Let me be clear about one thing: I love Chicago. I’m not just a Chicago native, but a third generation Chicagoan born and raised in the actual city. My parents were hanging out in Humboldt Park and Logan Square way before Hipsters. One time, the owner of Tastee Freez asked my mother if it was her first time there, and she scoffed at him, “I’ve been coming here since the sixties.” I went to elementary school in Wicker Park when real starving artists lived there, people weren’t homeless by choice, and that strip on Division Street was just Duk’s and a (questionable) video store. My grandmother watched the Cubs from her nursing home, and the first time I went to a game at Wrigley Field, I was three years old. My mom is such a die-hard Bears fan, she cheers louder than my dad (even when she’s listening to the game on the car radio)… The Bulls in the 90’s … I remember a time when the whole city had area code 312. In my middle school years, I spent an entire summer in a Chicago History class— for fun. Ask me about the grave in Lincoln Park. Then ask my former students, because they can tell you too. The suburbs scare me more than Roseland (where I taught for two years). I’ve lived in pretty much every neighborhood on the North and Northwest sides of the city from Rogers Park (Go Ramblers!) to Belmont-Cragin (Belmont what?) and everything in between (except Lincoln Park and Lakeview), and spent plenty of time hanging out on porches in Pilsen (again, before Hipsters), or backyards in the Wild Hundreds. I could navigate the entire city alone by the time I was ten years-old — back when there were bus tokens, paper transfers, and CTA drivers carried hole-punches. Every time I have to enter my zip code and the first three digits are “021” instead of “606,” I die a little inside. Our wifi connection is named “Chicago East.” And that doesn’t even touch the surface of how much I love Chicago. If you’re actually from the city, you’re probably nodding your head and shedding tears made from the magical waters of Lake Michigan after reading all of the above.
Sometimes I get a little defensive, and greedy, because Chicago is my city and I don’t want to share it. I know economic growth is essential for a city to thrive, and our school system doesn’t do much for growing talent at home, so I (try to) bite my tongue in regards to transplants and their role in watering down the culture of the city. It’s a huge matter of cognitive dissonance for me; I’m working on it. Now I’m a transplant in another city, and came across a blog post, 21 Things Nobody Tells You About Moving From Chicago. While some of them rang true, like #16 about having to drive to the nearest Starbucks (Dunkin Donuts is the thing in Boston, and I’m afraid I might lose Gold status at Starbucks), or #14 about food delivery, the list lost any respect from me when I read #9, “No matter where you’re from, it’s Chicago.” And then #4 tried to talk about the multiple neighborhoods in Chicago, but only showed a map of the North Side. Uhhh no. The list suddenly reeks of suburbanite. Said list is dead to me.
So here are some things I took for granted, and if you’re like me and have lived in Chicago your whole life, you can probably relate.
1. Living Close to Four Generations of Family
If your entire family and extended family lives within city limits, your life is pretty easy. I’ve always lived within a mile of my sister, and less than five miles from my parents. Plans never had to be made, they’d just happen. My family is notorious for spontaneous gatherings and outings, and someone always feeling left out because they “didn’t get invited,” to which we’d all just reply, “well, we didn’t really plan it…”
2. Other People from Chicago
Friends and strangers alike, people from Chicago have a common understanding. Oh, you’re from from Chicago? Where’d you go to high school? (Insert name of CPS school here). What year did you graduate? Oh my friend went there! Do you know so-and-so? And the answer is probably yes. Or if you went to Lane, the answer is probably, “Maybe if I saw their face…” 99% of my friends are native Chicagoans (not scientifically measured), and they’re the most down to earth, super cool people ever.
3. My Chicago Accent, Your Chicago Accent, Everyone’s Chicago Accent
It’s real. Trust me. I always denied having a Chicago accent, “This is just how normal people sound.” Yeah, no. I got called out for my Chicago accent after being in Boston two days. Damn right, I have a Chicago accent.
4. The Grid
This morning on my way to work, I accidentally went through a tunnel instead of merging into another lane, resulting in having to go 3 miles out of my way just to turn around. This happened to me a lot when I first moved to Boston. Tunnels, bridges, extra long streets that curve and change names five times. Nothing here is parallel or perpendicular. Did anyone plan this city? Thank you, Daniel Burnham (click here if you’re not from Chicago)!
5. Clear City Boundaries and Neighborhoods Being Neighborhoods
I live in Allston, which is part of Boston but I can get mail addressed to either one. Huh??? And then Brookline is technically its own town but is surrounded by the city. Neighborhoods in Chicago area clear, and defined (Humboldt Park is NOT “West Ukrainian Village,” nice try, transplant realtor), as are the city limits. Cross Howard Street and you’re in Evanston or Skokie (shout out to my sister who moved her family to Skokie). Cross Austin and you’re in Oak Park. Cross Cicero and you’re in Cicero. Go far enough south, you’re in Indiana. Cross Lake Michigan, and you’re in Michigan (or Wisconsin).
6. Alleys and Backyards
I have a driveway now. This is foreign to me. On garbage day, we have to bring our trash cans out in front of the house or we don’t get our garbage collected. Weird. The standard Chicago residential lot gives plenty of space for a backyard comfortable enough to fit my entire extended family and my dad’s garden. If you’re not at a summer festival, you’re probably hanging out in someone’s backyard.
