Category Archives: Illinois

Focusing on What Really Matters

That is, the people that have made, and continue to make, my life what it is.

Our day-to-day lives can become, at times, spiritually toxic.

We get preoccupied by what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. Often that involves a combination of work, other responsibilities, and some form of “quest” we have for ourselves. For many, that “quest” is status or career related. However, for some, things that are typically thought of as “leisurely” can end up being that quest….

I need to get a better golf score.

I need to be the best looking person at the party…

I need to get a better time running up “the incline“…

How much skiing can I do in one day?

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More often than not, we achieve what we set out to do, as long as we willing to put the necessary time and energy into it. If it truly matters to someone to be popular, they eventually will be popular. If it truly matters to someone to advance at work, make a lot of money, or even play on a winning softball team, well, it will be done.

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I guess things do happen by accident too.

It’s just a simple matter that, well, nobody has the time and energy for everything.

We have to make choices. We have to set priorities. Over time, our lives end up becoming reflection of the priorities we set. When I see a divorced and single powerful executive, well, it is clear where their priorities have been for quite some time.

Sometimes I lose sight of this, but people have always been a priority to me. I feel far more fulfilled when I share my adventures with people, and I am certainly more satisfied when the tasks I perform on a regular basis are having a positive impact on the lives of other people.

Acting more in accordance with what my true priorities are, I spent a long weekend, right in the middle of the summer, in the flat midwest, largely indoors.

Not just in the maze of suburbs that surround Chicago, and in Indianapolis, Indiana, but also traveling I-65 between the two, not the most glamorous ride.

The main draw to Indianapolis is its affordability. It does not necessarily find itself at the top of people’s “bucket lists”, or desired travel destinations.

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However, many chose to live here. The city continues to grow and appears to be prospering!

Which means that, in Indianapolis, a group of people can easily find enough interesting things to do and have a really good night out. It is often cheaper too. Well, that is unless the evening includes a visit to the most expensive steakhouse in town…

One of Indiana’s most iconic restaurants aside, the weekend was not about being at a high profile destination. It was about the people I was around, and it was nothing short of magical. I felt that feeling that is so elusive we do not even have a word for it in the English language; the opposite of loneliness, in a world that is lonelier than ever! I am blessed to have the people in my life that I have, near and far, from all my life’s “chapters”, and people who are willing to set aside time and energy to meet up with each other. This is what made me feel so wonderful this weekend- possibly more wonderful than I would have felt had I went off on my own, to a bucket list destination, or spent this time trying to advance my career.

 

When we act according to our true priorities, the result is always better 

Just as important as what our priorities are is how our priorities are set.

Not everyone will set their priorities exactly like I do. The question is whether we are being true to ourselves when these priorities are determined, day in and day out whenever there are multiple needs competing for our time, money, attention, and energy (i.e. life).

Are we making choices based on our own understanding of what we need to feel happy and fulfilled? Or are we letting something else dictate what we prioritize? Fear of losing a job? The desire for approval from others? Someone else?

The world can often bring us in the wrong direction, setting the wrong priorities. The boss pressuring you to perform. Peers bringing out your competitive side. Even self-doubt. This is why I urge everyone, in order to achieve a better life result, to..

  1. Determine priorities for yourself. List them, and order them.
  2. Each week set aside time to evaluate, and most importantly, reassert in your own life what your priorities are and how that should be reflected in your choices.
  3. Occasionally re-evaluate those priorities, and determine if some areas are needing more attention.

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Logan Square: A Place That Still Feels Like Home

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In some ways, it feels as if I never left.  I go about my business from instinct.  I do not need to look up where things are, think too hard about how to get there, and fret about to expect from the people around me.  It is all still very familiar, fresh in my memory.  Things like how the streets are laid out, where the traffic lights are, or where and how to board busses and trains are still like second nature to me.  It is what makes a place feel like “home”.  It is what many people miss after a couple of months moving to a new town, as, for most, it takes time to become truly acquainted with a city, the customs, the energy, mannerisms and the like.

