Lately all I can think of is writing. I’m not good at a lot of things but that’s not true with writing. Travel is so important to me & I had an idea while on my last trip – I want to write about the places I go but not in a “Flight Attendant Blog 10 Things You Must Do While In…..” influencer bullshit kind of blog. I am best with stories. I want to start sharing why certain places are important to me & why I love them, in hopes that this inspires people to travel, broaden their horizons, & feel love for new places & experiences. First up is my first love…Chicago.
It’s 2011 & I’m about 2 months shy of moving to Atlanta. I have mentally prepared myself for this shitshow – my ex husband accepted a management position with Norfolk Southern railway that he was currently in the process of training for & at the end of his training, we would move to the A. The mental preparing was for the fact that we were going to be living with one of his distant cousins who had about 12 dogs (seriously) – I was so nervous. Emma was going to hate this & quite frankly, I was going to hate it too. I love dogs but the idea of that many in one home just completely turned me off. It was a lovely offer but…no. But to save money, he had accepted her offer.
It’s November & while he’s wrapping up his training (working in a different city for a week at a time) I’m staying in West Virginia with his parents. One night I get a call from him while he’s in a car full of people and he says to me –
“So I have some news”
“Oh yeah? What’s up?”
“Well I just got a phone call & ,well, they need men in Chicago so they’re pulling me out of the program early to start work”
“CHICAGO?! What am I supposed to do in Chicago?!” (Wow, I was self centered but I remember actually saying this)
-the people in the car are cracking up because clearly I had to be on speaker phone so everyone could hear my reaction-
“………freeze”* (this was said by my ex mother in law who was listening from across the room)
I knew nothing of Chicago. At this point I only had experience with 2 cities – Charlotte and Atlanta. Charlotte, of course, being a very small city and Atlanta ,while big, is Southern so I could still relate. However, I was a small town girl who ,to this day, does not understand the romanticizing of small town life and had always dreamed of living in a big city. I worshipped at the feet of Carrie Bradshaw & hoped one day my life could be like hers. So while Chicago is certainly no New York, it’s still a magnificent city & after about 3 days, my shock wore off & turned to excitement. He was going up first & I would eventually head up which also infuriated me because as a total spoiled brat – I wanted to go NOW too! But eventually I made it…to Hammond, Indiana.
We stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn right off the interstate next to a Welcome Center & a Cracker Barrel. Not exactly the glamorous welcome I was expecting but oh well, my time would come. Finally after 2 weeks, my ex took me to the East Chicago train station and we went to the city together – it’s been so long now that I don’t really remember my first impressions anymore. I know I enjoyed it but I also remember being cold & it was very windy. I remember that we had Chicago style pizza at Gino’s East (and with time comes knowledge – there are FAR better pizza places than Gino’s in Chicago, most of which don’t even serve Chicago style pizza!) I don’t recall my love for the city growing until I started exploring it on my own.
However, that took me a while. After the brief stay in Hammond, we went to an Extended Stay hotel in Lansing, IL for about 3 months while we worked on purchasing our home which was also in Indiana. A little town called Dyer, just a few miles from the Illinois state line. We rarely went back to the city during the time at the Extended Stay but on occasion went to Wrigleyville to a friend’s apartment and to the Midway airport area to eat at the Giordano’s there (my personal favorite Chicago pizza although it is terribly touristy, I will recommend it til I’m blue in the face)
He and I had good times in the city. We went to Broadway shows, Cubs & Blackhawks games, and had delicious meals. But for me it was too sporadic. What’s the point in living so close to somewhere cool if you hardly go? Especially when I knew we wouldn’t be there forever. Part of railroad life is moving frequently so I knew it was just a matter of time! So finally I couldn’t take it anymore. Taste of Chicago was going on & damn it I wanted to go! So one day while feeling particularly brave, I drove myself to the station & bought myself a ticket. I boarded that train knowing exactly where I needed to get off & where I wanted to go…and I had the best freakin’ time ever. This little country bumpkin was growing up! I laugh at myself now but I was petrified of having to ask a stranger if I could sit with them if the train was full. I was petrified that I’d miss my train home and wouldn’t make it at the very specific time I’d pictured myself getting home. I was so scared & for what? The people were lovely, the train rides were fine, it was a perfect day to be out & eating delicious food around the city! This day taught me to stop being afraid. The world can be scary but don’t be a little bitch about it!
Approaching the top steps of Millennium Station and seeing the glimpses of the city outside, I remember my heart beating faster. I had done it! “Look at these huge buildings all around me! I’m so small in comparison. No one knows me here! No one knows where I’m at! I can do whatever I want!” My thoughts were running wild! I loved this feeling of freedom that I’d never felt before…that the city was wide open & mine to explore. It’s a feeling that has never left me. I feel it every time I go somewhere new.
So after this first initial outing, I started going as often as I could. I visited museums, restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, parks, & whatever else I could think of! Oh the original Playboy mansion is here? Well let’s go find it! Found a cool restaurant on Travel Channel? I’m on my way! I can go watch the Blackhawks training camp for $5? Sign me up! Learning Chicago consumed me. I was obsessed with finding cool things to do, touristy things I wanted to do & hadn’t yet, and good food!** I became entranced with Chicago sports – suddenly I was a huge Blackhawks fan & I loved the Cubbies. I love how Chicago loves their home teams & I wanted so badly to be apart of that excitement! I shared news articles, travel articles, “To-Do in Chicago” lists all over my social media…this city ,literally, became part of my identity! I was actually a bit cringe-worthy with my love but I felt it fiercely.
On certain days a week I would work in Hammond & across the train tracks was the station I always left from. Sometimes I’d sit in my car (I worked solo so this was okay) & just think about going home to get Emma and us running off to Chicago together. Just me and her. It’s so weird to me that this wasn’t a huge red flag that I should be divorced & I was actually pretty happy in my marriage then but in my fantasy world it was always just me and my baby dog being city girls together. The way I’d pictured my life when I was a teenager. Okay, so I never pictured having a dog but Emma only made my imagined life even better!
It’s 2022 now. I moved from Indiana in 2014. I’ve been to Chicago only on my layovers for work. The last time I went to the city (and didn’t just hang out in my layover hotel) was December of 2018. I still love it…but I have a different love for it now. It’s a matured love. A love that is more calming than heart pounding. A love that feels like an old friend instead of a hot new love. A love that says “You don’t have to rush Autumn. You can take your time and enjoy…you’ll be back”
*I did freeze actually. All the fucking time, for months on end. The one part of Chicago that I can’t romanticize at all is the cold.
**I cannot stress this enough – Chicago is the best food city in the USA. Fight me on this, I don’t care. But please, if you ever find yourself going to the Chi, please ask me for recommendations! I won’t let you down.
All photos are my own with the exception of the cover photo which I found on Pinterest & can be found to purchase as a print at THIS link.