A Non-Exhaustive List of Eleven Things I Will Miss About Chicago, In No Order
A love letter to the Second City, first in my heart.
- The first warm day of Spring is a magical day in Chicago, one which I always mark with a slightly burnt-tasting, lightly sweetened, black Starbucks iced coffee and a walk by the River. With the sun shining, Chicagoans collectively shrug off our coats and venture slowly, cautiously outside — as though it might be a trick of the eye or vanish in an instant — then ravishingly, as though it’s been a lifetime since the sun has touched our skin, we put on our tank tops and sunglasses, head to whatever patio is open, and drink rosé or Miller Lite like it is the middle of July. For the record, these are excellent days to take the 147, sit on the east side of the bus, and watch men run shirtless by the Lake while sipping your slightly burnt-tasting, lightly sweetened, black iced coffee.
- Walking down North Halsted at night, listening to the shrieking queens at Roscoe and watching shy, askance glances of men sliding into Steamwork’s unmarked door next to the giant SOON dry cleaner’s sign. I recall dollar drinks and Friday shower nights at Spin—now Furious Spoon—and bemoan the cishet takeover of queer spaces. I am filled with the same thrill that always comes with walking the strip; the thrill of a thousand stories to learn, of the risqué and abnormal, the queer life of a corn-fed, red meat, Midwestern city. Behind those doors are many of my stories: when I used to make-out with cute twinky DePaul boys, discovering for the first time This is what I was missing all along; the lightening strike of bodily desire on the dance floor, a feeling I had never felt before arriving in Chicago; learning that my hips don’t lie as Gaga’s Born This Way blasts through the speakers at Roscoe’s, knocking out my inhibitions and freeing my inner Queen; my first kiss with my partner at Scarlet (how romantic?). Chicago will always be the city where nice Midwestern boys peeled back the veneer of my heteronormativity and said “You ain’t no breeder, sweetie,” calling me into a deeper, more fulfilling life than I had ever known. Also into a drinking problem, but that proved to be at least somewhat fixable.
- Whenever I’m in a cab or a Lyft, I can count on complaining or praising the weather as a reliable point of conversation; I can also refer to Snowmageddon 2011 for immediate rapport and street cred. I still remember waking up that late Winter morning in my Chinatown apartment: there is a particular magic of not being able to leave, of snowed-in-ness. I pull out my bright orange soup pot and make my rosemary Chicken noodle soup recipe for the first time — this is going to be a keeper, I think to myself — while watching the snow fall slowly outside my tiny little window. I wonder where the snow plows are; in true Chicago fashion, because we had neither money nor political clout, it took three days before my neighborhood was plowed.
- At sunset, the red-orange glow of the sun transforms the landscape of Chicago. You walk down streets that have grown tired from years of wear and they are reborn: fading facades become new again. In my neighborhood of Uptown, the streets transport you back to 1925, when they were alive with jazz and theaters and movie stars and gangsters. The old industrial buildings turn ablaze and the dust of years of canning and meat production and neglect are blown away. Every sunny evening, Chicago’s alleys become portals to a new, brighter, rose-colored city and, for a few moments, I am drenched in both the light and a deep love of all this city’s nooks, crannies, and faded-glory-made-new.
- Smiling at and talking to strangers. Coming from the East Coast, this was probably the most uncomfortable thing about the Midwest: what do you want? why are you speaking to me? But slowly, I came to value these little interactions throughout the day—a random conversation will always pick me up a bit, remind me that the world isn’t a lonely, harsh place and that sometimes complete strangers care enough to ask how you’re doing, even though you will probably never see each other again. Being in the Midwest taught me the art of chitchat and of caring for the people around you regardless of who they are. Let’s face it: the city can be lonely. Why not strike up a conversation in the checkout line at Jewel and get to know a face in the crowd? Even that little bit of casual social interaction is worth a lot when you’ve had a rough day — extra points if the checkout clerk is flirty and you walk away flustered and confused.
