Chicago, Friday Night Trouble Bound

Neither of us had been to this bar in years, but as soon as we walk through the front door, hazy memories rush back like the swill at the bottom of a pint glass.  I sidle up to the cash-only bar and order two beers; the bartender hands me back my change,  a fistful of soggy singles that I shove into my wallet.

It takes two hours for the headlining band to take the stage. Before then, we stake out a spot in the crowd, bathing in neon light and the aural accompaniment of drunken banter. We’ve seen this band at least a dozen times before, but their shows make me feel like I never slowed down on all those killer parties. These kinds of nights feel like pure Chicago to me. How many times since I first turned 21 have I danced on this sticky floor, how many cheap PBRs have I crushed, how many times have I used the women’s bathroom where there’s never a functioning lock and I have to hook my foot around the bottom of the stall door so no one walks in on me. How many bands have I seen, and how many of them skyrocketed to fame or disappeared into oblivion.

The opening act is the frontman of another well-known band in town for the weekend, appearing solo, singing covers of 60’s and 70’s AM Gold radio hits. Catering to the local crowd, he launches into the rolling opening chords of “Lakeshore Drive.” I sing along, Friday night trouble bound.

When the headlining band takes the stage, the air is electric in that way that only happens when everyone there is a diehard fan who knows every lyric by heart. We scream in unison, hands punching the air like Mario raining coins from the sky. I can use this reference because everyone in this dive bar is my age. The room vibrates with body heat and joy. I feel the bass reverberate up through the soles of my feet and I wonder if my pulse matches the beat of the drums .

We pour out of the bar at 1 a.m., exhausted and exhilarated. As we walk down Western Ave, I feel the concrete sidewalk beneath my Chucks, rooting me to this city. Driving up Milwaukee Ave, we pass through my old neighborhood and I’m struck again by how much has changed–old laundromats and empty storefronts replaced with hipster bars, yoga studios, and breweries. I’m glad some time capsules still remain.

 

City Kid with an Outdoor Heart

I constantly feel conflicted about living in a big city.  Throughout every downtown office cubicle job I’ve had, I would find moments to slip away and gaze out a window. I needed to see the outside for whatever brief little moments I could find. My husband and I have traveled to the Badlands, Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Glacier. We’ve kayaked and camped along the Wisconsin River nearly every summer we’ve been together. We used every last frequent flier mile we had to travel to Alaska, where we drove an RV around for 10 days of exploring . When I’m outdoors, it feels like my soul can finally breathe. I love it.

But I also love living in the city–the third largest U.S. city, to be precise (stand down, Houston). In Chicago, I have regular access to art, culture, and whatever kind of food I’m craving, be it Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Filipino, or Korean. In the city, I meet people from all walks of life, who grew up in other countries or have interesting backgrounds, who spent a year backpacking across Australia or studying the circus arts. On any given evening, I can go attend a live literary reading or open mic, see a band I’ve never heard of or one I grew up listening to, or go to a bar to cheer on one of our many local professional sports teams and high-five strangers.

In the outdoors, I’ve seen a mountain lion cross the road in front of us, its eyes fixed upon us, long tail slowly swishing, looking like something majestic and wild and otherworldly, before it leapt up the hillside in three fluid strides.

In the city, I’ve seen both obscure arthouse films and major movie premieres on the big screen with the director present for a live Q&A.

In the outdoors, I’ve had a bison huff angrily at the tent where my husband and I slept, threatening to charge us for being on his home turf.

In the city, I’ve participated in a flash mob during the halftime of a roller derby bout while dressed as a ninja.

In the outdoors, I’ve heard the howls of coyotes, the hoots of owls, and the soft patter of rain on the roof of my tent as I drifted to sleep.

In the city, I’ve seen priceless works of art at our local, internationally renowned museums.

In the outdoors, I’ve waited out a rainstorm with my husband in a 3-man tent on a narrow sandbar in the middle of a river, drinking boxed wine from our camping cups and reading the third Game of Thrones book by the light of my headlamp as rain pelted our fly and lightning crackled over our heads.

In the city, I’ve danced in the rain during a street festival with a beer in one hand and a taco in the other, surrounded by friends and live music.

I love my hometown while simultaneously feeling frustrated by it. I get disheartened by crime and the disrespect people can have for their surroundings, others’ property, and human life. This city will always inspire me, excite me, act as a muse, and break my heart over and over. And when things become to stressful, bleak, or maddening, the mountains start calling my name.