There’s a lot of history when it comes to the great Midwestern city of Chicago, Illinois. Being that it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States of America, it has seen its share of troubled times during the prohibition era, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and everything else you can imagine. With the lows, there have been highs, especially when it comes to their sports – well, let’s just say they know what it’s like to have teams win championships, unlike Toronto where we celebrate 1st round playoff wins with no guarantees of advancement; baby steps. When it comes to their music, that’s also something that has made the city one of the most unique. The birthplace of House music provided electricity that shifted through a generation of innovative and inspired youth for years to come, and it passed through other genres, especially in Hip Hop where they’ve had their success with rappers like: Kanye West, Common, and Lupe Fiasco being the more notable artists to represent the region.
But over time and a disease of violence holding Chicago in a visceral vice grip of fear for the city’s South Side, the city as a whole started to get a bad rep, and the music from GBE featuring the likes of: Lil Reese, Lil Durk, and Chief Keef (to name a few) didn’t exactly help put the ‘Chiraq’ term to rest, but instead that’s all people were viewing Chicago as. Having knowing people through Twitter who live in Chicago, them advocating and defending their city without backlash seemed damn near impossible because of the negative examples portrayed on essentially every media outlet imaginable. It got to the point where if you mentioned Chicago, a negative comment fell in line with it, and that’s not fair to the people and the city as a whole that is home to over 2 Million people (9 Million if you count the Metro region). It was my Mother who gave me inspiration to Chicago when she went with my Aunt a few years back. The words I’ll never forget her saying were: “Chicago is the city Toronto wants to be when it grows up”, and those words never left my head, and from that point on I had inkling to visit the city. I had passed through it on my way to Minnesota with my friend Devon when we drove 17 hours to Minnesota in 2012, so it was a bit of foreshadowing that I’d be back in the Windy City.
Of what I knew about Chicago prior to visiting it was their: sports teams, Hip Hop, Oprah, and Deep Dish Pizza. But that wasn’t enough to really get an idea as to what their lifestyle was like, so in 2013 I was planning a solo trip for 2014 and who would’ve thought that it would take a simple text message from one of my friends that would determine the fate of the visit.
Mirna Eljazovic is a proud Bosnian native who endured tumultuous endeavors while the country was going through some of the worst times in its history, and her coming to Canada with her family at a young age proved to be the salvation that was necessary. She’s well travelled, having leaving the city (Toronto) often to go and do exactly what people are supposed to do – enjoy their lives, and to a good degree, I’d say when she wants to enjoy herself she knows how to do just that. Having been in the Post-Secondary system for essentially a decade, she’s all about learning about different things from a broad variety of subjects not just in her background, but also around the world. I mean for someone who wants to become a diplomat, having a fixated view on the world is a great asset to have. She also works like 1023 jobs (I’m off by a bit), so she’s been due for a vacation, and also, she’s a recent graduate. There are no boundaries to her range of extensive knowledge, and she puts that into good use wherever necessary, enabling her to have a connection to a lot of different cultures, especially with her keen interest on West Indian and African individuals. For someone who’s white, I asked her, what’s the reason of her interest where most of the people in her demographic would probably shy away, a perfect answer came through: “I did it to better understand my friends. To look at the history of their people to get a better understanding of how they think.” The phrase, ‘people fear what they don’t understand’ is something that could be put to rest with simply taking the time out to one thing – learn. Having watched so many documentaries, Mirna is forever learning and encouraging others of doing the same, without having to throw it in your face. She’s an exciting person to party with, and amongst our circle of mutual friends, I’m definitely not alone on that. Who would’ve thought that our friendship would have started on Twitter? The new way of the world, I suppose.
Here’s exactly how this trip was initiated (via text):
Mirna: You been to Chicago?
Me: Next year I’m gonna go
Mirna: I was asking if we should plan and go? Lol
Me: Word? I’d be down.
The conversation continued, but that was the initial couple of lines that sent the plans into action. That was late December of 2013, and I was heading to Philly to attend an Eagles game, so I was in my travel zone already. The love of sports is the link that brings us together because we’re both avid NFL fans. Unfortunately she’s a Dallas Cowboys fan, but that spirited rivalry brought us together, and having sat in a Shoeless Joe’s Restaurant to watch the 2012 NFC & AFC Championships for a total of 7 hours, that really brought us closer. Who would’ve thought we’d be traveling together? It happens.
