Well, I’m back from Chicago. But I kind of wish I wasn’t.
Without exaggeration, Chicago has become one of my favorite cities. There doesn’t seem to be any place quite like it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Imagine New York’s glitz, San Francisco’s vibe, Miami’s style, and London’s multiculturalism all arranged in spectacular fashion along the western coast of Lake Michigan and sprinkled in Midwestern charm. That’s Chicago, in essence. It’s stately yet modern, freezing yet exciting, historic yet clean. It’s got everything I love about being in a city, and a surprising absence of a lot of things I don’t like about being in a city.
First and foremost, Chicago is very, very cold. Or at least it was this week. I must confess, I had no idea what “Frozen Mix” meant on the weather report until I set foot in Chicago, and I’m glad we don’t get it in Florida. But even so, native Chicagoans exhibit a startling sense of kindness and warmness that you certainly won’t find in San Francisco’s Muni operators or New York’s pedestrians or Miami’s I-95 commuters. This Midwestern demeanor translates to a pace that’s a little more subdued than your typical city, a decreased number of car horns per night, and an incredibly friendly atmosphere.
Life in downtown Chicago is, overall, a lot less gritty than it is in most other places. There’s barely any litter on the streets, and the buildings are relatively clean. Maybe the wind just blows all the crap away, or maybe there’s just a really efficient team of vigilante trash picker-uppers. Whatever it is, it’s being noticed.
I also found Chicago extremely walkable, even more so than New York. Downtown, there don’t seem to be any
‘unsafe’ neighborhoods (though I am fully aware of the change in scenery to the south and west) and I found it easy to just walk to my next destination, even in the horror that is “Frozen Mix.” There’s never a boring street or block, and always some restaurant or store that beckons a half-frozen Floridian in from the cold.
Chicago’s architecture is an attraction in itself, whether admiring it from the sidewalk or the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. In the 1871, the famous Chicago Fire burned down over ⅓ of the city, prompting a massive rebuild (similar to that of San Francisco after its 1906 earthquake). The world’s up-and-coming architects partnered with the leaders in their field and flocked to Chicago, which seemed to them a blank canvas on which to explore new styles of buildings. And that’s great for anyone in modern times who happens to look up- Bauhaus buildings mix with South Florida-style high rises and other structures that look like they’re still stuck in the 1920s. A wonderful melting pot of architectural styles, Chicago is a pleasure for the eyes. That’s why these streets seem to beckon you to walk on them.
The city’s perch at the edge of Lake Michigan is a blessing as well as a curse. First comes the wind, which it is possible to get used to (though not in four days). But there are also a ton of beaches (yes, real beaches) that dot up and down Chicago’s coast. I actually did walk onto one of them- the famous Oak Street Beach- and I could tell that they must be the go to places in the summer, when the tide pools aren’t frozen.
And the food. You can eat around the world in a city that’s not really close to anywhere international (except for Canada), which is really a testament to just how big and popular Chicago is. From the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, to the godsend that is deep dish pizza, to a restaurant that has pig’s tail on the menu, Chicago definitely surprised me with its food scene. I just wish I could have eaten more.
It didn’t matter if I was walking along the glamorous Magnificent Mile, watching improv at The Second City, taking pictures of other people taking selfies at ‘The Bean,’ or shivering as they lit the city’s Christmas tree- I was able to tap into Chicago’s energy wherever I happened to be. Everything I did, everything I saw was something that couldn’t quite be replicated anywhere else. So who cares if there is rain and snow and sleet falling from the sky at the same time- there’s no place like Chicago.