Today I developed my pictures from Christmas time, including this striking one taken from the plane over Chicago. More than any of the other places I visited this year, 2008 was my year of Chicago. I visited 3 times – for a week in May to celebrate my sister’s birthday, overnight by necessity in September when I flew back to be with my Grandpa and couldn’t get a train ticket for the day I flew in, and again in December when my connecting flight was cancelled.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Chicago. I grew up in Kalamazoo, a mid-sized Michigan city just 2 hours away, but I never felt I had a personal connection to the city or even a particular interest in visiting. Apart from a trip to the Science Museum with my middle school, and a weekend visit to a high school boyfriend taking a summer class at Northwestern, I’d never even visited before this year. Even in my college search, it just never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I moved to Boston that I realized how strange it was that I’d never considered looking at schools in that city closer to home.
Partly, my aversion was due to internalizing my mom’s fear of driving there. My mother, who can navigate the twisty 7-street intersections of Boston with patience and courage to spare, has a special hushed tone she reserves for only Terminal Illnesses and Chicago Traffic. For the most part, unless someone else is driving, my mom’s not going to Chicago.
A second reason I’ve never cared to explore Chicago is that I’ve always felt there’s something a little “me too” about Chicago culture. No one could deny the cultural importance of Los Angeles or New York, but Chicago … it’s the city with a so-so version of whatever the big two have got. A film industry that never quite took off, a skyscraper that used to be the world’s biggest, and even the crime stories are mostly nostalgia.
But, this year I gave Chicago a fair chance, and I’m glad I did. Even a new East Coaster like me has to admit that Chicago could teach Boston a thing or two about pizza. And the architectural tour from the river beat the pants off “duck boats”. And Millennium Park is where Chicago really distinguishes itself from other cities. Cloudsgate (aka The Bean) is an undeniable crowd pleaser – an interactive sculpture that’s beautiful from every angle. And, Boston one-up’s New York by bringing its art museum right out into the public park. I love the intermingling of the museum grounds with the park space. We weren’t able to spend much time in that area, but the time we did spend was wonderful and gave us a real sense of the city.
I’m sure I’m not alone in giving Chicago another look this year. With a new Chicagoan president-elect, and a possible future Olympics on Lake Michigan in the works, Chicago is just beginning its latest turn in the public eye. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chicago will offer up. Especially if it comes in a deep dish.