It’s now been nearly four years since I moved away from this neighborhood of Chicago, situated several miles northwest of downtown, near the halfway point between downtown and O’Hare International Airport.  Four years has always been a fascinating length of time for me.  I was a teenager when I first observed the significance of this length of time – four years.  I’ve always been fascinated with observing people, what makes them the way they are and how that changes over time.  I’d think about people, including myself, who they were, what kind of life they are living, what activities they are taking part in, and what their expectations are.  These things were likely to be quite similar one year to the next, but after a four year time frame, significant differences would be observed in most people.

This may be cultural, as we are trained from a young age to break our lives down into four year increments (high school, college, etc.).  But, I noticed something else too.  It felt as if four years was how long certain unintentional transitions took to manifest.  It’s how long a person can passively absorb a new culture (by passively I mean neither actively embracing nor resisting it) before starting to also reflect it.  It is how long one can go without talking to someone before it really does start to become awkward to meet again.

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It’s not like everything is exactly the way it was four years ago. No place really works like that.  Over the course of time, things change: A store goes out of business, a new one pops up, a few places renovate their buildings, new signage comes in, etc.  We are accustomed to this gradual change.  In the place where we live, we do not even notice it.  It’s kind of a seamless flow.  However, after several years, the cumulative effect of all the new development becomes noticeable.  This Logan Square, the one I returned to in June 2016 is not different enough to feel foreign to me.  It feels more like when a best friend gets a different haircut, or when a house gets one room remodeled.  It’s still the same person.  It’s still the same house.  It’s still the same Logan Square, just with a couple of new features.

Logan Square is also a neighborhood in transition.  It has been for a long time.  At the turn of the century, when the renewed interest in urban living following the crime reductions that took place in many major cities during the 1990s was still a new thing, Logan Square was still run down, and kind of edgy.  It would take a few more years and several thousand more young people searching for the new urban life.  However, Logan Square was destined to become a destination for young urban professionals.  The CTA blue line runs right through the heart of the neighborhood, giving residents easy access to both downtown and O’Hare airport.  Logan Square is somewhat of a hybrid neighborhood in this sense. It is possible to live here car free. But, car ownership is not the burden it is closer to downtown, where monthly parking can get quite pricey.  Most residents pay something like $100 a year (I’m not sure what it is exactly now- not something I keep up with) for a neighborhood city sticker.

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The Logan Square I came back to was a Logan Square with somewhat more energy than it had several years ago.  There were more people walking around.  There was more nightlife.  There were more buildings, and a lot of new restaurants, bars, shops, just places to go in general.  This should not be surprising.  It is just a continuation of the trend that I had once been a part of.  Logan Square felt more energetic and more alive, but it definitely maintained most of its individual character.  It felt like home- just a slightly livelier home.

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The weekend was fast-paced, and full of events, taking me from one side of the city to the other.  Due to time constraints, I took far too many Uber rides, as it would have taken longer to take trains and busses everywhere.  I recall going up and down the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, passing from one side of town to another over and over again.  This is the part of a busy weekend, which is mostly about scrambling around to as many events, and seeing as many people as possible, that fades into kind of a blur.  It’s just a blur of nighttime expressway riding, going through Hubbard’s Canyon and riding by the new Whirlyball building a whole bunch of times.

Trips back to Chicago always feel like a whirlwind for me.  Trying to spend time with family friends, etc., see as many people as possible.  But, there is more to it than that.  Everything around me seems to happen faster here.  There is something about dense urban environments that make me, and probably others around me as well, walk faster, move faster, live faster.  Events happen and plans come together much quicker.  It’s like there is something in the air, or something about seeing a lot of buildings, people, and just stuff going on all around us that makes us want to pick up the pace.  If there is one thing I truly miss about Chicago and my life there, it is that.

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 2

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I came back to the Chicago area for a number of reasons.  In fact, I had so many reasons to be here, it would have been hard to justify not being here.  Simply put, it was where I needed to be at this particular time, despite the fact that I now live elsewhere.

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The primary reason for my visit was to meet my family’s newest member; my nephew, who was born only a week before I arrived back in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, where both my parents, and my sister/ brother-in-law live.  At the age of 8 days, I got to meet him, and was able to subsequently spend some time with him over the course of the following week.  However, as I sit back at my home in Denver, I cannot help but think of what I am missing out on being 1000 miles away from “home”.  Specifically, I am thinking of this newborn baby, who will go through different phases of development, possibly on a daily to weekly basis for some time to come, as life changes at a faster pace for children than it does for adults.  Even if I come back twice a year, there are phases in his development I am destined to miss.  That is just the way it is.

