Monday, May 09, 2005

"That Toddlin' Town"

I have a son who attends DePaul University in Chicago. Occasionally, Barb and I go up to see him and also use that as an excuse to spend the weekend in the "Windy City". This was one of those weekends. We have grown to love spending time in Chicago. That's something I never thought I would say, let alone write.

Back in the 70's and early 80's, when working for WIBV radio, I took a number of trips to Chicago to cover high school and college sports. It seemed on each visit there would be some reason to come away with a bad taste in my mouth. Mostly, it was foul weather. A few times I had a less-than-happy experience with members of the Chicago media. Another time or two, I experienced some sort of transportation trouble. And, it seemed that I would always encounter someone from Chicago that had an air of superiority that grated on me. (I've come to learn that being a member of the visiting team's media contingent, its normal to not be made "totally comfortable". This phenomenon has nothing to do with Chicago people. It has more to do with how media people protect their turf, and local team.)

Back to my previous Chicago experiences. Once, Barb went along with me to cover a McKendree College basketball game and we ran into the worst fog storm....yes, fog could ever imagine. This wasn't just fog. This was fog that was blowing sideways....I guess off the lake. I not only couldn't see the road while driving, I couldn't see the hood of the car. After the basketball game, I was supposed to follow the team bus back to the hotel. Well, as soon as the bus pulled out of the parking lot, it disappeared into the darkness and blowing pea soup. We spent the next two hours driving by feel-of-the-tires-on-the-road and trying to guess what exit from the tollway (I hate those too) would get us to the hotel. Somehow we managed to do so without having an accident. But, we must have barely avoided at least 10 accidents in the process. I was a grown man. But, I don't mind admitting I was crying out of frustration with the situation.

Such experiences dominated my impression of Chicago because the visits were brief, and the impressions were so strong. Having made several extended stays in the last 3 years, I have done a total about face. I have come to experience the city in a more complete fashion. And, frankly, I wish that St. Louis had as much to offer. I'm not knocking St. Louis. I still love the Gateway City, and the overall quality of life here. But, you just can't argue the fact that Chicago has so much more to offer in the way of just about everything. Except good baseball teams.

In the downtown area around Michigan Avenue, State and Rush streets, and on the North Side, it is nearly impossible to turn around without finding a wonderful restaurant, a fascinating retail store, or some other form of high-quality entertainment. The shopping...well, Michigan Avenue is legendary world wide. Our St. Louis downtown, unfortunately, hasn't gotten anywhere close to providing such a safe, friendly, fun, and complete entertainment experience. At least, not yet. Hopefully, it will soon.

In the north side neighborhood, where my son's off-campus apartment is located, you feel totally safe at all hours of the day or night. You can hail a cab to take you anywhere at a reasonable price. If that's not an option, you can ride the "El" train to about anywhere for a buck and a quarter. A car is not necessary. Again, there are great things to see and do all around. What a lucky kid he is.

This weekend, even though we spent just one night, was packed with fun, great food and drink, and entertainment. You just can't help it in Chicago. Come on St. Louis, you've got some catching up to do. If it weren't for the bragging rights that go with being a Cardinals fan, it would be a one-sided competition.

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