The objective was to go site-seeing, you know the usual touristy stuff that tourists do, so once Mirna found the flight tickets and a place to stay in (she stays looking for flights, so she was on top of it seemingly as the initial conversation was happening), it was off to Chicago for a 4-day excursion where we would be hosted by another mutual friend whom we both befriended through Twitter, Pierce (or Sean), who has been a contributor to this very blog, and is one of the reasons why I was so intrigued to the city of Chicago on a different level, because of the pride that he has for his city, despite its issues (every city has some). Of what I knew we were going to do, Mirna found a club for us to go to on the Friday night (Exedus II), and then Saturday it was the post-graduation celebration for Sean (recent grad of WIU) at Lumen. Nightlife was going to be interesting, and then there was the fact that we were going to a Chicago Cubs game as well, but everything in-between that time was a tossup.
It’s a rather short flight to Chicago; only totaling an hour to get there, and the weather was sunny with moderate temperatures (in the teens, Celsius), so it was a bit on the chilly side. It’s the simple things that I appreciate in American cities when their trains go to the airport, something that has taken Toronto about 50 years to discuss and finally execute. If not for the fact that we’re hosting the Pan-Am Games in 2015, I’m not even sure that would have happened any time soon. In Chicago they call their train the ‘L’, so we took the Blue Line from O’Hare International all the way to California, waited a bit for a bus, and took that to Kedzie & Carroll. We weren’t staying at a hotel in the heart of downtown as most people would, but yet Mirna found a basement apartment (through Airbnb) in the West side of the city that is owned by a nice gentleman by the name of Robert Civettini. A lovely house just off the street and a 5 minute walk to the Green Line, which would be our frequent use of travel to and from the LOOP (where 6 of their train lines submerge and where you’re able to change different lines and such).
Another convenience with their transit is the use of their Ventra system. It’s drastically similar to what PRESTO is for GTA transit, except that it’s everywhere on every bus, and at every train station where you can re-fill the card and whatnot. $20 for a 3-Day card would surely do its job necessary for our trip. If you’re going to visit a city you’ve never been to, why not do it like the locals do? That was pretty much the philosophy Mirna and I both had.
But before we would do any kind of excursion, food was very necessary especially when we left our homes in the 7am hour (EST), and arrived in Chicago around 11am (CST). Bob Marley said it best: ‘a hungry man is an angry man’, but just substitute in ‘woman’ for Mirna’s sake. Not far from us, on Madison & Kedzie was a soul food restaurant called Ruby’s, and truly from the time you step in, the soul hits you like none other. From the welcoming customer service to the smell of delicious food, to the cozy atmosphere filled with Gospel & Soul music, it was all evident that we were really immersed in Black American culture, similar to my experience with Soul food at Delilah’s At the Terminal in Philadelphia. The choices of food were bountiful, but I didn’t want my eyes to be bigger than my stomach, although it would have taken beach ball sized eyes for that to happen on the Thursday afternoon. I went for the Dark Chicken with Collard Greens and Candy Yams. Mirna went for the Neck bones, Yams, and Mac & Cheese. Let me tell you something about Midwesterners if you didn’t know already – they love their food, and after eating that selection, I truly understand why. Mirna had this big ass piece of German Chocolate Cake that had Coconuts, and the slice was so big, I swear she couldn’t finish it – wrong. She waxed that bad boy with a purpose. I had a bite; two actually. It was damn good. After acquiring necessary itis (See the definition if unfamiliar), a common thing we’d be doing throughout the weekend would be walking it off.
While getting some toiletries at a CVS (their version of our Shoppers Drug Mart), we met up with Pierce and would determine our mission from there. We didn’t essentially have anything planned, so I didn’t bother to bring my camera – mistake. Hopped on the Green Line and went towards the LOOP; we were ‘bout that downtown action, boss.
Getting off the train at Clark & Lake, we went downstairs then BOOM – the Chicago Theatre. The iconic sign can’t go unnoticed as it’s a legendary venue. It’s pretty much the equivalent of the Apollo, so I was generally in awe, but the walking was needed.
