Second City, second to none.

January 31, 2011 · Posted in In My World 

I’ve reported murders, scandals, marriages, premieres and national political conventions. I’ve been amused, intrigued, outraged, enthralled and exasperated by Chicago. And I’ve come to love this American giant, viewing it as the most misunderstood, most underrated city in the world. There is none other quite like my City of Big Shoulders.

– Irv Kupcinet, who began Kup’s Column in 1941

I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.

– H. L. Mencken

It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago-she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.

– Mark Twain “Life On The Mississippi,” 1883

It is often said every Chicagoan, at some point, moves away for a time but is inevitably drawn back.  For what, the reasons differ.  But we do.  We return, despite the wind, despite January and February, despite the Cubs, and despite the incurable traffic.  Time and time again this pattern has played out, but it is up in the air if it will for me.  As I sit in a room of packed boxes with a one-way ticket, it is hard not to reflect on the city that raised me, influenced me, was always there, and will I have no doubt beckon me home from time to time.

The hog butcher to the world, the City of Big Shoulders, she raises you right if you let her.  As you brace against her winter, you learn to dig your heels in and refuse to budge an inch.  As the sun warms in spring, and North Avenue Beach erupts, you learn to take time for the small, seemingly insignificant but important things in life.  As your sports team continues to disappoint, you learn the meaning of the word commitment, and just how long a lifetime can be.  It’s not for the feint of heart, nor for the weak of spirit.

Chicago will never come right out and smack you with what you’re supposed to know.  It takes time, takes effort, to get to know her secrets.  She won’t automatically invite you in, but once she does you’re in for an amazing ride.  Whether it’s a jazz bar with a piece of cardboard as a sign, the sunrise around the corner of the Shedd Aquarium, Kuma’s before it was Kuma’s, or the leftover goosebumps you get from the Jordan era at the United Center, there are treasures to be found almost no matter where you look.

But as I said goodbye to my friends, I realized the best “secret” is and always has been the people.  My cousin, who studied “out east”, asked me skeptically when she moved here – “Does everyone always smile at you?”  I had to explain to her that, yes, people do that out here.  We will welcome you in, we will invite you into our homes.  I can’t help but feel lucky that I have had the experiences here I did, and been invited into the homes I have been.  The fact that it’s hard to leave, in my mind at least, means I did something right while I was here.  If not I wouldn’t care about missing what I know will be happening in my absence – and that weirdly gives me solace in an otherwise sad goodbye to my city.  I will miss everything that makes us Chicago, but none more than the personality that makes us Chicago.

As I lay my head in Chitown tonight…for the last night in a long while…I can’t but be grateful for everything she has given me over the years.  Thank you to every single one of you who has helped make Chicago such an amazing experience for me.

To be continued…

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