Just got back from Chicago; spent 4 days there covering cases. It's been a long time since I can remember being so relieved to get out of a town...not so much the being home part (though that is very nice indeed), but just to be OUT of a town.
As my faithful readers know, I am from a smallish town. We call ourselves a city, but to me the word "city" connotes a large metropolis, and Collegeville is not a metropolis by any bending of the imagination! Chicago is definitely a city by my personal definition, but I'm calling it a town because Frank Sinatra did...and who's gonna argue with Frank? Not me!
While I currently reside in a town of roughly 50,000, I was raised in a town of about 14,000. I don't think I'd ever want to live in such a tiny town again...definitely not that town because it has succumbed, over the years, to drugs and all the associated problems.
Oh, and because it is an intelligence-sucking vortex. When I go to any store or restaurant in that town I feel my IQ threatening to run off a cliff with the rest of the mental lemmings (sorry Mom and Dad; no offense to you or your friends - you have all managed to remain above it... Kudos!).
Conversely, I would never ever want to live in a large town like Chicago. In my youth (recent, of course ;)) I used to think it was fun to visit the big cities. Centers of industry, entertainment, and opulence. Loci of unspeakable violence and rampant poverty. The clamorous contrast! The promise of raucous spectacle!! Exploration. Adventure. Risk.
In the wisdom and clarity of responsible adulthood, the adventure is now unappealing. The risk is now unacceptable because I have two little semi-helpless, damn cute humans relying on me to come home. And a husband who is secretly terrified that one day I won't. Aside from the idea of rendering my family sans mother/wife, I truly don't like the big-town atmosphere. And it's not just the smog.
As I arrived in Chicago I felt this... aura. It is still hard to describe. It was like a giant, oppressive, intangible weight; a stifling negativity with an undercurrent of urgent restlessness. It was completely alien to me, an atmosphere I wasn't sure I could safely breathe.
I arrived at night and my first impression was of the absence of dark. Even from miles away I could tell I was approaching the city by the growing glow on the horizon. As I entered the city proper, my eyes goggled at the abundance of garish signage and harsh lighting. There is no natural darkness in any large city. It occurs to me that there must be many people in current existence who have never been outside on a moonless night and known what it is to feel simultaneous trepidation and wonder at being a tiny human in a vast universe. For us small-towners, it is a common opportunity; but its familiarity doesn't lessen its sacredness.
Sorry, folks; your big-city Imax planetarium just doesn't cut it.
I was instantly on guard, compulsively scanning my surroundings, forcing myself to be hyper-aware: the traffic, the aimlessly wandering bands of shady-looking adolescents. I scavenged through my mental files under "Personal Safety," desperately trying to remember every scam and associated safety tip I ever learned:
Don't stop if a cop tries to pull you over. It could be a rapist or murderer. Put on your hazard lights, call 911 and ask if there is a trooper in the area, then proceed to a safe place.
If someone tries to carjack you, don't let them in the car, WHATEVER YOU DO. Slam on the gas and honk your horn. Run them over if you have to.
If someone rear-ends you, don't get out of the car. Lock your doors and call 911. Leave yourself room to pull away in your car if you feel threatened.
And so on, and so on. And that's just the "stuff to remember" while in the car!! Mentally and emotionally exhausting: it never let up for 4 days.
Traffic? I won't even go there. I've never had to "commute" in my life. The furthest I've ever lived from my workplace is 15 minutes. 15 minutes in Collegeville? 8 miles. Across town. In traffic.
15 minutes in Chicago? About 4 blocks. If you're lucky. Road rage is very real. Courtesy is regarded as weakness and is to be ridiculed or even punished. No wonder people carry guns in their cars. I got the "Illinois Wave" more than once, and I consider myself lucky that I didn't get worse! I'd chalk it up to my out-of-state plates, but my new Fleet vehicle has no plates.
I met some nice people at the hospital accounts I visited. Out and about, however: totally different story. Perpetual pissed-off-ed-ness is the dominant state of mind. I'm not a cranky person; I tried to make eye contact, offer a sincere "thank you" or "have a great day." The overwhelming response was knitted brows and a suspicious look; I swear I once heard a mumbled, "What. Everrr..." as I walked away. Apparently it's not acceptable to be courteous out of your car, either.
Now I know people from Chicago. The people I know, I like. TellYaWhat: I like them even more now! Anyone who can live there and maintain not only sanity but a positive and personable attitude? Good for You!! Hurrah!! Bravo!!
As I left Chicago, I remember the exact moment I felt normal again. As the Interstate I was on peeled from six, to four, to two lanes, and I was finally on a route with only one label...it lifted. It was as if I had been holding my breath for four days...and I finally exhaled. The rugged gray landscape surrendered to rolling green plains and freshly turned fields of rich, black soil. I opened my sunroof to let in the unsullied spring air, the occasional fragrances of crabapple blossoms and damp earth filtering in. My shoulders relaxed. My brain uncurled from its fetal position. I laid my head back against the headrest, and set the cruise control.
There's nothing like a big town to make you appreciate the small town life.
Deep Coma, Big Karma - Just winding down for the moment. The Blogosphere is not what it was in the *Two Thousand And Somethings*, and discourse has largely morphed itself off els...