I grew up mostly in suburban Cook County, near O’Hare, in what is locally referred to as “Chicagoland.” For as long as I remember, Chicago was, at minimum, the most fun place to be. As an adult, it has been home a few times, including now.
I love my city. I always have.
There is a spot on the inbound Kennedy, right before North Avenue, where you can get a gorgeous view of the skyline as well as the smaller buildings that make up the city I love. I’ve probably photographed it a 150 times. I love the architecture, and how walking between the skyscrapers downtown makes me feel somehow embraced. I love how the details on older, smaller buildings make neighborhoods feel unique, and hold its history, however long forgotten.
In my neighborhood, it seems more common to hear a foreign language than it is to hear English. If I want ice cream, the nearest places to go are either Latin or Indian. I have a dozen taquerias within about two blocks, and the grocery stores stock foods I cannot pronounce, and in some cases, have labels written in Gujarati or Arabic or Korean, so I am even less able to guess.
Since moving back, I’ve gone to comedy shows and met a ton of funny, talented people. Some of those people, I am sure, are going to be quite famous some day, and I will get to say that I knew them before they made it big. My city is a city of blues, art, comedy, folk, and all kinds of wonderful things.
I love my city.
My city is also broken. I have driven around the south side of Chicago, unable to find a gas station that didn’t have a long line of cars, waiting to fill up with gas that costs 25% more than gas in my north side neighborhood. I’ve parked a van full of food on the side of the street and stood in the cold as people lined up, hungry, and eager for whatever sustenance was in the cambros. I have gone from one block to another and noticed the spraypainted tags change, the color of clothing change, and realized that my ability to move so freely was aided by the fact that I clearly didn’t “belong” there. I’ve spent time with my neighbors who are homeless and addicted, been brokenhearted by children who do not know what it is to have a bedroom or a constant place to call home.
I’ve heard the stories of friends who were pulled over for being black, by cops who wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going, without citing any kind of traffic violation. I’ve heard stories from white friends, pulled over on the south or west sides and asked if they knew where they were, warned that lone white girls shouldn’t be in this part of town. One friend told me about the time he was informed that he, a minister, should not visit his congregation in the projects without a resident escorting him because he probably wasn’t safe.
I know that in some cases, my whiteness and my north side residence give me a more privileged experience than some have. I am not blind to what is around me, nor am I immune from the heartbreak.
I still love my city. I want everyone to have the chance to love my city.
Today, Trump used my city as an example of the horror this nation has become. I’ve read countless articles in which a stranger to my city uses statistics to make some very ugly arguments. While the statistics are true, the way they were used was manipulative, and is at best ignorant of the reasons they are what they are. Unfunded and overcrowded schools, food desserts, gangs without leadership, few jobs to be had, and a long list of reasons contribute to the heartache my city faces.
I love my city. I ache for my city, the way one does when a loved is deeply troubled, or seriously ill. I still see her beauty. I still know her joy. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
It takes seven winters to make someone a Yooper, I was told. Seven full winters in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, during which massive blizzards and week after week of snow would set the stage for thousands of miles of driving on sandy, packed snow, up and down the Porcupine Mountains. Lake Superior is its northern border, and the vast beast rages while it brings more and more snow to the wooded grounds and the flannel clad people to the south of it.
When I read the brochures for Northern Michigan University, my alma mater, the amount of snow mentioned was unfathomable. 170 inches? Who knows what that looks like? I chalked it up to “a lot of snow” and sent in my application. I moved up north in June. The drive across M35, along the north edge of Lake Michigan, was lovely. The trees along interstate 41 were kind. It was a freakishly hot summer, so I got familiar with the beach that was a few blocks away.
Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. I wasn’t a stranger to snow, having lived in lower Michigan as a young child and then northern Illinois. It wasn’t like I was from Mobile, where a few flakes would surprise me. But there is something interminable about the snow in UP winters.
I am only 3/7 Yooper, since I only have three winters under my belt. However, the UP is where I learned to love snow. Snow in the UP has quite a few lessons to teach those lucky enough to live there. It teaches you a different shade of friendship and neighborhood, where you don’t hesitate when lending your snow brush to a neighbor whose own brush is trapped inside their frozen car.
It’s where I learned to like shoveling, both for the workout and the feeling of satisfaction I got after digging out the cars in the parking lot. Snow teaches you, over and over, that you are not the master of the universe. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves, building up our own importance, until the snow moves though, and there is no controlling it. The only way to work through the snow is to work with it, much like the other storms in life.
I love the first snow of the season, when the world I live in suddenly gets turned into a glittery globe of wonder. This week, most of the people I know here in northern Illinois were pretty worked up about the coming snow. When the forecast was three to five inches, people fretted. When it was increased to six to eight inches, people had palpitations. By Thursday, meteorologists were saying eight to ten inches, and you would think it was the coming apocalypse. That isn’t an unusual amount of snow for Northern Illinois, but enough that stores were busy selling rations.
I, on the other hand, could not wait. I needed a good snow storm. It was oxygen to my deprived soul.
It started snowing when I left work on Friday, and I picked up Chinese take out a few blocks from my apartment. I took the dog out and went inside where I ate too much kung pao chicken, read some Green Lantern comics, got my laundry done, and drank half a glass of chardonnay. I opened the blinds and watched the snow fall. That’s one of the best things about a good snow fall: you pretty much have to resign to it. It is nature’s way of forcing me to stop doing and start being.
I slept deeply that night and woke to about eight inches of snow. I had breakfast, put my boots on, and headed out to go to Target. While I was clearing off my car, a couple teenagers were trying to clear the snow off of their car with a paper towel covering their hands. I lent them my snow brush. I cleared off my car as the snow kept falling, and I breathed in the smell of snow. It was beautiful and I was happy. So happy that I forgot about putting on makeup before I went about the rest of my day.
When I posted that picture on Facebook with a caption about being happy on the snow, my sister commented that I looked “so relaxed and happy.” I was. The rest of my day was awfully good, too: I made pumpkin cake bars and took them into the city, where I met up with Mike, we ate Italian take out in the hallway of the Irish American Heritage Center, then watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 with some friends before heading back home.
It was a really good day, and would have been regardless of the weather, but the snow took it to a new level.
By April, winter in the UP feels endless, relentless, and cabin fever is tough. When the last of the snow melts in June, people are thrilled to see muddy grass coming back to life. In Illinois, spring is rarely so desperate. In four months, I will probably be anxious for warmer, sunnier weather, but for now, I delight in the heavy white blanket that lays on the ground and weighs on the trees.
Today, I take my own advice and make the most of it. ~ from “Are you Ready (On Your Own)” by Distant Cousins
Today, I did something I have never done: I had my own sort of Ferris Bueller Day Off.
This is Pride week and today was the annual Pride parade in Chicago. Especially after Friday’s ruling in favor of marriage equality, I was just dying to go. The Pride parade is one of the happiest days of the year. It’s joyful, colorful, and full of life. I hated that I had to work this weekend. I’ve worked every weekend, worked extra shifts, come in when others were absent.
So I called in. I called in sick, bought some rainbow ribbons and shoelaces, and went into Chicago to celebrate Pride with my friends. It was a half truth, to be honest. I needed to go for the sake of my mental health (I was in desperate need of a breather after a handful of tough weeks), but that reason never flies with employers, so I fibbed and said that I was physically sick.
With the exception of a bit of a sunburn on my scalp, it was a lovely day: