You know I don’t hate you, right? You know that I don’t hate your trains, your traffic, your yellow clouds at night, and your cardboard signs on every corner. You know that I don’t hate the claustrophobia of the Purple Line at 17:05, the ambulance sirens at 1:15, the taxi horns at 6:30, the dogs and crickets and slurred speeches at 20:00. You know that I don’t hate the smell of coffee and bagels and trash and homelessness, the sounds of angry drivers and weary travelers and untethered foreigners, the looks of the curious and tired and filthy and ordinary, the feel of a city that wants to be remembered for more than its violence, and the knowledge of a place with its head in the clouds and dirty feet on the ground.
You know that I just don’t always want to be here, right?
You know that you can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. You know that it is never silent here, never still, never quite real. You know that the little pockets of serenity here are man-made and hand-carved, with a thin line between the city and silence–or maybe just a fence–and the stale breezes of The Windy City are always trespassing between them. You know that you teach us to make our own silence by making our own noise, to find our own space by choosing what to fill it with, because there is nothing here that has not been drilled, labelled, approved, pegged on a map somewhere, and tagged with graffiti and yesterday’s gum. You know that your streets and shops are in collusion against the sky, because there are too many potholes and pickpockets and people to be able to look up long enough for the clouds to get in our lungs. You know you have taught us to stare at the ground and everyone around us with distrust and disillusionment, because nothing and nobody is as good as it is supposed to be. You know your billboards are a conflation of need and selfishness: you tell us to demand the best, donate the rest, never be satisfied, find it in gleaming steel and something out of a bank account. You know the spaces you are crafting into the next best thing are littered with cigarettes and angry car horns and the appreciative whistle appreciated by no one.
You know you are the city. You know you are layer upon layer of good and bad and ugly and no matter how high your buildings, how crystal your windows, how promising your developments…you are still most beautiful when your windows are red with a sunset you did not paint, when your streets are splattered by a rain you did not manufacture, when your walkways are covered by a lake you did not carve, when your buildings and alleyways and streets and scaffolding are bright in the sunlight you do not own. Did you know that it is the things you cannot control that keep us sane?
Don’t try too hard to make me love you, Chicago. Try as you might to dazzle and sparkle and glitter brighter than everyone and everything, you will never quite be enough. You will always have your passion and your violence, your pinnacles and your projects. You will always be trying to be better and you will always never be enough. And that is okay. Because don’t forget: you were created, too. You were built by those who are forever confronted by their inability to create utopia and forever confronted by the Creator who will. But He won’t call it Chicago.