Friday, February 20, 2009

Chicago Ramblings

So, up until now I’ve kept my posts here pretty positive. I’ve just tried to cover the most exciting moments of living in Chicago. But I’m not always excited. And it’s not just about Chicago. Right now I’m scared, the same way a lot of Americans are scared. I’m on the job hunt, knowing that my current position will end in two weeks. And I don’t know that I will end up in Chicago when this all pans out. I don’t know what will happen to me, and it’s scary. And I feel, like a lot of Americans, that I have worked too hard and have spent too many years in school to be passing my resume out like a cheap paper flier, hoping that someone will read it before chucking it in the recycle bin. (Better yet, that someone will read it and decide to do something about it before discarding it.) And I am too old and my parents too hard-working for me to move home and place added burden on them right now.

And the thing is, I really enjoy Chicago. It’s not as perfect as I probably make it sound in my earlier blogs, as anyone who lives in a place for awhile would understand. Utopias don’t exist, and I never put those expectations on Chicago. I mean, I love the architecture. Of course, above anything else, that is what Chicago is famous for. I still feel a thrill when I walk downtown. I think we all have those dreams of being successful in the big city. Living, shopping and working downtown. Enjoying the night life. And I had hoped to eventually be there, too. I still sort of hope for it, but at the same time, after all the time it takes to get to that point, I imagine I’ll be tired of living in the city…

I love public transportation but I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. It’s a relief for the strained environment, and there are so many different kinds of people on the bus or the train. You never know who you’ll bump into. Of course, that’s not always a good thing. I’ve seen good things on the El and I’ve seen (or smelled) not so good things. Today I was riding to work and I could smell soggy winter on people. You can tell that winter coats have been worn repeatedly for weeks, and for a lot of people they won’t be cleaned until April. Sometimes, if you sit on the back of the El, you’ll smell urine. It’s disgusting really.

But I get to read all the way to work. I get to step off of the El and walk all the way to the office without setting a foot outside in the snow. (Yay, Pedway!!! Your inventors were genius!!) I can listen to my music and people watch. I can go to work without having to dig my car out of the snow! If the roads are hell, I still get to work. It’s kind of amazing, really.

Sometimes people on the El do nice things for each other. Sometimes a person who can barely afford to eat will offer his food to other people on the train. Most times someone will stand up and offer their seat to someone who needs it more. On certain Friday or Saturday nights, everyone on the El will chit chat with each other about the night’s exploits. Occasionally, a boy and a girl will meet and hit it off (okay, I’ve never actually seen this happen, but judging by the number of El mentions on Craigslist Missed Connections, it must happen!)

Sometimes people are rude. Today I got scrunched against the window next to a giant backpack that would poke into my side repeatedly. And when I said excuse me to get off, its owner barely moved out of my way. Sometimes I get my toes stepped on. Often I get slammed in the shoulder by an oversized purse.

You know, the El has its good and bad points. The bus is much the same, except that it takes forever and I’ve had to stand outside waiting in the freezing cold for 20+ minutes too many nights (thank you, #22). (It’s a shame that the CTA is $252 million in debt right now. Welcome to America circa 2009.)

The thing is, I just don’t know if I’m cut out for this rat race. Part of me loves it. Part of me finds it so exhilarating. But honestly, as lame as this sounds, I’m a bit of a homebody. So, not having a nice space of my own is very unsettling. I currently sublet the second bedroom of a condo owned by a married couple in Uptown. I like my roommates. They’re really good people. But they are expecting a baby now and I feel like the third wheel. The ultimate third wheel. And it really bothers me that everything outside of my room is theirs. I was so spoiled when I was going to graduate school in Knoxville. I had a spacious one-bedroom apartment with a pool out back. And it cost $460/month. You can’t find a studio for under $550 in Chicago (and that’s a cheap and teeny one).

Now, I knew coming in that the cost of living is much higher here. It is, after all, the third-biggest city in the country. And I felt as though I were prepared for this fact. But every time I go to the grocery store and spend $50 bucks for one week’s worth of groceries (for one person), I cringe. I always stop at Kroger when I’m in Toledo and buy two weeks worth of groceries for a little more than $50 before returning to Chicago. I mean, the sales tax alone is insane. The fact is, when the cost of living is higher, you’re supposed to get paid in proportion. So, I should actually be making enough money where these costs seem reasonable. I guess the fact that I don’t make proportionate money really puts it all into perspective.

There are some other serious cons about living in Chicago. I really hate winter here, but I plan to live in the Midwest, and it doesn’t vary that much from Chicago, to Toledo, to Minneapolis, to Indy. This winter has been exceptionally rough on all of us. We’re expecting another 8 inches by tomorrow afternoon and the thought of digging my car out of the snow again makes me feel physically ill.

Chicago is, in many ways, a glorified college town. To many people, this is a good thing. To me, it’s just played out. Luckily, there are many more offerings in this city aside from its bars. But when you’re young in Chicago, most people want to continue that college lifestyle. I think I’ve had about all I can stand of Wrigleyville until the Cubs’ season starts.

Chicago is crowded, like any large city. So many people, so little space. And I have issues with space, as we’ve already seen.

Traffic sucks. It takes half an hour to go five miles. Traffic is heavy during rush hour, but it’s heavy any time of day. And Chicago drivers are rude. I’m lucky I was already kind of an aggressive, occasionally rude driver when I got here. But, you can avoid traffic by taking public transportation. That, however, is a bit of a strain on those of us who love driving as much as I do, though.

