“YEAH, I could live here,” I thought as I strolled along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
It was a sunny June morning and I was on a decent hike from my hostel through skyscraper-lined streets, parkland, beaches, and riverfront, soon to arrive at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
America’s third-largest city was alive with a pulsing energy, the L was shuffling along the tracks overhead and I was growing ever more in love with this place.
That morning I had life all planned out: I’d get back to Australia, take out my life savings, somehow score a job at the Tribune and live in a hip inner-north suburb; my days spent interviewing the people who inhabited this great city and my nights whiled away at jazz and blues bars, or perhaps at the baseball.
But, like all summer flings, my feelings of forever with Chicago weren’t to last. Out of curiosity while writing this post in early January, I had a quick peek at the city’s weather to find – yikes – one degree and overcast, with the mercury to plummet to -13 on Monday.
There’s no way a kid who found the New England highland of New South Wales – a place where it snowed only once in 16 months of living there – too cold for comfort could cut it in Chicago for even a year.
The city had given me plenty of warnings: street signs reminding drivers not to park in areas of high snow concentration and large, glass overpasses between buildings so shoppers wouldn’t need to brave the frigid December temperatures. Hell, even the breeze which so cooled me in the humid start of summer should have been enough to warn me it would return with a vengeance in December, driving Arctic gusts through the Great Lakes and straight into my chest.
But I ignored all of those hints. I was too focused on the beachgoers, the advertisements for open air concerts in Millennium Park, the ice-cream stands on the footpath, the pollen drifting between the trees in the leafy suburbs.
Because Chicago and its citizens understand they have only a short time in the warmth and sunshine, they make the most of it. We have a tendency in Australia – and especially in Brisbane – to take for granted the year-round good weather. An outdoors market like the Teneriffe Festival, in the middle of winter, is of no concern because we don’t need to huddle up for warmth.
But Chicago lacks that luxury, so summer feels like a massive party, making the most of the heat before it disappears for another nine months.
And even with those tastes of summer, there were parts of the city where you’d still feel like you were in Gotham, expecting the Batmobile to swing round the corner any minute.
From the moment I got off the bus opposite the art deco Union Station, I was in love with the city’s architecture. The sheer density of the inner city and its mix of styles made the whole town feel like an exciting, avant-garde experiment. It helps that it’s built on a dead flat plain, making the height of the Willis and Hancock towers all the more impressive.
Rather than the dull-as-dishwater glass monotony of modern Australian architecture, Chicago’s beauty lies in its grime and its lived-in feel. And that’s as prevalent in summer as it is in winter, so you’re hardly missing out on getting a true feel for the city if you don’t go in the dead of January.
So, no, Chicago and I will never be long-term. But I’ll still be dreaming of those marvellous summer days listening to the jazz buskers beneath the raised L train tracks, shopping in hipster stores Newtown could only dream of and gorging on the heinously unhealthy deep dish pizzas and caramel and cheddar popcorn.
We can never be together, but we’ll always have June.