Saturday, November 22, 2008

That Toddling Town

It's been weeks since the election. Everybody's already on to the next thing: cabinet appointments, the choice of school for the first daughters, the inauguration. But before we rush back to Washington, I think we should stay focused on Chicago for a little while. As much as I've been scoffing at this article from the New York Times (probably because I was raised to scoff at anything printed in the New York Times), I can't help but feel proud of this city.

In theory, I should feel like an outsider here. I was raised on the east coast, in the suburbs of New York. Sure, I knew Chicago existed. I knew it was somewhere in the vast void of land between New York and California, but then, what else did I need to know? I'm sure I've written before about the shock I experienced the first time I actually came here - my definition of the term lake needing major modification after I realized that Lake Michigan was not at all on the scale of the second largest lake I'd ever seen, Lake Winnepesaukee - but it's true, for all of you skeptics out there, that this is a real, honest-to-goodness big city, the third largest in the country in fact. And we have most of the positives and very few of the negatives of cities #1 and 2.

I'm torn, really, because there is so much I love about the Northeast: the autumn leaves (which we have here too, but it's not the same), the close proximity to other states and cities, the landscape, the colonial architecture and that Yankee feeling of pride rooted in the history of the region. But despite the fact that New England is my home turf, where I was born, raised and educated, I've never felt such a strong feeling of belonging as I do in Chicago. For some reason, it's just so easy to feel at home here, not just for me but for many of the people I've met who come from all different parts of the country and the world. Sure, the cold winters present a significant barrier to entry, but through collective suffering, you begin to bond with your fellow Chicagoans. Before you know it, you're rooting for the Cubs, your short "a"s are getting sharper and you're eating deep dish pizza (OK, well maybe not that last one...)

And let's not forget that Barack didn't grow up here either. He came from everywhere else and arrived here after college, but no one questions his declaration that Chicago is his hometown. The city welcomed him like it welcomed me and put up no resistance when we started to get comfortable. And now it is ready, in a way, for its real moment in the sun.