However, my mind also drifts to all the rest of my family members, as well as my friends, back here in Chicago (as well as the surrounding area).  While adults have lives that do not go through changes in as rapid of succession as children, and it is easier to “catch up”, we still do have experiences on a daily basis.  And, as much as some people post much of their daily lives on social media, or do a decent job of keeping in touch, I do wonder what I am missing.  I dwell on the fun daily events, strange occurrences and “inside jokes” that made all of the people around me so much fun to be around.  But, I also dwell on the ups and downs, and the times when someone important to you just simply needs some encouragement, or, conversely, some advice.

I was wearing a suit the day I met my nephew, as I was on my way to the first of a number of events I would also attend over the course of the week.  This one, a wedding for one of my good friends from college, in Northwest Indiana.

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Here, not only did I get to witness the big day for the bride and groom, but as is common with events like this, I got the chance to hang out with several other friends from college.  In a way it was just like it was back in the day.  There are some people in all of our lives who we can not see for weeks, months, years, and still just pick right back up where we left off as if we had just seen each other the previous day.  I am blessed to have a good number of people like this in my life.

However, there was an obvious difference between now and then, and that is children.  Some of my friends also traveled a significant distance to be at this wedding, and they did so with children.  It is actually pretty inspiring to me, as they had decided somewhat spontaneously to travel to Indiana for this wedding, and were still able to do so despite having a 5 year old and a (not quite) 5 month old respectively.  And, they stayed at the wedding longer than many other people.  It makes me think of a future chapter of life, that my involve children of my own, with a lot more hope, that maybe the “your life is over” camp are significantly exaggerating when they describe the impact starting a family has on one’s life.  So, as was the case with so much of my trip, I was simultaneously living out a past “chapter” of my life, while also getting glimpses of a future “chapter”.

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In fact, the rest of my week was also partially a baby/child meeting tour.  I wanted to try to see as many people, and take part in as many events with my friends, as possible, while still spending a significant amount of time with my family and my new nephew.  Luckily, many of my friends were able to work with me schedule-wise to create a successful trip!  And, I got to take part in all kinds of activities ranging from simple lunches to crazy nights out in large groups.  Over the course of the week, I was living the life I had lived as a child, as a young adult, and as I will live it in the future.  In a way, I spent the week in one place, but in another way, I was in too many different places to count.

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The Chicago metropolitan area is centered around downtown, where trains from all directions converge, as do countless people every day.  It also includes countless suburbs, and even Northwest Indiana.  It is a place where, much like my experiences over the course of the past week, people are doing everything from working hard and playing hard, to relaxing, to trying to do the best the can to raise a family.

And, when I see my newborn nephew, or any newborn child, I see the great equalizer.

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Every single person, from the most successful to the biggest failures, from Bill Gates to habitual criminal, from the most personable to the biggest asshole, began as a vulnerable newborn infant, just like this.  No matter who someone is, they started out in this position, as a baby, completely dependent on someone else to survive and reach adulthood.  And, in the pool of newborn babies at the hospital at any given time, are people that will one day go on to become influential individuals both good and bad, people that will make their families proud, but also people who will one day disappoint, and people who will be nothing but kind and generous to their fellow human beings, but also people who will treat others with contempt and recklessness.  But, for now, each child I met over the course of this week is just a child, a person trying to figure out the world around them in various stages.  All we can do for them is give a good example.  Over the course of the week, I found myself repeating one phrase to the children I had encountered; “A positive attitude is contagious”.  When I smiled at a child, they would often smile back.  It is basic human nature, and one of the most powerful tools we can take into our day-to-day lives to produce the best possible outcomes.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 1

It was an average day that I suddenly found myself in a strangely familiar place. Wednesday the 22nd of April is a day where most people are simply going about their daily routines, particularly in suburbia.  But, on this day, I unexpectedly found myself headed west on 159th Street, entering the town of Homer Glen, Illinois. And, although I have not been here in nearly a decade, traveling this stretch of road brought back a flood of memories from my college years.