By the time we were downtown, the high school kids were out of school, but it wasn’t a major rush of people downtown, which was cool, so we walked over to the prestigious Millennium Park, where it used to be an airport until the mayor of that time took a bunch of bulldozers and decided to do some remodeling since it was pretty much abandoned. Turned out that it would be a great decision because the park is just majestic, and we didn’t even see the whole thing at the time. We saw the ever popular tourist attraction, the Bean (well, it’s actually called Cloud Gate, but it’s the shape of a bean), and I recall seeing it Kanye’s video for ‘Homecoming’, so that was pretty surreal. Of course there was an array of wedding photos being taken, selfies galore (I mean how couldn’t you?), and the view of Michigan Avenue aka Magnificent Mile was just incredible. That’s their version of Toronto’s Yorkville and New York’s 5th Avenue, which means a lot of shopping, but we didn’t really shop – we walked. A lot. There was a tourist attraction at one of the premiere skyscrapers in America, the John Hancock Center, and it was called TILT. What this is is exactly what it sounds like – you’re tilting, but that’s not the best part. When you get up to the 94th floor (yes, 94th) you step out to a 360 degree view of the city of Chicago from every direction (East, West, North & South). It was insanely breathtaking, and I could have stayed there for hours just looking out of the windows to take in the views.
TILT is in its own separate room where up to 8 people stand in their own individual columns holding onto handlebars (mind you, the whole room is glass). With a push of a button from the operator, you literally tilt 30 degrees off the side of the John Hancock building. It’s exhilarating as hell and it definitely gets the nerves going. It’s the first 20 degrees that kills you, then the 2 5’s afterwards. It was definitely something you do once and go away from it with a Ric Flair inspired ‘WOO’ because it was that serious. After the TILT and Mirna taking a picture with a Buddhist Monk, we thought it was about time to get going. We were heading towards the Navy Pier where their boardwalk was, and it would definitely put Toronto’s to shame. The reason why I’m comparing Chicago to Toronto so much is because they are actually Sister Cities and have come across a lot of similarities for their design, size, and eccentricities, but being there…there was no comparison; well not a lot.
Walking over to the Navy Pier, it became chillier as we were approaching the lake (Michigan), but it was cool that Chicago is a great walking and cycling city as I saw a bunch of people just commuting by essentially every means (even by Segway). The pier was full of stuff for everyone to do, even during their renovations. Filled with seafood joints, gift stores, a kid’s zone and even an IMAX theatre showing a Michael Jordan movie, all was well. Having taken a little detour around the construction, we ended up at the boardwalk and the view of the skyline from the pier – crazy. Since we were there, and there was a giant Ferris Wheel – why not? With Frank Sinatra playing through the loudspeakers to give the great visual of Chicago a vibrant image, the sunset looking West as the Sun kissed over the skyline was beautiful. For the few hours we’d been in the city, it was quite the enjoyable experience thus far.
Having completely digested Ruby’s from hours prior, food was necessary again, and there are rules one must abide by in America for particular cities: you have Cheesecake in New York, Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, and so the plan was set to have authentic pizza in the city. The question was where, because of course everyone has their own opinion of the best pizza joint in the city, but Lou Malnati’s was the choice, and was even on a list of places to eat provided by my mom’s friend Randy (shout out to Degrees one time). The place was full, but the wait wasn’t long, and Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs with Indiana & Washington was in full effect, so that was cool. The pizza really is as advertised – deep. Loaded with cheese, pepperoni and sausages, the soft dough of the bread made it damn near impossible to have more than one slice, and it’s a good thing we all shared a pizza, because the portion was massive (everything is bigger in America). With great food comes great itis, and thus more walking was needed. It was the evening and we were going to meet up with another friend of ours (Delancey) over on the South Side (not too deep into the South, but still in that region). One thing that was a constant thing in Chicago was a heavy police presence, but that’s nothing I wasn’t used to, especially growing up in Scarborough. I guess I was ‘supposed’ to be worried because I was in Chicago, but I wasn’t. Someone has to keep the city safe, right? We walked over to Reggie’s Music Joint, where a lot of music acts perform from a broad range of genres, which was cool. While outside, out comes Delancey and he gave a lengthy firm embrace to both Mirna and I. It was all jokes from start to finish as we walked all the way from Reggie’s on State Street & 21st to State & Madison ( a lengthy walk that didn’t feel so lengthy). That was the end of the day as we departed with Pierce until the next day as we travelled back home on the bus with Delancey on Madison. We passed the legendary United Center, determined to see it at some point during our weekend. It’s cool because it’s right in the middle of a residential neighbourhood in the West side of Chicago, unlike a lot of sports arenas that are secluded in downtown areas well they’re more aimed at attracting tourists. That would be a little bit of foreshadowing for when we would venture down to Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately the weather called for overcast skies, some rain, and chilly (chilly being an understatement). American Netflix and ESPN served as the necessary television watching, since we’re so engulfed by TSN in Canada, so there were more conveniences that we both enjoyed. Thursday was fun.
