Tag Archives: Chicago

Pretty Good Year Lessons

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted a blog entry on this website.  WTH?!  Had I really been that busy to even bother posting on here?  Truth is, I never even noticed my inactive blogging slump until today, which happens to be my birthday.  I woke up this morning with a bottle of Jack feeling very introspective and reflective, logged on to this website to look back at the past year, and BOOM… my last post was about Cocktails & Couture… in January… of 2015!!!  Nearly two entire years had passed.  WTF?!

I suppose there wasn’t much to share on here from 2015 besides the usual trips and events.  I must have involuntarily gave myself a break from being a blogger last year, and saved my energy for this year and beyond.  Let’s face it, these blogs become vehicles for the egocentric and/or insecure to remind you to look at them (with the exception of the guys at NHIE Tampa who do a remarkable job highlighting Tampa Bay), so maybe I should win an award for Best Friend of 2015 for sparing friends and acquaintances from annoying posts that secretly beg for their likes and comments.

2016 was the year of change, and with change comes lessons learned.  So without dragging you thru a mundane assessment of 2015, let’s fast forward to 2016, start from Day 1, and sum up the past year with what I learned along the way.


January 2016


Happy New Year!  I suppose since I slept through all New Year’s festivities ringing in 2015, that I had zero choice but to get pretty, be social, and make plans to ring in 2016.  A huge group of friends targeted the Rooftop Eve Party in downtown Tampa to celebrate.  The last Rooftop Eve Party I attended in 2014 was a drunken, blurry, hot Transylvania mess fun time, but… unlike those 2015 festivities, this year’s party was just a HOT, humid, face-melting, sweaty mess.  I was drenched in sweat by 12:15am, and headed home around 12:30am.
Lesson Learned:  Mother nature, if you’re gonna melt my face, please let it be at Sunset Music Festival or Governor’s Ball when someone on stage and behind the decks is in charge of doing the job.


Cocktails & Couture!  One of my passion projects with Tribeca ColorSalons and annual favorite events, Cocktails & Couture finally hit its stride this year.  We went from attracting 500 attendees our  very first year, to 200 attendees our second year, to eventually bouncing back and hitting a whopping 1,200 guests in our fourth year.  This recap from 813area.com perfectly sums up the event.  Check it out here: Cocktails & Couture Makes Tampa Feel Like A Big City & Save The Date: January 14, 2017!
Lesson Learned:  Never give up on something you believe in.  The receipts will be there as long as your personal passion still is.

February 2016

Puero Rico!  My annual February trip to Puerto Rico meant more than the coconut cocktails consumed on the beach, the rum guzzled at the Bacardi Factory, and seeing Jack Ü perform for the first time.  Neil brought along bestie Ian Michael for the San Juan adventure, and his story, his drive, his fearlessness, and his heart melted my heart (not my face) when he first shared it with me on that flight down to the  51st U.S. state.  Check out The Human Hug Project
Lesson Learned:  A hug can save the world.


April 2016

Festa 16 B.jpg

Festa Italiana!  Bellinis, limoncello, pasta, meatballs, more bellinis, more limoncello, sfingi, ravioli, er… Jameson Irish Whiskey shots (?).  Another Italian Festival, another Sunday Funday on steroids.  Save The Date: April 9, 2017
Lesson Learned:  Okay, my bartender friends.  I confess… I really do enjoy Jameson!



Coachella, baby!  Words cannot describe the magnitude of dreaminess that is the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio Valley, California.  Those who have been understand the magic that the entire weekend brings.  If you are a fan of music, fashion, art, culture, and good vibes, a ticket to Coachella is like securing an exclusive golden Wonka ticket… well, except that there are 100,000 other exclusive ticket holders.This year was my third year attending, but certainly not my last.  Coachella has since been upgraded to Annual Must Attend Event on my Google Calendar.
Lesson Learned:  You cannot download a live music experience.



Pride & Passion NOW IN TECHNICOLOR!  I served on the Tampa Museum of Art’s Pride & Passion steering commitee for five years, before finally becoming Chair this past year.  And as Chair, I recruited my own Avengers team of committee members, and put my heart, soul, sweat and tears into overseeing this event from top to bottom during the 9 months of planning.  This year’s Pride & Passion became the first to completely sell out days before the event, while also going down as the most attended event in the history of the Tampa Museum of Art.  ::drops mic::  After six colorful years and literally ending on the highest note possible, I decided that my time with Pride & Passion had finally come to a wonderful and fruitful conclusion.
Lession Learned:  You’re only as good as your team… and I made sure to surround myself with the most talented & hard-working crew.


