Chicago is much more than the Second City.
I spent a month in Chicago in 2013. I was there in March, so naturally, there was snow on the ground. In fact, it even snowed on the first day of spring! I spent most of my time in Wicker Park, but that didn’t stop me from exploring the city as a whole.
What I liked most about Chicago was how open the people are. Sure, on the street, furrowed browed people zip past, earbuds in and heads down, trying their best to keep that cold, piercing air out of their pale faces, but sit on a barstool in a crowded bar alone, and see how long it takes for someone to walk up and offer you a beer or some of their wings. I even had an individual offer to buy me an bar establishment shirt! When I asked him why he wanted to buy me, a complete stranger, a shirt, he simply said, “That’s Chicago.” I politely declined but told him that I appreciated the gesture.
Being from Texas, I’m used to people being nice, but experiencing what I did in Chicago, with it’s reputation, I was beyond shocked. I went into Chicago expecting a carbon copy of New York City, a city which witnessed incredible feat, but was blanketed with an equal sense of loneliness. Chicago was a complete 180. There was an absolute willingness to go the extra mile for the stranger from out of town.
One post blizzard night in-particular, I’d decided I’d wanted to go out and drink alone. “Hot damn”, I thought, “I’m going to be lonely no matter what anyone tries to do.” I left my friend’s apartment in Wicker Park, braved that freezing spring air and walked the two-three blocks to the Metro train stop on N Milwaukee. Once at the metro stop, I scurried through the entrance, trading the cold air for the not as cold train station.
Once I paid my fair, I walked in and my eyes immediately had to adjust while I waited in the fluorescent lit tunnel. A few people were scattered about, wrapped in their coats and waiting just like me. I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only one foolish enough to brave that harsh spring weather.
Squealing and screeching, the train pulled up. A few people scurried off, those of us waiting quietly walked on.
There was plenty of room for everyone to have a seat. I sat towards the rear, right next to the window, I always do. I like leaning my head against it. No matter what city I’m in, I always enjoy taking the train. There’s something serine about riding the train. Sure, it rattles and jolts, but to me, there’s something calming about experiencing a city that way.
I reached a stop where I figured I should get off. I had no plans for that night. I was just wanted to drink alone.
I climbed up the stairs and once again braced the piercing wind. No matter how tight my extremities were to my body or how tight I squinted my eyes, I couldn’t stop the hammer of the wind.
The first place I saw was a strip club. Just my luck. Strip clubs are the perfect place to embrace the tight squeeze of loneliness. The strippers give the illusion of companionship and I knew going in would compromise my mission for the night.
I walked right up to the sharp dressed bouncer. I asked him if they were had any happy hour specials and he told me that they didn’t serve any alcohol. I guess that’s smart, but that didn’t help my situation any. The bouncer then pointed to the bar next door and told me that they sell personal bottles you can bring in.
So I headed to the bar next door.
I walked into what seemed like a stereotypical Chicago bar. There were framed photos of the mighty Mikes, Ditka and Jordan, and aside from a group decked out in Blackhawk gear, I was the only one in there.
Although she was a pretty blonde, the bartender looked like she might’ve had a wrinkle too many for her age. I suppose that’s what midwest living can do to someone. No matter, wrinkle can be attractive. Behind her, I saw the row of personal liquor bottles people come in and buy. I asked if it was normal for people to come in and buy those bottles. She told me it was an everyday occurrence. I decided to stay and order a beer. The bartender gladly brought me a wheat ale.
There was a Blackhawks game getting ready to start. The group decked out in Blackhawk gear were guzzling beer like it was a cure for cancer. One a side note, there does seem to be a sadness in the eyes of a Chicagoan. Either that, or a slight sagging due to a heavy experience only Chicagoans know about. You can see it even through the smiles. I’m not one to judge. After all, I’m the one who’s sole mission was to drink alone in a big city. It was just something I noticed on the faces of many Chicagoans, including the group beside me.
Now, I’m the furthest thing from a hockey fan. Being the proud Central Texan I am, had my spurs hat on. The Blackhawks opponent that night happened to be the Dallas Stars. The man in the Toews jersey next to me noticed my black and silver bald head hider and said, “Uh-oh. We gotta Dallas fan here!” The whole group stopped and looked at me like a pack of hungry wolves.
I didn’t give them the time to process my Spurs hat when I proudly proclaimed that as a native Austinite, it was my civic duty to hate everything about and from Dallas. Of course, that was met with rowdy cheers and the clanking of beer bottles, and soon enough, I had a beer placed right in front of me with the guy telling the bartender, “Keep his glass full.” They all shared their spicy buffalo wings with me and by the end of the Blackhawk route, I was jumping up and down, chanting to Chelsea Dagger with every goal. To this day, I still root for the Blackhawks.
I’ll never forget what one of the guys said to me. He said, “Sure, we’re the second city, we take pride in that, but we don’t care, because we’re also Chicago.”
I have nothing but love for the second city, for Chicago.