We moved to Chicago a year ago today. It was 105 degrees and 100 percent humidity when we arrived, so we knew instantly what we were in for.
When you move to a place where you don’t know anyone, an unfamiliar city with no connections, you might at well throw a dart at a map to pick out where you will live.
We picked Palos Heights because a friend and former colleague grew up there, and he always spoke highly of the neighborhood, and because my friend and former boss is in Real Estate in Chicago, and she found us a lovely little corner house with a big green lawn that is surrounded by six big oak trees.
Starting a job in a big city when you’ve been working as a journalist in relatively small markets is scary. Managing a new set of people means starting over from scratch, throwing out the play books and learning everything over again.
The learning curve is steep, and you must immerse yourself in history, current events and popular culture to try and even understand the daily conversation that is the news in Chicago.
We spent the second half of our summer learning about the two Chicagos. We explored downtown Chicago as often as we could, and we learned about the suburb we lived in and the suburbs that surround us and which make up Greater Chicago, also known as Chicagoland.
We found beaches like the Indiana Dunes and North Avenue Beach.
We spent way too much time going to Ikea to furnish our house.
And we tried to find ways to stay cool when the temperature topped 90 degrees on 45 separate occasions, which was a record.
We watched the leaves change color in the fall, a process that took several weeks, as opposed to the two days of fall you might get in Alaska.
And we battened down the hatches as much as we could when the big storms rolled through, especially when the leftover winds of an East Coast hurricane came howling.
The kids started at new schools, making them at least the fifth, if not more, new school for each of them.
But they made friends fast, and soon they were running around the neighborhood in little street gangs terrorizing the squirrels with their bicycles and skateboards.
Winter didn’t hit hard until after the new year, in fact the weather was rather pleasant through the holidays. The neighborhood grew quiet, and we didn’t see our neighbors or their children for months on end.
Winter finally dug in its heals at the end of February and into March.
We used the cold months to go explore Chicago’s famous food scene, especially the ethnic restaurants with menus you cannot pronounce and food so delicious you can’t wait to come back for more.
We started to explore our surroundings too, opting for a cross country skiing weekend in Madison, Wisconsin and a trip to New Glarus Brewing Company.
Winter melted into a cool spring, which carried on and on. Our house flooded a few times as the heavy rainwater came up above the foundation.
But we hunkered down and waited for those first few clear days when you know things have finally turned.
We planted flowers and went off to explore the natural features of the area at Starved Rock State Park.
As spring gradually warmed up into summer, albeit a bit late for our taste, we found our neighbors out and about again, and we picked up where we left off last fall.
Because we missed out on going to see the Cubs and the White Sox last year, we hit both opening days. The boys and I went to see the White Sox, and Cheryl and I went to Wrigley to see the Cubs.
We have never been hockey fans, but since the Blackhawks went on that undefeated run to start the season, it was hard to ignore. When they made the playoffs, there was a fever in the city, and it seems we caught it. Because by the final game of the Stanley Cup, we were not only fans of Chicago’s team, we were fans of the game.
Chicago is a fantastic city for many reasons, not the least of which, for me, is the fact that Chicagoans are so hard on the city and relatively unforgiving of it.
Yes, Chicago has more violent deaths on average than Iraq or Afghanistan. There is no getting around that. Yes, the segregation issues that remain, the physical barriers that still oppress a major portion of the population are an ugly reminder of just how far we are from we should be.
But, there is also a pervasive hope in the city too, an outlook that you don’t get anywhere else.
I suppose for me, I see possibility here. I see a chance for real change here, the third largest petri dish in the country.
But I have been accused of being an outrageous optimist too, so there is that.
This year in Chicago has been good.
I still get asked if I like Chicago. The answer is yes. I love Chicago. It’s a great city. I love the people here. It’s teeming with life, especially Navy Pier where I go to work every day.
I still get asked where we’re going next. And to be honest, I have no idea if or when we’ll move on. Our oldest has asked to be able to finish high school at one school. He has three years left.
After that, I don’t know what the future holds.
But I’m glad for the opportunity to work in the city and to live in the tree-lined suburbs for a while. It’s good to experience this part of the American dream.
Thanks to all of you, my coworkers, my neighbors and the random people I meet here, for making this year such a great one. For giving us the experiences necessary to making Chicago make sense.