You’re Killing Me, Chicago
I love my city. I do. So very much. We have our bad side, for sure. This summer has been one of the deadliest this city has ever seen, our public school system has made national headlines and not in a good way, our politicians keep going to jail, our mayor’s kind of a dick, it was 90 freaking degrees for way too many days this year, and we have one of the worst public transit systems in the country. (That last part may or may not be just my opinion, but having heard stories from other cities, I’m fairly confident we’re sadly lacking.) We have gangs, we have guns, we have burglaries, and we have Jesse Jackson. Despite all of this, I still believe I live in one of the most beautiful, amazing, unbelievable cities in the world; sometimes I look out at the skyline from my back porch and can’t even believe that I am lucky enough to live and work here.
However. HOWEVER. Being a resident of a sprawling metropolis has its downsides, and the longer I’m here, the more the inconveniences make me (occasionally) wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t be better off on a mountaintop somewhere – somewhere without so many people, somewhere where they’ve never had to play the “Was that gunshots or fireworks?” game, which we played an awful lot this summer. Somewhere where your automatic response when a stranger approaches you on the street isn’t “I don’t have any money.” (I used to smile at people because I hoped they’d ask me for directions because I’m super proud of myself that I can now give them relatively confidently. I learned fairly quickly that was a mistake and I was inviting myself to a very long story ending with, “And that’s why I need two dollars and forty cents.”) I know in my heart I’d miss this place like a phantom limb, but I do occasionally wonder. So for those of you on the other side, (i.e. the suburbs) who may be considering a move to the Windy City – here’s my gift to you.
Here’s a few things you probably don’t realize if you don’t live in Chicago.
1. There’s really only one grocery store within walking distance, and you will grow to hate said grocery store with a white-hot passion you didn’t know you possessed. In my neighborhood, this grocery store is Dominicks. My Dominicks, which I find myself at at least once a day, is on Chicago and Damen. Here’s why it sucks.
- It has the dumbest layout of any store I’ve ever seen. You walk in and on one side, there’s the deli, Starbucks, salad bar, and fresh baked goods. The bread, however, is waaaay over on the other side, conveniently situated next to the fish counter. In between, you have the booze, then pizza, then an entire aisle of almost ice cream, (we are trying to win that “Fattest City in America” trophy, aren’t we?) then frozen foods, then toilet paper? Then greeting cards? Then crackers, dry goods, then….dog food? Then light bulbs and cleaning supplies? Then….soup. You get my drift. It’s like the person who designed was completely stoned and just followed their thought process on things they might want or need in no particular order. I shit you not, the other day I was there and needed sugar, which was inexplicably nowhere near the spices or salt but instead nestled in between the baby food and cat litter. All by itself.
- Every person there is a moron. This may seem to be an exaggeration, but I challenge you to walk in there at any given time of day or night and NOT want to punch at least three fellow shoppers in the throat. My neighborhood is quite the melting pot of hipsters, immigrants, young couples who tend to be a combination of the two and have extremely loud children, and old homeless people. Put all of these together and you have an amalgamation of some of the most irritating people IN THE WORLD. Picture Tyler, with his ironic t-shirt, skinny jeans, and pointy glasses trying to find the best sparkling water and vegan chili sharing an aisle with an old lady in a motorized cart mowing down everyone with a basket full of chips and grape pop sharing an aisle with a couple screaming in Ukrainian at their toddler in one of those giant carts that look like cars, and you’ve found aisle 12 at Dominicks. Which is, coincidentally, the one aisle which houses the only thing you are there for.
- And then you have to check out. Never, at any time in my life, have I been so close to homicide as at the self checkout at my Dominicks. I have long been a proponent of requiring some sort of IQ test before one is allowed to use the self checkout, but no one listens to me. Therefore, the self checkout, which boasts four stations, usually has a line of oh, about 15 people. If you have a cart full of free vegetables, none of which you know the name of – please go to a regular checkout. If you have a fistful of coupons – please go to a regular checkout. If you and your companion are in lane-blocking motorized carts – please go to a regular checkout. If you CANNOT READ ENGLISH OR SPANISH – please go to a regular checkout. Last but not least, if you are the aforementioned Tyler, and are going to lovingly re-bag your backpack 47 times so it has the best distribution of weight while you ride your bicycle home, tying up the line for another seven minutes – please go to a regular checkout or suffer the consequences.
