Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Growing Love Affair With Chicago

When I was a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I dreamed of the day that I would make it to the big city, New York, the big apple; a new bright city of giant monuments to human ingenuity, shining beacons of glass and metal filling whole city blocks, stretching with eager fingers to the heavens;  the beating heart of arts and finance, culture and industry in the US.  When I was 18, I finally made it.  I landed a scholarship to college and a dorm room on the 17th floor of a building standing on the very apex of Staten Island.  Every day I woke to the New York Harbour, every night I said goodnight to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and for Christmas and Valentine’s Day I watched with childlike delight as the lights changed on the Empire State Building.  Every chance I could I would take the walk to the ferry to take the ferry to the subway to take the subway to the big city; opportunities that were not as frequent as I would have wished due to time and money but every trip was a treasure.  My sophomore year my new room allowed me to see the Statue of Liberty if I craned my neck and looked only out my periphery.  Those were some of my happiest days but in the middle of my Sophomore year, as I returned home to celebrate the holiday season and take a well-deserved rest from my hectic schedule my parents dropped a bombshell on me.  The end of my next term would be the end of my career in New York.  See, my scholarship covered only a portion of my tuition and due to a fatal combination of events, bad investments, real estate collapse, my mother’s health issues, they were out of money for my education.   I was heartbroken but I never let on, explaining to my school friends instead that I really felt like this was more a two year program and I needed to expand my reach a little.  I returned home and completed my education at a state school vowing that I would return to New York at the first opportunity.   But life and love get in the way and muddy the once clear path to the future.  My path which had led right to the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway took a turn in a very different direction though each time I returned to New York, I felt that same longing to be a part of the big city again.

I have traveled around the world since that time so long ago left behind.  I worked in the Caribbean to lose myself then in the Mediterranean to find myself again.  And then I came to Chicago.  And here, I came to fall in love.  Well, actually I came here to learn long form sketch comedy, but fall in love I did.  Today as I sat on the El train, a man sat across from me staring.  I knew why.  He could see it, that look of pure joy on my face, pent up lest I start singing.  I’ve always wanted to ride the El since I was a little girl watching “ER” though to be fair until I arrived I never realized the El was short for Elevated, I thought it was “L” like the blue or green line in DC.  Funny to realize that one childhood fantasy was dispelled but replaced with something so much greater.  There is a tremendous sense of history in this city, an old city not of skyscapers but of buildings for the most part no higher than a few stories; built not of glass and metal but of brick and mortar, layered one upon another.  The sky is clearly seen overheard, unblemished but for a few towers though no light may pass between the buildings which seem so close that you could not traverse them  but for eating one Chicago deep dish.  No need for a Hop On/Hop Off bus, $2.25 on the "L" and you have a tour of downtown high above the street, nearly level with the rooftops, a maze of brick, stone and cast iron fire escapes.  The mark of Chicago’s hey day industrial age shows in every nook and cranny, on every corner yet without the seediness that often comes in an older city.  The El winds its way seamlessly through the city inconspicuous unless you are standing below the rails which roar and growl like an ancient amiable dragon.  Even the familiar doorbell gong of the El is an unexpected surprise for anyone visiting from the angry underground of the DC metro.   Everything is old school.  There are no credit card machines, no broken escalators awaiting repair, and do not expect a map to aid you.  But fear not weary traveler, the people of Chicago are as enigmatic and inviting as the city.  You would expect people to be funny, as this is the region for comedy but unlike New York, where if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere but many don’t, Chicago is no land of broken dreams and waiters awaiting their big break.  You may not get rich but you will work and you will love it.  There are opportunities on every corner and there are people looking to offer you a hand in every field.  Yesterday while on the train, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out my show had been picked up and rather than be angry that I was rudely invading their air space with my intrusive phone call, the others riders cheered me and asked how to they could get tickets.  I’m sure this isn’t an everyday experience, but I do know, when I’m on the "L", I don’t have to keep my mean face on.   I never thought I could love a city the way I loved New York.  But Chicago, you are making me a believer. 

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