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Homer Glen is just over an hour away from both my parents house and my University.  I was never here for an extended period of time, nor did I come here on a regular basis. However, I had made several friends who were from this area, and ended up partaking in some social events here. There are plenty of other places I could go and encounter a similar amount of memories.  However, this visit came unexpectedly, and on a trip where I am already visiting a plethora of places near and dear to me, from past chapters of my life.  Maybe that is why the images from my past came back to me so powerfully.

Most of my memories from this place involve standard young people shit; drinking, debauchery, partying, etc.  However, some of them involve some specific experiences that remind me of the way my life truly was. One summer evening, we had used a friend’s house in this area as a meeting point, as we had on several occasions, particularly in summer.  We had all not see each other in around two months, which, for 20-year-olds used to being at college together all the time, seems like an eternity.  As a result, we spent roughly 20 minutes taking pictures.  I don’t even remember why we took so many pictures, but we did so until the one person with even less of an attention span than me finally had to put a stop to it.  His exact words were “I love you guys, but we need to do something.”

Looking around, I eventually realized that I was not even really in the same place that I had remembered.  At that time, the area between Orland Park and Lockport was called Homer Township.  It would later be incorporated as the town of Homer Glen.  Instead of the four-way stop signs I had seen throughout the area, signaled by red flashing lights in all directions, most intersections here now have full traffic signals.  McDonald’s is now accompanied by a bunch of other establishments, and an extension of Interstate 355 has been built just to the west of town. So, although some of what I saw looked familiar, and brought back memories, there is not way to avoid clear evidence that this is now a completely different place than it was a decade ago.

One mistake I tend to make is to associate certain past experiences with a specific location. Periodically, I need reminders that when I think of a set of experiences from my past, I am really looking back to a “chapter” of my life, which, unfortunately, cannot be truly relived no matter how hard I try.  College is a chapter of life, and one cannot return to this chapter of life by simply moving back to their college town.  Even those who chose to stay in their college town enter a new chapter of their lives when they graduate, one that commonly involves either graduate school or their first “real job”.

Not only is this physical location fundamentally different from the place I had all of these experiences, but I also, unfortunately do not have the same relationship with some of the people I had these experiences with. The different physical surroundings right in front of my face serve as a clear reminder that the chapter of my life, with all of the memories that I am suddenly flashing through in my head at nearly lightning speed, is unequivocally over. AlI I can do is smile, and remember with fondness the small part of my life this place once played.

For the entire week, I have been visiting both the past and the future.  We travel for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes for business, sometimes for relaxation, and sometimes for pleasure.  Sometimes, we travel to places to attend specific events and visit specific people.  And, while some trips are primarily about exploring places we have yet to be, and about having experiences we have yet to have, others are about places we have already been, people we already know, and experience we have already had.  For me, this trip, which I will discuss more in Part 2, is turning out to be a hybrid.  On this trip, I am trying as best I can to balance relaxation with activity.  I am trying to visit as many people as possible, but also to have quality experiences, as opposed to simply rushing from one activity to the next. I am also, in a way, visiting both the past and the future, as I can see my life’s previous “chapters”, but also some of my life’s future “chapters” in the places I am going and the people I am seeing over the course of the week.

Chicago- Still My City

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Based on many of the criteria people tend to look at when determining their ideal location, Chicago would not be an ideal place for me. The winters are too cold, and extended periods of consistent cold are frequent. It’s not too uncommon for 2-3 weeks to go by without temperatures rising above freezing. There are also very few good places for outdoor activities near Chicago. Most of the area within a four hour drive of Chicago is flat farmland. The few interesting places in the area, like Starved Rock and the Wisconsin Dells, end up being quite crowded on nice weekend days. Finally, Chicago seems to not only tolerate, but sometimes celebrate its’ corrupt politics. Alderman go to jail on a regular basis, and so do governors. This culture has lead to an offensively high sales tax. When people asked me why Illinois seems obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, I would often joke about the state having to honor its’ last non-corrupt politician.