2. You will no longer enjoy driving, as it’s less of a relaxing, listen-to-music time while talking on the phone as it is a NASCAR/bicycle/moped/pedestrian avoiding terror ride that ends in you losing your parking spot and having to walk four blocks anyway. Therefore, you have to get used to the bus or the El. Here’s some situations/people to be on the lookout for.
- The bus driver. He hates you. He hates his job, he hates driving up and down the same street for eight hours a day, he hates the cab drivers that cut him off, he hates the bicyclists that veer in front of him, he hates answering the same questions day in and day out. But most of all, he hates you. He will hit the gas the second you let go of your tenuous hold on whatever surface you’ve managed to grab onto. He will slam on the brakes the second you take a sip of your morning beverage. He will laugh when he waits for you to run across the street and then closes the doors and drives off while you stand, huffing and puffing like a fat kid in gym class, with no one and nothing to take your aggression out on.
- The assholes that sit on the outside seat when the bus or train is packed full of people like sardines.
- The assholes that use the seat next to them for their backpack and glare at anyone ballsy enough to politely ask them if they can sit down.
- The assholes that pretend not to see the pregnant lady, octogenarian, or handicapped person and don’t get up.
- The assholes that wait until the bus has pulled away from their stop before yelling “Hey, I need to get off!”
- The assholes that pretend not to notice there’s 30 other people waiting in line for the bus and jump straight to the front of the line.
- The assholes that stand to the left of the escalator without walking. Stand to the right, walk to the left, people. We’re in America. This isn’t new.
- The crazy person who tries to sell you cardboard/wants to converse about his overseas online girlfriend/thinks you need Jesus/want you to listen to their mix tape/offers you their phone number/pretends to lose their balance whilst grabbing at your private parts.
- The crazy person who takes up three seats due to a combination of their stench/mumbling/bags.
- Pretty much everyone but me.
3. Chicago is a “bicycle friendly” city. If you are not a bicycle rider, this will eventually wear on you. Bicyclists in Chicago – and please understand I know I’m making generalizations here, but there’s a reason such stereotypes exist – believe that they have more rights than anyone else on the road. They have their own lane but this is simply, to them, a general direction in which they should be heading. They will fly through red lights, miss your mirror by inches as they zoom by (because if you are in a car, I promise you they are moving faster than you are,) and zip in front of a city bus without a qualm. They will also become irate and yell profanities should anyone question their movements. Sometimes, they will make you doubly angry when they get on the bus and take up precious commute time by attaching their bike to the front of the bus.
4. There’s two Targets. They are not the Targets you know and love. They are cesspools of masses and masses of people. A simple trip to get a mop will take you at least two hours so plan accordingly.
5. I wasn’t kidding about the “gunshots or fireworks” game. A majority of the time, it is fireworks – at least in my neighborhood – but the fireworks? Are just as loud. They start in May and as of this writing, are still happening. Get used to big booms.
All of the above considered – it’s still a fabulous city. For every idiot I meet, I see a kind gesture every day – someone helping a businessman whose papers dropped, anonymously putting a bottle of water next to a sleeping homeless man, a teenager with his pants belted securely six inches below his hips giving his seat to a nondescript, middle aged female simply because she’s a woman, a bus driver leaving the bus to help a blind passenger across the street. We are a great city. We are a community. We are better than the gangs and the drugs and the guns; we know we are. We are teachers and nurses and businessmen and baristas and street performers and lawyers, and every time I see a tour bus in the Loop, I remind myself that there are people who pay money just to see, once in their lives, the streets I get to walk every single day.
We are lucky. And there’s no place I’d rather be.