Monday, September 18, 2017

A Tourist in My Hometown

Even though I spent the first eighteen years of my life in a small Midwestern town, I think of Chicago as my hometown. As the saying goes, "Home is where your heart is." In the town where I grew up, I was viewed by many people as "weird," but in Chicago, the vast majority of people are weird and it's actually considered "weird" to be "normal."

That's why when a relative offered to pay for my plane ticket to Chicago in exchange for my taking care of their two dogs for a week this past summer while the relative was out of town, I jumped at the chance. I was happy to spend time with those two adorable dogs, who snuggled by my legs when I slept and insisted on being carried around 90% of the time. 

I was also happy to be back in the city where I lived for more than a decade. When I was walking down State Street, here's a small sampling of what I heard:

"I hate you! I don't know you, but I hate you!"
"Oh yeah? I hate you too!"
"GET OUTTA THE WAY! Where'd you learn how to drive, freak show?"
"Dude, just be cool. The cops are right there!"

Even though it was supposedly summer, I had to wear several layers of clothes because it was so cold. Some guy pulled my hair on the El after I didn't smile when he ordered me to, and I responded by kicking him in the leg and then running off the train. A woman yelled at me in Spanish and threw sunflower seeds at me while I was eating a Chicago-style hot dog. And all I could think was, Ah, Chicago. It's good to be home.

Although I made sure I spent enough time with the dogs, such as taking them to the dog park and playing with them, I also did the things that tourists usually do in the Windy City. I rented a Divvy bike and took a ride by the lake. I visited the Art Institute (I've always loved the Impressionists' paintings and the Thorne Miniature Rooms best). I ate Chicago-style pizza and window-shopped on Michigan Avenue. I wrote in my favorite coffee shop in Lincoln Park. 

I took a selfie by the "bean" in Grant Park, and I walked around Boystown, my favorite neighborhood (aka East Lakeview). I couldn't help looking at the handsome, muscular men in Boystown, almost all of whom are very friendly and nice, and I thought, Dang. Too bad they're gay. I also got to hang out with an old friend who lived in Boystown.

I visited the American Writers Museum, a new museum that just opened in the Loop. It's small, and it has things like pictures of famous writers, as well as displays of their most famous quotes and information about their books. I thought it was wonderful and high time that writers got their own museum in this city.

I was quickly reminded by how fast Chicagoans walk, unlike most of the people in Small Town, who like to take their time walking, driving, and talking. Chicagoans, on the other hand, will not hesitate to push people out of the way and/or swear at you if you're walking too slowly. (I must admit that I was exactly the same way when I lived there.)

It felt so good to be back in the city again, if only temporarily. But it felt different this time around. I felt more like a tourist. It almost felt like I didn't belong there anymore, maybe because it had been more than two years since I'd lived there. And I felt sad, too, thinking of all the memories that that place held.

There was the beach where I and some of the other teachers took our students one afternoon as part of a field trip, back when I taught high school students. I had to keep telling students that I would call their parents and/or give them detention if they kept trying to drown each other. There was the spot in Grant Park where I hung out with some casual acquaintances that I thought were cool, right up until the point where they pulled out a joint and offered me a hit. I was all, "Uh, I just remembered that I'm late for my flamethrowing lesson. Gotta go!" There was the school where I taught my first class as a college instructor. There was the school where I earned my PhD, and I tried not to fall asleep during boring lectures by thinking of funny moments from Jersey Shore.

I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult so that I could do whatever I wanted. But the thing about adulthood is that you realize that you really can't do whatever you want. You can't stay out until 3 A.M. because you have to get up early for work, and anyway when you reach your thirties you actually want to go to bed earlier (at least I do). You can't eat ice cream for dinner because you're worried about your waistline (although I will admit that I have eaten ice cream for dinner, and that was because I "accidentally" burned the healthy meal that I prepared). And I can't stay in Chicago forever, even though I want to, because the rent and sales tax are too high (and don't even get me started on their soda tax) and I can't find a decent full-time teaching job there, at least not right now.

That's why I ended up first in Small Town and then in College Town. In academia, there are way too many PhDs and not enough jobs, so you have to go where the work is. But one good thing about being back in the Midwest is that Chicago is not as far away from College Town as it is from Small Town (though it's far enough that I can't go there every weekend, or even every month). But at least I won't necessarily have to wait until next summer before I go back for another visit.

Chicago will always be home. But another thing about adulthood is that you have to accept that some things don't last forever, and you have to move on.

What about you? Where is the "home" where your heart is?


  1. Wow, so many memories - I could feel your joy at being there through this post.

    I love the idea of a museum for writers. In the past couple of weeks, I've been to a Jane Austen exhibition, and stood beside Charles Dickens' desk. Both exhibits featured their handwritten manuscripts.

    1. Hi Annalisa,
      I was definitely very happy to be there; it had been more than a year since I'd been in Chicago, and I'd missed it so much.
      That would be so cool to see the desk where Charles Dickens wrote. Imagine if we could actually buy it! And I love Jane Austen too; there's something about her books that people (especially women, IMO) can still relate to centuries later.

  2. I've lived where I am now for 20+ years, and I still enjoy doing touristy things. There's so much I haven't seen or done in my city/state.

    American Writers Museum sounds neat. I'd like to go there. :)

    1. Hi Chrys,
      See, that's a good attitude to have; when I lived in Chicago, I knew a lot of people who never did any touristy things. They just stuck to the one or two bars that they were familiar with and went to Michigan Avenue once in a while, and that's it. So good for you for continuing to experience fun stuff like that!

  3. It sounds like you had an awesome time in Chicago. I'm happy for you. To have some fun again. Exactly, you can save up and go there again on holiday, or if you need to just get away for a few days. I think I'm still looking for my true home. But where I live now is okay, yet certain days I don't feel like I truly fit in here. Have a great weekend.

    1. Hi Murees,
      I hope that you find your true home sooner rather than later; it can be difficult to find, especially because what may seem like home to one person is something else entirely for someone else. It was fun to be in Chicago; I really needed that, especially after what I went through towards the end of the school year in Small Town.

  4. It can feel funny when you go back to somewhere you once lived, but acting as a tourist. It's also interesting how differently people act in a big city as opposed to a small town. It happens all over the world. There should be more writers' museums in general, I think!

    1. Hi Nick,
      It was fun to act like a tourist, especially because when I lived in Chicago, I didn't have time to do several of those things because I was almost always working. People in Small Town definitely acted differently from the people in Chicago in many ways; I think that was why it was such a culture shock to me when I first moved there.

  5. Wow... you have given me a glimpse into the place.... considering the fact that I will be in Chicago by November end - my first visit.

    1. Hi Haddock,
      I bet you'll like it! You should check out Millennium Park, and get some Chicago-style pizza or a Chicago-style hot dog too. And the comedy clubs are good, especially Second City.