Similar to the fact that I can no longer say “I just graduated,” I can now no longer use the phrase “I just moved here” when talking about Chicago. I will have officially been a resident of the Chi for 15 months come this October. While I’ve had my share of ups and downs, I could not be happier to call this place home. Yeah, I’ve thought about picking up and moving to Alaska just for fun, but at the end of the day, I don’t think I could bring myself to leave this place quite yet. Here are just a few all-encompassing things I’ve learned from my time in the city- some vague and applicable to any situation, some incredibly specific to the Windy City (ALL THE HOT DOGS).
1. It’s more than okay to be by yourself.
Moving from small town, middle-of-nowhere Clemson, SC, to the 3rd largest city in the United States definitely took some getting used-to. During my first two months here, I had the unfortunate luxury of having an aggressive amount of free time (yay #funemployment); however, during that time, I spent the majority of my days completely by myself, and I loved it. Whether it was exploring a new route downtown, trying out a new coffee shop, or taking a long run along the lakeshore, I learned to love being alone. To quote the wonderful F. Scott Fitzgerald- “I like large parties, they’re so intimate.” Well, my large party is the city of Chicago.
2. Always be cognizant of your surroundings.
Alright, this applies to several things. Yes, sometimes Chicago is known as a dangerous city (okay, more than sometimes). But, for me, this means knowing where you are and how to navigate without having to use Google maps on your iPhone. For me, the first time I was able to get on the El and not have to use my phone to tell me which stop I needed to get off at, was a huge victory. My first couple of months here, I was constantly asking cab drivers what neighborhood we were in at the time so that I could work on getting my bearings, and it definitely paid off in the long run. Now, I’m able to tell you that I actually really liked Pilsen and that River North isn’t necessarily my favorite area. Plus, the South Side has some damn good fried chicken- here’s looking at you, Harold’s.
3. Get out of your bubble, and do it often.
I happen to live in one of the more family-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago, a pretty nice one at that, and I absolutely love it. There’s plenty of amazing restaurants and bars, and my backyard is comprised of both the Lincoln Park Zoo and the beach at Lake Michigan. So, yeah, I have it pretty good. Sometimes, though, it is so important to force yourself to get out and go out of your comfort zone. I know this is said far too often, but getting out and experiencing something new is so so vital to living in a big city.
4. Root, root, root for the home team.
So it’s no secret that I know absolutely nothing about hockey. But you better know that I went out and purchased a Blackhawks shirt when I moved to the city, because, well, it’s the Blackhawks. And who cares if the Cubs aren’t all that great. You go to the games and you better root for the cubbies. If not for anything else, it’s an excuse to get a footlong and an Old Style and wreak havoc in Wrigleyville afterwards. Plus- a city so great, we have two baseball teams? Don’t hate that.
5. Weather reports are completely insignificant.
Spring? Oh, you mean the season that it is supposed to start getting warmer? Because in Chicago, it snowed in May this year. ALWAYS carry an umbrella on you because 10% chance of showers oftentimes means downpour, and 70 degrees oftentimes means a little over 40 degrees. You could be at the beach one day, and wearing a scarf the next. There is literally no way to prepare yourself for any type of weather in this city.
6. When it’s nice out, go outside, because come November you’ll have to hibernate.
On a similar note to #5, yes, the winters here really are that bad. Or, at least this past winter was. -15 degree days, nose-hairs freezing, and going out at night in snow-boots was the norm. I kid you not, one news article advised city residents to ‘check on their neighbors for signs of life.’ I will never forget my 10 minute walk back from the El station on my way home where my legs started to go numb and I had to sprint the rest of the way for fear of my life. Thanks, Polar Vortex, this past winter was great.
