Last week my husband and I went back to our home town, sweet home Chicago. We had not been back there in over 8 years and at that time it was because of the death of his mother. This time we decided that we would just take a few days and reconnect with the city that has meant so much to us and where we spent most of our lives. Our trip consisted of a variety of planned activities, from going back to the neighborhoods where we grew up to seeing old friends to visiting our relatives that still live there to seeing former students and spending time in the heart of Chicago, Downtown.
Over the next few days as I continue to process the events of the past week I will focus this blog on specific aspects of the trip. The trip was a journey of many facets, each one very distinct and yet each one very much connected. It stirred up memories of long ago and emotions not felt for some time. Trying to sort through all of the events and feelings has been a roller coaster ride for me, and I have always loved roller coasters.
I’d like to start with just some general observations. Once we landed at Midway and got our rental car we began our trip with a trek on the expressway systems of Chicago. When I lived there I had driven every one of them several times and knew where each one took you and all the twists and turns. I found out quickly that that had not changed. What had changed is the insanity that now rules the Chicago expressway system. I remember a day when you had specific times that were considered “rush hours”. Now every hour is rush hour. The expressways are always packed and it is not unusual to have an hour trip from downtown Chicago to O’Hare airport. And layered upon that is the fact that everyone fights for every inch of open space they can, making driving on the expressways a series of avoiding the ins and out of cars and trucks. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t believe the number of trucks and the truck drivers drive as insanely as the car drivers. I can never recall being concerned about driving on the expressways. But this time I was. This trip we both decided to use our vast knowledge of the street system in Chicago to insure our safety and sanity and to get to our destinations much faster than if we had chosen to use the expressways.
But it was not only the expressways that had changed, the side streets also provided some drama as well. In our old neighborhood, (the Lake View area near the streets of Diversey and Southport) there is no such thing as a parking space anymore. And if you are lucky enough to find one, chances are you either have to pay for the spot or you cannot park there unless you have a permit. The streets are lined on both sides with cars positioned butt to butt and heaven forbid if you have no skill in parallel parking. You would never survive.
Then there was the newly added dimension of speed bumps. Speed bumps did not exist in these neighborhoods when we left in 1999. But they are there now and appear to have been there for quite some time as the warning stripes on them have not been maintained and can barely be seen. So needless to say, we were often very lucky that we did not bottom out our rental car since they literally came upon us with no frame of reference and no warning.
It became apparent very quickly that Chicago is no longer a driving friendly place. Why anyone would want to own a car in Chicago today is beyond me. With the insane amount of traffic and gas prices over $4 a gallon (here it is $3.43), and no place to put a car unless you have a garage or a permit – and even then you have to be lucky to find a spot – is beyond me. Every day of our trip was punctuated by some sort of interesting driving experience. We were happy to get back to the land of sane traffic.
All that aside, there is one thing that you cannot deny. Regardless whether the traffic is insane or not, there is no picture more beautiful than driving toward Downtown Chicago and seeing the city skyline offset by a deep blue sky. As we drove in from Midway the sky was blue and the skyline breathtaking. I could have looked at it for hours. When I saw what used to be known as the Sears Tower coming into view, I knew that I had come back home. Sweet home, Chicago. And there is nothing to compare with a trek down Lake Shore Drive, the only highway that still has some semblance of not being overly inundated with cars every minute of the day. The experience of taking in the skyline and the unforgettable voyage down Lake Shore Drive is truly an unforgettable experience. And regardless of the congestion and craziness, Chicago is still a great town!