Today we’re in Chicago with the fifth post in my Life as a Twenty-Something series. I just love Chicago, so I’m lucky that one of my dearest friends, Jorie, lives there and lets me visit. Jorie is a writer (you might know her from her eclectic and hilarious writing on her blog, The Midwest Maven,), a dog mom, and one of my dearest friends. Lucky for you, she’s here today to give us a virtual tour of her life in Chicago. Spoiler alert: think dogs, pizza, and affordability. Take it away, Jor!
I grew up 30 miles outside of Chicago, in a small town called Bloomingdale. During my childhood, my family only went to the “city” for special occasions, like a Christmastime performance of the Nutcracker ballet or to swim at the beach during the Air and Water Show. But in early 2012, after a full year of commuting to my downtown office from the burbs, I finally moved into the city of Chicago. The Windy City. The City of Big Shoulders. Chi-town. (Insider tip: don’t call it Chi-town).
Now I live in a neighborhood called Logan Square with my fiance, and I really love it. I’ll walk you through a typical day in the life and share a few things I’ve learned about the city over the past few years.
On a typical day: Mike and I wake up to the whines of our six-month-old puppy, Winnie, alerting us that she has to do her business and stat, you lazy bums.
Then it’s off to work. About a year ago, I discovered free street parking about a half-mile from my office building; my excitement was on par as if I had won the Powerball Jackpot. Smell ya never, CTA. I typically work from about 9:30 or 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
Then, about three nights a week, I take a cardio dance or boot camp class at my gym, which is around the corner from my office. Mike and I make dinner, take Winnie for an evening stroll around the block and attempt to coax her into howling at passing ambulances, and then we’ll usually catch up on some of our TV shows. Thrilling stuff. On Wednesdays, we play in a 16-inch softball league; the games are a ton of fun and a great way to break up the workweek. We always go out for beers and pub food as a team afterward. Last year, we were surprisingly competitive and wound up winning our league.
The weekends usually involve eating at a restaurant or two, maybe swinging by our neighborhood farmer’s market, or hanging out with friends somewhere outside in the evenings. Doing something near the lake—be it bike riding or dining with a view—is always a treat.
One of my favorite outdoor patios at Parson’s Chicken and Fish
On my specific neighborhood: Logan Square has really grown on me. It’s this up-and-coming, self-sufficient little enclave. There are two movie theaters we can walk to (one is old-timey and adorable), dozens of trendy restaurants and bars, and lots of hidden gems, like this one mom-and-pop Italian ice stand we found tucked away on a residential street. I also love Logan Boulevard itself, which is lined with historic homes and wide green spaces.
Here’s the boulevard covered in snow.
On things I really love about Chicago: The diversity of the neighborhoods. Hanging out on outdoor patios on warm and sticky summer nights. The vibrant, creative community of writers, photographers, actors, and musicians. Sunset bike rides along the lakefront path. Kick-ass dive bars. Never running out of interesting exhibits to see at the museum campus. The Loop at twilight, when everyone’s headed home from work and the city feels so energetic and full of possibilities. Strolling neighborhoods and peeping at gorgeous homes and wondering what it would be like to live there. Summer, with its street festivals, movies in the park, and daylight until 9 p.m.-ness. And also: all of downtown smells like warm brownies, especially in the summer, thanks to Blommer’s chocolate factory.
Bike riding in Lincoln Park
Kayaking the Chicago River
On things that bug the hell outta me about Chicago: There is probably one garbage can per every 10 city blocks in Logan Square, or at least that’s how it feels. The sidewalk near my apartment is often littered with such treasures as empty bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos and receipts for cigarettes purchased at Walgreen’s three days ago. I recently yelled out the window of my moving car at a dude who dropped his water bottle on the ground. I’m not above public shaming in my one-woman crusade to clean up the streets. #JorieForAlderman
Also, the lack of parks is a huge bummer to me; other cities have integrated green spaces way better into their city grids, in my humble opinion. Sometimes, I get down on the midwest in general for its lack of snow-capped mountains and scenic national parks. Chicago is pretty in its own way, but I’d love if it had more green space baked right into it.
In related news: thank goodness for Lake Michigan.