May 2016

TRY A.jpgtry-b

Viva The RITZ Ybor!  The RITZ Ybor, my workplace and my home for nearly the past decade came under new management this past summer.  Changes.  Changes.  Changes.  This was nothing new.  My entire time working there for nine years was constantly filled with changes.  While I am still working at the best mid-size concert venue in town, my role has since changed, I had to say goodbye to some coworkers, and meet & work with a brand new team.
Lesson Learned: “Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  …and I don’t want to get left behind.


June 2016


Governor’s Ball!  A music festival in NYC during the summer time?  Yes, please.  What has become an every other year event has since transcended to being another Annual Must Attend Event.  Sure I get to cross artists, bands and dj’s off of my Must See List.  And yeah, I get to galavant across Manhattan and Brooklyn eating and drinking everything in sight, but most  importantly, I get to spend the weekend with old dear friends while (always guaranteed to) meeting new ones.
Lesson Learned:  Things are always constantly changing, and just spending one second in New York City will always reconfirm that.

August 2016


Jonathan L. Myers.  I was texted the news.  I did not believe the news.  I read the news on social media.  I called to confirm the news, hoping that it was all some very hurtful and mean joke.  The news was true.  And my heart was ripped apart.

It still feels like Jonathan is on-duty overseas again, and there will be some sudden welcome back party that causes everyone to call out from work for an entire week.  I thought that making my way to his service in Iowa would bring personal closure to this tragic event, and that I would finally be able to accept that he is gone.
Lesson Learned:  I used to get really sad whenever past photos or stories of Jonathan would pop up in my feed.  Now, I smile knowing how lucky I was to share and spend those very moments with him.

September 2016


Franklin Manor!  My friends Franco and Dave reached out to me over the summer about joining their new venue, a downtown social drinkery called Franklin Manor, to handle and manage their events.  I was intrigued and flattered, but did not know if I would be able to make everything work with two existing jobs, an unnecessary travel schedule, and my growing list of Netflix shows that I’ve yet to binge-watch.  (Truth!)  I accepted  this new opportunity that has since become a very fun 2.5 months (and counting) adventure.
Lesson Learned:  One can never have too many homes.

October 2016

Gina Wedding A.jpg

Gina & Vince Get Married!  My first trip to Chicago ten years ago, I met Gina and Vince.  At the time, Gina and Vince were hanging out.  And over the entire course of a decade, I’ve seen Gina and Vince transition from hanging out to dating to moving in and nesting to welcoming a beautiful daughter into the world followed by an adorable son.  This past October, I finally saw Gina and Vince get married.
Lesson Learned:  The longer you wait, the more you appreciate, because anything worth having is definitely worth waiting for… especially when you have a smile on your face the entire time.

Halloween A.jpg

All Hallow’s Ball!  I decided to do something different and dress up for Tampa’s biggest & loudest, annual Halloween party.  I nearly forgot that it had been a whopping 12 years or so since I last attended the All Hallow’s Ball, hence my last minute begging and scouring for an invitation and tickets to the party.  And unlike the 12 year absence from the party, I probably lasted a mere 30-minutes or so at the celebration due to a extreme hangri-ness.
Lesson Learned:  I don’t have a lesson learned here to share.  I just wanted another excuse to share a photo my Snapchat Filter Flower Crown that I created by myself.

November 2016

…and here we are today!  I am officially in my late-30s.  According to some online surveys, I am older.  (Damn you random survey that forced me to check that 35 & up box!)  I feel wiser.  I feel good.  I look good (solely judging by the surprised reactions when I revealed my age to a handful of friends.)  I also feel like I give less of a shit with a lot of the shit that used to drive me nuts.  (Has my OCD been cured?)  With Jonathan’s sudden passing, I’ve realized that if you aren’t happy with something in life, change it, fix it, or shut the hell up and deal with it.  Life is way too precious, short and unexpected to be stressing, worrying, and being unhappy.

I used to believe that happiness wasn’t something you find, but something you decide.
Lesson Learned:  Happiness is making the most of what you got, and realizing that you already have it all.

“Hold onto nothing as fast as you can.  Well… still… pretty good year.”  -Tori Amos

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Big Fat Love Italia

I am blessed in this life.  I love, and I am loved.  Earlier this month, I flew thousands of miles to see love, to see one of my best friends Cheri get married.  And it was while I was miles away from home that I had a torrid, scandalous love affair with the greatest love of my entire life…

Eating 01


Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite pastime is eating.  And anyone who doesn’t know me can only imagine what happened when I traveled to Italy earlier this month…  I feasted my big fat heart out.  If you vacation overseas while on a diet, then you’re living a nightmare you’re not really on vacation.  Because when you are truly on vacation like I was, all control, restraint, the MyFitnessPal app, and restrictions go out the Mini Cooper window.  I was free to order anything and everything on the restaurant and cafe’ menus that I wished to taste.  Veal scaloppine with mushrooms. Risotto with artichoke.  Prosecco. Melon wrapped in prosciutto. Fresh mozzarella and tomato. Fernet Branca and cola. Brioche and pistacchio granita. Cannolis. More Prosecco.  Caponata.  Pan-fried sea bass.  Limoncello.   Arancinette.  Mushroom flan.  Double espresso.  Another bottle of Prosecco.