O’hare sucks. When I didn’t live here I thought O’hare was the greatest airport ever. I just thought it was so cool in its immensity. Now that I live here I know that the flights are almost always delayed. Even when the weather’s fine (like when I flew to Knoxville in November).

Despite the negative aspects of this city, I think Forbes was sorely mistaken when they named Chicago the third most miserable city in the U.S. First, look around Forbes. All of America is pretty miserable right now. Is it really necessary to highlight the “most” miserable when the whole country is pretty darn depressed already? Poor timing. Second, as far as Chicago goes, there are so many reasons why people put up with my above-mentioned cons because the benefits are so much weightier.

Chicago summers are exceptional. I only got a taste, and I’m feeling totally ripped off that, as it stands now, it looks like I will have put in a full Chicago winter and not gotten the pay-off of the Chicago summer. You can walk everywhere in the summer. There is so much to do in every square inch of this town that you can simply walk a few miles to a new event everyday. I love walking. When I lived in Knoxville there was a grocery store up the road half a mile, but no sidewalk. That drove me nuts. You’d never have that problem here. In other places, people don’t conceive of walking a mile and a half to the drugstore, even on a gorgeous day. Here, that’s normal. And, even though I’m not supposed to run, I love running by the lake. There is nothing like that gorgeous Chicago skyline, paired with the lake breezes and a good endorphin rush.

Other pros, many of which I’ve written about in previous posts, include the architecture, the museums, the Pedway, downtown, Christmastime, and sooo many different things to do or to eat. I mean, until this post, I’ve pretty much only glorified this city. There are so many wonderful things here.

Living in a city of this size is just not for everyone. I don’t think I’ve really figured out whether it’s for me yet. I’d like more time to do so. Which means, someone needs to hire me. Fast. Because my lease is up at the end of March. And if some Chicago company has not scooped me up by then, I’m out. Of course, I’ll still be looking for jobs here, primarily. I’m just not finished with Chicago, yet.

Jazz and Cocktails

This is old, but I didn't post it. Wrote it on 1/17/09:

Jazz has been an important part of my leisure time since my undergraduate days when I first fell in love with it (thank you, Kim). I’ve been to jazz clubs all over the Midwest, including my favorite Murphy’s Place in Toledo, the Jazz Kitchen in Indy, the Blue Wisp in Cincy, and various places in Cleveland, Muncie and Michigan. I’ve scoped out jazz in places where it’s hard to find (like Knoxville) and I’ve sacrificed my lungs to thick cigarette smoke (Rusty’s!) to immerse myself in those sweet chords. If there’s jazz, I will find it. Therefore, it’s rather astounding that I’d lived in Chicago for over four months before I finally made it to the Green Mill. Friday night, I went.

After unsuccessfully attempting to recruit a number of my Chicago friends to accompany my friend Vinny and me to the cocktail lounge, it wound up being just the two of us. I arrived first, severely overestimating the time it would take me to get from home to the Green Mill. Upon walking in I was greeted by a large, bald-headed, biker-looking guy who was really nice to me, but looked like he could pick me up with one finger and toss me out if he didn’t like the looks of me. He recited the rules of the club and then suggested I grab a drink to warm up. So, I took a seat at the bar and treated myself to an $8 white Russian (my favorite, but usually reserved for special occasions). I had plenty of time to look around and take in my surroundings. As I looked at the wood carvings hanging around the room, and watched the musicians prepare their set, I wondered if the interior looks much different now than it did in the mobster days. It’s been entirely remodeled since then, but I wonder how close they stayed to the original… My thoughts were interrupted by the bouncer, who took pity on my lack of company and tried to engage me in conversation about a dream he’d had the night before. He proceeded with all the details, ending with un-profound comments on Freud. I chose not to add my own two cents on Freud.

Anyway, I digress… So, when Vinny arrived, he was a welcome sight, rescuing me from an awkward solitude occasionally interrupted by the tales of the bald-headed bouncer. As we scouted out a good seat, one of the employees showed us to a cramped little table right up front. The lack of space wasn’t an issue—it was a perfect view! As we settled in, I looked at the people sharing our space—all elderly friends and family of the equally elderly musicians. They were clearly enjoying themselves immensely. Ha. I was enjoying myself immensely. And as I looked around at the wide range of ages filling the club, everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.

It may have taken me awhile to get to the Green Mill, but that Friday I was definitely destined to go because they played my song. I’ve only heard it once before. On a Carnival cruise ship, I was one of very few cruisers who spent my evenings in the jazz lounge, bobbing my head to the music. The drummer took a shine to me and asked me if I had a request. I suggested a few that they couldn’t play, so he finally told me they’d play something special for me next time I stopped by. The last night of the cruise I went down to the lounge to bask in the final night of vacation and, sure enough, they played my song. Emily. It’s such a lovely piece. When they announced it at the Green Mill, I was on cloud nine.

Needless to say, I shall be back. The Green Mill was cozy and casual, with the kind of energetic jazz pros I come to expect when I head out for an evening of jazz. Frank DeRone (the guest vocalist) name dropped all night. This guy’s sang with the greats. Like Tony Bennett. While his voice is weakened a bit by age, his heart was in it, and the Green Mill musicians carried the evening. My only complaint was that there weren’t enough bass solos. There are never enough bass solos… I’ll let is slide, though. After all, they did play my song.