Friday was something else as well. For breakfast, Mirna, being the ever ambitious-always-finding-shit-on-her-phone-person, found a site through Pierce (grubhub) where she could order – wait for it – delivery…breakfast. I’ve never heard of such amenities in my entire existence of flesh. Unfortunately, the Kanye West line of ‘late as a motherf*cka, colored people time’ proved to be true, as we waited almost 2 hours for breakfast, and ideally we wanted to get down to Wrigley for 1pm – it was Noon when we finally got it. A little hiccup, but the food was delicious as ever and thus the day was set. Pierce came over to our spot and handed us Cubs jerseys and fitted caps with the logo bearing down (you saw what I did there). “If you’re going to a Cubs game, you might as well look the part,” to which Mirna and I both agreed. Green Line -> Red Line -> Addison. Boom. Wrigley.
But first we had to find tickets, and this is where scalpers are greatness. We paid $30 each for Level 100 seats, and as you can see by the photos the seats weren’t bad (I’m being modest). The craziest thing happened – the Cubs were down 4-0 in the bottom of the 2nd, and as we were walking to our seats the Cubs scored on a 2-run Homer by Darwin Barney, and then a solo run by Junior Lake came at the bottom of the 3rd. It was as if we were the good luck charm. Unfortunately the Cubs couldn’t pull off the win, and so Milwaukee took the game 4-3, but at least we were able to sit in the historic field as it was celebrating its 100th year. Pierce pointed out to me where the infamous Steve Bartman incident occurred, and although I’m not an avid baseball fan, I do remember watching that, and it was something of awe, the fact that the Cubs really haven’t been successful (playoff wise) since. That’s just a string of many curses on that team. Having watched the first round of Raptors/Nets Game 3 (with Mirna) and Game 6 outside through cold and rain at Maple Leaf Square, being outside with cold and rain at a baseball stadium was nothing we couldn’t handle, shivering and all.
Pierce took us on a tour around the park pointing out to different statues, artifacts and providing some cool knowledge on things around, like their own ‘Year of the Cub’ Calendar that represented the years gone by since they’ve won: the division, the National League Pennant, and the World Series.
The best part was the trash talking that Pierce was saying about White Sox fans (located in the opposite end of Chicago on the South Side), although that team won the World Series almost a decade ago. It’s fun to hear the competitive nature like that. Something that I wish Toronto had for themselves, but also with a more winning culture besides the Toronto Rock (National Lacrosse League). After the game, we parted ways with Pierce and found ourselves downtown looking for food. Since we had Deep Dish pizza the night before, it was down to try something else. After consulting the help of a couple of security officers, they directed us to Billy Goat’s, which is known for its cheeseburgers. The retro styled restaurant was very cozy and lo and behold, the cheeseburgers were evident. Since I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself in terms of appetite, I was content with a single cheeseburger, whereas Mirna went all out with a triple – the woman can eat, so kudos to her. Food? Marvelous – no complaints whatsoever. While there, we were discussing just some of the similarities between Chicago and Toronto, and where Toronto went wrong and where Chicago went right – it was a lengthy discussion, but it set the tone for the upcoming days we’d be there, and possibly lingering in the future when we’d return home.