In those moments, who cared about  caloric intake?   (I obviously cannot flaunt that question ten years from now, or currently to my primary physician.)  Who cared about the amount of Euros being shelled out?  I was in m#thaf$cking Italy bitch, and I was going to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity to enjoy the culinary orgasms.  There were times I left the dining table so completely stuffed and ridiculously full, that the few steps to the elevator up to the hotel room seemed comparable to climbing Mount Etna.  Dining in Italy was an evangelical foodie revival, and sharing those moments with friends, family, and loved ones was magical, especially when the sole reason any of us being  there was to celebrate love.

Wedding Group 02
There are few people that anyone in their lives would go out of their way, and cross the globe for.  My dear friend Cheri is one of my few.  After all, I was right there the very first time she met her new husband Michael nine years ago in Chicago.  I had invited Cheri to fly to the windy city to meet my friends Gina and Neil, and Michael happened to have been visiting Gina from Los Angeles that same weekend.  Here we were nearly a decade later sitting across from one another at a dining table inside of a castle in Sicily for their wedding.  It was just meant to be.

Just as everyone who traveled to Cheri’s wedding was meant to be there.

So many stories were shared.  So many stories were told.  So many new friendships and bonds were formed.  The most touching moment of the entire trip, and one of the most touching moments of my entire life’s existence was Cheri’s Uncle Junior’s toast to the newlyweds.  Perhaps it was his strength during the darkest moment in life that inspired me while he proclaimed how important it is to love and to be loved, but I was moved.  I was moved to tears.

Whether love padded our midsections and caused planned wedding outfits not to fit.  (Thank God for backup outfits!)   Or whether the love was through stories shared at 1am over hysterical laughter, and endless glasses of wine and champagne…  that entire week in Italy, we were all surrounded by love  …and pasta.

Congratulations to Cheri & Michael.  I love you both.


If I ate my heart out in Italy, then I drank and danced the rest of the time in London.  My European adventure continues in London…  STAY TUNED for my next post coming soon!  TO BE CONTINUED.


Please click on thumbnail to enlarge / view photo:


“Diamonds” by Lane 8 featuring Solomon Grey: I also had a love affair in my earphones with this song while traveling…  If seduction had a sound, it would sound like this!

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Fine Dining Into Ecstasy

Every year, I host some type of birthday party for myself, with last year’s celebration being the absolute best one yet.  This year, my plan was to celebrate with each of my best friends over one-on-one lunches and dinners in Tampa before jettisoning off to Chicago to spend time with my other family.

And while in Chicago, my vacation goals were as follow:

  1. eat
  2. be day drunk
  3. nap
  4. watch as many movies possible in a horizontal position (but without developing bedsores)
  5. fondle the TV remote control
  6. eat some more
  7. eat some more full-fledge pig out
  8. be day drunk with my friends
  9. watch a 3D movie while day drunk
  10. just effing relax

After all, I had officially entered my mid-30s so it’s all about taking it easy from here on out.  Relax.  Relate.  Release.

My traveling partner-in-crime Mike joined the Chicago fun, and recruited new friend Jonathan to drive-up and join in as well.  I hung out with Sterling and Adam, experienced a drive-by dinner visit from Rusty and embarked on a culinary cruise through Chicago where I ate the most delicious food imaginable.

My first stop began with a visit to Alinea, the #2 Top Rated restaurant in the U.S., the #15 Top Rated restaurant in the world and the venue that served me my most-expensive meal ever.  How to describe Alinea?  It was a ticketed establishment for starters, meaning you had to buy a ticket to dine at the restaurant.  Despite their sold-out schedule, Neil was fortunate to secure 4 tickets to Alinea.  Tickets allowed one to enjoy a finely crafted 14-course meal of molecular gastronomy dishes, with each creation paired with a different wine, champagne, beer and/or sake.  The dishes were so beautiful, that at times, I didn’t want to eat them out of guilt that I would be destroying miniature visual works-of-art.

Desserts that were plated on the entire dinner table and resembling a Jackson Pollock piece… Bites suspended on wires and pins…  Tastings that were time-sensitive to eat because the wax bowl would melt if you weren’t fast enough…  Burning leaves and pine to play with your sense of smell… Dehydrated green apple filled with helium served as a balloon…

There were moments where everyone at the dinner table collectively closed their eyes and sighed upon a first bite.  The dishes were THAT unbelievably and heavenly appetizing and orgasmic.  I failed to snap any photos of the dishes, because I wanted to take in every single second at Alinea.  So the below photos are ones that I found online to help give you a visual idea of what was served.