Preferences on these kinds of issues are amongst the most common questions asked in your standard online “what city is right for you” quiz. Had I decided on where to live based on these online quizes, I probably would have never even considered living in Chicago. But, I really did enjoy my time here. So, as I visited Chicago and saw my friends and such this past weekend, I thought about what it is about Chicago that I really enjoyed, and what keeps people moving here.

One thing I certainly learned is that one’s impression of a place is dependent not only on how good of a fit that place is for them, but also on circumstances. It is quite possible for someone to move to a place that seems ideal for them, but be in a bad situation (bad job, bad economy, bad relationship), and end up with a negative impression. Likewise, some of the flaws a location may have could be overlooked or tolerated by someone who has really satisfying situation. For most of my four years in Chicago, I enjoyed a good job, a functional relationship, and a really great social situation. All of this made that additional sales tax, the cold week in February, and having to drive three hours for a decent hike feel like less of an annoyance.

I also learned that sometimes there are other factors that have a major impact on one’s satisfaction in their hometown that is not considered when choosing a place to relocate to, and also not considered in your standard “what city is right for you” quiz. For example, Chicago has a great energy to it. I really did fit well in the pace of life here; fast, but maybe not quite as fast as the east coast. There are tons of different neighborhoods, with different vibes, allowing people to have a lot of different kinds of experiences on a day-to-day basis without traveling far. Many different kinds of people can find a place that suits them all within Chicago’s city limits. Chicago also has one of the best food scenes in the country, with regionally distinct food that ranges from the traditionally “blue collar” Chicago-style hot dog and italian beef sandwiches to fancy restaurants like Alinea and Girl and Goat.

If I take a step back, and look at a more high-level overview of the situation, I think the main lesion to be taken away is that some situations that sound less than ideal deserve a chance. Because, well, you never know what you will discover and come to love about them. This applied to me in the city of Chicago, but could also apply to a job, a relationship, or involvement in some other kind of organization. When deciding where to live, who to date, what job to take, etc. we often think about, at most 5-10 factors, while our satisfaction with the situation can be even more dependent on factors we typically fail to consider. I did not expect to find the vibrant social scene that I found at the job I had in Chicago, and I hear many people discuss aspects of their significant others that they had originally overlooked, but have come to really enjoy.

For the last couple of decades, Chicago’s population has been somewhat balanced by an influx of people from elsewhere in the midwest that counteracts a loss of people to the south and southwest. Michigan and Ohio seem to produce the most Chicago transplants, as their economies have been weak the last couple of decades. I actually recall a time when I felt like I was unable to go more than a week without somehow setting foot in a Michigan State bar. This has changed the nature of the city significantly, with many neighborhoods on the north and northwest sides gentrifying, and some traditional middle class neighborhoods elsewhere in the city emptying out.

There is not shortage of debate online regarding Chicago’s future. One can find particularly intense debates on websites such as city-data and the urbanophile. Here I have read all kinds of opinions, ranging from imminent decline to Chicago becoming the next world class city. On one hand, there does appear to be a danger that Chicago could experience a decline if the influx of people from other midwestern states, particularly Michigan and Ohio were to dry up, as those states are beginning to show signs of life. However, I find it hard to believe that the young professional community would stop particularly seeking out Chicago for what it has to offer with regards to jobs and lifestyle. Not only does Chicago offer nearly all that New York offers at a fraction of the price, but it also offers a nice compromise with regards to pace of life and work intensity. In New York, work-life is quite stressful, and people end up working extra hours. The West Coast is very casual, and slower in pace. Chicago offers a nice compromise between the two. I have heard a lot of people in Chicago tell me that New York would be “too much” for them. Many of these people could be either frustrated, or unable to find their ideal job in a smaller city. If one can think of of place as offering a specific product, there is still a demand out there for the “product” that Chicago is offering. In that sense, Chicago’s main danger in the future would be another city (perhaps Minneapolis, Denver, or even Omaha) offering that same product at a lower cost.

A Long Drive Down a Familiar Road

There is no road that I know better than Interstate 90. Before moving to Denver last year, I lived in the Midwest for 19 years. In that time, I attended High School, College, Graduate School, and started my first job. I lived in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. But, I never lived more than 10 miles from I-90. I drove back and forth on that road so much that I once claimed that I could tell at least one story about every exit on that road from South Bend to the Dells.

