Tag Archives: Chicago

A (Extended) Weekend That’s So Chicago

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A culture is often thought of as being attached to a Nation. This is “American Culture”, “Chinese Culture” or “Peruvian Culture”. However, most Nations on this planet have vast cultural differences within their borders. Nations as small as Belgium and Switzerland can point to different areas within their countries where people adhere to different customs and even speak different languages.

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My extended weekend in Chicago started out with a classier evening that eventually lead to drinking wine until about 1:30 A.M. This was a Thursday. In some places within the United States, being out until 1:30 A.M. on a Thursday night is extremely abnormal. In the Midwest, people, especially younger people, stay out this late, or even later, on Thursday nights regularly.

The next morning I woke up to a reminder as to what makes this city a special place. With a high density of residencies and so many store fronts, it feels like there is excitement lurking around every corner. In most of Chicago’s neighborhoods, there is so much that can be done just a short walk away. It is something that is remembered fondly. However, this convenience has its flip side. The convenience of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood allowed me to accomplish so much during the day on Friday; making a bank deposit, picking up food and drink, buying clothing and eating at a new restaurant. All this was within a 20 minute walk of our “home” for the weekend.

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However, that same convenience tends to silo people into their neighborhoods. If someone can have all of those things within a mile radius of where they live, it is naturally going to become more difficult to convince them to travel to a different neighborhood.

Friday evening I put on a tie, for the first time in 2019, to go to a formal wedding.

The attire was fancy. The venue was “elegant”. The bartender was making fantastic old fashioneds. The music was loud, fast paced, happy and energetic. The end of the night was a blur. It was exactly how Chicago does things.

The next day, Saturday, was a hodgepodge of activities, packed back to back one after another.

However, it did not start until after noon, as the wedding reception the previous night went on past 1 A.M. Mornings just seem to matter less here. The price of being slow to wake up in the morning, particularly on weekends, feels like it is much lower than it is in other places. The price of food and drink, however, is significantly higher. Fine wine and fancy cocktails cost money.

That evening would stretch just a little bit past Midnight, a bit earlier than would be expected of a stereotypical Chicago Saturday night. But, it was time for all of us to travel. Sunday morning, we would pack our bags, leave our wonderful Air BnB in Lincoln Park and go on to our next endeavors.

It’s been years since I left Chicago for Denver. This weekend was probably the closest thing to revisiting a previous chapter of life anyone could ever possibly experience. However, repeating the past is impossible. There are always going to be subtle differences.

The people around you one by one enter different life stages. Their circumstances, preferences, and even world views, little by little, change. The energy is different. Sometimes, the same exact actions, or conversation topics, lead to significantly different experiences.

It is for this reason I take a somewhat cautious approach to nastolgia.

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Sure, it is fun to reminisce about experiences from past chapters of life, or even re-experience them they way I did in Chicago. However, they are never exactly the same. There is also the danger of spending so much time reminiscing about and idealizing the past, that we are no longer truly immersed in the present. To live our best lives, we must live in the now, and maintain that youthful spirit that keeps us open to new opportunities and different cultures, whether those different cultures be within the borders of our Nation, or in a land that is officially foreign.

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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.

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.

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.