Chicago, I love you. Is that too corny? I'll try and think of something more original but I must admit that since the start of this writing, only Frank’s “My Kind of Town” has been the thing stuck in my head. So I’m feeling comfortable in the vein of cliches at the moment.
But seriously! With the majority of junior bedding at Bed Bath and Beyond printing the Manhattan skyline or "Paris, je t'aime", your spot as a big city player is often overlooked. So I think you need to hear it more often: I love you.
I would like to weirdly compare you to that 7th grade math teacher that everyone hates because “I hear she’s so strict!” and “gives a lot of homework” but at the end of the semester, you walk away actually feeling like there might have been a purpose to those ridiculously expensive Ti calculators after all. (I’m now realizing this is a stretch of a metaphor, seeing as I haven’t touched one of those things in over six years). But what I’m trying to say is you’ve taught me a lot.
Upon my first visit to Chicago, I was a junior in high school and didn't want to think about college—much less actually attend a four-year university. But one thing led to another and [through the grace of the FAFSA gods] I ended up at orientation two falls later with a lanyard around my neck.
I remember creeping by the dorm elevators at the beginning of the year, ready with get-to-know-you questions to thrust upon anyone who would talk to me and believed that I—after sharing I was from Colorado—knew a good way to get high. Five years later, I still aggressively push my friendship to all willing strangers but I actually do know where to find weed.
The host of so many firsts, I learned what homesickness was both with and away from you. And while I loathe 99% of my relationship with the CTA, I learned how to travel on my own.
The first time I missed my stop on the el, I freaked out. I'd just gone three too many stops but immediately got off on the platform and awkwardly pretended to be waiting to meet someone, as if every passerby could see through my new-kid naivety. I stalled for what was more than a few minutes quieting my heartbeat until I realized the platform's steps are interconnected below the station. I could go down, walk across the opposite staircase and get on the train going back the right direction. I felt equal parts dumb and pleased that I A) hadn’t had to alert anyone of my moment of panic and B) Figured it out by myself.
But I also learned I didn't have to do everything alone. The people I met became friends that will never cease to astonish me with their brilliance and badassery. Together, we were "flat-footed clodhoppers who feel inside like maybe we could dance, and we didn't really know any other way than to just get at it and have at it..."
A brief (but terribly incomplete) list of specific + sense-driven Chicago memories, in no particular order:
- Puppet Bike.
- The look of residential streets being encompassed by fall leaves.
- The resurgence of voices around 3am paired with the greasy smell of Devil Dawgs after parties at Webster place.
- Remembering those nights piled in Alonna’s bed with a stack of toast in the morning.
- My first Halloween on the red line and a man dressed as Reno 911 leading the traincar to a sing-along of “Just A Friend.”
- Shivering at the Parade of Lights.
- Shivering at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
- Shivering everywhere. This blocks a majority of my memory’s capacity.
- Ca-ruiiiisin down LSD blasting T-Swift or any female pop princess.
- State street during Christmastime.
- Sufjan Stevens on the train during every goddamn winter commute.
- Making largely too much of an effort to go to Olive Garden on a Friday night.
- Rooftops we paid $9 for a Bud Light to be on.
- Sunday brunches that turned into all day affairs.
- The sherbet color of the sunset on the John Hancock windows on that first spring night when it’s warm enough to not wear a jacket.
- The geometrically satisfying lines of the lake when it’s just two horizontal blocks of blue: sky and water (or ice).
- Farmer’s markets and going on runs and errands and signing leases and scary laundry rooms and making all the efforts of adulthood, only to interpretative dance like a lunatic to Adele later that night.
So before I start to sound like a Buzzfeed list (too late?), I will leave you with this:
You’re not quite the biggest and baddest. You never make it on those lists of “Best in the World”. You have a lake but not quite an ocean. You have downtown but it’s not exactly a metropolis. Quite literally—your nickname is “The Second City.” And the winters are the FUCKING WORST.
But I want you to know that you are not and never were my alternative. You were my first adult choice.
I’m an optimistic person but a reality is that I will never have the chance to live in all of the cities and places that I’d like to within my lifetime. But if I learn half as much about myself as I have in the time I’ve been here, then it’ll be the growth that matters, not the checkmarks on a map.
There's always going to be one more thing on my to-do list, a coffee shop some blogger recommends, another ice cream flavor I didn’t try. (OMG I never ate at Girl and the Goat, you guys!!!). But I trust myself enough to keep going forward—not necessarily for “something better” but for “something more". I may not know exactly what to do when I get off at the wrong train stop, but I know that I can figure it out.
So, Chicago, I love you. Maybe ease up on the winters a bit, but never change. Thank you, I wouldn't be me without you.