Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chicago: A City Revealed

I've been to Chicago a few times before. I didn't harbor a very high opinion of the place. I spent most of my time in the suburbs, but what I'd seen of downtown seemed ridiculously overcrowded, dirty and concrete sterile. As I've often found to be the case, time on the sidewalk - pounding the pavement with your own two feet - can make all the difference in your relationship with a place. This has been true of other cities I've visited and it's certainly been the case in the way I view Chicago.

I spent only two days there but that was all it took for The Windy City to become my favorite metropolis. Chicago has now surpassed Seattle (and before it Minneapolis) to claim the top spot. This is based on mostly intangible factors but revolves around criteria such as available commercial flights, ease of egress to downtown from an airport, public transportation available, businesses located there, sports franchises - arts - entertainment options available, and the overall pulse of a town generated by it's people, vehicles & architecture.

Chicago's downtown can be accessed by train from both O'Hare and Midway airports. The architecture there is quite astounding with engineering marvels such as the Sears and Hancock towers merely crowning the cities classic ornate structures. The Chicago river adds diversity to the landscape and the people there are generally attractive. Hard to find was the slack dressed yokel or the rap star wannabe overtaken by business attire or at least, jeans and collared shirts. It was a refreshing break from the wear anything atmosphere of Los Angeles and Houston.

I grew up a Cubs fan, and though my allegiance has changed somewhat in my old age, it was thrilling to be back in a town with two baseball teams (one of which with the greatest home field in MLB) and almost any other form of professional sport. Matching this athletic pedigree is a home for the arts, particularly the performing arts with more top notch theaters of varying sizes than any town outside of New York. In fact the opportunity to take in a musical is what drew me here. The next time I want to see a broadway production, I'll wait to see it in Chicago rather than battle Manhattan.

Things cost little more in Chicago than in some other cities but not unbearably so. The higher costs were offset by the reasonable public transportation fees. $9 bought me unlimited use of all El-Trains, Subways and buses for 48 hours (this was a visitors fee, though I don't know how they distinguish between the tourist and the commuter.) This flexibility allowed me to see nearly everything I wanted to see without the cost of renting a car and the stress of dealing with it in a city.

Yes I highly recommend a visit to Chicago. In future visits I'd like to take an architecture tour from a boat on the river, visit the top of the Hancock tower, get out to the lake shore and take in a game at Wrigley. I'll only have scratched the surface at that point too. I hope to be back in Chicago soon.

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