It was Friday night, and so it was time for Exedus, which is located in Wrigleyville (the area of shops & nightlife around Wrigley Field). For our Chicago friends (including a friend of Pierce’s), it would be a different scenario for them since Toronto has the heavy influence of West Indian culture, which Mirna and I duly flourished in (her more than myself, however). I can’t lie, I was anxious to see how Chicago would get down to some reggae and dancehall, and also if we would look like outcasts, but that simply wasn’t the case. Reggae and Dancehall that I haven’t heard in years (thrown in with some Soca) was played throughout the night, and the clientele was older than I was, so it was a good vibe throughout the night. I got a bunch of laughs out of Pierce & Delancey as they attempted to move the way of the Caribbean folks, but I applauded the fact that they got into it. The quick switch up to the Chicago styled Hip Hop was a shock as everyone seemingly broke into some kind of choreography that I wasn’t prepared for, but I did my best to get into it as they went along – the Wobble was fun, but I need to master it before I go back to the city. It was Mirna who found the club, so the fact that the guys enjoyed it, as we were able to bring a bit of our city’s culture to them, that was cool.
Friday, we were originally supposed to head over to Soldier Field, but after the Cubs game, it would have been way too tiring to head over there afterwards, so that’s why we waited until Saturday to venture out there. But first, because it was mandatory, we headed downtown by Grant Park to eat at Yolk, which is an American chain, but it’s not like Denny’s or IHOP. This was some quality food, and I mean quality food. It was particularly busy, but just like Lou Malnati’s, it wasn’t a long wait to get a couple of seats. I brought my DSLR camera with me this time around to get some better shots of what we might have missed on Thursday. For breakfast, I decided to try something new and I ordered 2 stuffed crepes with fruit, which just conveniently happened to come with pancakes on the side. These people were trying to kill me, I’m sure of it, but I’d die with a happy & full stomach. Mirna had 3 slices of Red Velvet French Toast that were stuffed with icing – INSANITY! Between the great customer service and the other creative foods that the kitchen was whipping up, that was a great experience itself. I mean, we were hitting 100% from the field in terms of food joints, and it wasn’t going to be the last of the ones to come up.
After breakfast, we walked around for a while as Pierce was at an important lunch, so we went back to Millennium Park, which was much fuller with people this time around, and more prom/wedding/quinceanera photo ops taking place – very necessary, and I didn’t blame them for taking advantage of the beautiful weather on the Saturday afternoon.
While on Michigan Ave aka Magnificent Mile (or Mag Mile for short), Mirna was determined to head down to their beaches that she had spotted while we were looking out of the 360 Chicago observation floor at John Hancock. Before that, however, we (or I, rather) did some shopping for a pair of shoes for the club we’d be attending that night (Lumen). Talk about sales – after looking feverishly for a pair of casual shoes, Mirna picked up a pair of (real) Polo Ralph Lauren shoes that came out to be $30. Yes, you read that correct – I was astonished, I tell you. Heck of a deal. The walk was great, and of course it got chilly by the water, but it wasn’t terrible. The view of the shoreline with the pedestrian/cycling lanes reminded me of our Lakeshore by Woodbine Beach/Ashbridges Bay, but just a lot better because the location of everything made a lot of sense, and it wasn’t swarmed with traffic, and the spacing was perfect.
I can only imagine how nice and crowded it gets during the summer with all of that heat, because it gets hot in the Midwest, as I was told. I don’t remember exactly how many kilometres (or miles for our American friends) that we walked, but it was a long ass walk from the North Side of Chicago to where we eventually ended up, which would be Museum Campus; home of The Field Museum (which we didn’t go inside), Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the mother lode of them all – Soldier Field. The only other NFL stadiums that I’ve been to were Detroit & Philadelphia, but since there’s so much history with Soldier Field going back to 1924, and the great names and teams (’85 in particular) that played there, it was very awe inspiring. It literally took my breath away as we walked upon it. It made me feel like an ant next to it, but it was quite the sight to behold.
