Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Windy City

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Columbus is a pretty sizable city. According to this list, it's the 16th biggest by population in the United States. I'm sure it slides down the list when taking the greater metro area into account, but let it be known that it's not a podunk college town, which seems to be the general impression people have of it.

Still, there's an enormous difference between #16 and Chicago's spot at #3, starting with the fact that Chicago has around four times the population of Columbus. Walking up to the street from Millennium Station to find the skyscrapers and elevated train platforms is like stumbling into a whole other scale for a city. It's huge...and I kind of love it.

I was a little intimidated about venturing into Chicago alone and navigating public transportation to meet up with an old friend. It's not that I think myself incapable of doing it or have never done it in a big city. I'm just out of practice...not that I ever really was in practice. Honestly, though, riding the 'L' was some of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. (Exempt from that: piling into a train after the Cubs game and having to stand post-Lollapalooza on the way back to where I was staying.)

I guess I've never seen Chicago that way, so I thrilled at the sights of being up so high among the towering structures and weaving in and out of the grids. You can get some pretty spectacular views of downtown from the train. The expansive perspective drives home how big of a place, vertically and horizontally, you're in. While I don't know that it's where I'd want to be every day--I prize the ease of movement around Columbus, which isn't exactly something Chicago has even with the trains and buses--I do find it enervating to be swallowed by a metropolis from time to time.

When it was time for me to leave, I mentioned to my friend that it felt like my short visit to Chicago had gone so quickly. In part it's because everything was bigger or took longer, thus blowing things out of proportion. After I was picked up, we went to Hot Doug's, a sausage store whose extreme popularity entailed waiting in line for two and a half hours to order. It's a trendy spot for foodies, but for what it's worth, my order--the blue cheese pork sausage with Sir William pear cream and roasted almonds and ribeye steak sausage with black garlic aioli and double crème brie cheese--and a shared basket of duck fat fries were awfully good.

Going to the Gene Siskel Film Center, seeing parts of downtown and my friend's neighborhood on foot, and popping into a large Middle Eastern restaurant later at night also reinforced how packed with options this city is. (Sunday was attending Lollapalooza, which is another enormous thing that I'll hold off writing about until tomorrow.) Forget about being bored in a place like this. How does one control oneself from always being on the go?

With all that time spent waiting and going to places, there was plenty of time to talk, which I hadn't done at length with this friend for years. Nowadays it's a given for childhood friends to still be in close contact when they go their various ways. (This is a development I'm not sure is entirely positive, but that's a topic for another time.) While I stayed in touch with this friend through college and a few years out of it, inevitably we lost track of each other. I last saw him at his wedding in 2002, but that situation didn't present the opportunity for much substantial one-on-one conversation. So, for as exciting and fun as it was to be in Chicago and soak up what it has to offer, it was also very satisfying to catch up with someone I've known since junior high and his wife.

Chicago did things up in a big way, and I certainly enjoyed the magnitude of my experiences there. Still, there's something to be said for one's own small corner, like a late night dinner with friends, to put everything in its proper context.

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