On the weather: Someone once told me that we’re the largest population of people living this far north. I don’t know if that’s true and I’m far too lazy to google it, but damn. It feels true. Whenever I’m traveling and I tell someone I’m from Chicago, the next sentence out of their mouth is guaranteed to be about the harsh winters. Before this past one, I’d always smile and politely agree, “They sure are something!” but secretly I’d be thinking, Oh come on, the winters aren’t that bad. Besides, snow is pretty! This past winter, though, we were walloped with multiple polar vortices and temps down to the negative 40s. And it really, really sucked. No two ways about it.
But summer and fall are gorgeous, and then you suddenly remember why you live here again. One of my friends wants to make a T-shirt with the Chicago flag that says, “If you can’t handle me in January, you don’t deserve me in July” as a riff off that ubiquitous (and irksome) Marilyn Monroe quote: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.”
I mean, does this seem reasonable to you?
On accessibility and location: I’ll be the very first person to complain about the CTA (and the things I’ve seen passengers do on it) but I do appreciate Chicago’s robust public transportation system. Ugh. It’s surprisingly hard for me to compliment the CTA without rolling my eyes or making a fart noise after.
But it is sorta incredible that in a city that sprawls so far in every direction, you really don’t need a car to get where you need to go, thanks to plenty of buses and L tracks. On a wider scale, I love that Chicago is easy driving distance to a lot of fun spots around the country: Michigan, Wisconsin, Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, most of the east coast, Florida, Colorado, etc. Mike and I are big road-trippers, and we try to take advantage of that. And because we’re in the heartland, it’s a pretty quick flight anywhere in the country, not to mention Mexico. Three-hour flight to Riviera Maya!
On food: Chicago enjoyed a big foodie renaissance a few years ago. I’m no gourmand but I do love food, so this pleases me. I’ll dispel one myth about Chicago’s food scene; locals don’t eat deep dish all the time. I always order it when my friends visit but the Chicago-style pizza I grew up with and still love is a super cheesy, slightly doughy, thin-crust pizza cut into squares. Rosati’s is a local franchise favorite.
On affordability: This was something I totally took for granted until I started talking with my friends in New York, Boston, and San Francisco about cost of living. Chicago is not currently experiencing any type of housing shortage; therefore, rent is comparatively cheap and you can get a pretty good bang for your buck. Mike and I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a bunch of nice amenities: dishwasher, in-unit laundry, free street parking, and a backyard for our dog—and our rent is really affordable. Part of the reason the city attracts so many young people is because you really can score a decent place on an average salary.
Our humble abode
On friendships: I think this can be a hard city to forge adult friendships in. Because a lot of people who grow up in the Chicagoland area stay here, some friend circles are incredibly tight-knit and hard to penetrate. My own included! I count among my closest friends at least four people I’ve known since preschool. In that same circle, my “newest” friend is someone I met freshman year of high school. We’re perfectly friendly but maaaaybe not the most inclusionary. Even transplants to the city often come with a few college or high school friends in tow. Short of turning your co-workers into friends, I think there’s a sort-of, “Thanks, but I’m all set” mentality when it comes to making new friends. Which is not to say it can’t be done; it’s just harder.
On why this is probably my forever city: I have a theory about cities. You stroll their streets, sit in their restaurants, and explore their parks, all the while filtering everything you see through your own expectations and experiences. You’re trying to figure each other out. And each city gives you something back—a vibe, some juju, a gut feeling, whatever you want to call it. Some cities sing an alluring siren song and you desperately want to live there, some you loathe, and some are an adventure that work just fine for a few years but ultimately don’t hold any staying power over you. Chicago has always felt the homiest to me, of any city I’ve visited.
I walk down these streets and I feel like I’m with my people. Not that I couldn’t love or live anywhere else. Because I do and I have! But to me, Chicago feels like a hug from an old, lovely friend or watching the opening credits of your favorite movie start to scroll. It’s familiar. I don’t have to try to love it, because I just do, and I can’t even remember a time before I loved it. I don’t have a strong tie to my heritage—my ancestors came to Chicago long ago from Scandinavia and no one in my family recites stories about the homeland—but oh, can my family talk about Chicago. And I’m all ears. Even when it’s -40 outside.
God, do I love Chicago. You’ve got a good thing going, Jorie. Thanks for giving us the grand tour! And, give Winnie a pat on the head and tell her I’ll be there soon, because this post sold me on another trip to my favorite midwestern destination. Next week, Austin!
P.S. Jorie recently got engaged in quite a unique place. Read that story. You won’t regret it.
Jorie and me on an Alcatraz tour a few weeks ago.