I still tell people that Chicago is my hometown. When people in my small town talk about how scary Chicago is and how full of people it is and how loud-fast-violent-uncaring it is, I never know what to say to them. It IS all those things.
But when I was a kid, I’d wake up on Saturday mornings and make my way down to Lincoln Park where my mom worked at a dry cleaners. My mom would give me a call to get me up and I’d wash up and trudge my way down to Skokie Boulevard and wait for the 97 Skokie Swift bus to come by. I’d ride it to the Skokie Swift train station where I’d transfer onto the train, taking it down to the end of the line at Howard Station in Rogers Park. There I’d disembark from the el and make my way down to the busses and find the 22 Clark. From there I’d ride down through Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown, Lakeview and finally Lincoln Park. I’d get off on Arlington and walk a block or so to the dry cleaners and show up. Since I was the only child of a single parent, this was my day care. I’d spend the day at the dry cleaners, reading books, talking to customers and taking walks around the block, entertaining myself.
Did I mention that I was eight years old at the time?
One of my favorite parts of going to that dry cleaners on Saturday was that occasionally, when my mom and I headed home after the store closed, we’d get the same bus driver from the Howard Station back to Skokie. He was an older gentleman with white hair who was especially nice and always chitchatted with my mom even though her English was poor. He even gave me a Cubs hat one time. He was always cheerful and engaged me in conversation on the ride home. I was painfully shy but felt acknowledged by him and I always looked forward to seeing him.
Now, as a tailor, my mom often took clothes home to work on. She was payed by the piece so working from home was an option for her and she did it as much as possible. As a result, she would often get on the bus with several bags of clothes she planned on working on over the weekend. One particular evening, we got on the 97 bus to go home and started getting heckled by a bus rider who thought my mom was homeless. The bus driver just happened to be the older gentleman who often talked with us and he immediately told the heckler to shut up and leave us alone. The heckler did.
When people tell me how scary-violent-large-unfeeling Chicago is, I never know what to say. It IS all those things. And yet those are not the feelings evoked when I think about Chicago.
And yet, I need to let those fond memories go. Because the Chicago of my youth and the Chicago of those memories doesn’t exist anymore. And I don’t mean because it was a gentler time. I grew up in Chicago during the 80s and 90s where there were 900 murders in one year. No, it’s only that the Chicago I cleave to is in my past and it’s keeping me from moving on. So I’ll visit to see its sights and eat its food but I’ll play the tourist and take my leave. It’s not my home anymore.
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” – Beryl Markham, West with the Night