Alinea 02Alinea 01Alinea 03My food orgasm continued the following evening at Vince and Gina’s Dinner Party at their house.  She recruited her friend Ken to help create an 8-course meal paired with different wines and champagnes.

On the menu that evening:

  • Deviled Eggs a la Spotted Pig
  • Red Kuri Squash and Apple Soup  ::orgasmic::
  • Roasted Beets with Greek Yogurt and Micro Kale
  • Clams Oreganata
  • Pork Tenderloin, Apple Mostarda & Carmelized Onions
  • Beef Tataki with Pho Ponzu
  • BBQ Ribs, Hong Kong meets Memphis Style
  • and the best FLAN that I ever tasted in my life!  ::Heaven on Earth::

Photos of the dishes are below and were taken by moi.  Fill me up with bubbly and I apparently become as snap-happy with the phone camera as I become Chatty Cathy.

Gina Chicago 2013
Leave it to a quote from Gina to perfectly sum up my 34th birthday weekend…

Gina:  “Okie, we’re old now.  This is what we’re supposed to do now.  Dinner parties, wine and conversation.  Welcome to your mid-30s!”

…annnddd I’m not mad at that!  Gina’s fabulous dinner party actually inspired me to host my own Saketini and Appetizer Party for my close friends, and reminded me to always enjoy life by the glass.

The weekend wouldn’t be complete without giving a BIG thank you to Neil for the VIP, non-Gen Pop hospitality and friendship.  Happy Birthday (again) to me!

Here is the souvenir menu from Alinea for those curious foodies:

Alinea Menu

“Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut:  Yet another song that Neil got me obsessing over and playing on REPEAT…

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You’re Not Alone

KVBS Bday 2013 Okie KristinKristin, my best friend that I’ve known the longest, celebrated her 33rd birthday at CHEAP in Tampa last Friday with her most favorite friends.  And in honor of her palindrome birthday, I present three FUN FACTS about me and Mrs. Schmidt:


Britney Spears’ Oops… I Did It Again Tour 2000:  A huge fight over post-its an hour before Brit Brit’s Oops… I Did It Again show nearly derailed our plans to see the Mouseketeer.

Janet Jackson’s All For You Tour 2001:  Our first time seeing Janet Jackson became my first time seeing Janet Jackson, because Kristin and I once again got in a huge fight over Sandy Frink.  (Side note: 10 years later, we finally saw Janet together at her Number Ones, Up Close and Personal show.)

Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour 2004:  We drove to Sebring, Florida to be the first in line to purchase tickets to what would’ve been her first Madonna concert, but I wound up taking someone else because Kristin and I got in a silly fight over who’s the Rhoda and who’s the Mary.  (Side note: Last year, we finally saw Madonna together at her MDNA show in Chicago.)

KVBS Bday 2013 Kristin Cake

#2:  KRISTIN AND I HAVE MATCHING TATTOOS…  and matching tramp stamps to boot!  Sue me.  I was 21-years-old.  I was in in Ybor City with her, and we both randomly made the decision after knocking back a few Jack Daniels’ drinks.  I always told myself that I would never ever get a tattoo unless it was original, designed by moi and had personal meaning.  So the Japanese symbol for “God” may not be original nor was it designed by me, but it does carry a lot of personal meaning because Kristin and I are both trashy and tramp stamped branded with it.

#3:  MINE AND KRISTIN’S THEME SONG IS…  no not that one Madonna song.  And no, it’s not a song by Britney Spears.

Every great friendship has that one song that when randomly heard or played manages to make you instantly think of the other person.  For some reason, Olive’s “You’re Not Alone” (below) is our song.  I do not exactly know how or remember when it was decided that “You’re Not Alone” would be blessed as the one-song soundtrack to our 22-year-old friendship.  Yet everytime I hear that 90’s electronic-trance-pop masterpiece, I immediately think of Kristin.  (And no we both weren’t sporting JNCO pants and sucking on lollipops when this song became our anthem in the 90’s.)

Happy Birthday Kristin!  Click on image below to enlarge photo:

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The MDNA Tour: Miami

“Start saving your pennies now. People spend $300 on crazy things all the time, things like handbags.  So work all year, scrape the money together and come to my show. I’m worth it.”
Madonna defending her MDNA Tour’s $1,500.00 VIP Floor Ticket Price
to Newsweek magazine earlier this year

MDNA Nicole

Nicole and I have been friends for almost a decade.  She is the friend that constantly makes you laugh with her infectious silliness.  She is the friend that always remains drama-free and loyal.  She is also that nutty friend that scraped up almost one-thousand-dollars for a ticket to see our lifelong idol, Madonna in concert.

