#600: The Why

February 26th, 2016

Joe was poised and professional, knew just when to pounce with a “So what are we thinking?” when he caught me eying a blue checked blazer a bit too long for my interest to be casual.

Joe was a bit older, still well in the realm of middle age, but clearly past the midpoint of it. His smile was calm and practiced, a salesman in his element of $1,495 blue checked Canali blazers and paired slacks of a mere $375.

Joe loves Chicago’s culture.

“Music, theater, modern dance — all those things,” he said. ”It’s like New York, but a bit more manageable.” 

This is my 600th story of Chicago. I love this town most days, hate it some.

It seems the region that breeds a slick diversity, that brings me stories of breakdancers and magicians and real estate deals and science within a few square miles can’t seem to stop bringing me stories of corruption, brutality, disparity and a smug populace that smacks all injustice with a smirk and a crack about “the Chicago Way.”

How can I love a place that lives in wonder but bathes in apathy? How can I love any place else?

It’s a riddle, so for story #600, it seemed right to ask others how they answer it. I asked people what they love about the city, and what they hate.

Here’s what a few of them said:

Joe, the Nordstrom’s men’s section clerk, loves the art and culture, but hates “The weather, taxes, the government.” He lives about eight blocks from the downtown store. He smiles placidly through our brief talk. He knows I won’t be buying the $1,500 blazer.

Beverly owns a small bookshop on the north side of the river. She opened it in 1997, when the downtown was “just a dead zone” when the businesspeople scurried home after dark.

Like Joe, Beverly loves the culture. She loves the art, music, dance and theater. She loves that she works in words in the era of authors like Joe Meno, Michael Harvey, Audrey Niffenegger.

“I wish that we had more mixed-use areas,” she said.

It’s a specific complaint, but a heartfelt one. She hates the segregation of the city, how the rich can afford to live in diversity while the rest of us gravitate by skin tone. But she also hates how certain slips of street are deemed work, play or home, not the mix of all three you’ll see in a New York, a Paris, a London or through Asia.

She blames Daley.

“Not the son, the father,” she said. “But they were both bad for that.”

My friend Mackey (his first name’s Eric, but it just seems wrong to call him anything but Mackey) loves the pizza and the Cubs, but won’t ever abide the traffic and parking situations.

Emily, one of the site’s illustrators, hates the gray winters and lack of natural hills and gardens, but loves the people, culture and comedy.

My friend Joann has one answer for both love and hate: “It is the smallest big city I know.”

Kiera hates the creepers on the train. Katie hates the violence. Rachel says “everything everywhere smells like pee.”

Kiera loves Loyola Beach. Rachel loves all the waterfront, particularly the mini park at Diversey Harbor. Katie loves the architecture, museums, infrastructure, public transit and anything to do with life in the neighborhoods.

Shilo Bisnet off Twitter had a two-word response to my two questions: “Food. Garbage.”

Mitch Wu from grad school loves the Music Box theater on Southport. He hates the political machine.

There were more answers I gathered and more coming in, I have no doubt. Some took shots at crappy neighborhoods or crappy people. Others praised the people, the places, the lakefront view or, quote my friend Jill, “the delightful way Chicagoans have of balancing straightforwardness and friendliness.”

“Not being a native, Chicagoans are amazing people,” said my East Coast expat friend Sean. “I’ve seen them stop traffic to help a person who fell down in front of moving cars — repeatedly.”

As a native Midwesterner, I was boggled any place wouldn’t do that.

Any place require some sacrifice, some choices. The idyllic small town of cheap gas and unlocked front doors isn’t going to get the good bands coming through or the big museums/sports teams. A New York, London or San Fran will make even Chicago prices seem reasonable.

These are the choices we’ve made to come to this city at this place and this time. Family, jobs, happenstance — sure they’re what got us here.

But what keeps us here?

Joe hates the taxes and Beverly loves Audrey Niffenegger. Mackey bleeds Cubbie blue and Sean is stunned people stop to help.

These are their reasons for living in this love/hate town, for caring about a place that seems almost dedicated to not caring back.

What are yours?

Share your loves and hates

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This was my 600th story. Start again at #1. 

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