My Kind of Town
I moved to Chicago fresh out of graduate school for a ten-week internship and never left. Having grown up in the parched Arizona desert, Chicago was like the New World to me. I loved the seasons, the lake, the ethnic neighborhoods, the restaurants, museums, theaters ... all of it. I loved the down-to-earth people, how family-oriented and rooted they seemed. I loved how everyone decorated their lawns for each and every holiday. I met my husband here and we had our first child here. We lived in Ravenswood, in a small condo building on a quiet, mature street with enormous trees and tiny backyards.
Two other women in our building had children, too, and we met every Friday morning in someone's living room for a playdate and chat. Joanne, our resident baker, would make cinnamon rolls, lemon cakes or blueberry muffins and Dawn would bring a pitcher of iced coffee. The kids would play with each others' toys, and we would sip our coffees and solve the world's problems until nap-time mandated we all return to our own homes.
One Friday morning I sat down at Joanne's dining room table with some homemade brownies and told my friends that my husband was interviewing for a job in New York City. Of course we wouldn't go, I told them, but it was startling all the same. New York had always been a great place to visit, but I couldn't live there. I'd been in Chicago for ten years, and it was home.
A few months later I stood, crying and somewhat disbelieving, in our empty home, all of our belongings packed onto a moving truck. I hugged my friends goodbye, buckled my 18-month-old son into his carseat, and pulled out of our parking spot for the last time. I was eight months pregnant with our second son, and we were on our way to New York, to an Upper West Side apartment I had nicknamed "the shoebox." It was 1,100 square feet and less expensive than anything else we had seen because it had a one-year lease, but it still cost 35% more than our Chicago mortgage. Our next apartment was 60% more expensive than the first, at a whopping $5,250 each month.
Manhattan is 22.7 square miles and home to over 1,600,000 people. In those first few months I felt like I saw most of them on a daily basis. On the streets, at the playgrounds, on the subway, and at each of the dozen Starbucks in my neighborhood, people were everywhere, pushing past each other, jockeying for space and yelling at or over each other. The senior citizens were the worst, ramming their carts into each other at the grocery store and yelling at people in their way on the sidewalks. I was frequently reminded of John B. Calhoun and his famous rat experiments, in which overcrowded rats created complex hierarchical systems, became increasingly aggressive, stopped reproducing, and then withdrew from each other, spending an inordinate amount of time grooming themselves.Continued on the next page