Whenever Madonna goes on tour, Nicole is my go-to gal pal and touring buddy.  Reason 1:  Like me, she’s been a huge Madonna fan since she can remember.  Reason 2:  She and I get along so fabulously when traveling.  Reason 3:  Just like myself (and Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), she too admits that she is I-N-S-A-N-E… but only when it comes to seeing Madonna LIVE.

In 2006, we drove to Miami together to see M’s Confessions Tour.  Two years later, we flew to Chicago for M-Dolla’s Sticky & Sweet Tour.  And this past November, we found ourselves back in Miami for two nights of Madge’s latest MDNA Tour opus.  (For my review of the MDNA Tour when I first saw it in Chicago this past September, CLICK HERE.)

MDNA 2 MDNA 1 MDNA 3 MDNA 4The above photos were all taken on Nicole’s cellphone from our 3rd Row seats

I have a love/hate relationship with the city of Miami but the concert and our time in South Beach were an obvious blast, mainly because it was an experience shared with many of our friends from Tampa.

MDNA Michelle Jocelyn

Girls Gone Wild (literally… and I do have incriminating photos) Jocelyn and Michelle sat right beside us on night 1 of the tour, and one row over on night 2.  (Fun Fact:  Like my friend Kristin before her in Chicago, Jocelyn cried her eyes out during the closing song of the tour… only Jocelyn had seen the show a good 5 or 6 times before this show already!)

MDNA Brian Angela

Bryan and his Madonna Tour gal-pal Angela were staying down the street from our hotel on Collins Avenue, and were the cheerleading pep squad to mine and Nicole’s football jocks.

MDNA Group

We got to hang out with  Tony and Jose at the MDNA VIP Party and at both afterparties at Hyde and Grand Central.  By the way, the VIP Party was pretty amazing and totally worth the price: a buffet of catered food, hosted beer and wine bar, a heavily stocked gift bag, photo backdrop stations.

MDNA Adam David NicoleMDNA Adam David

Jacksonville friends David and Adam gave Nicole and I their seats for night 1 because they won Golden Triangle Pit Tickets.  My other friends Paul and Zach won Pit Tickets for night 2.  Meanwhile, mine and Nicole’s Twitter feed resembled that of an overeager-beaver stalker in our failed, multiple-Tweet attempt to persuade Guy Oseary (M’s manager) to handpick us to join our friends in the Golden Triangle Pit.  We may not have secured those Golden Triangle Pit tickets, but Nicole and I may have inevitably secured Twitter restraining orders from any of our followers during those two days.

My friend Jason pretty much told me that my birthday celebration this year was being stretched out like turkey meat: birthday dinner party, Square One event, Miami trip, Madonna concert, etc.  Well… Jason was 100% correct.  I sho’ nuff did milk this year’s bday for all that I could yank, tug, pull, push and shove.  When you’ve had as wonderful of a year as I did in 2012, going all out for your big birthday at the end of the year is the final topping:  the icing on one delicious ass cake!  I could not have asked for a better birthdayweek celebration than I had and experienced this year.

MDNA LungeMDNA Jerseys

To my dear friend Nicole, start saving those pennies for the next tour because we will be sitting front-row center baby, right next to Gloria Estefan!

Girl Gone Wild by Madonna

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Invincible Summer

“In the depth of winter…
Winter Radko 3

I finally learned that within me there lay…

Winter Radko 1

…an invincible summer!”  -Albert Camus

Winter Radko 2

I have been fascinated with the Albert Camus quote that this year’s 5th Annual Square One Creative Event revolved around since I first read it in High School.  An invincible summer in the winter… that statement transcends to so many more meanings and interpretations.

With speculation that the world will come to an end when the Mayan Calendar concludes on December 21st of this year, I felt that an event exploring the theme of summer (light, life and hope) always prevailing amid a dark, lifeless and bleak landscape was needed.  I liked the idea and contrast of having an event called Invincible Summer taking place in the fall.  I loved the optimistic message of energy and light never dying.

Invincible Summer had much more personal meaning than any other event that I’ve ever been associated with.  Whether living in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago… whether married, single or divorced… whether  black, white, Asian or a Russian Jew… whether I see them once a year, twice a week or every other year…  this event represented the invincible  lifelong friendships and bonds that I am blessed to have with the numerous individuals in my life.  They all flew in and/or drove in from various parts of the city, state and country for this event.  We’ve all endured the up and down nature that paints the canvas of any great friendship.  And in the end, unconditional love is our friendship’s invincible summer.

