People like me get fun of often. Whenever someone asks me where I am from, I answer “Chicago”, despite the fact that I have never lived a day of my life within the city limits. Invariably, people will act like I am some kind of wannabe who is trying to glom on to the big city because my real hometown is a rinky-dink nowhere. This was especially true when I first started attending Purdue. At that time, it had been about 2 years since my family had moved to The Region, which is technically in Indiana.
But I found it easier to just say Chicago. It was either that or go into a 10 minute discussion of how Chicago was more of my metaphorical hometown, but I was really from Calumet City and we had recently moved to Schererville, but despite that I still went to high school back in Illinois and mostly hung out in Chicago and… See?! You stopped listening, too. That whole story is a lot to take in during a first introduction. It’s just much easier to say the little white lie that I am from Chicago.
To be honest, its not that much of a lie. I spent my first 16 years of life essentially needing only to trip out of bed and I would be within the city limits. But it was not just the proximity that made me feel that Chicago was my hometown. So much of who I was and who I am today is because of the city and all that it has within its borders.
For many years, my dad worked in the city, taking the South Shore train line. I still remember him bringing home his expired monthly train passes for us to play with. It felt like we were all grown up with a credit card or an ID badge of some kind. We would go into the city for Christmas shopping once a year and occasionally take family trips into the city to go out to dinner or go sightseeing. We would take school field trips to the Lincoln Park and Brookfield Zoos, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum. I still remember my first trip up to the top of the Sears Tower on my fifth grade field trip, crammed into one of the elevators with the rest of my class when I had a broken foot.
I have always had enormous pride in Chicago, always look to find way to celebrate it. I remember being nervous during the voting for the 2016 Summer Olympics which “we” had applied for and being tremendously dejected when I found out we got eliminated in the first round. At first it seemed like classic Chicago, to have all of your hopes and dreams on the tip of your fingers, only to find a way to bumble it away at the very end. But then when word started to come out that the fix was in for Brazil and that Chicago was being jobbed all along, that seemed a little like classic Chicago, too.
What I like most about Chicago are Chicagoans. We are known as people who are hard-working, salt of the earth people. We dream big and we make things happen. (That’s why we are The City of Big Shoulders.) We know that we never will be seen as the best in most people’s eyes (The Second City, anyone?) but we are also okay with that. We don’t mind being under-estemated. It just makes us that much tougher and stiffens our resolve even more. I revel in much of that sentiment because I like to think many of those characteristics describes me. But what I am unsure of is did Chicago mold me as such, or did I mold myself to be more like Chicago. My guess is that it is a little of each.
The first time I really moved away from the city was when I graduated from Purdue and moved down to Indianapolis. Even when I was at Purdue (and I enjoyed my time there), I still knew that arrangement was only temporary and that my real home was about 90 miles to the northwest. But moving to Indianapolis felt like a big change. I remember being a little unsure of my surroundings. I marveled that when you were in the center of downtown you could look east and west and easily see where the downtown area ended, something not even remotely possible in The Windy City. I would go around thinking, “If I was in Chicago, [fill in the blank] would be a lot different than it is in Indy.” Soon after being down there, I realized that I wanted to get back up to Chicago as soon as humanly possible. Of course, that was 12 years ago.
The more time I spent in Indianapolis, the more I liked it. We started to lay down roots here and become enmeshed in the area. We have friends here. Our kids have friends here. It would be hard to leave. But that doesn’t mean I like Chicago any less. In fact, I still take tremendous pride in my hometown, maybe even more than before. I still root for the Bears and Bulls over the Colts and Pacers. (Super Bowl XLI was the greatest game of my life…. for about 1 1/2 quarters.)(Stupid Rex Grossman.)(Who was from central Indiana, by the way.) The Chicago Tribune is my first stop on my daily trip around the web. And I still try to get my fork on some good Chicago style deep-dish pizza whenever I can.
A few months ago, I was flying for a work-related opportunity. My return trip happened to make a connection in Chicago at O’Hare. Even now, after 34 years, I still get excited when I fly into the city. I look out the window and try to figure out exactly where in the city I am at. I love seeing the downtown skyline and watching all of the headlights and tail lights flittering down Lake Shore Drive. During that descent I put my favorite song about Chicago on repeat (Homecoming) and I started getting chills as I saw the sights fly by. Chicago is and always be a part of my soul.
Happy 175th Birthday to a city that is named after the aromatic wild onions that used to grow in the area. A city that once almost burned entirely to the ground, but rose back up to be better than ever before. An underestimated city that no one thought could put on a World’s Fair, but did it bigger and better than any city before. A city that had a profound influence on a kid from the south suburbs.