Coming Home – Chicago and Michigan

Gone 11 years and arriving in the O’ Hare airport still felt like coming home. People looked like Midwestern people do – hard working, blue-collar and more plump than the overly  health conscious California’s do.   As I write this post I am on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Kalamazoo, Michigan with my mom sleeping in the seat next to me.

The train ride experience best represents the Midwest more than corn, cheese, soybeans , Deep dish Pizza and the Great Lakes do.  This part of the country moves at a different pace regardless of how gentrified it may seem with people pushing their kids in $900 strollers on the Lake Shore, drinking Starbucks, driving an expensive car and wearing designer sunglasses.

At the core of the Midwest is the farm community values.  From the outside in a big city like Chicago it might seem like its cut throat and it can be in the Loop and among big businesses.  Person to person it’s a bit different – people are more polite and willing to look out for another person in general.  One of the best examples is bus drivers on CTA if you aren’t sure where to get off and you ask a question they are generally nice to you – they also usually greet you when you board the bus unlike AC Transit in the Bay Area.  People are also more willing to strike up a casual conversation than in California, hold your place in line while you grab something from the news stand before boarding the train or help you with your luggage.

Chicago retained its essence its still the Windy City.  Shops and restaurants have moved, new high rises and condos have gone up demolishing what once stood there.   New parks and different greening projects have changed the look of the Lake Shore in addition to downtown.   Comsikey field been demolished and replaced with the new US Cellular One Field but its still home to the White Sox.  Wrigley field remained the same unchanged except for perhaps some upgrades and new ads on the signs around the park.

The different communities within the city have migrated- others have stayed the same- little Vietnam, Chinatown and Devon Ave.

My old apartments where I spent my childhood –  Fargo, Greenleaf, Birchwood,  and Pratt  are still there.  The bicycle shop where Touhy, Rogers and Ridge meet where I remember my mom purchasing training wheels for my first bike has been replaced by a medical center.  Pearl Vision on Howard and Western is now a Starbucks.  The Fish Keg and Dairy Queen remain the same – not moving and still serving people 11 years later and still in need of a major facelift.

Lou Malnati’s now has several different locations around the city and suburbs – we ended up eating at the one in Evanston.   Garett’s popcorn is still going strong with the Chicago mix – Cheese and Carmel popcorn – I have been a fan since I first tasted it.  I don’t care it stains my hands bright orange and gets you dirty because you forget that your hands are cheesy.   Northwestern University has continued to expand till its turned Evanston into a college town – although the Evanstonians aren’t happy because the students pay no taxes – towards the maintainance of all the local services they use.

Ann Sather’s is still there and going strong – we didn’t make it there because my mom of course couldn’t keep up with her crazy plan to eat a 3 different places a day.  If your interested in my food reviews – feel free to check out my reviews.

My YMCA – the High Ridge Y- has removed its front entrance, removed the chain link fence that separated the parking lot from an empty section of black top I use to play with my friends at summer camp with on and put in a new playground for the preschool.  The Auction house – who’s back brick wall we used to play wall ball with is still standing and still selling things off to the highest bidder.

I also noticed two new Masjids on Western that I didn’t either notice or know existed before when I was just 16 and reading about the surface details of Islam.

My magnet grade school Walter L. Newberry Academy is still there but fortunately they finally shelled out some money to pay for a major landscaping of the playground that once only held – a swing set, monkey bars, jungle gym and some pull up bars in addition to the empty concrete field to play in.  They added trees in which is really nice because when I was a kid – there were no trees and you would just sweat to death or freeze to death on the playground depending on the season.

Von Stuben Metropolitan High School is still there in all its glory.  Nothing seems to have changed when it comes to the halls I used to cut class in and head to the local library on the corner to avoid.

Thousand Waves, the dojo I attended learning Taekwondo making friends with my sensi’s and improving myself confidence as a kid who was bullied badly at school is still there and has expanded to include a spa.

Gentrification has hit the Loop, Lakeshore Drive and Lincoln Park hard- I guess the demolition of Cabrini Green helped the real estate prices go up.  The depression still has struck Chicago like all other areas of the United States and its never more evident than in the places gentrification never touches – the ghetto and rural areas.

Entering Union Station in the heart of downtown Chicago in the middle of a busy Tuesday weekday morning there are few and far between signs of the depression- plenty of upscale places to eat or purchase a magazine or souvenir for the ride.  I spotted a whole group of Amish individuals – the women in their plain dresses and white caps and the men in beards, straw hats, plain trousers, white shirts and vests.

I knew at that moment again I was home- when I saw the Amish, when I smelled rain on the wind – it’s a distinct smell – damp earth and the wind rushes through the trees rustling leaves – these sounds and smells are imprinted on me.  Just like the rhythm and sounds of the train I am riding as I write.  The views that roll past the train car bring many memories to mind that I can’t even name or put a finder on – sometimes its the small things that matter more than what you do or your purpose in being at a specific place.

Home is not a specific location in my estimation but a feeling.

I feel like I am trying to cram everything into one post.. so I am going to be posting seperate posts on Food, Architecture and Family later.


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