Hi Hi Chi Chi
Updated: Nov 16, 2018
When I told people I was moving to Chicago, everyone said “people are SO nice there!” And, yeah, people are nice here but they aren’t SO nice. I think people in LA are friendlier, or at least they smile more. People in LA will destroy your dreams, confidence and passion for living but at least they’ll smile when they pass you on the street. I’ve mentioned the reputation of being “so nice” to a few Chicagoans and I’ve gotten these responses.
“We are SO nice! Compared to New Yorkers.” And that is… absolutely true. Last time I was in New York, I could feel the irritation from people around me when I was looking at a menu for too long, or walking too slow, or asking if I was on the right train too many times (is eight REALLY too many times?) Chicagoans are the gruff, big city folk of New York softened by butter and margarine in the midwest.
The second response is that people in Chicago are nice but I moved here in “the worst month” and that explains their lack of friendliness. By March, the city has suffered through months of cold, freezing cold, clouds, freezing clouds, snow, wind burn, wind chill, etc. And the people have had enough. No one is interested in smiling. Especially not to a recent California transplant who hasn’t experienced a real winter in seven years and who is just tickled by the novelty of walking and riding trains.
And I can’t blame them! I’ve only been in Chicago for a month and I’m sick of my puffy winter coat, my bulky scarf, my (pretty rad) hat. I’m tired of hunching over to brace for wind. Once, so desperate for warmth, I pushed my hands into my jacket with such force that I punched a hole in the pocket. Winter wear is annoying and awkward, and makes me feel like the Michelin man. My entire body grows, like, 4 inches in circumference once I’m bundled up. Which would be fine if my spacial awareness could just adapt.
I’ll misjudge how close I am to a wall, run into it and then bounce me to the other side by the puffiness of my jacket. And I’ll just carry on like that; bouncing from wall to wall, all around the room until momentum runs out. Don’t even get me started on trying to do a double take while wearing a hat and hood – nothing stealth about it. I have to pivot my whole body at once like I’m in a full body cast.
The only thing that gets me through the cold weather is the look in everyone’s eyes when they talk about summer in Chicago; like they’re remembering a first love. People have tried to explain it to me but get frustrated because nothing sounds right, no description does it justice. Once, too excited about the thought of it to even make full sentences, someone just listed words and activities: “Oh Chicago summer? It’s, it’s like… drinks, sunshine, warm, sun, people outside, beer and sun, everywhere, beach.” The power of summertime in Chicago is real.
The tease of March’s (and now April’s) inconsistent sunshine and mild temperatures is infuriating. This city deserves springtime. Some people have the mindset that if no one is going to give them springtime, they’re going to go out there and take it – thermometer be damned! I saw a guy the other day running outside in shorts. It was freezing, but he was taking a stand! It was a pretty half-assed stand to be honest because he also had a fleece jacket under his t-shirt, a neck warmer, hat, gloves and socks pulled up to his knees. But oh, baby, were those kneecaps exposed. I love that as he got dressed, he looked at his running pants and said “no. It’s spring gosh darnit and spring means jogs in my shorts!… but I’ll also wear these knee high socks because I don’t have a deathwise.”
When I’m in a new place I usually try my best to blend in and seem like a local, like I belong. But when someone looks at me, tears in their eyes and ask, “when is spring coming? Haven’t we suffered enough?” I can’t commiserate with them. I’d feel like a such a fraud! As if I’ve dealt with anything lower than 50 degrees and isolated clouds since 2010. Instead I confess that I just moved from Los Angeles but am quick to applaud them, congratulate them on surviving another winter in Chicago. No one has ever responded with, “oh, you’re new here? Welcome to Chicago!” because, again, it’s March and everyone is pissed. But I do get a lot of blank faced, “why.” When ‘why’ is used as a statement and not a question it’s chillingly effective at revealing deep, deep despair.
Because I CHOSE to leave Southern California, I feel like I don’t deserve to long for the sunshine like my Chicago peers. I feel like if I complain about the cloudy days and horizontal rain, people will turn to me, their eyes clouded over with rage and say, “BUT THIS IS WHAT YOU ASKED FOR.” Needless to say I’m looking for something to connect on that isn’t weather.
The other day I was on a very smelly train and when I got off, I smelled like that train for the rest of the day. Maybe this was my Chicago initiation! I texted a friend and asked if this had ever happened to her. I was hoping for “Yes! You’re officially a Chicagoan!” but she said she’d only experienced that from a Chipotle. I could bond over smelling like Chipotle in literally any city and if smelling like a train is not uniquely Chicago, I need something else.
I’ve used comfortable walking shoes as a conversation starter. I love sneakers but living in a city with a strong driving culture for seven years, I always felt like I had no excuse to wear them all the time. So I always found myself wearing them all the time anyway because mama don’t fall victim to societal fashion norms.
A lot of people wear backpacks here so that could be my conversation starter. I do love them! Mostly because I have back issues and symmetrical weight distribution is good for my hips.
My biggest and most reckless jump towards being a Chicagoan came when I had my first shot of Malort, an infamous Chicago liquor known for its terrible taste. This liquor, much like my winter wardrobe, has layers.
Everyone gathered around as I brought the shot to my lips and told me to describe each taste as it came to me – bitter, gasoline, citrus cleaning solution, cold metal, and finally burned rubber – or was it tar? It was surprisingly smooth and lingered in my mouth more or less forever.
Malort could be my connection, my bonding topic but… I never want to have it again. If I never mention it, maybe everyone will forget it exists. Much like my smell when I got off that train.