From Soldier Field, another mission of the day was heading over to Harold’s Chicken in the South Side. Now, I’ll admit, the idea of walking going over to the South Side sounded intimidating a few months ago, but when we were there, it wasn’t as broken down and dilapidated as a majority of people perceived it to be, and besides, who in their right minds would want to go to an area where they weren’t familiar with and put themselves in harm’s way? You don’t do that for any city you go to. Chicago, New York, Paris, London, etc. You don’t go to vacation in the hood, and I think that’s what people don’t understand when it came to Chicago. The whole city is not the hood, so whenever someone said ‘don’t get shot’, although I’m not from the city, I can relate to the frustrations of the people in Chicago, because being from Scarborough where it was notoriously dangerous in some parts, they still to this day make the same comments. The same goes for Jane & Finch, Rexdale, and other areas where has had a high media influence of portraying majority negativity. It isn’t fair to the people who live there, and to the city’s reputation, since Chicago was a fantastic place to be in at that point. We arrived at Harold’s on the corner of South Wabash & East Cermak, and the song that came into my head instantly was Freddie Gibbs’ of the same title (Harold’s) from his Piñata album, as the hook goes “Skinny nigga, 6 wing mild sauce, with all the fries you can give me, I tear them bitches off.” It was cool to be there, but not just being there was enough. The small store, with some room for seating, smelled heavenly, and I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into the 6 wings with mild sauce and the abundance of fries. Mild sauce is a thing in Chicago, so it was only right to indulge. Funny moment – when I was ordering, I was asked what drink I’d like. I looked over and said I’d take a Strawberry. I then got a “huh?” as a reply followed by “you mean Red?” And that’s when I truly realized that I was in America. God bless you people, but I should have known better – I’ve watched enough BET Comic View to understand that they said ‘Red’ for their sodas & Kool-Aid flavours. Besides all of that, the food was magnificent. The wings were saucy and massive. I was surprised that I finished the whole thing, with the surprising piece of bread at the bottom to greet me as I tore through my basket of food.
The itis came back around and for Mirna and I, before we would head back to our place to get ready for Lumen, we were going to the Sears (now called Willis, but never by Chicagoans) Tower to go up to their observation deck. I discovered something that day – don’t make a woman run after eating food. I mean a full on sprint like we did for the train (sorry, Mirna). We took the Red line over to Jackson and walked a few blocks to find the towering mammoth of a building just soaring high above us. When we found out that the wait time to get to the top of the building was an hour, we figured that it would cut too close to getting home and prepping for Lumen, so we just left. At least we were in the building, and I got a few pics (apparently the view at JHC is better anyways).
Lumen would be the fancier of the two clubs that we attended, and it was the celebration of many people who graduated the countless amount of universities in the State and city alike, like Pierce. One thing I must say about Chicago women that I noticed during the weekend, were that their attitudes were drastically different than ones in Toronto that I’ve come across on an almost daily basis. They were friendly, approachable, and stunning to look at from every direction. Lumen played some great music. It wasn’t a big club, but it did fill up and there weren’t any issues regarding people – they just wanted to have a good time, and a good time they did – as did I. As a proud Torontonian, although I don’t necessarily sing out Drake songs back home, it means more when you’re outside of the city and seeing people react to the hometown hero’s music. I hate ‘Started from the Bottom’ with my entire soul, but I had to let that hate go for a moment to turn up. We were there for a couple of hours, and then a wave of tired slapped me in the face – it was time to go, and Mirna also obliged. It would be the final night seeing Pierce, so we thanked him for his great hosting duties, showing off his city to us, and it was pretty much cemented that we’d be back sooner rather than later.
Sunday morning, it was all business – packing. That didn’t take long, as we organized and sat down for a few moments to just soak in the days that we were there. It was still 11 in the morning, but since we had to check-out, we were thinking about just heading to the airport and chilling there until we had to fly back to the Dot. It was Delancey who would prevent that early mission from happening. He wanted to have breakfast with us, so we headed down to Madison & Western to eat at Moon’s Sandwich Shop, which was actually pretty famous in the city. There were a bunch of people inside, but we took our seats and ordered not too long afterwards. Sharing some laughs and whatnot before food came out, it was enjoyable to just be in the presence of good people. The atmosphere was vibrant as the workers were engaging with us, and Delancey was entertaining with his witty humour as usual recalling his awkward outing the night before. I had pancakes, bacon, and eggs. I also never had Grits before, so when Delancey ordered his, he prepared it with some sugar, and I tried it on for size. It’s essentially oatmeal, but just thicker. There are a lot of ways to eat it (like with cheese), but it tasted good. I’d have it again.
