By Cheryl Wilson
Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes someone a Chicagoan. For those of us not born and raised here, what does it take to be able to say you’re from Chicago? Is there a certain length of time you have to live in the city? Are there things you must experience before you truly belong?
I’ve gotten two parking tickets, two red light tickets, a boot and I’ve been towed two times – does the constant headache from dealing with the City of Chicago, not to mention my dwindling bank account, speed up the process of earning the right to say I am a Chicagoan? I’ve paid more than $1,000 in tickets since moving here, so if buying Chicagoan-ship is an option, I think I’ve already done it.
Surviving multiple winters was a go-to answer from many of the people I asked, but this doesn’t really apply to me. You see, I grew up in the Adirondacks, in a tiny town called Saranac Lake. You may have heard of it; we’re the coldest place in the continental United States most mornings. My town is in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, but it’s in a valley, so the cold air settles there, making subzero temperatures normal. When I was in high school, the only reason school was cancelled was if it was too cold for the buses to start. I remember winters with five to 10 feet of snow all season, from November to April. Our parents built our Halloween costumes around our snowsuits. So as much as I complain about hating the cold and snow, winter in Chicago is cake compared to home!
My friends also said a true Chicagoan can navigate the city easily. Unfortunately, most days I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag. I get lost going everywhere, even if it’s somewhere I visit often. I’ve gotten more comfortable taking the bus or train instead of driving, but that could be from fear of getting yet another ticket.
I think I’m curious about what makes someone a true Chicagoan because I feel so at home here. When I lived in New York, I didn’t have a place that felt like mine. I lived in a dorm, which couldn’t have felt less like home. The city was so large and impersonal that I never felt comfortable living there. In Chicago, I immediately fell in love with my neighborhood. I found a coffee shop that I visit regularly to do homework and a bar where I’m greeted by name. I root for the Cubs, I avoid Michigan Avenue at all costs and I love exploring different neighborhoods.
I’m curious about what born-and-raised Chicagoans think: What does it take for a newbie to be able to say she’s one of you? Are experiences and enthusiasm enough or do the years someone’s lived here really matter?