First Sinatra, now Keely! A native New Englander discovers that there’s just something about the Windy City that draws you in and doesn’t let you go…
My husband recently sent me this article from Slate, which sums up quite nicely how I feel about living in the Midwest. Besides being funny – and rather true – it’s a convo that occurs in our home almost monthly.
I love living in Chicago. And, sometimes, I hate it. But then I quickly remember why I remain. Followed almost immediately by an eye roll toward some aspect of our life here. But every time I attempt a “pros and cons” list of staying vs. leaving, the positives far outweigh the irksome negatives of life in a major city.
Originally, I was supposed to stay in Chicago for a summer, maybe a year. An old boyfriend and I were trying out places on our way to Los Angeles or New York. (Maybe Mexico or the Moon as well – we were twenty-two year old artists with massive ambition and zero direction.) But then something happened. I developed a crush on the Windy City, which developed into a full-blown love affair by the end of the first year. The exotic Ethiopian restaurant at the end of my block. The independent theatre company who let me run stage crew and mop the floors after glittery spectaculars. The vast lake (which, hailing from New England I at first derided as being anything akin to an ocean) and its sweeping shore lines, graced by miles and miles of beaches, parks, trails, and plenty of places for a country girl to forget herself.
I was introduced to Dim Sum in Chinatown, ordering potentially unwise amounts of undecipherable (and off the charts delicious) food. The Art Institute – and specifically the Miniatures Room – became a place where I could never possibly visit enough. And if I wasn’t careful, I could drown in a sea of stellar thrift, vintage, and antique stores. Concerts on a balmy summer night at Ravinia, enjoying our favorite artists over a bottle of wine and a picnic dinner, are memories that get us through the eight solid months of winter. Same goes for shows at Millennium Park. Also Tinley Park. (Def Leppard ‘05!)
The theatre and art scene in Chicago is deserving of its own tome. But in a nutshell, it’s some of the best in the world. And I’ve been lucky enough to count myself as one of its performers.
Then there was the touristy stuff; things that I knew I was supposed to mock and ignore, but which I loved with equal fervor. The “original” Gino’s East and its cornbread crust deep dish pizza – and mandatory booth and ceiling graffiti. The overcrowded (and overpriced) street fests, all shilling identical trinkets and mammoth drinks in plastic cups, all guaranteeing an exceptional time with the ‘80s cover band or local sensation. Eating a corndog on the terrifyingly non-secure Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, all the while enjoying unobstructed skyline city views. Drinks on the 96th floor of the Hancock Building, congratulating oneself on paying the same amount for a cocktail as one would for a drink-less tour of the Sears Tower (ahem, Willis).
And this affection for the town doesn’t even take into consideration the wonderfully loving people I’ve come to consider a big part of my life; those who’ve taken me in as a family member to care for their children, the neighbors who’ve made us feel part of a community, and the loyal friends who saw me through my twenties. Not to mention the Midwestern boy who helped create a marriage, a home, and a daughter who claims Chicago on her birth certificate.
Our eighteen month-old Nora has her own favorite bits of Chicago as well – the manicured play lot park where she can wave at “Daddy’s train” from her swing, the Lebanese bakery down the street that insists on giving her a free spinach pie whenever she toddles in, her small backyard where she can smell flowers and wave at the continuous parade of airplanes heading into O’Hare airport…
This is why I’ll stay.
Unless the near-constant noise, bogglingly pricey street parking fees, and the draw of a small beach cottage somewhere all conspire to pack me up and move me from the city proper.
But until then, I’ll accept snow in April. Car alarms at 3am. People always at one’s elbows (if not closer). Endearingly corrupt politicians.