It's been a strange summer. Tommy left for Chicago in May to perform in "The Jungle Book" at the Goodman Theatre. (Where he was the best snake ever! And I'm totally unbiased about that.) I stayed in Boston to finish my teaching and to be part of the Summer Reading series at the Huntington. I went from the reading (my last duty official in Boston) directly to the airport for a months' stay in Chicago myself. It was good to see Tommy after over two months. It's the longest we've been apart.
Chicago is a wonderful city. I had always meant to travel there, and I'm not sure why I hadn't before this, the opportunity just never arose, so it was great to be able to stay there for free for a month.
Now that I think of it, I've actually never been to the Midwest for any meaningful amount of time.
Some things I noticed: there's a lot of space. Chicago just goes on and on. You can drive for half an hour and still be in Chicago somewhere. That empty field? Chicago.
Also: There's "The Loop", which contains most of the city elements, and beyond that this vast suburb that just stretches outward like a giant donut. Every neighborhood seems similar and slightly different at once. It's as if Brookline, Somerville, Allston, Beacon Hill and Brighton all had a party, got drunk and threw up all over themselves. And Frank Lloyd Wright is their cranky downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broom stick.
They put cheese on a lot of things in Chicago.
Their hotdogs are really elaborate. Tomatoes and pickles. The relish is neon green.
They mix cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn together. Which shouldn't work. But it does. I ate a trough of it while I was there.
Theatre is EVERYWHERE. There is SO much theatre, and it's all so vibrant. I saw a play every night while I was there. Boston Theatre pretty much dies in the summer, as everyone leaves the city for the Berkshires or the Cape. Chicago almost seems the opposite: everyone is flocking TO the city. There's endless things to do there.
Plays I saw:
Slow Girl, Belleville, Annie Bosh is Missing, The Gospel of Franklin, and Buena Vista @ Steppenwolf
The Jungle Book (of course) and The Albany School Project @ The Goodman
Big Lake, Big City @ Lookinglass
Glass Menagerie @ Theatre Wit
The Hypocrites' new take on 12th Night, called 12 Nights
Death and Harry Houdini @ The Chopin Theatre
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
That's Weird Grandma
Pink Milk, a new play about Alan Turning
Shrek, the Musical
A hip hop version of Othello @ Chicago Shakespeare
I'd say that most of what I saw there was excellent. More than half the plays I saw were new plays by living playwrights. Which is great.
Chicago residents (and perhaps this applies to the Midwest in general) seem to take up space in a wildly different way from what I'm used to. They take up a LOT of it. I noticed this while walking the city streets. At first, I thought it was because I was in more tourist-heavy locales, where you would expect people to be kind of clueless. But as I branched out further and further into the city, it seemed to be everywhere, and I realized that it wasn't tourists: these were Chicagoans.
You know when you walk on the sidewalk in the city? You stay to the right, yes? Unless you need to pass the person in front of you, in which case you would go to the left of them (usually), pass them, and then get back to the right again. That's just how you walk in a city, at least that what I always thought.
In Chicago, people walk wherever the hell they want. They walk on the left. They walk on the right.
They walk straight down the middle. It's chaos. When crossing the street, there's sometimes just a wall of people coming straight at you, and you play this game of sidewalk chicken: "One of us needs to move to the side, which will it be?" I always try to move to the right. But there's already people there, walking in the opposite direction (ie, their left). It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.
Not only that, people seem completely oblivious to other people around them, even though they're in the third largest city in the country. And again, I thought it was tourists, but it's really not. These were locals. It was fascinating. My theory is that there's so much space there, that people just naturally feel that they can take up as much as they want, and that everyone else will as well. It really does work that way most of the time: Chicago is surprisingly roomy for such a big city. There's always a seat on the subway, there's always (usually) room on the sidewalk. It's almost never crowded the way Boston or New York or Philly might feel. But when it IS crowded, which is during rush hour and any time there's a Cubs game, you really see this space-taking trait. People don't know how to not take up space. It wasn't annoying so much as interesting to me.
I was walking back to the apartment with iced coffees for me and Tommy once, and this woman was standing on the sidewalk, listening to her cell phone. She looked up when she saw me approach, and then randomly stepped right in front of me. So I stopped, because I didn't want to collide with her, and wasn't sure where she was going. It was so weird. Then she looked up again, noticed me, said "Excuse me" and moved to the side again. There was NO ONE else on the sidewalk, and she still managed to get in my way. Wacky! Things like that happened all the time in Chicago. I don't think it was rudeness. It seemed a special sort of unawareness.
Even their architecture takes up space: all those tall skyscrapers and all the Prairie School horizontal lines that seem to make everything look so wide and flat.
Speaking of rudeness, that was another thing I noticed about Chicago: everyone was disarmingly friendly, for the most part (these are WILD generalizations/anecdotal experiences, I realize, btw!). The rudest Chicago native just seemed charming to me. It was such a naïve form of rudeness, it just tickled me. I wanted to say: "I know you think you're being rude to me right now, but I come from the land where rudeness was INVENTED. So I just think you're adorable."
The subways are very efficient and clang over your head.
They put bacon on donuts.