Chicago – the big city with small neighborhoods

It took me a very short time to get from South Bend to Chicago. I even stopped in a small town Michigan City, IN to stretch my legs and chill by the lake. Overall the ride was easy even considering very hot weather of that day (37°C). When it’s so hot drinking a lot of water and sweating helps a lot (yeah, even if it sounds gross), the wind does the rest of cooling. Air conditioner is nice, but way overrated.

When I got closer to Chicago it was a rush hour already and it was fascinating to see how massive it was and the traffic was slow only in one direction, so since I was going towards Chicago rush hour didn’t impact me at all.  And I’m talking about Chicago, the city with great public transportation, and still so many people driving twice everyday to the same direction. It’s just stupid. Hate traffic! Image

Once I’ve got into the city I didn’t need to drive anymore, subway system (that called CTA here or just “L”) works great, even if sometimes you need to wait little bit. And this, considering the fact that I stayed all the time in Evanston (suburb north of Chicago) is pretty amazing. Being able to avoid traffic during rush hours, read while you’re moving and especially going out without worrying how to drive back are the best personal benefits of public transportation. And I will not start the long list of social and environmental benefits, it’s a theme for another post.

It wasn’t my first time in the city, so I was wondering what to do this time. What Chicago has to offer beside the regular tourist attractions?

I started from visiting friends. That’s actually the reason why I’ve got to Evanston – got a dinner with my friend Jeff and his father, enjoyed delicious kosher food while having interesting conversations about Israeli politics and society. Jeff just came back from a year studying there in Hebrew U, so our got conversation got into much more complex level than earlier. People tend to forget how much personal experiences are important, and how much they can contribute to your knowledge. Reading books and newspapers it’s definitely not enough if you want to understand what is going on in the Middle East.

The other friend that I visited is Paz, she also worked for Hillel as Israel Fellow but in Northwestern. You can guess that we had many serious conversations as well. But this post supposed to be about Chicago and not about Israeli politics, but I’ll definitely touch politics in the future when I’ll be in less exciting places or will have nothing to write about.

So many people live in metro area of Chicago that it’s impossible to characterize general population, but I’ll try even if it will be over simplified.

Chicago people are not much different from a population of any other big city, but if you compare it to New York they are much nicer in social interactions. I would divide them into two major types.

To the first one belong people that are typical Midwesterners and other simple people,  the fact that they live in the 3rd biggest city in the states doesn’t bother them too much, they still maintain the mentality.  Curious people approached me all the time and asked about the trip and the bike, not much different from small towns in Ohio or Indiana. The same about helping or caring about other people, for example I saw at least a dozen people coming to help a woman who felt on Michigan ave., the busiest street in the city  (she had a stroke and I hope she is fine). And they spend most of the time in their own neighborhoods, creating a very nice and intimate atmosphere there. I visited Lake view, Lincoln park, Wicker park, Chinatown, Boystown, Uptown, Wrigleyville and I was impressed how much different each one of them, even when they are across the street from each other. From a few conversations with people on the streets or in the bars I also understood how much these people are proud of the place they live. It felt almost like in Columbus but in much bigger scale, and I definitely could see why people love it here so much despite of long and cold winters.

The people from the other type are always looking for symbols rather then actual things. While they in Downtown Chicago they will look for fancy restaurants and expensive boutiques at Magnificent Mile, big clubs or anything else that symbolized big city (kind of ‘wanna be New York’). People around them are not too interesting, so maybe that’s the reason why most of them don’t live in the city itself but prefer to drive hours everyday just to be able to live in a big house in some suburb without having the need to know your neighbors.

It was very interesting to notice the difference between those people, by places they go to, by the way how they look on others, cars they drive, etc. Even with understanding that it’s over generalization of Chicagoans I was surprised to discover from person to person how much it’s true.

In very interesting way Chicago combines these two very different lifestyles and offers more then enough to each one of them. There are so many things going on that it’s hard to follow. You actually need to be a part of the neighborhood in order to be updated and know the best spots. Last visit was in the Lake view, this time it was in Evanston, but every time people that hosted me showed me the beauty of each place and make me wonder how fun it could be to be a part of this city.

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