Today’s journey began on that all to familiar road. It was surreal to be driving past the same places, looking at the same exits, and reminiscing about the same stories, the same people, but keeping in mind that I no longer live here. It was almost like a journey into another life, but one that I am still living.

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We got an early start on June 1, and raced across Wisconsin. Well, raced is a relative term. Wisconsin remains, along with Illinois, the only states in the Midwest to still have a statewide speed limit of 65. In addition, unlike in Illinois, they are looking to pull you over.

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Regardless, we still go to LaCrosse in 4 hours, with our first stop being in Sparta, WI. Sparta is known as the “bicycle capital of Wisconsin”, which, as a bike enthusiast, makes it near and dear to me. In fact, I had ridden through Sparta in 2006, on a ride across the state. It is where the LaCross River Trail ends and the Elroy-Sparta trail begins. Both are bicycle trails created from abandoned rail beds, and quite fun to ride. Sparta hosts a bicycle museum, and has even placed bicycle images on their road signs!

In LaCrosse, we did something I am not accustomed to on road trips. We actually stopped at a microbrewery to sample some beer. The Pearl Street Brewery would not open for tasting until noon. With a little bit of extra time, we went downtown and checked out some sights, including the grounds of Oktoberst. LaCrosse is said to have one of the best Oktoberfests this side of the Atlantic. I regret never having gone there, but I did live in Madison, and living in Madison is almost like a non-stop Oktoberfest!

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After sampling some good beer, it was time to tackle a new state, Minnesota. When it comes to states to drive across, Minnesota is the ultimate tease. The first ten miles are utterly spectacular! The road follows the bluffs of the Mississippi River, which are almost at their best here. In fact, this is my favorite Mississippi River crossing (with St. Louis being a close second).

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Unfortunately, after those ten miles, the surrounding scenery suddenly goes dull. I mean suddenly! At mile marker 267, you suddenly enter a mainly flat terrain full of corn fields. It stays that way for pretty much the entire rest of the state. So, essentially, Minnesota presents itself to the westbound I-90 traveler as quite exciting, but ends up manifesting as dull and frustrating. It reminds me of our own government, but that is another issue.

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Today’s destination is Spirit Lake, Iowa, for some camping. Spirit Lake, despite being in Iowa is only about 20 minutes off of I-90. The drive is quite easy, and, to be honest, I do not notice the difference in scenery between Iowa and Minnesota. I would say that the part of Minnesota I had been traveling through today is like more like Iowa than the rest of Minnesota.

However, ironically, the part of Iowa I end up camping in may be more like Minnesota than the rest of Iowa. Specifically, I am referring to the size of the lake. Minnesota, of course, is known for its lakes. Every time I visit the state, it feels like half the population owns a boat. In fact, the state motto is the “land of 10,000 lakes”. Iowa may not be lacking in lakes the way many states out west are, but it isn’t known for it’s lakes. But, Spirit Lake is a place where life pretty much revolves around the lake, much the way it does for many places in Minnesota.

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I am very proud of myself on this day. I put up the tent all by myself! Yeah, this is something that many people know how to do, but it is a skill I never developed, and really need to have. Especially, if I really want to dive into the experience of living in Colorado, and, what is the point of moving to a new place if you don’t plan to experience it with all you’ve got.

The evening was all about spending some quality time with good friends, the kind of people you truly feel comfortable around. We goofed off, we grilled, and played frisbee in the park. We had a few drinks, and got a bit loopy. My friend Jason found a way to break a rock trying to break a gigantic tree branch to make more firewood. It was quite hilarious.

More importantly, we talked about some real stuff. The kind of stuff that people don’t seem to talk about anymore. People, society, who we are, where we are going, what we need in life. I have no idea why people don’t talk about all this anymore. Maybe it is the constant distractions. It seems like we are more connected than ever, but also more isolated. I really don’t know what I personally can do about this, but be there for people when they need me, which I plan to do. If I can reduce the amount of loneliness in this world, I could truly be of service to humanity. Maybe this is the kind of realization people tend to have on a quiet (somewhat, as it has been windy) night in a lake in North Central Iowa.