Chicago, as told by a suburban dweller.
Every big city has their stereotypes, their statistics and their hot spots. Especially for those from the suburbs, these assumed truths are some of the most important points to consider when journeying to somewhere with big buildings. As I took my first trip to Chicago, I realized several things about myself and about the city itself.
First of all, I realized how lucky I am. To even have the means to plan a trip to somewhere like Chicago, to abandon my safe home and campus in the place I grew up and knew like the back of my hand, this is indeed a privilege. I realized this immediately upon entering the streets of Chicago. When just driving through the city, taking note of the amount of poverty stricken citizens and homelessness in the streets is heart breaking. For someone like me who hasn't experienced much homelessness in the small suburb I live in, this was both eye opening and gut wrenching. It was hard for me to keep from staring as we drove by, a thousand thoughts racing through my mind, like "...oh, damn... it's so cold outside.. they said you shouldn't give anyone on the streets money... how do you get to that point... oh my god... I'm so lucky". To see a person huddling against a wall and sitting on the sidewalk, for someone like me, it is hard to understand. That kind of exposure isn't something I have previously experienced, and especially not in the capacity that homelessness resides in in big cities. And although there is next to nothing I could do in that moment to help that person, it is important to remember how truly privileged we are.
The second thing I realized about myself is that I'm pretty sheltered. I learned this from the instinctual feeling I had upon arriving to watch my back, be aware of my surroundings, walk quickly and to lock the doors of the car 4 times in a row. From this, I took that no matter how cool I think I am, there is still a whole world that I haven't experienced outside of what I am used to. When you're somewhere new, you're at the mercy of the environment. For me, I guess that means that I automatically felt the need to protect myself from thieves or whatever else I assumed was lurking in the shadows of the city. Ultimately, I don't believe it's a bad thing to be a little sheltered. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is definitely something worth exploring when you get the chance.
The next thing worth mentioning is that the exasperated looks you get when you tell someone you're driving to a big city are for a good reason. Driving in a city, while doable, might be the most difficult mode of transportation available. Especially with modern day technology and the capability of your ride yelling your name from a car window within minutes of tapping a screen, there is almost no real reason to drive yourself in a big city. Unless you like to pay hundreds of dollars for temporary parking permits, or you enjoy circling the block over and over again squinting up at which direction the 'tow zone' is pointing to, you should do everything you can to not drive yourself in the city.
Lastly, I want to talk about the culture that thrives within the city. From bucket-drummers to theatre to the local cuisine, everything has an incredible amount of soul. We stopped at several food joints, which all turned out to be absolutely delicious in their own way. Everything food-wise is a little more expensive than what you're probably used to, but everything tastes ten times better than what you're probably expecting. We stopped at a noodle bar, a frozen yogurt place, a burger joint, an all natural foods cafe and an all day breakfast restaurant (which listed Obama's personal favorite meals) before finally stopping for some of Chicago's famous deep dish pizza, which was arguably one of the best parts of the trip. In addition to the food, the theatrical culture was also so amazing. I had the incredible privilege to see Hamilton on Broadway while in Chicago. I cannot explain how good the show was; it was SO good. It was amazing to encounter such a marvelously talented cast, and even though the tickets cost an arm and a leg, I plan on reliving the experience by seeing this show in the near future. 15/10 would recommend.
Overall, visiting Chicago reminded me to be grateful, and to remember that not everyone has the privilege to live the way they do. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel to places they wish they could experience. If you take anything away from this, remember not to drive to the city if you don't have to. Remember to stay on your toes and that you can never be too careful. And lastly, remember to appreciate the immensely incredible culture that exists around you.
With love and sincerely,
A girl from the suburbs