My Kind of Town (Minus the Weather)

I first went to Chicago in 2005 with my friend Charlene, who was kind enough to accompany me during a record-breaking cold spell. She waited in the lobby of a musty smelling building at the University of Chicago while I bombed a twenty-minute interview (twenty-minutes including the time it took me to walk to and from the man’s office) for a chance to transfer in as a sophomore. It was not one of my finest moments. I still remember telling the guy, a bookish yet ruggedly handsome mid-Western scholar with a five-o-clock shadow about my favorite books, none of which have changed. He nodded along, taking notes and I thought, “I’m so in.”

Then he asked, “So have you gotten a chance to look at the English program major requirements?”

It’s always the easiest stuff that catches you off guard. I replied breezily, “Oh I’m sure it’s just like most colleges.”

He stared at me for a few minutes, not sure if I was joking (it makes me sad to admit that I wasn’t), then very kindly, handed me the academic program.

“It’s actually quite unlike any other university’s English program.”

I swallowed whatever stupid thing I was going to say next, took the book from him, and paged through it silently, knowing that I had screwed up and that now he was just being polite. The program, if I remember correctly, makes Berkeley’s English program seem elementary. I switched majors after having spent a year and a half dicking around as an Art History major before I realized, “Hey, you have to care about Art and History,” yet was still able to complete the English major in a year. Had the man been generous with his evaluation of me and allowed me in, I’d still be at the University of Chicago, trying to decide between slitting my wrists (which I hear is a popular pastime at the school) and finishing my thesis (which is required).

The bad interview aside, I remember being cold out of my wits (which I hope gives me some excuse for flubbing the interview – cold brain cells are slow brain cells) and also, having a great time. My second day in, I thought, “I almost got frostbite yesterday, but this is my kind of town.”

I vowed I would go back someday in weather that was more conducive to my exploring the city, which seemed clean and pretty and mighty accessible, with trains and affordable cabs. And though I had heard over and over again that people in the Mid-West were famous for being friendly and hospitable, I did not know just to what extent, until Charlene and I, stuffed from a dinner at some famous Chicago Deep Dish restaurant offered our leftovers to a homeless man sitting on a grate.

“Oh thank you kind misses,” he said, his smile infinitely warmer than either of us were feeling, “but I’ve got enough to eat right here.”

He patted a giant plastic sack next to him, and bid us good night. He did not ask for money or berate us for being better off than he. It was strange, and one of my fondest memories of Chicago – a town where even the bums are content.

Anyway, this past weekend I returned to visit Alicia, a friend I made through work, and no interviews were involved, thank God. I was luckier with the weather this time – it was still freaking cold, but for the most part the sun was shining and sartorially, I was better prepared. I toured the city in a coat that could double as a sleeping bag, and wore the same cashmere gloves I bought on my first trip to Chicago – they saved my fingers then, and this time, enabled my hands to stay out of my pockets long enough to snap a few photos.

I’m not a great photographer, but I sure am handy with the ready-made photo effects. Anyway, like your typical Asian tourist I took more photos than necessary, so they’ll make it out across a couple of posts. But yeah. Very Highbrow is going (occasionally) visual.

I had about 30 of these window pictures. Next time, I will bring a book to read or be more vocal about borrowing the People Magazine from the people sitting next to me. 

Pretty building, the inner workings of which are a mystery to me.

Rather modern looking gargoyle on the Chicago Public Library.

The columns at Union Station.

Obligatory shot of the Sears – now Willis – Tower. It was so boring I jazzed it up and made it glittery, and now you are amazed.

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