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Why Chicago Is a Baller Place to Live

I've lived in Chicago for almost seven years. I intend on staying here as long as I can, meaning until my brain finally says "Why are you, a conscious human with choices, living in a place where a -20 degree windchill just means 'Oh, better make sure you have your hat'?" Despite the bitter cold and high sales tax, it is a beautiful place to live.

A younger, more innocent Alice with her city + ice cream

On Friday night, it was a balmy 30 degrees and I decided, after a week of frigid temperatures and night after night of going straight home after work and watching Hulu, to walk the city — to tell the Victorian era to stuff it, because they did not have a female variant of the word "flâneur" ("the passionate wanderer") and I was taking back the night and becoming a flâneuse.

I started by walking up Wacker, a curving street that runs along the river east to west, and then cuts south at the Loop. The Chicago River is one of my favorite things in Chicago, because while we have reshaped the hell out of this city — and yes, reversed the direction of said river — the river is still there. You read a history of Chicago and you read about the river. My street exists because it used to be a Native American hunting trail that ran down to it. If you stop and stare at the river, you can think about how many people for the last hundreds of years have stopped and stared at that same river. There's probably a whole lovely thing one could talk about regarding its constancy vs its eternal flow, but I absolutely do not want to, so let's move on.

Hopefully more successfully than this cat

After watching the river for a bit, a sight made much more interesting by the fact that there were broken sheets of ice floating down it — some covered in tracks made by animals that you only hoped got to stable land in time — I started walking east with no definite corner in mind, because no matter how many times I come upon my favorite marker, I can never remember the cross street. I always just know it's on Wacker.

If you keep walking east on Wacker, on the north side of the street, you'll pass the Vietnam War Memorial. It's a reflecting pool, down some steps by the river, and at the top of the steps is an old statue of George Washington and two compatriots. This in itself is not really worth noting, but on the BACK of the statue, facing away from busy Wacker Drive is what is now one of my favorite Chicago images:


It's incredibly easy to forget that the America we know today was built by saying:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me"

I so prefer her having her arms open to her holding up the torch of Liberty. One of our most frequent embarrassments as a nation is forgetting the spirit of welcome, and hospitality to those looking to make a new life.

Walking a couple blocks further east, I hit it. My favorite marker in Chicago. At Michigan and Wacker, on the north and south sides of the street are a number of rectangular plaques that say "Site of Fort Dearborn." Fort Dearborn was constructed along the Chicago River in 1803. In 1812, during the war, 148 soldiers, women, and children tried to evacuate the fort during an attack. 86 of them were killed. If I could visit any place, any time in history, I would visit Chicago in 1803 when Fort Dearborn was newly constructed. If you've ever stood on Wacker Drive and looked at the mass of steel and concrete that comprises Chicago's downtown, this is what that same site looked like in 1831:

I know! So crazy, right? Totally.

I decided to walk north on Michigan, to eventually cut over to my street. Most Chicagoans stay away from Michigan Avenue because it is generally filled with tourists who don't know how to walk. I wanted to get off it quickly, but as I passed the Wrigley Building, I stopped.

Have you ever passed by a place tens of times, and one day because you decide "what the hell," you go in? I have never regretted making that choice in life. On the ground floor of the Wrigley Building is the Oppenheimer Gallery. They specialize in John James Audubon. Most of us grow up hearing about Audubon because of the National Audubon Society, but until this year, I'd assumed he was some philanthropist who enjoyed painting birds in his spare time. It turns out, no, he was more of a Davy Crockett type who enjoyed painting birds in his spare time. And by spare time, I mean in all of his time when he wasn't trying to raise money to print his bird paintings.

I'd listened to a podcast about him on Stuff You Missed in History Class, which basically indicated that you needed to look at his prints. I'd seen some on the internet, but the Oppenheimer Gallery offered the opportunity to see them large and un-digitized. All I had to do was pop my head in and ask if I could look around, and the two women there were so. gracious. Galleries intimidate the hell out of me because there's no way I can afford their works — one of the prints at Oppenheimer costs $85,000 — but I'm so glad I asked. Audubon's great egret is an amazing work of art that is insufficiently represented here, but what can you do:

When I had questions about the engravings/prints, I was directed to Sarah, who knew a startling amount about them, although I guess that's best if that's what you're selling. Sarah was incredibly intimidating and therefore totally suited to work in a gallery, but was as kind as said intimidatingness allowed. She took the following conversation in stride as she mentioned various birds that had not been illustrated by Audubon due to their not yet having appeared in America:

"There is no pheasant in Audubon's book."
"What! Why not?"
"Pheasants are from China."

After a lot of wandering, peering, and questions, I left and walked west to the bookstore After-Words at Wabash and Illinois. I put my phone on Spotify's Deep Focus playlist and after about an hour, ended up with these:

Perish the Thought: Intellectual Women in Romantic America, 1830-1860 was four dollars and had sat on the shelf for way too long. Like I'm letting those women be dishonored even MORE after the shit they had to go through in the 19th century. Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross is a 16th century religious text that was mentioned in Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning to Walk in the Dark as one of the few Christian texts that praises the dark's ability to bring us closer to God. And John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women, because John Stuart Mill was a badass.

I bought the above, met the woman working there, and after chatting some found out she lives on my block and has for 11 years (I've been there almost seven). I'm an introvert in that after being around people for a length of time, I need time to myself. But being an introvert doesn't prohibit a love of meeting strangers. Meeting strangers provides about 12% of the joy in my life. 

Other types of introverts

From there, I walked further north, past the Driehaus Museum (go, go, go) and up to...Chick-Fil-A. Because after years of refusing to eat there due to the asinine Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I said "Whatever, Illinois has marriage equality now and I like chicken sandwiches." Building gay-straight alliances with chicken sandwiches and waffle fries — that's what Chick-Fil-A accomplished last Friday (just roll with me on this and don't tell my friend Katie-Anne I went there or she'll kill me).

After Chick-Fil-A, I walked home. The whole evening took me about three hours, and it was one of my favorite nights in Chicago. Getting to talk to new people, go into new places — places that have things like Audubon engravings the price of a cheap house — and just walk around a city that has so many people walking around it that you're not noticed: all of these things are privileges, and it's important to take advantage of them when the moment is right for you.

In conclusion, Chicago is great. Go Hawks.


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