You know you’re getting close to Chicago not by the signs but by the traffic. You’ll be driving along, minding your own business in the middle lane, when a Lexus and an Acura or a Pontiac Grand Prix will appear and zoom around you in the right lane, narrowly squeezing between you and a pickup truck. All while the left lane is empty. Crazier and crazier stunts will ensue, and the speed limit will be widely ignored. Only when the posted limit is 45 and the observed speed is 70 will you see the tall buildings on the horizon, poking up from the Loop.
On the road, we don’t really like to talk with people about what we’re doing. For every one person who is genuinely interested and excited, there are ten who’ll give you a look and say, “hmmm, interesting.” You can see the wheels of judgement spinning in their heads, and the ticker always stops on…trust fund kids…they’re just a couple of trustafarians, out wasting mommy and daddy’s money. I wish. And I’m strangely flattered (we usually look pretty rough — laundromat machines are brutal on clothing and we often go a few days between showers). It’s usually easier to just say we’re from Chicago and leave it at that with no mention of how long we’ve been on the road.
But now that we’re back in Chicago, it’s obvious that we’re no longer from Chicago. Driving in, I’m not sure where to go. I forget if Western is a north/south or a diagonal street. By habit, I want to head towards one of our old apartments in Lincoln Park, but we’re staying with Paul’s brother in Lincoln Square. How do I get there by car? It just feels weird to be back here. The first time we returned, in October, we’d only been gone for three weeks. Nothing had changed. This time we’ve been gone for almost six months, and a lot has changed. The city has moved on without us. We’ve moved on without the city.
Riding the CTA, visiting the Loop, eating at old favorite restaurants…it’s like returning to an old job to visit your coworkers. Instead of finding them building a shrine to your memory and accomplishments, you discover that they’ve moved on and are doing just fine without you, thank you very much. In fact, they really don’t even think about you anymore. And be honest — you don’t think about them either.
It was wonderful to visit our friends and family in Chicago. But it’s obvious that the Chicago chapter of our lives has definitively and clearly ended. As I told the guy at West Lakeview Liquors, “we’re former Chicagoans.”