I am moving to Chicago.
Not soon. Not next month or next year or even in the next five years (probably), but eventually.
Humans love to fall in love with cities—their grand architecture, their hubs of culture and arts and neon lights, their overcrowded streets and public transportation, their endless opportunities and pursuits and fire escapes that climb to rooftops that overlook sunsets and skylines.
Of course, some people fall in love with mountains or beaches. But you can love both. Cities are what man created. Nature is what God created. We should appreciate both.
People love to talk about their favorite cities. We have so many to choose from: the clichéd Paris and London, the even more banal New York and Amsterdam, the less mentioned Venice and Philadelphia, the more familiar (at least to this blog’s readers) Richmond or D.C. And all the other cities that crisscross our globe – reminders of humanity’s permanence (and also impermanence).
I forgot I loved Chicago. I visited her four summers ago. In a single night, on a dance floor in Wicker Park, surrounded by strangers that became best friends for a weekend and strangers again by the month’s end (except for a few), I fell in love. I thought it was the alcohol. And the spontaneity. And the sleep deprivation.
I spent four days, two with the strangers and another two with a best friend, exploring the neighborhoods and eating the pizza. Sunburned, exhausted, full, I left. For a week, maybe three, I spoke of my love. And then I forgot her. I forgot to say, “Chicago is my favorite city,” when people told me theirs.
This summer, I went to Amsterdam. So many people told me it was their favorite city. I arrived and saw it. I did not see what they loved. Well, I did, maybe, but I didn’t love it. I felt weird.
Similarly, another friend espoused his adoration for New York. New York, the crown jewel of civilizations, the world’s capital, the Empire State. I had been to New York. I also didn’t see her beauty. Yes, New York is a city, and it might be the most ambitious in its stature, but it is dirty and overpopulated with too many ants with their own agendas that conflict numerously with other ants’ agendas and it is hot and has rancid alleyways and dead ends and too many people all pursuing the same thing and they tell you it’s the city that never sleeps, but then you’re there on a Sunday at 8 PM and the only restaurant open within a mile is Chipotle.
I do not love New York.
My mom tried buying me a poster of New York, its distinct skyline, and I told her I did not want it. While I love cities, that is not my mistress.
I forgot about Chicago.
I had known I was coming to Chicago this summer since January. I was presenting research at a conference. As the day came to leave, I felt excited, but I couldn’t remember why other than this was an escape, another city to explore and conquer. But it flooded back as we Ubered from the airport, and I recalled the skyline and the lake and the perfect breeze and the Uber driver said she loved Chicago and not New York or D.C.
“Me too,” I thought.
On the phone the second day, I told my mom I loved Chicago. I had taken back up with my old lover, and I was ready to propose. “Why do you love it?” she asked.
“It’s just great,” I said dumbly, one of those school kids who has an embarrassingly painful crush, one of those lovesick fools who can’t rationalize why they love someone and that’s why you know it’s love.
I tried to apply words: “It’s clean. The weather’s perfect. It’s not too hot, blue skies, the best clouds,” (and I love clouds), “and it’s a beachside city in the middle of America. Everyone’s nice in that Midwestern way. I struck up conversation with three locals, or rather they talked to me. The L,” (Mom: “What’s that?” Me: “The metro”), “is cheap and goes everywhere. You can walk places. It’s a city.”
Every single day of my five days there I woke up and remembered I loved this city. Of course, staying on the 20th floor of an Airbnb overlooking the downtown doesn’t hurt.
“What did you do there? What made you like it?” my mom asked after I returned and told her again I loved it.
Me: “I just walked around.”
And that is why I knew it was true love. Because I loved it, and that was the end of the thought.
So next time someone tells me their favorite city, I will tell them about Chicago.