What is it with me and Chicago?

From the South Branch of the Chicago River

When I moved to Chicago in 1994, I had only ever lived in my hometown of Kalamazoo. It was a huge step to move to a city where I knew no one. I’d never taken a cab, never riden a city bus, never worked in a building taller than four stories. (Although Kalamazoo does boast a 15-story building…I just never worked in it.)

I had wanted desperately to get out of Kalamazoo and experience something bigger. I’d pretty much driven my friends crazy with my talk about living in Chicago. So when I got the call with the job offer, I jumped right in. I spent a day hunting for an apartment (and being shocked by the rent), then tagged my friend Lisa and her boyfriend to help me haul all of my belongings to the big city.

It was the Fourth of July weekend, so they hung out with me after the moving was done. We traipsed around downtown, seeing sights, watching fireworks, walking along the lakefront path.

Then they left.

I sat in my seventh-floor studio apartment, in my one room, looking around and trying to figure out what to do with myself. Myself, who I had just realized for the first time was alone in a huge city. So I got brave and ventured out for the first time on my own. I walked out the front door and started exploring my neighborhood.

It sounds silly, but that was so empowering for me. Walking along the streets and finding the nearest grocery store, dry cleaner, bus stop…all of that. Every time before that, I’d seen the city along with someone else. Now I felt so independent, away from my friends and family, discovering things from my own perspective.

And that’s how it went from that day on. I learned to just walk everywhere and find things. After I met Scott, I learned to just get on a random bus or a different el stop and let it take me somewhere cool. It was always an adventure.

One day I was walking downtown on a gorgeous Saturday. I was crossing one of the bridges over the river, amidst all the tourists and traffic, and I just felt so happy about my decision. Although I was only 2 1/2 hours from where I’d grown up, my life was so different. I kind of felt like Mary Tyler Moore at the beginning of her show, conquering the big city and making her way. Goofy, I know. But if I’d never left Kalamazoo and taken a chance, I think I would have missed out on a lot of growth — more personal than anything.

So when I got up early yesterday morning to run an errand, I was happy to go out by myself for a few minutes. I walked along the river, stopping to watch the boats below and take in the skyline. I had that same feeling of independence and satisfaction that I had when I was crossing that bridge all those Saturdays ago. Chicago’s not really my city anymore — but it is.