Saturday, November 5, 2011

gnat: a true chicagoan?

i had intended to write this post yesterday, my 500th day of living in chicago. i realize that 500 days of chicago residency is a totally arbitrary milestone, but it was either this or one year six months, or two years, and who knows where i'll be by then.

in any case, 500 days seemed as good a time as any to ask myself - am i a true chicagoan? sure, i've been here for more than a year. i've gotten the hang of dressing for weather, and i am more than proficient at getting just about anywhere by CTA (and getting home by CTA while toting a variety of strange and unwieldy items).

this thought process began a few months ago when taylor moved to los angeles, practically into my old backyard, to start at a job in the hospital i worked at before moving here. we started talking about what experiences she would need to have to qualify as a "true angeleno" - angeleno being a word that is technically more correct than "los angelean" or any other permutation thereof, but is still rarely used by any person actually claiming to be from los angeles. because taylor, who spent a few years in chicago as a kid and lived here long before i did, and eileen, who was born and raised in the south suburbs, have for the last year or so observed amusedly my alien-like reactions to all things new and unfamiliar in chicago life, i asked them to put together a list for me to check my "chicago-ness" against. here's a summary of what they came up with:

1. you've been to a cubs game inside wrigley field (unless you're a sox fan, in which case you pride yourself on never having been - pick a side, north or south)

ok, so i watched a cubs game from a rooftop across the street but i've never actually set foot inside of wrigley field.

i'm tempted to proclaim this requirement null and void, as i am generally not a sports enthusiast anyway (unless UCLA is playing, that is) and my only motivations for attending this game were novelty and wanting to entertain baseball-loving visitors. i have no real allegiance to either the cubs or the sox, let alone to both. perhaps part of being a true chicagoan is giving a crap about baseball, in which case i'm 0/1.

2. have spotted vince vaughn

now 0/2 - i've never seen vince vaughn, although apparently he's all but ubiquitous in chicago and lives mere blocks from me. i thought celebrity spotting was an LA thing?

3. know the correct order at the billy goat

double cheese, unless of course the special is a triple.

i have never been to the original location, only the ridiculously shady one located under michigan avenue, but i know my order - 1/3.

4. say you won't go to navy pier because it's too touristy, go anyway because there's cool stuff there but complain the whole time about the tourists

guilty many, many times over. i've even ridden the ferris wheel, which in my opinion is a waste of $6.

yeah, navy pier is a long cement walkway packed with sweaty, slow-moving tourists, but sometimes it has cool things like oktoberfest or the stained glass museum or the snow sculpting competition. the end of it even has a view that's not half bad.

 that said, i would never admit to having enjoyed a trip there. 2/4.

5. refer to the willis tower as the sears tower

pretty sure the whole country does this, in fact i'm pretty sure i didn't know that the name had been changed to willis tower until i moved here. oh well, 3/5.

6. take visitors to the top of the hancock for the view, not the observation deck, and know that the best view is from the planetarium

this is my favorite one. the hancock is two blocks from my apartment, and i have taken every single person who has visited since i've lived here to the signature lounge at the top. (observation deck? what observation deck?)

yeah, it's really nice, and you can hang out and enjoy it while you sip a refreshing overpriced cocktail (or use the restroom, if you happen to be a lady), but there's something very big and distinctive missing from this picture - the hancock tower. you're on top of it. that's why i also take visitors out to the end of northerly island, by the planetarium.

in fact it one of the first places i visited after moving here, way back in the days when i lived in the south loop, and it quickly established itself as one of my favorite places in chicago. 4/6.

7. know the lyrics to "bear down," or at least know the chorus of "bear down" and mumble along with the rest

we've covered my feelings on sports, right? 4/7.

8. never put ketchup on a hot dog

duh, ketchup is an abomination. i never put ketchup on anything, it's an adulteration of one of my very favorite things on this great earth - tomatoes.

i'm tempted to amend this one to knowing all of the things that come on an authentic chicago dog.

pickles, onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, neon green relish, mustard, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. i can also tell you that the hot dog above is not actually authentic because it was grilled, not steamed. 5/8.

9. can ride the L standing up without falling over

not only that, i can do it while reading a book.

i briefly considered giving myself only half of a point for this one - this morning while rushing to catch the red line (i could hear the train arriving as i got into the station) i had an incident with a turnstile in which one leg made it through and the other got left behind, causing me to half jump over the bar, only narrowly avoid faceplanting, and incur a massive bruise which is still spreading over my right thigh. it turns out that the train i heard pulling in was heading opposite the direction i was going. because this spectacular fail was turnstile related and turnstiles are not, to the best of my knowledge, associated with chicago more than any other place, i'm still giving myself 6/9.

10. have had deep dish at giordano's, gino's, and malnati's and established a preference

some time last november gnat's chicago experiment declared giordano's it's favorite chicago pizza after a near comprehensive review of deep dish options (including giordano's, malnati's, pizano's, and pizzeria due, but excluding gino's which i've only ever heard bad things about anyway).

deep dish is totally delicious, but i still refuse to classify it as pizza. it's more like a casserole that happens to use the same ingredients as pizza. in true chicagoan fashion, i can even tell you that giordano's is not technically deep dish pizza - it's stuffed pizza, which believe it or not isn't the same thing. it's still the best. 7/10.