- On July Fourth, those of us living near the Lake by 5000 North know that the best fireworks show isn’t at Navy Pier: it’s at the Saddle & Cycle Club, the mysterious little country club nestled between Edgewater’s Mariano’s and Foster Beach. July Fourth at Foster Beach is packed with grills and families, both related and chosen, enjoying the sunshine, warmth, and each other, waiting for dusk. Gay men walk by in their skimpy swimsuits heading to and from Hollywood Beach—making for excellent abs and ass watching. My friends and I relax with Steigl Radlers, observing runners and sunbathers and dog owners pass by our wide, open hill overlooking the Lake, swatting away gnat clouds as they hover from one end of the field to the other (one year we will remember to purchase citronella candles). After dark, the fireworks show begins overhead: a spectacular ten minutes of giant blooms and ooohing and aaahing and clapping, the explosions so close they rattle your ribcage and your neck begins to strain from looking up. Summer afternoons like this by the Lake Michigan shore, drinking and grilling and joking with friends and neighbors—even without fireworks—are some of my fondest memories.
- A unique perk of my current apartment is its proximity to Tweet, or Big Chick’s at night, a brunch place slash gay bar owned by community legend Michelle Fire since the 80's but an informal gay bar even before then. After an evening out late (usually at Big Chick’s) my partner and I will stumble over for good food and friendly faces. For us, it is one of those places where everyone knows our name, we are greeted with hugs and smiles, and the kitchen staff lovingly jokes with us when we order. Excellent food, excellent queer art, queer staff, diverse bodies and skin tones, plus just a slight askew attitude makes the cash-only Big Chick’s-and-Tweet one of my favorite places on earth, not just for Eggs Benedict, but also for a beer and a dollar burger on the patio after a long Monday.
- The L isn’t always the fastest way to get around and some mornings I get to take the bus to work, speeding down Lake Shore Drive. In the summer, I watch the waves hit the shore and the Lincoln Park moms jog up the path with their running strollers and Lululemon yoga pants, dodging bicyclists rushing to their Loop offices, the morning sun glinting off the Hancock building in the distance. In the winter, I look out on the empty shoreline with glistening tectonic ice plates jostling and tinkling as the waves form harsh, intricate, looming ice sculptures on the beach. In the Fall and Spring, I see little league and intramural sports teams playing baseball and soccer and every kind of sport; parents screaming on the sidelines, reminding me of every weekend from age five until thirteen when my mother was the one screaming on the sidelines in Connecticut; rowers methodically making their way up the Belmont harbor rowing canal, reminding me of high school weekends. The Lake Shore is a gathering place and a window into the vast life of this city, filled with strollers and commuters and kids playing basketball; it is the backdrop that threatens to take the lead for all our greatest stories and, of course, our most beautiful vistas.
- On the rare occasion that I arrive on UChicago’s campus early without commitments and with warm weather, I grab a chocolate chip brioche and a latte from Plein Air Cafe, next to the Robie House, and head over the main quad of campus. Sitting on a bench with a book and my coffee — the brioche was devoured en route — campus is already alive despite the early hour. The birds are singing and dancing between the 100 year old trees while sleepy students make their way to the library or to some early appointment. The occasional three piece suit clad professor bikes by on the fixie they’ve had since they were in grad school and, well, I’ve stopped reading and just watch. How lucky am I to be at a place like this? Learning, growing, being stretched and challenged, making new friends who will last a lifetime? Forget how painful grad school has been: being part of this University has been more than worth the $140,000 price tag.
- Winnemac Park, which gave rise to this real story back in 2012, the moment when the crazy adventure of life with my partner became real.
“It’s a lot of work. I just. I’m not sure if I can trust anyone yet: I can barely trust myself. I barely even like myself.”
In that moment was all my fear. The fear of myself. The fear that no one wanted this, me, that I wasn’t worth anyone’s time. Years of moments like this with the people I cared about always ended the same.
I could feel his eyes on the side of my head as I stared at my hands. A dog barked in the distance and the wind blew lightly as I closed my eyes. It was too much being there together: the bench was too cold, my hands a little too frozen, and I filled the too deep silence with what I knew needed to be said: “It’s going to take time.” Deep breath. “Are you willing to work with me?”
In my mind I said what was there: Look, see? An out. Take it! I know you want to. I closed my eyes tighter and tighter, I drew my shoulders in, and I knew what was coming. I knew what he was going to say, just say it already, just say that you,
“What?” Bewildered I looked up.
“Yes,” he repeated, looking back, with all the seriousness in the world.
I began to laugh. And then to cry. And then to sob and laugh and laugh and, for the first time in my life, sitting on a bench in Winnemac Park just before Spring, that time of the year when it’s a little too cold to be outside, laugh-crying like a madman, I sat amazed that I had found someone crazy enough that they wanted to help me deal with all my shit.
11. All of you. Thank you for making these past seven years incredible.