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CHICAGO: The Kinship of Big Cities

Arriving in Chicago, I had this sudden sense of coming HOME, the feeling that however much I'd enjoyed what came before, as a New Yorker living in L.A. I was finally arriving in a 'city' that defined the term in the same exclusive way as those places - as a place where history and possibility overflow, as a place that unthinkingly overwhelms resident and visitor alike and only permits partial understanding at any given moment. It's the difference between a sonnet and an epic, a string quartet and a symphony, a small college and a giant university. And it's quite exhilarating when you've been immersed in enough other forms of community to understand just how unique and magnificent a beast a big city is.

I arrived in early evening and was astonished how BEAUTIFUL the city is. The thruway leads you right into the heart of the city, where the old mercantile buildings are particularly magnificent. Not too far from there is the riverfront area, whose old bridges suggest the antique industrial quality you find in parts of London. This is another revitalized area - lots of restaurants and, to my great surprise, a gondola out on the now black water. On the other side of the river, a whole area filled with restaurants and bars.

I thought I'd never seen Chicago in any form, and then was reminded by the sudden rumble of a subway that I had indeed - on "ER", where the subways in particular are often featured. Even the elevated tracks for these are somehow more aesthetic than the New York 'Els'.


I got a quick lesson in geography when I went back on the thruway to look for a motel, got a little lost and finally stopped for gas near one of the places I'd spotted - which turned out to be in Gary, Indiana. The two cities, it turns out, are nearly suburbs of each other (all you Chicagoans, stop laughing...)

The Motel 6 where I stayed catered mainly to truckers and bikers, which made for an interesting ambiance. The next day, I made the mistake of doing my laundry, thinking I could have it washed and dried in about an hour. As I poured my second dose of coins into the dryer, a woman trucker with a permanent deadpan, arms the size of my thighs and as rural an accent as I was to hear on my whole trip said "S'gonna be hours 'fore it's dry. Don't throw no heat... I know. I been livin' here for a month." Having brought clothespins for just such an eventuality, I ended up attaching what I could to the backs of my seats and putting the top down. Then I set out to take the Lake Shore route back to Chicago.


Soon after starting out, I was driving at 60-70 mph on an empty highway when an incredibly battered car came up beside me and exactly matched my speed. The driver, short on teeth and long on hair, didn't even look like he could AFFORD a car. As I glanced over, half-checking for a gun, he grinned (as best he could) at me, while his equally appetizing girl friend lifted her head from his lap and gave me a proud smile, as if to say "Look what I know how to do." Yeah, hon. Unique talent.

She dove back to work as I sped up. The driver caught up with me. I slowed down. He matched. Again his paramour rose from her labors.

I'm sure these two thought they were shocking me, when in fact all I could think was "That guy's driving 60 or better, right next to me, and he does NOT have his mind on his driving." For a long moment, I was afraid my last sight on this Earth would be of those two inbred faces...

Mercifully, they came to their exit and flew off, no doubt preparing to circle back and find another unwilling spectator.


I got my first good look at Lake Michigan as I drove in. What a broad gleaming expanse of water. When the first Europeans saw it, I would guess only the fresh water told them it was not yet another ocean.

After an abortive attempt to see the Titanic exhibit (the next tickets were for 3:30), I veered off into the back streets. All kinds of things going on: a blues band set up on a street corner; a street fair in a Greek neighborhood. Finally I got into the heart of the city and began to look for a place to have brunch. After spotting a small arts fair, I parked nearby and found a number of promising looking places near (as I remember) Cedar and Elm. Had a quiet lunch at a wine bar, read the New York Times, then went over to check out the arts fair.

So much to do in a big city... I knew I'd have to come back another time. I started off, briefly tempted by a major fair going on down near the Lake, but drove by all that big city merriment, headed for the far quieter confines of rural Indiana.


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