridden on a CTA bus. I rollerbladed an embarrassing amount. I ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of beer. (I don't eat quite as much pizza now.) Many of my favorite places then are gone now -- Soul Kitchen in Bucktown, Ranalli's on Lincoln and the execrable (though sometimes fun in the summer) Melvin B's.

All my best friends still lived in Chicago -- now most of them are gone. My Dad constantly bugged me about retirement savings -- now he can barely speak. I've been through multiple relationships that ultimately went nowhere -- though most of the time that's pretty much where I expected them to go.

In 1999 the good times were rolling and America was on top. Yet I distinctly recall a nagging feeling I often expressed that it couldn't possibly last. I chalked it up to characteristic skepticism and neurosis. It turned out I was right -- way beyond imagining.

They're calling this the lost decade, and in many ways things stood still or failed to advance. For me, personally, I don't know. I didn't go into the decade with any particular expectation of where I'd be, what I'd be doing or who I'd be doing it with.

I think overall I'm in a better place. The acting was a big thing. That definitely opened up my mind and other things, and I think the experience in general will ultimately take me to unexpected places.

And whales. I finally saw whales. Just try topping that, Teens!

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