7. Snow Removal
I know, you think Rahm sucks. But seriously, Chicago is way ahead of the game when it comes to handling winter. You think those snow routes are bogus? Try snow emergency. And good luck parking anywhere. Also, the streets and sidewalks in Chicago are wide enough for snow banks and neatly shoveled paths, as long as people actually shovel.
8. Driving To and From BOTH Airports is Free
I’m aware there’s a fare tax, or whatever they call it, from the O’Hare Blue Line (lame!), and that pesky $1-something toll (chump change!) to get to O’Hare from 294, but if you take I-90, it’s completely free, and the same goes for Midway. In Boston, there’s only one way out of the airport, and it’s $3.50 ($5.25 if you’re in a cab). I work in East Boston (where the airport is located), and have to pay that stupid toll every time I go home. And today when I accidentally went through the tunnel on my way to work, I had to pay the toll. $7 in tolls. #BIGFAIL
9. A Reliable Food Scene
Even when I scour yelp for 4 and 5 star reviews here, I always have to adjust -1 or even -2 stars to account for not being in Chicago. And for the record, the food scene in Chicago didn’t start in the last decade. Chicago has ALWAYS had awesome food. I remember dining out as a kid eating different types of ethnic cuisine . For instance, Andie’s on Clark St before it got remodeled, back when the waiters remembered the entire tables order without writing a single thing down, and never made a mistake. It’s the reason why I love Mediterranean food so much. And Anne Sather was the original brunch spot, way before Bongo Room arrived. By the way, Lula Cafe has been open since 1999. When I started dining there, I never had to wait in line.
10. Giordano’s Thin Crust (Square Cut FTW), and Pequod’s Pan Pizza
All pizza debates aside, I’m not even going to explain myself.
11. Over 20 Miles of Lakefront
Boston has a river with an adequate path, and I hear it loops in a way allowing for long distance runs, but not without stop lights. I have fond memories of marathon training, and the therapeutic effect of being able to do my full 20 miler in a straight line without having to stop at a stop light. Not to mention, the endless hours of summer entertainment via volleyball courts, outdoor gyms, and parties at Montrose Beach. I guess they eventually end when it gets cold out, but you know what I mean. Random Trivia: Lincoln Park is more than just a neighborhood, it’s technically the name of a long stretch of parks lining the lakefront.
12. Races Practically Every Weekend
One would think there’d be an abundance of road races in Boston, of all places, but apparently they only run one race a year, and it’s the super exclusive marathon. I’m exaggerating, clearly, but I feel like I had no problem finding a race on a whim when I was in Chicago. Now that I think about it, it probably has something to do with the 20+ miles of lakefront available to use for race courses.
I thought I’d be able to easily find a new bowling league, make some new friends, improve my average a bit. Not here. Bowling alleys aren’t really a thing on the East Coast, unless it’s candlepin bowling, which is NOT the same. Monday nights at Diversey River Bowl with the Funtimers made me the bowler I am, and now my poor bowling ball is just sitting in its bag collecting dust. I’d never be able to replace 9 Pinners in Paris anyway (shout out to Sherri & Phil!!!! And Max.).
14. Tap Water
I grew up proudly drinking from the tap, before bottled water and Brita filters became commonplace. So did you. And other water tastes funny.
15. Having a skyline
It never gets old. When I worked in Roseland, I got to see the skyline from every angle on my way to and from work. Sometimes (every day) I’d get stuck and traffic (curses be to whoever designed “Circle”), and each time, I saw the skyline in a different light. The skyline IS Chicago. Love of my life…
16. Inexpensive Rent
That’s not a typo. Right before I moved, I was living in a studio in Logan Square, walking distance to everything. It wasn’t anything fancy, but there were definitely location perks. Now, I live in a one bedroom, and my HALF of the rent is $200 more than what I paid living alone. And we don’t even have an exhaust fan in our kitchen. Or air conditioning. Sometimes I fantasize about all the amenities we could have, and which neighborhood we’d live in at the same price point in Chicago. I guarantee it’d be a 2 bed 2 bath, and there would be granite (and a mortgage) involved.
I grew up on WGCI. I used to sit by my radio on NYE and manually write down the names of all the songs on the end of the year countdown… Tony Sculfield (who I met one time volunteering at a school on MLK day, and think is a stand-up guy—no pun intended) and the Morning Riot kept me entertained on those long drives to work. The Morning Riot ride out used to get me pumped
speeding driving down 94 on my way to work (back when the school day started at 9am). As soon as I heard DJ Phantom’s intro music, the volume was on its way up. I called in to play Four Corners once and was so ashamed of my self when I accidentally named the wrong intersection. But I was equally proud when they read one of my texts on the air and agreed with my argument. I love me some Chicago radio, even if they do play the hell out of the same five hits over and over and over again.
18. Being from Chicago*
Robert and I have been on vacation a couple times since moving to Boston, and when people ask where we’re from, we always pause before answering, “Chicago, but we’re currently living in Boston.” Because when you’re actually from Chicago, you never stop being a Chicagoan.
I’m intentionally stopping right here, because I can go on forever, and I want to hear from you! Where are all my true Chicagoans? Do you agree with my list (especially if you are currently in another city, or have moved to another city and since returned to Chicago)? What did I leave off my list? Be creative. Don’t talk about obvious things, like amazing street fests and being the best place in the world during summer months. Ready? Set? Go!
*I never really took this for granted, but thought it’d be a great way to end this post.