I have made a few impressions from my short trip to Chicago in August. I hope to reaffirm and/or debunk these in the time that I will be living there and fully immersed in my Second City experience.
First, I’ll start with the observation that Midwesterners are very nice. I don’t mean the ersatz bleach-kit-smile tolerance that is the norm with strangers in LA. I noticed more of a humble generosity of the spirit. When we would stop to ask people for directions, they would actually give us their time and with the kindness of volunteerism, speak to us with full attention paid— even relating personal anecdotes and their names. You may think that I am confusing my initial impression with civic pride. Perhaps, Chicagoans just like being asked about their city. No, I actually felt like every cab driver and stranger who we spoke to was actually insightful and easily sociable in a refreshingly warm way.
Observation Number Two: Chicagoans are heavy. With Lollapalooza in town, I saw a lot of lithe hipsters on the first weekend of August, but the skinny-jeans-clad masses were sandwiched between Dunkin Donut regulars. That clichéd adage that you are what you eat is true in the case of Chicago. The number of jelly-rolls that I saw was disproportionately more noticeable there than in the average California crowd. Maybe, this is the result of poor weather conditions and the lack of physical activity in the reclusive winter months. Fat definitely helps keep a person warm… but seriously? I know this is not polite. I’m not perfect. I am not in perfect shape either. Yet I feel secure in saying that there was an upward trend in the BMI of the average person there. I sure hope that I maintain my weight. I would really love to try Polish food since it is so pervasive there, but I am afraid of the “comfort” factor in this cuisine and other Chicago-centric food. As a former vegan, I am not in any way a meat-n-potatoes girl nor will I ever be. In this respect, I am not afraid. It also helps that I have a gym within my building.
My final assessment has to do with my living situation next to Lake Michigan. It’s more like a theory that I’ve developed. I believe that living next to a lake will be just like living next to the beach except a little confusing. In Los Angeles, my sense of direction is based on the fact that the beach is west. When I see water, I associate it with that absolute direction. No matter how lost I am, I can navigate the freeways easier with the comfort of knowing I am never lost when I finally hit the PCH. While I was in Chitown, I couldn’t get over the fact that the water was east. It was like my internal compass was broken. I knew what the map looked like, but instinctively, it didn’t feel right to associate water with the eastern direction. It’s like the magnetic poles inside of me flipped. I’ll have to learn to navigate differently, but I think it will be wonderfully relaxing to see a horizon line after staring at a computer all day.
I definitely have more fantasies than reality when I think of Chicago now as my departure date looms closer. I dream that my weekends will be spent exploring the museums (especially the first weekend of the month with the BofA free member admission). I also see the old churches and eclectic architecture as fodder for my photographic appetite. With the many universities in town, I aspire to actually make grad school a reality. I want to be a part of it, Chicago, Chicago.
I will devote a thorough post on my expectations of winter and real snowstorms. Right now, I have these nightmares where chapters of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice will be coming true for me and that I will be battling beyond the wall under attack by White Walkers. The other side of my nightmares imagines winter will be like scenes from the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In. More on this later. For right now, I prefer to sing in my car at the top of lungs, belting out revised lyrics to “New York, New York.”