Note: I realize I’m now a homeowner and have been here for 2 years, so I’m still really not a newbie, but, I feel like these little tid-bits may help, or shed some light on things I may have missed that didn’t dawn on me until I put down some damn roots.
When you register your address in Chicago, and your voter registration comes in the mail, I feel like it should come with a welcome packet. It would include a guide on the new and strange land you have decided to make your home. There are quite a few things that people tell you when you are moving from West to Mid-West, none of them actually informative or helpful, at as far as settling into a new culture goes (and yes, it really is different from the San Francisco, Northern-California lifestyle I came from). Mostly I heard about the weather, hot summers and cold winters, a little about Boystown, steer clear of the Southside, and eat pizza. What people conveniently left out (even Chicagoans that moved to SF and were giving me advice) was the rest of it, that i have summed up into a tidy little list.
- Drinking Holidays: Mostly here, I’m referring to St. Patrick’s day. It was actually the day that made me decide someone should really send out a memo to Chicago newbies about what happens here. The basic run down? This city turns into a huge white-girl-wasted mess, and the city dyes the river a brighter shade of green than it’s normal army green. In San Francisco, St. Patrick’s day is met with moderate excitement as people may visit one of the few irish pubs, exclaim themselves Irish for the day, and get wastey-pants. In Chicago, so far as I could see, the city loses its shit. Every bar is packed, college kids who apparenlty have never met a glass of water they liked, end up hunched over a gutter at 9:30am throwing up what’s left of the green beer they couldn’t get enough of earlier that morning. I can’t even really say that this happens only on a weekend in March, it’s basically any excuse to find to drink, people here drink. It’s like they are beholden to every amateur day in the calendar and will be chastised if they’re not living up to the hype they create for themselves. 4th of July, drunk outside. Memorial Day, drunk waving flags. Labor Day, drunk on the beach before fall. Thanksgiving Eve, make sure you’re hungover for turkey. New Years, shoot guns, drink glitter and shout. Groundhog’s day, fuck yeah more winter/early spring, shadow, no shadow, doesn’t matter. All year people. All. Year.
- Running: Before people go out and get wasted, they like to run up and down the lake. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve walked out my front door to be accosted by people on the sidewalk covered in purple, green, red and blue paint. Apparently you’re not allowed to run without getting shit thrown at you. I’m guessing it’s because people who run figured out that it’s fucking boring and unless you’re running from something or to something, you may as well just stroll. I don’t know if it’s a Mid-Western thing, or just a “hey, this place is flat so running here is really easy, lets do that” thing, but I’d say 1 out of every 3 people I meet here runs on a regular basis. Not that I have anything against running for sport, or the people who do it, but it’s not for me. So I have a difficult time grasping the concept of trotting along the lake before the sun comes up every 3rd weekend with 50,000 of your closest running buddies for a t-shirt and paint in your eyes, but hey, I skate around a small oval and hit people for fun, so clearly, to each their own.
- Sports: Speaking of sporting events, I can’t write a helpful snarky guide list to Chicago without mentioning sports teams…or fans. Oh the fans. Now, in the Bay Area, people may love their teams, really, it’s one team or one sport. Raiders fans usually aren’t huge A’s fans, but they’d set their city on fire in celebration if either of them ever won something. The point is, there isn’t much crossover. In Chicago, it is pretty much expected that you are a fan of EVERY pro-sports team we have. Don’t like Basketball? Tough, you root for the Bulls and should know the players by name. Can’t decide if you like the Cubs or the White Sox? Tough, figure that shit out and learn your team, cause you’ll be grilled about it later. You want to get in good with a Chicagoan sports fan off the bat, one phrase will get you there “da bears.” Yes, everytime. It’s not even professional sports teams either. Where did you go to school? There’s a bar for you to watch your college games at. Complete with banners, flags, jerseys, and plenty of screaming fans. I can’t keep up. I’m not a sports guy, at least, not an all around sports guy. I don’t care who won the Super Bowl. Wrigley Field is an annoying stop on the Red Line when I’m trying to get home in the summer. And if anyone else asks me what I think about the Blackhawks this season, I’m just going to have to walk away. Because apparently “I’m not really into professional sports” is not an answer they are accustomed to hearing, nor do they understand, just like me.
- Transportation: Speaking of things I don’t understand, lets talk about the CTA, or rather, I’ll type, and you pretend you can hear my speaking to you in your head as you read. Like all public transportation systems in large cities, it provides endless hours of entertainment and people watching. If you aren’t entertained or think the people watching on the busses or trains isn’t great…thank you for being the entertainment for the rest of us. You can get everywhere on the trains and busses and a combination of the two. Just, don’t be in a hurry. Busses stop on every block, and train drivers seem content with the sunday afternoon cruise through the park speed at which they operate. I mean, I sold my car over a year ago and signed up for ZipCar (which I hardly use), so I obviously have learned how to deal with transportation around the city well. Not everyone agrees, and thats ok. I know people who have lived in Chicago for years and have never been on a bus or a train here. Which shocks the hell out of me, and then I remember they’re from LA.
- Real Estate: After spending seven years in the Bay Area, I got pretty accustomed to the bargaining style of, “offer them more than they’re asking or you’ll never get the place you want to live.” During the process of buying a condo here, and it proved more than unnerving than I thought. I’m not talking about the mountain of paperwork, or the constant searching on real estate websites, I’m referring to the bargaining process. While I was playing real life Monopoly in my head (ie: see a place, say you’re buying it and throw down a wad of cash before anyone else can), my realtor was nice enough to slow me down and make sure I didn’t get carried away. After erasing a few texts that were along the lines of “JUST BUY IT, I WANT IT!” and replacing them with “if you think that they’ll go lower, why not” texts, I ended up with a condo at a price much lower than I would have paid had I got my way right off the bat. The threat of losing the place I’d fallen for freaked me out though. Hearing war stories from friends in the Bay who are going up against Chinese buyers with suitcases of cash, made me think they are nipping at my heels and on their way to chicago to buy my condo before I can. They are not. But the real estate panic does not carry over here, and the shock and awe of a plethora of options and low prices keeps my friends from the bay in a constant state of shock, myself included.
Obviously, thats not everything, just some of the stuff I wish people would have given me a heads up about before I moved. Then again, once you’ve been here for a couple years, I can see how it would all become second nature and you wouldn’t think to even tell anyone about this stuff. Plus, it’s nice for people to figure out for themselves, right?