Saturday, March 3, 2012

Happy boit’day, dear She-caw-go

Still a recognizable image, all these decades later

I am a Chicago native by birth, and one who has lived in the metropolitan area (both city and suburban) for the bulk of my life. Even those times when I have left Chicago, it has always been in my brain that I would return (and I did).

So what is it about this metropolis in Illinois (not to be confused with Metropolis, Ill., at the state’s southern tip) that makes it so appealing that I never felt I needed to move to New York in order to consider myself successful?

WHY DO I fully comprehend the idea that people from across the Midwestern U.S. feel compelled to relocate here for an adult life?

It doesn’t even have to be Midwesterners. Take our current president, a Honolulu native who saw our city as being ever so attractive to live (although I wouldn’t be surprised if someday, after the kids are grown, Barack and Michelle wound up retiring to the Hawaii islands).

To me, the appeal of Chicago has always been its variety – the fact that there really isn’t any such thing as the quintessential Chicagoan.

You can take two people who have lived here their entire lives and feel completely devoted to life lived north of 138th Street (or south of Howard Street) who have next to nothing in common.

OTHER THAN THE fact that they can use the label of “Chicagoan.”

My point being that there is such a variety to this city. One can never have truly experienced it all. There is always something new to see or hear. It can never get dull – unless you are the kind who is inherently dull yourself.

In which case, you’d probably be bored anywhere.

Keep in mind that when I talk about a variety of types of people, I’m not thinking much of (if at all) the varied ethnic and racial beings who populate our city. Although I have always felt the fact that there is no predominant ethnic group for Chicago (no matter how much the Irish want to dream it’s them) is what makes us unique.

“WE ARE THE World” isn’t just the title of a tacky ‘80s musical number. It is an accurate description of our current composition (the 2010 Census Bureau population count for Chicago has it at 33 percent African-American, 32 percent white and 29 percent Latino, with the bulk of the remainder being Asian).

That is roughly where the nation, as a whole, is expected to be by century’s end. In Chicago, we’re leading the way. Perhaps our racial and ethnic outbursts are the nation working out the kinks of how well we behave together.

Just as a part of me wonders if the “Council Wars” of the mid-1980s was a test run for the partisanship tactics now taking place in Washington, D.C. between Obama and those who desperately want to dump him from office. Only the modern-day ideologues are less blunt in their language.

There’s also the fact that Chicago has its elements of high society and sophistication – certain aspects that can only be found here and to which the people of places like London, Paris, Tokyo or New York (just to name a few) must look toward us to experience in their ultimate form.

YET THOSE ELEMENTS don’t totally predominate our existence. Because there also are “very Chicago” places where the locals could care less about anything quite so elite or “hoity-toity” as the world-reknowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And anyone who would suggest doing away with those places would be missing the point.

They add to the ambiance that is Chicago. We’re better off for it. The Cubs are NOT quintessential Chicago. The tensions between White Sox and Cubs fans as they co-exist are.

Chicago wouldn’t really be Chicago if it had ever fully appreciated the literary work of Nelson Algren; which in-and-of itself is odd because Algren’s work often championed those “working classes” who wouldn’t have wanted Chicago to get too effete.

Yet we’re also not the types who are eager to linger in the muck for too long. It is a place whose people are constantly remaking themselves – except for the political people.

ONCE SOMEONE GETS elected to public office in Chicago, it seems a foregone conclusion that their grandchildren will be running for office.

Just the other day, I used my “early voting” ballot to refuse to vote for Patrick Daley Thompson – the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and grandson to former Mayor Richard J. – for a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

How inherently Chicago that is!

So what is inspiring this love-letter, of sorts, for my home city?

IT IS THE fact that we’re in the weekend that marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the articles of incorporation that made Chicago an actual municipality (population: 4,160), rather than just a trading outpost with a few cabins built nearby.

I don’t know if I’ll still be around (if I am, I’ll be 71) when Chicago hits its bicentennial. So now is the time for me to leave my mark on Chicago’s uniqueness – although no one is likely to match the Carl Sandburg poem of old.

We might not literally be the “City of the Big Shoulders” and “Hog Butcher for the world” any longer. But it’s still a sense of what we aspire to be, and I can’t think of any other city with a more noble goal for itself.


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