To walk off the food for our last time in Chicago, we decided to walk over to the legendary United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who were hosting Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Finals against the LA Kings that same day. It was bright and sunny, and since we had so much to kill, the walk over there wasn’t a thing. The building is just in the middle of a neighbourhood, which was impressive as is, and the statues of the Blackhawks players outside were just as cool, but it was one in particular that I had seen the previous night in a taxi as we headed back to our place from Lumen, that was the crown jewel – the Michael Jordan statue, otherwise known as ‘The Spirit’.
Michael Jordan is one of the most inspiring figures to not only Black Americans, but to pretty much all people who love sports. Being that he’s one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball, it wasn’t so much emotional, but I was legitimately in awe of the fact that I was standing in the shadow of a childhood inspiration’s legacy. It sent chills down my spine a little bit, I’m not even going to lie. It was great to see all of the Blackhawks fans gathered to attend the game – red jerseys everywhere, many of them autographed, which was cool. It’s nice to have championship type teams, or even ones that get to the playoffs and go far consistently (looking at you MLSE, looking right at you).
After photos and such, it was time to go to the airport, as Delancey nicely enough, walked us over to the Blue line train to O’Hare. After the final hug exchange, we then knew that the stay was over, but it was brilliant trip that would never be forgotten, and would change the perception of the city for not only myself, but hopefully to the people reading this who never had a formal opinion of the city to begin with, outside of what was on the news and World Star Hip Hop YouTube & Vine Compilations. I realized that this is a relaxed city full of people who take pride in their sports, architecture, and overall history. The pace isn’t as hustle and bustle as Toronto or New York, but people take their time to get to where they need to, although that still didn’t mean there weren’t antsy and irritated drivers in the heart of the city. Their transit is convenient, and the people were absolutely lovely. They take great pride in knowing that you’re in their city enjoying yourself. It means a lot to them, and it’s something that I really think is missing from Toronto – that sense of pride; not just when it’s convenient, but overall. It’s there, but it’s not as evident. People do their best to leave Toronto as much as possible because it can be a really depressing (and boring) city at times. Their use of bicycles in the city, and to see everyone using them, that was cool too – a similarity to Toronto, but more accessible bike lanes than Toronto by far. Their above ground subways were cool, and Pierce even showed us where they filmed scenes from The Dark Knight and also Transformers. The man knows a lot about his city, and that’s something that many Chicagoans take pride in – knowing their city’s history and being able to share it with everyday strangers.
But the one thing that I took away from the city of Chicago was that, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like a minority, and that’s something that means more to me than anything else. Toronto is labeled as a diverse & multicultural city, and so many different people live here, but what people don’t know is that in a way, it’s very segregated. A lot of Europeans live amongst their own people, along with Asians, and just about any other nationality in the city. They like to stick to their own kinds, and I’m sure that’s everywhere, but where there’s a consistent presence in Chicago where I don’t see a lot of in Toronto – Black people. And no, it’s not the people who are gang members or ratchets that people would think there to be, but it’s the older generation who you can tell endured the rough times of the civil rights movement, to the younger generation of kids my age. I didn’t walk around feeling like I was being looked at a particular way or like I didn’t belong (living in the area of Leaside for 5 years definitely reveals who stands out the most). It was in the city, it was just outside of the city, it was in restaurants, but it was clear that they were around, and I was at peace with that. It was a comfortable feeling, and I’d definitely go back. As we looked at the skyline in the air while leaving O’Hare, I stared at it already missing it, but vowed to return soon; it was very necessary to do so, and also it was necessary to get the word out that Chicago isn’t what a lot of people think it is.
There’s a great sense of community that I was grateful to be involved with for the few days I was there, and I’d recommend anyone to go. My friend Jen told me before I left that it’s a great couple’s city, and I definitely understood why. Guys and Girls, take note, and take it from me that it’s definitely that kind of city for you. Thank you for the hospitality, Chicago. The city blew winds of change in my views, and I’m glad they did. An opinion of a location goes unheard if you’ve never experienced it for yourself, so do a favour and get out of your box, you may discover something. But for now, and until the next trip
That’s My Word & It STiXX