Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quantifying the Chicago Experience

While enjoying some Wow Bao at Water Tower Place yesterday afternoon, out-of-towners scurried all around. Looking as fashionable as possible with shopping bags in both hands, these people were doing their best to have a real-life Chicago experience. Looking at them, I thought, "They're receiving about 5 percent of the Chicago experience." Which led me to determine the remaining 95 percent.

What makes up a "Chicago experience"? Let me know if I forgot anything:

10% - Sports

This is a sports town. And you can't have a complete Chicago experience without first going to a Bulls or Sox game, or watching a game with your neighbors at the corner bar. Sports really parallel Chicago's drive to be great. From our historic competetiveness with New York to the current bid for the Olympics, Chicago loves to be the best. Hopefully our sports teams will be a signifier of that.

5% - Wrigley

Loveable losers. As much as I hate to admit it, Wrigley is pure Chicago lore. Despite all of the progression and advancement, Chicago is unbelievably flawed and ugly. Nothing compliments this better than the Cubs. Heartbreak and history, dedication and devastation. It's the paradox that describes our wonderful/terrible city more than we'd like to admit. Go Cubs? Oh what a joke. But it's true.

5% - Museums

Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Planetarium, Lincoln Park Zoo and the Field Museum. We went to these places on field trips, and prepared ourselves for further education. There are many more museums in this city, but they make up a part of the Chicago experience because they represent our care for intellect. Now I'll be the first to admit that this city is full of idiots, but at least they all think that they're smarter than everybody else. And that makes for some fun learning experiences.

5% - Lakefront/LSD

This is one that we take for granted. But our lake is what makes us the metropolis we are today. Without it, we wouldn't be able to call Chicago the heart of the midwest. It's beautiful too. Whether swimming in it, driving alongside or exercising on the LSD trail, we're blessed with a huge body of water that effects our weather and moods from day to day.

5% - Weather

Speaking of weather: this is something we do every day. This city can go from zero degrees to 100, in a span of a week. For the winter of 2008, I biked to work every morning. I've never been a tougher son of a bitch than that winter. It made my skin thick. Our winters turn us into hardasses, but our summers are non-stop parties. Chicago weather is ridiculous, but it sure does build character. You haven't really experienced Chicago until you've waited for a bus in negative 20 degree wind chills.

10% - Music Scene

This is my favorite 10 percent of the Chicago experience. There is a great show every night in this town. Tons of great venues to choose from, tons of free fests every summer and local acts that make us proud enough to cheer at the very mention of our city's beloved name. I really don't think I have to say much more about this one. It's just too obvious.

10% - Downtown

There's just too much to say about this one. Too much history, too much architecture, too much to experience. Business people, tourists, pigeons, homeless, rich people. Art Institute, Grant Park, Loop, Michigan Avenue, the Chicago River and everything else. It's the part of Chicago that makes people call it "world-class," and for good reason.

5% - Suburbs

I definitely hate to admit this, but the suburbs are just as important to Chicago as the city itself. Half of the sports fans come from the suburbs, as well as the families. Without the suburbs, Chicago is not the city we know. And once you experience the suburbs, your Chicago experience is all the more thrilling. Without the contrast of the lame-as-hell outskirts, the excitement of Chi-city is a little bit less stunning.

10% - Food and Drink

Another obvious one. Chicago hot dogs and deep dish pizza alone are enough to make up 10%. But we've got some great dining going on here. There's always another restaurant to check out. And you should.

5% - CTA/Public Transportation

It's such a screwed up system, but again, it's one of those things that's just a mirror against the real nature of Chicago. The CTA elevated lines are so brilliant. Their sound is so comfortingly familiar and the buses are so disgustingly clustered (the next time I see three buses bumped up against each other on Chicago Avenue will be too soon). Our system has been developed to be one of the best public transportation services in the world, and we just can't figure out how to make it work. Maybe if we get the Olympics. Maybe...

10% - Art and Architecture

This is how I first got to know Chicago, as a city of art. The Art Institute is the obvious example, but you can't walk around for more than a minute without being struck by some sort of guerilla art. Music is everywhere. Graffiti blasters never deter the wild style. Architecture is breathtaking. If you don't care about art, Chicago is not your kind of town. Because art is Chicago.

5% - Festivals

We know how to party here. We pay higher taxes, and we make it worth our money. I don't even know how many parks we have in this city, but there are definitely a lot. And we make use of them almost every weekend. Countless music festivals, but art fests and street fests abound as well. Whether it's downtown, north side, west side or south side, Chicago celebrates life well and often.

5% - Theatre/Improv

The second city is a funny place. But I'm glad that this city has its sense of humour. There's so much to be mad about around here, but we decide to just laugh at ourselves instead. If we can't make jokes about our crooked governors, we'd be a painfully sad community.

5% - Politics/Social Awareness

Oh God. We have such a problem here in Chicago. We're incurably corrupt, and we know it. Blagojevich brought our embarrassments front and center this year, and we have to just hang our heads in shame. And as long as Daley is the boss, we keep shrugging our shoulders and throwing our hands up. But this is Chicago. It always has been, and always will be.

We keep shrugging our shoulders, laughing at ourselves while we listen to Wilco and drink Goose Island. Oh sweet home, how we love you. We hope you never change.

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