I'm often amazed at the speed in which one can travel to other destinations around the country in such a short time. This morning I woke up in Houston where it was already 75 degrees and not yet 7:30 am. Four hours later I'm having lunch at my favorite diner on Broadway in cool, rainy Chicago. I love Stella's Diner and not just for the food. It's warm inside with large windows from which you can watch the people outside. About every third person that enters the restaurant recognizes someone else already eating. The wait staff acts like they really know you if nothing more than their second cousin's best friend from college whom they met once but have never forgotten. The manager, a large man that wears only Hawaiian shirts and talks about cars helps all the families carry in their babies or seats their children while telling a funny joke. I smile as content familiarity fills my mind. I used to live in this part of Chicago known as Lakeview. Little did I realize at the time when I moved what a great part of town I had selected.
There really was no science behind it. I knew I wanted to live in the downtown - close to the culture and far from my office. I ended up with just what I was looking for which also included a nearly 2 hour work commute in traffic, but I still would consider it worth it. I found a newly remodeled flat at the end of a tree-lined side street. The flat was perfect with 2 bedrooms, wood floors, a fireplace and a bay window with a view to the life outside. My neighbors incidently were The Blue Man Group who based their Chicago shows at the Briar Street Theatre with which I shared the back alley. Granted there were nights when I felt the frustration of coming home late only to be blocked for nearly thirty minutes while waiting for traffic to let out from the evening's performance thus blocking access to my garage space. Then there was the large population of rats that fed on the left over food that served as props for the night's show. Captain Crunch, whipped cream and marshmallows would litter the asphalt where the dumpster sat, thus serving as an all-you-can eat buffet for those (not-so) little rodent bastards. One morning I went to my car and found several containers of used marshmallows on the top of my car. They had spilled, of course, and contents were spread around quite nicely with the tiny outlines of rat prints stamped in it as if to mimic a miniature Hollywood walk of fame. However, that was still better than the homeless guy I found sleeping under my car on another cold morning. Despite our little differences, The Blue Man Group and I existed in relative harmony thus maintaining the eco-balance of urban Chicago.
I am sitting in an Argo Tea as I write this. My Mate' Late depleted with the empty cup winking at me as I consider getting another. Argo Tea isn't exactly an independent coffee shop, in fact it's really just the "tea alternative" version of Starbucks only with a less commercial feel to it. There are plenty of the hard-core purist coffee shops that require at least one genuine body piercing in order to drink there (in fact I can think of one where you get a new piercing with each coffee and on your twelve epidermal hole-punch you get your next drink or tetanus shot free); however, I came to Argo, not for the authentic Bohemian feel, but because it was close, had free wifi and large windows that allowed me to observe through glass the people of Lakeview as if they were an exhibit of sorts. Today is no different in that respect. It's in the upper 40's today, overcast and wet. Fall leaves are still on the trees, but most lie matted on the streets and sidewalks forming oddly patterned quits that hide the pavement. People walk all over them. The kids shuffle through them breaking their continuity. The adults walking by look down, then up and keep on walking. Mothers push strollers through the leaves stopping periodically to peek over the stroller cover to check if their baby is awake, or asleep, or wet, or cold. But everyone keeps walking in their way.
As they go by I watch their faces. I like to play a game as I watch them trying to guess which ones are happy and which ones are just numb to life. I make snap decision. "Happy... sad... really happy... high... kicks his dog (that one is easy because they are kicking the dog as I watch)." I harbor a certain impatience in making my little judgements because what I'm really wanting to focus on is what they are wearing. It's superficial to a certain extent on my part, but I love to see what they have on. Given the weather the corresponding fashion requirements are a favorite of mine. I love that layered look. Designer jeans and chunky boots, turtle neck sweaters and wool petty coats. Some of the women wear hats. The businessmen where heavy fall suits in natural hues; some have overcoats and leather gloves. There is one item in these people's wardrobe choices that I value above all over. Scarves. They are something you rarely can wear in Houston unless hiding hickeys from family and co-workers, but here in Chicago at this time of year they are as essential as air itself.
I love the fashions prevalent in the north. For whatever reason I attribute it to a perception of looking smarter. Looking smart is almost as important to me as actually being smart. Hell, if the truth be known given a situation where I met someone that was a complete mental reject, but they dressed smart and could at least speak in coherent sentences I would likely have a higher opinion of them than I would of some Einstein member of Mensa wearing cut offs and a t-shirt proclaiming either his unflinching desire to "Do Chicks" or his work as an FBI agent... FBI being the acronym for Female Body Inspector."
There's another superficiality that attracts me to walkers of Chicago. Smoking. I'm not an advocate of the practice, but yes, I smoke (and quit and start again and quit, etc) and I am aware of the health hazards but damn it nothing looks cooler than to have a cigarette wedged between the fingers of your hand as it swings back and forth in perfect step with your stride. It hangs at your side like perfect walking companion, conversing with you in each long drawn out drag. Houston recently banned smoking in all public buildings to include bars and clubs creating the impression that the act of smoking is on par with necrophilia. In Chicago, you just look cool.
My time is almost up and I need to get on the road now. My visit has been an unexpected treat. I miss Chicago very much even though it was one of the loneliest times in my life. Of course that has all changed for me and for the better I might add. I am very happy where I am at in life and in Houston, but there are times when I think back to my short stint in Chicago and I fantasize about transporting my entire life, friends, family, job, girlfriend, church, etc there. I know that's just not possible, but today at least allowed me to indulge in my little day dream and for that I am content. As a parting sentiment I think I'll a pack of Malborow Lites and take one more stroll up the street.