Invincible Summer
IS Jocelyn

“If there’s one thing I love about the Square One events, it’s that they bring all of us back together.  So many memories, history… You can’t match that feeling.”  -my friend Billy Jolie (in Tampa)

“They say that you can tell a true friend if you can go months without seeing them and pick right up from where you left off.  That is exactly what happens every time I reunite with the plethora of people I saw this weekend in Tampa.”  -my friend Jason (in NYC)

“Your theme this year for Square One has really touched my heart.  I feel like deep within us there is an “invincible summer”… despite all the hardships and negativity in our daily lives, there will always be this ray of hope and inspiration that is deep inside.”  -my friend Lorena (& future Californian resident)

Okesene Diamond
Salvador Live
Mr Sawbladehead
Bella Danza
Kinetic Radko
7th Avenue Annie7th Avenue Dancer7th Avenue Girls7th Avenue Hoop7th Avenue PoleArt 1Art 2Art 37th Avenue 1
7th Avenue 2

Photos by Kevin & Lisa Tighe and Radko Keleman

For more information about Invincible Summer, the event that took place on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at The RITZ Ybor in Tampa, please click here.

“Diamonds” performed by songwriter Sia


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The MDNA Tour: Chicago

8 years ago, Kristin and I drove to the K-Mart in Sebring, Florida in an attempt to be first in line at their Ticketmaster counter so we could purchase our Madonna Re-Invention Tour tickets as soon as they went on-sale.  We both rationalized that the blue haired retired residents of the city of Sebring would be too busy playing bridge and bingo to have any interest in standing in line for Madonna concert tickets at 9am on a Saturday morning.  We were right, but for whatever reason, Kristin wound up not going to our Re-Invention Tour date in Miami.  Two more Madonna world tours later, Kristin had never seen my her our idol live in concert… ever.

As soon as Madonna announced this year’s MDNA Tour, Kristin and I decided that we would fly up to Chicago to see the Queen of Pop.  Due to the high demand once tickets went on-sale, we were unable to purchase 2 tickets together and were only able to secure solo VIP tickets.  In short, we would be sitting apart from one another during the concert.

The day before we were to fly out, Madonna’s long-time manager Guy Oseary tweeted that he was giving away Golden Triangle Pit Tickets to Madonna’s ultimate fans.  So I entered the contest, texted Kristin to give me a wake-up call at 5am so that I would be ready for the first flight out to Chicago and then went to bed thinking nothing else about the contest.

Fast forward to 5am the next morning, Kristin called me to wake me up as planned.  I laid in bed completely lifeless and not wanting to move.  I rolled over, looked at my phone on my nightstand.  I noticed that I had a new Twitter notification.  I expected to see some trivial tweet about Amanda Bynes, Honey Boo Boo or Chik-Fil-A that I happened to be tagged in, but instead, I saw something else.  I saw this…

…a message from Guy Oseary.  A message from the one & only Madonna’s manager.  To me.  Informing me that I won 2 Golden Triangle pit tickets to that night’s show.

I called Kristin to tell her the news.  She thought that I was having a heart attack.  I called Jocelyn.  I texted Neil in Chicago.  Shower.  Airport.  Flight.  Taxi.  Neil.  Boystown.  Shop.  Eat.  United Center.  Concert.  That 24-hour period zoomed by so fast, it all seems like such a blur in hindsight.

The concert was a tour-de-force show of non-stop entertainment.  This was my fifth Madonna tour, and probably my favorite Madonna tour.  While I highly respected 2001’s Drowned World Tour and 2006’s Confessions Tour as artistic statements and loved certain parts of each show, both did not excite me and felt cold at times.  2008’s Sticky & Sweet Tour was a ball of fun, but lacked the artistic depth of a true Madonna show.  The MDNA Tour reigns supreme because it combines the darkness of Drowned World, the unity and political message of Re-Invention, the beauty of Confessions and the animated hoopla of Sticky & Sweet into one show.

The MDNA Tour is proof that the girl from Michigan is still on top of her game 30-years into her career.  While her rivals are all judging reality shows, performing to theater-sized audiences or promoting a weight loss program, Madonna is selling out stadiums and arenas across the planet with VIP tickets that flaunt a $1,500.00 price tag.  Yes, $1,500.00 for a VIP Floor Madonna ticket!  Is she worth it?  Of course.

Kristin pretty much cried the entire duration of the entire concert because she was so starstruck and in awe.  (Fun Fact: Kristin cried so much that she cried her fake eyelashes off.)  What has always separated Madonna from the rest of the pack was her starpower.  She commands the stage.  You simply cannot take your eyes off of her.  When all is said and done and years upon years later, history will only remember Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Madonna…  and only one out of the four is still touring.  I remember watching an MTV News Segment as a kid back in 1990 when they were covering Madonna’s Blonde Ambition World Tour and a random Madonna fan made the bold statement: “You haven’t truly lived if you haven’t been to a Madonna concert!”  22 years later and that statement rings even more true.  Go see her while you can!

