By Caroline Newman, Editor
This is a love letter.
This is a love letter to my home.
I guess I should clarify. This is a letter to a city I love. A city in which I have never truly resided, been employed, or paid taxes, but a city that feels more like home than any other. More than Saint Louis, where I was born and spent most of my life. More than Rolla, where I truly found my passions and the friends that became my family. So I guess, technically, this city doesn’t meet any of the criteria for a hometown. But I’ve adopted it as my home anyway.
As a child, I went on frequent locomotive excursions with my parents. Members of a small group called the American Association of Railroaders, I spent winter holidays and summers riding in old train cars to various places. One year, we took a train to West Virginia. Another year, Colorado. The year I was in 8th grade, my dad and I took the train to New York City for New Year’s Eve, then hopped back on the train to be in DC the next morning. These vacations were all exciting, but our most frequent destination was also my favourite: Chicago.
Officially organized in 1833, the city quickly became one of the most important and influential in the nation. Dubbed “The Second City,” Chicago grew into a major transportation and trade hub, eventually amassing two airports and one of the country’s most beautiful train stations. In a major feat of engineering, the town even reversed the flow of its river in order to improve sanitation. Chicago is also home to the world’s first “skyscraper,” the 10-story Home Insurance Building. The city has been home to numerous other innovations, including the first controlled nuclear reaction (performed by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago in 1942) and the nation’s second elevated railway transit system.
I don’t remember exactly when I decided that Chicago was my city, but I think I was around 10, on one of many trips to the city. I was a photo-obsessed youngster, spending all of my allowance on disposable cameras that I would go through too quickly. I can remember, very clearly, looking around at all of the Loop-area buildings while waiting for the El one grey afternoon with my mother. And I remember taking a photo of one pair of buildings in particular: Marina City. Bertrand Goldberg’s iconic corncobs, a symbol of Chicago as vital and classic as the Sears Tower or the Art Institute Lions.Since that moment, I have been shamelessly, deeply, uncompromisingly in love with those towers and Chicago as a whole.
The semi-annual family vacations continued through high school, when they eventually became trips with friends or, frequently, alone. I become another Caroline when I’m in Chicago. In my opinion, the best Caroline. I’ve been told I move faster the instant I take the first step into a subway station. My trademark sass becomes a glower as I cross streets.
I must confess, I am still somewhat loyal to my physical hometown. I will never, ever, ever, ever root for the Blackhawks. Deep-dish is an abomination; Imo’s is flawless. I don’t think I’ll ever find a Chicago concert venue I love more than Off Broadway. But that’s the full extent of my St. Louis pride (sorry, Nelly).
This letter isn’t just for the city in a garden. This letter is for its citizens. This letter is for Jane Addams, Barack Obama, Frank Lloyd Wright, R. Kelly, Bertha and Palmer Potter, Jeff Tweedy, Michael Crichton, Roger Ebert, Walter Payton, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jordan, Sandra Cisneros, and even Kanye. This letter is for anyone who’s dined at Kuma’s Corner. This letter is for anyone who’s waited at the corner of Ashland & Foster to see The Neo-Futurists. This letter is for Goose Island, Revolution, and Half Acre. This letter is for every long-suffering Cubs fan (again, congrats!). For anyone who’s known not to get into the empty subway car. For everyone who’s cheered for their favorite team at Soldier Field. For everyone who’s made the Malort Face, then ordered another round of the stuff. For Cubs fans, White Sox fans, and Bulls fans. For the giant Pacific octopus at the Shedd Aquarium and the slow loris at the Lincoln Park Zoo. For every bus, Lyft, Uber, and even taxi driver I have ever met. For the bartender at the Northdown Cafe. Thank you for constantly reminding me why I love Chicago, and why I’m going to live there when I graduate.
I know I tend to ramble, so I’ll let someone much more gifted than I close this out. When it comes to describing the affinity people feel for Chicago, Nelson Algren said it best. “Once you’ve come to be a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”