November 4, 2010
As I recently mentioned, I’m working through moving from one phase of my great Chicago Adventure to another. The Genesis of this transition was a couple of weekends ago, when a friend was in town and invited me to a house concert in Pilsen. “Sounds great!” I said. “See you there.” I’d never even heard of Pilsen.
Pilsen, it turns out, is a large neighborhood southwest of downtown. So I jumped on the L and headed further out from home than I’d yet gone. The apartment where I was ultimately headed was a 15 minute walk from the station, so after getting off the train, I found myself strolling down a street unlike any I’d yet seen in Chicago.
After just a brief glance, its obvious that Pilsen is a predominantly hispanic neighborhood. The restaurants, shops and storefronts were all lined with Dia de los Muertos decorations, the sides of buildings were beautifully painted in huge, distinctly urban-hispanic murals, and the sweet scent of Mexican bakeries filled the evening air as I passed block after block dotted with art galleries and handmade craft shops. From the brief experience I had, it was a lovely, charming neighborhood.
For the purposes of this post, though, that short walk made me realize just how sheltered I’d become. This beautiful little village is 20 minutes from my apartment, and I didn’t even know it existed. And there are countless other equally distinct and fascinating neighborhoods dotting the city, and I’ve seen none of them.
I’ve completely reshuffled my life so I could spend 6 months in arguably the greatest urban locale in these United States. And now that I’m here, I’ve fallen into an almost identical routine as I had back in Dallas. While it might be comforting in the moment, it completely defeats the purpose. I’m not going to want to look back on these months and see little to differentiate them from the life I left or came back to.
So for the past few weeks, I’ve started branching out in what has been a gradual, abstract process. Instead of going to the Starbucks two blocks down, I hop on the L and spend 10 minutes traveling to Kickstand. Instead of defaulting to Chipotle if I’m hungry and don’t want to cook, I find another restaurant on Yelp to try out. I try to spend my weekend afternoons visiting a new area of Chicago or two. And if I get exhausted or needing some familiarity, Division Street is always there waiting for me.
It’s a slow process, and still a far cry from a full-on embrace of the sights and culture of Chicago. Though it’s exciting and fun, novelty is exhausting; especially in large doses. Plus, having to juggle a job and all of the responsibilities of adulthood make the reality of that dream a bit more complex. The challenge is striking a balance between experiencing the city and finding a perpetuable lifestyle.
So yeah, I still eat a lot of Chipotle.