Highlights of the show: the Express Yourself / Born This Way / She’s Not Me mash-up, a rump-shakin’ version of Gimme All Your Luvin’ with a flying marching band, M’s 12-year-old son Rocco joining Mom onstage as a back-up dancer and choir member, stripped-down sing-a-long versions of classics Holiday and Open Your Heart, the heavenly divine Like A Prayer, the grand entrance of (literal) biblical proportions to Girl Gone Wild, a very somber and eerie take on Like A Virgin,  meeting other really cool & very kind Madonna fans and of course, seeing Madonna with Kristin for her very first time.

When I returned back home to Tampa, nearly all of my friends and co-workers asked why I did not take more photos or videos of Madonna since I was a mere 6 feet away from her at times.  I just wanted to make sure that I enjoyed every single second of the opportunity, to be in the moment and to NOT constantly fidget with my camera phone.  Actually, my phone only left my pocket just once the entire show to take the above photo while M performed Turn Up The Radio.

I have VIP Floor tickets to see the final show of the MDNA Tour in Miami on November 20, 2012 and absolutely cannot wait to experience the show all over again.  I cannot think of a more perfect gift to myself for my birthday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Front & Center

with Madonna’s longtime guitarist & guitar teacher Monte Pittman

I met up with soulmate Gina & the gang after the show.

New friends Mary and Rafael

A very special thanks to Rafael Cardoso, Madonna’s #1 Fan, for the warm welcome to the Golden Triangle Pit, for allowing me to use some of the photos in this blog and for simply being a fantastic and kind human-being in this world.  This man has been to every single MDNA Tour show since it landed on U.S. soil!

Madonna the prophet with Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1984

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Scandal in Chicago

If you’re expecting to read some salacious, criminal account of my past weekend in Chicago solely based on the title of this post, then you surely are setting yourself up for major disappointment.  I was actually referring to producer Shonda Rimes’ new series, Scandal on ABC that I watched the entire amazing first season of while in Chicago this past weekend.  More about that later.

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.  Oh Windy City, you and I have been in love since we first met six years ago.  (I actually met you seven years ago, but my overnight layover at O’Hare does not count.)  I’ve been there during most of my best friends’ virgin trips to you, and you have since yet to disappoint.

Last weekend was Mike Hammonds, Bryan and Carlos’ first times in Chi-town.

ROOF at the top of theWit downtown is a must for any Chicagoer

Sterling made the prediction when I first landed that this Chicago trip would be on par with the 50 Shades of Grey weekend of my second trip there.  A blog about that weekend could appropriately be called Scandal in Chicago without any reference to the ABC show.  However, this trip proved to be low-key, yet still a ton of fun.

I have a tendency to become useless and lazy while in Chicago.  Perhaps because I have been up there so many times?  Maybe because I’m on vacation, and partying while on vacation will require another vacation from that vacation?  Whatever the reason, I once flew up to Chicago on a Friday night, sat on Neil’s couch, watched a movie, ordered Thai food delivery, enjoyed a nap, only to repeat the same routine the next day and the day after that.  I literally flew up to Chicago to sleep and watch movies, and didn’t once leave the couch the entire weekend!

So okay, yes, I watched the entire first season of Scandal while in Chicago.  (I was never a fan of any Shonda Rimes’ show, but this one seems to perfectly blend the quirk and humor of her other series with the suspense and intrigue that Scandal begs to evoke.)  And okay, yes Mike Hammonds had to ban me and Neil from starting any other new television shows on HULU, but at least Sterling didn’t have to drag me out of the house like she usually does.

Chicago Summer 2012 Trip “Accomplishments”:

I got to hang out with her and got to know Adam better.  I only had to deal with Firecrotch Rob’s insults and jealousy for day and a half, and had Mike Hammonds around for Rob to make fun of and vice versa

I was able to see former Tampa residents Chase, Kaley, Ian, Carlos and of course Nathan who are all doing wonderful since moving on up (literally).  (Johnna, you’re on my hit list for next time.)

My soulmate Gina brought my tastebuds to an orgasmic climax with her frittata breakfast while making me listen to her favorite K-pop bands.   (READ about how I first met Gina & why I flew to Chicago for the first time HERE.)

From Bathhouse to Bathsalt Bryan

I was finally able to embark on my first trip with Mike Hammonds after being friends with him since vampire hunter Lincoln was in office.  I was also able to be a part of Bryan and Carlos’ annual “Pride in another city” experience.

Most importantly, I was able to spend time with my very dear friend Neil who is the centerpiece of this amazing spread of kick-ass friends and wonderful people we all are fortunate to have in our lives.

Until the next Chicago trip…

Jocelyn…  Mike and I may have temporarily turned into zombies up in Chicago!