11. this one was a rule about what you're supposed to call the freeways. my bad, highways. 

turns out "freeway" is something that only californians say. who knew? my knowledge of chicago's "highways" are so limited that i can't even sort this bullet point out. i don't have a car here, and have driven a grand total of 7 blocks in this great city (from my apartment at 18th and michigan to the jewel on roosevelt and dearborn, one time back in the south loop days) so i'm going to go ahead and say i'm 7/11. there was another rule about navigating side streets when the freeways are backed up, to which the obvious answer is no, i can't. i live far away from the freeway, and public transportation operates on surface streets. i do, however, appreciate eileen's description: "you've been stuck in traffic and know the side streets to get out, and you take them even though you know there's a good chance you might get shot."

12. know that any sunny, calm day above 60 degrees is meant to be spent outside, or wishing you were outside

ehhhhhhh... in my book, 60 degrees is pretty chilly. ask me again in two months, though, and i will be begging for 60 and sunny so i can frolic outdoors, so 8/12.

13. own a long down puff coat, but don't wear it unless it's below 20 degrees. or just don't own one, because 20 degrees isn't actually that cold and you aren't going to be outside for that long anyway.

ok, disagree disagree disagree. it's a 15 minute walk from my apartment to school or work and no good public transportation option exists to get there, so i'm exposed to the elements for a long enough time that i need my sleeping bag coat once it gets below 30. i even wear my sleeping bag coat to potash around the corner, but that's mostly because it has big pockets and i don't like taking my purse.

when it comes to winterwear, though, i've definitely had my fair share of failures. anyone remember the time i was running late to class and ended up wearing these shoes during a snowstorm?

because that happened. 8/13.

14. know that the best sausage is polish, the best beef is italian, and you always say yes to peppers

in light of a food field trip i took just this morning, i'm going to leave the sausage discussion for another post to come very, very soon.

i do love italian beef, and last july did a scientific comparison of italian beef options with jalees and nicole. in the same afternoon we tried both portillo's and al's #1, which happen to be across the street from each other.

we ruled that al's italian beef was better, but after trying mr. beef several months later while eric and laurena were in town i decided that it was my favorite. somehow i don't have any pictures. guess that means i have to go back.  9/14.

15. blame the chicago fire on a cow, and blame the cubs losing streak on a goat

before i went to see the cubs play i did some research on the curse of the billy goat, and as i am part greek and thus a little superstitious i am inclined to believe it. as for the cow - sure, why not? 10/15.

16. be aware that you should avoid o'hare at all costs, but buy the cheapest plane tickets available and then complain incessantly about having to to go o'hare

i've had delightful experiences and miserable experiences at both midway and o'hare, and i think that being able to navigate o'hare without issue (which i can do) is also a pretty good mark of a real chicagoan. virgin america only flies to o'hare, and i bought my thanksgiving plane tickets for $90 each way, so it looks like i'll be continuing to fly in and out of o'hare until southwest lowers their airfare. i will say that o'hare is a pain in the ass to get to, so i do a considerable amount of complaining whenever i have to go. 11/16.

17. have a fight with a cabbie about the best route to take

not only have i done this, but it was on the night that i moved here AND i did it in a foreign language after i called him out for talking about me to his friend on the phone. i'm giving myself two points for that one, after all i'm the one making up the rules here. 13/17.

18. love the "snl superfans," because you see these people in your home, your neighborhood, or your local bar cheering for da bears

i only just now youtubed "snl superfans" and am watching it for the first time. what's funny is that i totally get it - they really are everywhere. i still don't think i get points, at least not until i've had a chance to watch all of the sketches. 13/18.

19. go swimming in lake michigan, vacation in a small town along the lake

i don't know if you can call it swimming, but i have waded around in it. i have never made my way out of chicago along the lake in either direction though, unless you count evanston. since you can actually see chicago from evanston, i think it doesn't qualify. 13.5/19.

20. know what the stars on the chicago flag represent

the battle of fort dearborn, the chicago fire, the world's fair, and the century of progress expo. 14.5/20.

not great, but not awful. by this list, i suppose i almost qualify. still, everyone i've asked and everything i've read has some different idea about what it means to be a true chicagoan. some cite the die-hard love of your sports team, even when they lose, some think the most important quality is the slight insecurity about being a "second city" to new york despite fierce pride in being from chicago. in the nature of scientific research i took two online quizzes to test my chicago-ness. one, on quizilla, proudly declared me a chicagoan after i demonstrated that i could answer questions about which train lines go where and whether or not the direction of the river's flow was really reversed in the late 19th century (it was). on another, furnished by the chicago tribune, i scored a pathetic 4% as the questions were mostly about specific events and people that anyone living in chicago in the 80s and 90s would remember.

the real answer is that of course i'm not a true chicagoan. any real chicagoan would say i wasn't - i wasn't born here, i didn't grow up here, and as one article i read put it, chicago is not in my soul. in fact, true chicagoans wouldn't even consider someone like eileen, who was born and raised in the suburbs just outside of the city proper, a true chicagoan. stark definitions and border drawing aside, i know that it doesn't matter if i live here for a few more months or the next ten years - i will never be a true chicagoan. even if i explore every corner of the city,or equip myself with all of the knowledge there is about its history or sports teams or culinary idiosyncrasies, or master the art of going through turnstiles, as much as i love chicago now and as much as that love may grow as i continue exploring what it means to be a "true chicagoan" my heart will always be in california. wherever i may go, california is who i am.

so, thanks chicago, for letting this californian play dress-up as a chicagoan for so long. i've had 500 great days of chicago living, and i hope the ones that remain, however many they are, continue to be awesome.

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