Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sweet Home Chicago

I've been doing a bit of traveling lately for work. Before I started taking them, business trips held a certain allure. It always seemed very glamorous and ADULT to travel and be paid for it. Unfortunately, like many things in life, the reality does not quite live up to the ideal. Mostly, you spent a lot of time being disgruntled in airports and getting a sore shoulder from lugging a 20 pound (or so it feels) laptop around with you all day long.

The first trip I took in May was to Iowa, of all places. I landed at the minuscule Grand Rapids airport and tracked down the shuttle service I had booked to transport me to my hotel. The service turned out to be a very nice elderly man who sat behind a counter at the airport and kept his reservations alphabetized on index cards. Midway through the 20-mile drive to the hotel he commented, "It's a shame you're coming in at night because you're missing the sights." I wasn't too disappointed since I can only imagine he was referring to the roadside Denny's and, let's face it, if you've seen one you've seen them all.

The second trip was to Chicago, which was actually pretty exciting because I grew up just outside of the city and was able to work in some time to spend with my family and friends. I also got to stay in a hotel right downtown for free.

One thing I have discovered is that no matter where you are, everyone you meet will tell you how much they love Chicago. It may be the most universally beloved city in the world. And with good reason. It's a bustling metropolis with great restaurants, culture, sports, a shoreline and an effective public transportation system. It's what New York would be like if New York were clean and its people were friendly and it had a moderate cost of living and didn't smell like garbage. (So actually, I guess it's nothing like New York.)

Every time I'm in Chicago, I'm struck by what a beautiful city it is. On a bright and sunny day the Loop actually seems to sparkle. And everyone who lives there is like seven feet tall (it is the city of big shoulders after all) and loves to jog. They all seem so happy and robust it's enough to make you ill. While I was there I visited my friend who lives in the chic River North neighborhood. It's a former industrial area, and there's still a chocolate factory nearby that makes the entire neighborhood smell like chocolate chip cookies. How could anyone resist such a place?

The funny thing is that I have resisted it for many years now. I left when I was 18 and profoundly bored and desperate to get out of the Midwest and see what life was like in a different part of the country. I've always felt that my true home is among the neurotic and dispossessed, and I've never really looked back. But now, whenever I visit, I feel just the smallest tug pulling me homeward.

That feeling was especially acute when I arrived back in Los Angeles, where it's smoggy and ugly and every one's constantly bitter because their development deal fell through or they got turned away from Hyde last Saturday night. Why, I wonder, don't I flee this horrible place for the magical land of happy giants where it always smells like freshly baked cookies?

But then, of course, there is this.

And if I didn't live in Los Angeles, I would not have ended up sitting two rows in front of Screech from Saved By The Bell on the flight back. (He was sitting in coach...I guess being an early 90s TV actor turned home sex-video star doesn't pay like it used to).

And if that is not a sound argument for living in La-La Land then, my friends, I do not know what is.