Growing up in the suburbs, going to the city was always a big deal.
It was a twice-a-year occasion at best – once in the summer to go to the beach or the Taste of Chicago, and once in the winter for something holiday-related or a Bulls game.
The city was so close, yet so far, so I often would dream of someday living there.
I’d gaze out the window as my Dad would merge from the Edens to the Kennedy and traffic would inevitably slow, looking down long streets of three-flats and rowhouses, dreaming of going on rambling runs to explore these neat-looking neighborhoods that actually had something my Mom would call character, something sorely missing from the sameness of our mid-1980s subdivision.
With how little I saw of the city growing up, each small step in my ability to explore it on my own seemed monumental.
Taking the Metra downtown with a friend, I’d draw myself a detailed walking map from Ogilvie to wherever I was going, adding a handmade grid of downtown streets in case we got off-track.
Taking the Metra alone required an even more carefully drawn map and a handwritten list of train times to make sure I’d get home OK, not to mention a note to self to pack change for the meters at the suburban station’s parking lot.
Taking the CTA with friends who knew the city better, I made the mistake of not paying attention. So when it came time to take it on my own, I nervously consulted my list of how many stops I’d stay on the train and how many blocks I’d walk after getting off. Transferring worried me, as did the possibility of choosing the correct line at the right stop, but boarding a train in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I never made that mistake, but one time, where the “El” is actually a subway, I stepped up to ground level and walked three wrong directions before trial and error pointed me the way I actually was trying to go.
And now I’ve lived here for two years.
And now I’m ready to move out, back to the suburbs, although not exactly back to where I came from.
I’ve learned two main things from my experiment with urban living.
I’m sure the first one’s not true for everyone, but it is for me: You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can’t take the suburbs out of the girl.
Basically, living in the city – and seeing the pros and cons of it in a real way, not in an idealized view from twice-yearly visits – has made me realize I’m a suburban person. The suburbs, and their nice mix of proximity to something bigger and convenience of sprawling parking lots and two-way streets, are not only where I’m from – they’re where I belong.
In the city, I can barely run two blocks without crossing some busy street and inevitably hitting a red light. I have to circle the same three or four streets every day for parking, avoid tall curbs, stop short of bumping parked motorcycles, and read every street sign I see – since the one I fail to spot will be the one telling me I’m about to owe $50 in a street sweeping ticket or risk getting towed.
In the city, there are too many good restaurants to count, too many fun neighborhoods to visit and too many new bars to try – but in my life, there is too little time to fit it all in. I’m constantly … guess where? … in the suburbs, working or seeing friends and family. And there’s another problem: I wanted city living to be like College Take 2, but I lack that close group of friends or the time to find a new one. Most of my college and high school friends have scattered across the country and I admire them for chasing their dreams in faraway places. But they left me, supposedly doing the twenty-something thing in the city, with few friends to join in my exploration.
I belong in the suburbs.
Despite that strange realization from two years here in the city, I don’t regret my time in Ukrainian Village. And that’s the second thing I’ve learned.
Childhood dreams might not play out the way you expected them to, but they’re still worth pursuing.
Living in the city was always a bit of a dream of mine, something that seemed like it’d be awesome to do if I ever had the chance, yet not something that would make me completely unhappy if I never was able to try. So when I had enough money to move out and realized rent would be cheaper and finding a roommate would be easier in the city than out in the ‘burbs, I knew the time was right. The opportunity was there, believe it or not, so chasing this childhood desire was worth a try.
The city part of my twenty-something journey is ending soon, and honestly, it’s about time. I can no longer stand the commute and I’m excited to gain more time in my life by spending a whole lot less of it in the car.
But those rambling runs down city streets I used to dream of? I’ve done dozens of them. And those bars and restaurants that looked too cool not to try? I’ve planned carefully, carving out time when faraway friends have visited, and I’ve tried a solid handful of them, too.
I’ve lived in the city. I’ve gotten mail with my name on it addressed to somewhere in “Chicago.” I’ve satisfied my curiosity. And now it’s time to make myself a new home.
Best of luck as you continue your twenty-something journey in the city, the suburbs, or wherever in the world you may be.