Mine and Gina’s Summer Anthem:

“Mr. Simple” by Super Junior

Mine and Neil’s Summer Anthem:

“Zero Gravity” by Kerli

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Yachts & Parks

I made a promise.  We made a promise.  Every Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday, I would meet my very good friends Neil from St. Louis Chicago and Jason from New York somewhere in the U.S.  Last Memorial Day, the three of us spent that entire weekend in Neil’s apartment the city of Chicago.  This year, we made plans to meet in Orlando.  (READ: The Big Easy & Back! September 12, 2011)

Earlier this week, I fell victim to the Black Plague flu that had already made its rounds through most of my coworkers and friends which (along with a couple of unforeseen factors and others’ acts of pure selfishness) prevented me from joining Neil and Jason in Orlando this weekend.  Sure, I was a bit depressed and saddened that I wouldn’t be with them this weekend, but decided to cheer myself up by: (1) remembering that I would be seeing them in New Orleans on Labor Day weekend, and (2) taking up gal pal and my other half, Jocelyn’s invitation to be her date & VIP guest to Cirque Over The Park at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa on Saturday night.  Depression relinquished.  The event was a fab time, and Jocelyn can always be relied on to be the captain of your personal cheerleading squad when you need her the most.

Jokie’s standard photo op with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, this time at Cirque Over The Park

Without a question, my favorite weekend last year was celebrating Nick’s 30th Birthday down in Key West.  There was a certain indescribable energy that weekend where everything in the universe seemed to rightfully align and be in our favor: where good friends became greater friends and when life felt indestructibly perfect.  I remember flying to Key West to meet everyone who was already down there, and having no clue that the weekend would bring such a fun and hilarious time.  I could not have asked for a bigger hangover more fun that weekend at the Southernmost point!

Oh the silliness & shenanigans of that weekend in Key West last year!

This year, the approach to celebrating Nick’s 31st birthday was much more laid-back, relaxed and just, simply put… nice.

His best friend Josh drove in from Atlanta to surprise Nick and his very close friends with dinner on the Starship Yacht.  Being that the dinner was planned a bit last minute, only a few of us were able to enjoy the mini yacht excursion.  While partying in Key West last year was a blast, this year’s low-key festivities were just as equally rewarding and fun.  I think Josh jokingly said it best that evening aboard the ship: “this is how adults celebrate their birthdays in their 30s!”

Although much different than what was originally planned, this weekend was pretty spectacular.  It always brings a smile to my face knowing that I am still surrounded by people who love me just as much as I love them.

Quote of the weekend:
Jocelyn:  “Okie, walk down the street from Barbarella to meet me at Bradley’s for a drink.”
Me:  “I can’t.”
Jocelyn:  “Why not?”
Me:  “I’m scared.  What if a homeless person tries to eat me!?”

Fine Young Cannibals – She Drives Me Crazy

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My Best Friend’s Wedding Reloaded

I am fortunate to have several people in my life that I consider my best friend.  I have the best friend who I can travel to any city with, and who never annoys me.  Anyone who knows me knows how private I am, yet I have the best friend who I confide everything in.  I also have the best friend who can make me laugh until my stomach hurts.  Kristin is the best friend that I have known the longest in life.

I was 11-years-old when I first moved to Florida, and Kristin’s parents lived down the street from mine.  I remember walking to the bus stop on my first day of school at Williams Elementary when I first met her.  She was wearing a Billabong® jacket and her bangs were hairsprayed higher than any tidal wave that it was attempting to mimic.  She was obsessed with New Kids On The Block, and she had such a bubbly, fun-filled attitude.

Throughout the years, Kristin and I remained very close friends.  I was the first person to ever dye her hair.  (In case you were wondering, I dyed it red like Angela Chase’s on My So-Called Life.)  Our freshmen and sophomore years of college, she would invite me over to her boyfriend’s apartments just so I could “assess” them and give her my opinion.  I stood in line for hours with her twice (and even cussed someone out who cut in front of her) just so she could see Britney Spears in concert.  She stayed overnight with me and dropped all of her plans when I was hospitalized four years ago for a heart condition.  We once rang in New Years together when I decided to take a nap on her friend’s wet lawn outside as she played “Heaven or Las Vegas” by the Cocteau Twins on repeat.  I still smile at her comment that San Antonio was a dirty city because of the “gross, old building” that everyone was congregated around, and me pointing out that said building was actually The Alamo.  We speak to one another typically on a daily basis and this year, we’re flying to Chicago for 24-hours just so we can see Madonna in concert.

Also this year, I was blessed to be invited to her wedding to her husband Steve.  Only immediate family and one friend of hers and Steve were invited, and I was chosen to be the lucky person.  Just being invited and sharing her big day with her family was an honor.  Kristin and I have both grown up a lot since first meeting 20 years ago.  We’ve endured our ups and our downs, but never fail in always being there for one another at the end of the day.

A very special congratulations to my oldest longest best friend Kristin and her husband Steve on their big moment!

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