Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Special Edition #1: Chicago

I've never really lived in the city of Chicago, but I have a close relationship with it. I know and love Chicago. I've spent weeks at a time there, spent weekends, spent hours. As a child--not more than five years old, in the early 1960's (for god's sakes)--my family went to Chicago because my father had a meeting there. I do remember some of it. I remember the buildings and streets, I remember my being very afraid and refusing to ride the el/subway, I remember a man offering me candy in the street (butterscotch) and I took it from him but then recalled being told to never take candy from strangers and so I threw it in the street. But after that, I didn't go to Chicago until my twenties, when I was at the University of Iowa.
Cin was from Chicago--from the north burbs: Highland Park. Later she had an apartment in Skokie and she worked--for her father--off Addison in Wriglyville. Cin, who I'd met at Iowa, quit school and returned to Chicago but our relationship continued, so I'd go visit her often enough (and she'd come visit me). I lived with her for about a month in Skokie, after I was done with college, and I'd take the El along Clark Street and go downtown and around. I'd go to Cubs games, the Art Museum, the Loop and other places. We'd go places, too; the Brookfield Zoo.
Fru was from Chicago, though by the time I met her she'd been living in Champaign, Illinois for many years. Still, we went up to the city quite often. Don--our good friend--moved to Chicago and, over the years, Fru and I would go up and visit him, stay with him (even after we moved to Montana). Fru loves Chi-town and she'd planned to move there before she met me. She'd still love to live there. 
Seattle is my favorite American city, but of the big three true cities--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago--I'll take Chi-town hands down. I can't deny NYC's energy and excitement, it's stately and labyrinthian beauty; L.A. is way down my list, but it has it's cool factor and a cultural, landscaped beauty of its own. But Chicago is a solid town, a rough but cleanly beautiful place. I've known it intimately in winter, in summer, have been there for spring and fall. It's archtecture--the Carbide and Carbon Building is my favorite, black and coal-looking with graces of gold, tall and thin yet solid, beautiful in a non-beautiful way, and only slightly ornamental. That's Chicago. I feel the city's vibe each time I'm there and I can't even count how many times that has been. . . I like their sports teams: Cubs, Bears, Bulls. I don't follow the Blackhawks, but I'd root for them.
I remember the first time I went to the city as an adult, as a young man. I'd gone to see Cin and she took me downtown--sightseeing--with a couple of her local friends. It was winter and the clouds were low, gray, foggy. You couldn't see the tops of the buildings. The streets were packed, but everyone wore big coats, breath trailing as they hugged themselves along the sidewalks. News paper vendors, crowds, traffic, cabs, the soot-like city air and low winter light, the raised tracks of the El racked above some streets, streets like tunnels, and the real tunnels (so much of the city is literally underground, the streets having been raised after the great fire), the sun-blocked streets of downtown, the cold lake looking like an inland sea. . . Sure, it would have been nice to see the sun, to have bright views and a warm cleansing wind, but that first view (since I was a very small child) was a proper one. Chicago is not a bright and sunny city; it is a sternly beautiful, stoic and serious city.
Fru went to Chicago this summer, while I went to Iowa, to Des Moines.
Dang. Now I wish I'd gone to Chicago.

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