Fill in the blank. “____________ is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
That is said often by many of us after spending time in a distant location. I feel that way about Chicago, a city we have become acquainted with since our youngest daughter moved there five years ago.
The Windy City was just a name before then, not a destination, not a place with life and personality. Now we look forward to visiting and exploring this Midwest giant with its gastronomic delights, its elevated trains, its lakefront and its woeful baseball team, the Cubs.
A few weeks ago my wife and I paid a visit to Chicago. From the airport at O’Hare to the northern-most neighborhood that is still Chicago, Rogers Park, we enjoyed the sights of the big city, but certainly not the traffic and congestion. We passed areas that were predominantly Hispanic, areas that had a Mideastern flavor, areas that featured Far East businesses and others that had a mixture of just about everything. This is America.
From block to block one can see a change in dining establishments from Vietnamese cuisine to Korean to Ethiopian to Mexican to Southern. Yes, we visited a Southern barbecue place during this visit that featured, among other things, South Carolina barbecue sauce. We tried it – not bad.
The big city offers lots of opportunities for cultural events, entertainment, dining and shopping experiences that we don’t have here. During our stay we went for a stroll along Lake Michigan, just three blocks from the condo where my daughter and her husband live. We went to the station just a block and a half away from their place to catch the train to the heart of the city.
Five minutes later we were at the Addison stop where baseball fans get on and off for a Cubs game. The train passes right by Wrigley Field and the bustling crowds that go to Wrigleyville on game days.
Twenty-five minutes later we stepped out of the underground labyrinth of train tunnels and are among the huge buildings that line Michigan Avenue. The smallest of these buildings would tower over any structure here in Aiken. We are not in South Carolina anymore.
But getting back to the idea of lots of things to do, we spent one day going to the Lincoln Park Conservatory next to the Lincoln Park Zoo. My wife and daughter are both plant lovers, so they took in the extraordinary diversity of plants from around the world in that display.
Not far from the lake at that point, we were treated to the practice day for Chicago’s annual air and boat show. As we stood outside the Conservatory, planes sped past, soaring high into the sky and then plummeting earthward in a series of spirals and rolls with smoke spewing from behind.
There was a group of five planes 10,000 feet above putting up a message with a process they call Skytyping.
As we took the bus from Lincoln Park to the heart of the city, we were enthralled by a pair of planes that arrived over the lakefront together, separated and then performed a series of mirrored tricks before joining together and flying off. In the big city anything is possible.
That weekend on Morse Avenue in Rogers Park, there was an arts fair that encompassed two or three blocks and had artists of all types from the area showing off their talents.
We went to Navy Pier and were entertained by Cirque Shanghai – similar to Cirque du Soleil. We went downtown on our last night and took in a Broadway play.
Yes, there is a lot to do in the big city. Yet, I still see it as a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
As I sit in my upstairs office, I look out and all I see is the green of the trees in the backyard. I can’t even see the houses behind us because of the foliage. My daughter’s front window looks out over a street and to the condo building on the opposite side. Out of her rear door, she sees the back of another building, and from her side windows, she has views of other condos in her building.
When I want to go downtown in Aiken, I get in the car in my driveway, make three turns and eight minutes later I find myself at the courthouse. (And that is considering I have hit red lights on the six traffic signals along the way.)
In Chicago if I want to go downtown, I have to get on a train after a five-minute walk and an uncertain wait at the platform. Or I have to catch a bus after a five-minute walk and a wait. The train or the bus might be full depending on the time of day, and I might have to stand for the 20- to 30-minute ride.
Then there are the people – savory and unsavory alike – who fill the modes of transportation, the sidewalks and the businesses of the big city. It is indeed a different, more congested, faster-paced way of life. I choose to embrace it when we visit for short periods of time. But I am certainly glad that I don’t live there.
So fill in the blank. “______________ is a nice place to visit, but I’d rather be in Aiken.”
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.