“The enormous amount of daily life in this city, much of it worth a story or two.”
I’m taking this line from Aleksandar Hemon’s book, The Book of My Lives (a somewhat/not-really introduction to which can be easily digested as an Internet Listicle here), to attempt to encapsulate what Chicago stories are. Whether that be stories about Chicago, stories that merely use Chicago as a backdrop, news events from across the city, or hell, even a friend taking another friend out for their first taste of a Chicago style hotdog and live Tweeting the experience.
I can safely tell you, reader, that this attempt will be a wonderfully biased failure.
But in a city of stories, of arguments, of ambiguous neighborhood borders and city dwellers’ conflicting opinions of what a “true Chicago” is (it’s the neighborhoods beyond the Loop, by the way), what else could an attempt such as the following hope to be?
That’s the point. Consider this another story on the shelf of the geo-socio-politico-econo-enviro-hashtagGoCubs-ical library that is the city of Chicago.
I moved to the city in the summer of 2014 from a small, Michigan town with a population of 4000 and to get an idea of who I was just two years ago, I offer this: On my first day of graduate studies, I walked up to the security desk of the 624 Michigan building. My classroom was 1405 and to me, that meant that it was either on the first or fourth floor. I didn’t want to wander the halls like I was some Podunk never-was so I took charge of the fact that I didn’t know which of those two floors my class was in. The security guard smiled, God bless her, and kindly told me that the class was on the fourteenth floor. I told her that I was sorry, made an easily forgotten joke about how tall these buildings were and quickly ducked into an elevator. I suppose I was red in the face for about a week and my cheeks are a little warm as I write this so perhaps I’ll never live that one down.
A month later, I was assigned to read the above article (which I highly recommend you read before you read any further). I printed it off and decided to read it one Friday night from the safety of my locked bedroom when I was too afraid of the city to go to a Roscoe Village bar with some folks I’d met (if you don’t understand how naively funny that is, just wait a while).
Ok, so this Aleksandar Hemon loves Chicago, eh? That’s cool, I thought, let’s see if there are any insider tips from somebody who transplanted into the city themselves. My first takeaway was, “What in the hell is the guy talking about?” Rivers of red and white as seen from the Montrose Harbor? We get it, the Cubs suck (because at the time, they still did). Rough winters you say? Dude, I’m from Michigan, bring it on. Where’s Devon? What’s so special about the skyline? And so on…
The only thing that stuck with me was, “Never trust a summer day in Chicago” because for Pete’s sake, NEVER TRUST one here.
I brushed this reading off as nothing more than one person’s love of the city and not something indicative of Chicago as a whole.
But then another month went by and I found myself at Montrose Harbor, then I survived winter, then I grew to hate staring at the sun as I drove west out of the city but love what the light did as the sun started to set, then I started to defend the city from friends who’d never lived here. I even started a new photo album on Facebook dedicated to my own favorite Chicago experiences. Basically, I did what everyone who lives here, especially Hemon, eventually does: I found how my life in Chicago became its own story and, thus, another “Chicago Story.” I don’t have the time write, nor do you have the time to read, my own list of what makes this city THE place to be for young artists so I’ll leave off with this:
Read Hemon’s “Reasons Why I Do Not Wish to Leave Chicago: An Incomplete, Random List.”
For those of you who are new to the city, scratch your heads like I did. For those of you who are from here, I don’t know, roll your eyes. Whoever you are, though, start thinking about how you would tell your own Chicago story.
Is Hemon’s list personal? Hell yes. Does it fit for everyone? Hell no. But remember, that’s the point of Chicago storytelling. This is a city of stories and everyone has a few to tell. There are bound to be conflicting opinions.
What we’re doing is seeing how these people tell their stories, how one person’s voice may take up a whole novel when somebody else only needs a series of 140 characters to let their voice be heard. Where does YOUR voice fit in all of this? Let’s find out.
Finally, buy an umbrella, a 20% chance of rain during a Chicago summer really means an 80% chance. (RS Deeren/GTA)