7. Public transportation is not nearly as bad as it seems.
When I first moved here, it took me a full week before I decided to brave public transit. I was terrified. At Clemson, I think I took the CAT bus a grand total of two times, and living in DC, the metro was actually pretty easy to navigate the few times I did take it. One thing that genuinely surprised me about Chicago public transit is that I like taking the bus better than taking the El (Chicago’s train system, dubbed ‘the El’ because it is elevated). Even people that have cars (RIP PDjeep) take public transportation to commute because driving (and parking) in the city is such a pain. One rule for the bus and train: it is NOT the time to catch up with your long-lost BFF.
8. Sometimes it’s really fun to play tourist.
Personally, I think it’s the most fun to play tourist. I did it when I lived in DC, and I will never turn down an opportunity because it ‘might be too touristy.’ Except for maybe Navy Pier. Playing tourist is honestly the best way to get to know the city and it never really gets old (for me, at least). Hit up The Bean on your lunch-break, walk down Michigan Avenue amongst all of the other tourists, take an Architectural Boat Tour, eat a deep dish pizza. These are the things people like to do when they come to visit the city, so, shouldn’t the people that actually live here like to do them, as well?
9. It’s called ‘Three One Two,’ not ‘Three Twelve.’
I will never forget when my favorite bar in Clemson got a brand new beer on tap. Sitting at Loose Change on Tijuana Tuesday, the bartender told me that they had just got a new beer called ‘Three Twelve,’ a wheat beer that actually tasted pretty good. It quickly became my favorite, without me having any sort of background on the brew. Fast-forward to seeing that ‘three twelve’ was on tap at one of the first bars I went to in Chicago- you would have thought I had 6 heads the way the bartender looked at me. Friends, it is ‘Three One Two,’ for Chicago’s area code. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
10. There’s never an inappropriate time to eat a Chicago dog.
Whether you’re at a Cubbies game, running late for a flight at O’Hare, or late night post-bars, hot dog craving are always acceptable. BUT- you better get them Chicago-style, aka everything under the sun on your dog making it almost impossible and completely unattractive to eat. So. Damn. Good.
11. Everyone owns a dog.
Speaking of dogs, I fully believe that 2/3 people in this city own a dog. I’m not complaining in the least- more for me to gawk at when I’m walking around. ‘Can I pet your dog?’- daily occurrence.
12. “I went to Clemson.” “Ohhhh, wait, so what state is that in, again?”
Ahhhhh the Midwest. Gotta love it. Actually, I really do like the Midwest and all of it’s people. However, with that said, I am frequently asked ‘what Clemson is,’ ‘what city Clemson is located in,’ and ‘ohhh, how do you like North Carolina?’ Things also get reallyyy interesting when I throw a ‘y’all’ in there.
13. ‘Tour de Chicago’ means ‘Eat Absolutely Everything.’
This is probably my favorite thing about this city. There is so. much. food. Endless brunch options. So much pizza, you could eat it every night and never got bored of it. The best bagels on the entire planet- no, seriously, Chicago Bagel Authority is a gift from the gods. Another gift from above- Portillo’s. Garrett Popcorn’s Chicago mix, cheese and caramel popcorn mixed together, can turn any bad day into the best day. I could go on forever.
14. There’s always money in the banana stand.
Couldn’t resist throwing in an AD reference. This one is pretty personal for me, since I have now gone through 4 jobs in a little over a year. At my first job, people always asked me- “so, you moved to Chicago to work here?” And my answer to them was simple- no, I moved to Chicago to move to Chicago. The job part came second. Money comes and goes, and so do jobs. If you need to make money somehow, go out and make it. You’ll learn a hell of a lot out about yourself in the process. I’m 23 years old; of course I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. But one thing I do know for certain- I love this city.
15. I couldn’t be happier to call Chicago my home.
While moving to Chicago is one of the best decisions I could have ever made, I miss everyone I left behind terribly. However, I have had the extreme fortune of creating some incredible friendships in this city, while experiencing city life with friends I already had, and even re-connecting with some old ones (thanks Anna, for being my oldest friend and still managing to deal with me). I could not be more grateful for these past 15 months of my life, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store next (cliche, but whatever).