As the days become fewer and fewer until my departure, I find myself constantly conflicted. I find myself torn between my excitement to return to the Big Apple and my sadness to leave my beloved Smelly Onion. While my East Coast friends continue to tell me they cannot wait for my arrival and my Midwestern friends have already booked visits to New York, I still begin to feel sentimentality for my hometown unlike ever before.
In all the years I wanted to leave, to escape to New York, my be all and end all dream location, I never spent enough time appreciating my own city. I walked by Sky Gate as if it were just another piece of metal, pranced by the giant Ferris wheel in Navy Pier as if it were a small carnival decoration, shopped on the Magnificent Mile all the while thinking it was nothing like my darling Fifth Avenue, and scorned our Art Institute for not being The Met. And while I have become immune to the treasures of my city in my eighteen years, I have suddenly regained a new appreciation, a new excitement about enjoying my surroundings, because I know my days are limited.
During the ready-for-college? Small talk with neighbors/relatives/acquaintances, I’m often reminded not to forget my roots; and I think: How could I? Because as great as New York is, as excited as I am to live there once again (if you count last summer, which I absolutely do), Manhattan is not Chicago, Manhattan is not my hometown, nor will it ever be.
I grew up taking boat tours down the Chicago River, going on school trips to the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Sears Tower. I’ve watched the Cows on Parade, attended countless concerts at Ravinia, spent every Black Friday on State Street, swam in Lake Michigan, walked through the Botanic Gardens, skated in Millennium Park, laughed at Second City, the list continues endlessly. Almost all of my childhood memories take place somewhere between the North Shore and the South Loop.
Early in the school year, we had to write a compare-contrast essay for English Lit and I wrote about my split love for New York and Chicago. I explained my inaptitude at the CTA system but my skills with the MTA, I compared Millennium Park to Central Park, never reaching any conclusion as to which Great Lawn is superior, I contrasted New Yorkers to Chicagoans, realizing that my side absolutely reigns superior.
Because I will forever be a Chicagoan, regardless if I live in New York for four or forty years. I will forever hum “Go Cubs Go!”, always make time to return to my favorite places, and never stop sharing stories about the greatness of my city.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to move to New York. To live closer to Times Square, to be immersed in culture and art, to always wake up in the city that never sleeps. There are many elements New York has that Chicago will never possess yet there are so many things about Chicago that will never be matched: I can’t walk down the streets in New York and remember good times growing up with my old friends (MJP popcorn incident aside). And, more importantly, New York only has Z100, Chicago has both Kiss FM and B96. What will I do when there is a commercial on my favorite radio station? Listen to it?
I’ve been told time and time again that once you leave for college, returning home is like being a guest. I somewhat envy my friends staying in Chicago for school, having that comfort of home while still enveloping themselves in new experience.
While I may know Manhattan like the back of my hand, it is still not my city. My city is the Cubs, the Sox, the L, the Loop, the Lake. I will never say “pocketbook” nor do I plan to switch from “gym shoes” to “sneakers.” While my love affair with New York is always strong, I cannot let myself deny my love for Chicago. The kind of love that comes from scraped knees on pavements, thunderstorms destroying anticipated plans, hours spent waiting for the free trolley because we were too lazy to walk. I may have watched seven hours worth of historical New York documentaries on PBS yet the history I have with Chicago is undeniable. I can tell you Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, that the Brooklyn Bridge took thirteen years to build, but that does not compare to explaining the Great Chicago Fire to an outsider, showing her the remaining structures, telling her stories of yearly field trips to historical sites, living the memories and the stories.
So Chicago, as I prepare to leave you in a couple months, to officially become Issa On Broadway, I promise to love you more than ever. To take advantage of your best assets, your unique qualities, and enjoy you to my utmost ability. I will not compare you to my dream city, as you are truly it. While I may never fully reside in you again, or maybe I will, I want to thank you for the good times, for making every moment special, never letting me take you for granted, and for never disappointing me. As we prepare to part ways, I want you to know you will always be in my heart, that through photographs and memories you will never leave me, as I hope to have made a lasting impression on you.