Friday, November 18, 2005

Adjusting to City Life

I feel like I am living in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There are no limits to the choices and opportunities you have in Chicago.

Eating is a perfect example. There are a handful of places I can order gyros and pizza and sandwiches and subs and so on. I’ve tried a variety of them. They have been good, but expensive without a job. So I go to the grocery store at least twice a week. I always buy water and sliced chicken breast and fruit and vegetables. They are the essence of my diet. I figure I pay a hundred dollars a month, 104 to be exact, for membership at a gym on Fullerton so I shouldn’t be working out and eating greasy. I’m on a high protein, low fat diet and I’m starting to see some muscles I didn’t know I had, especially around my stomach. Sorry to digress. Back to the choices. There are two large grocery stores, Jewel and Treasure Island. I’ve been going to Treasure Island because the lines are quicker and it is less crowded. I hate waiting. They’re open virtually all the time as is the gym I belong to. It seems like nothing is ever closed around here. Some of the pizza parlors and gyro shops never close. And CVS, which is right across the street, never closes either. One Tuesday night I couldn’t sleep so I strolled down the block. It was nearly four in the morning and there was a few dozen people carousing the bars on Division. One girl, about 30, stumbled into the elevator as I was getting out and she made a pass at me. I said hello and walked away. I walked to Walgreens and bought some NyQuill. Even more foreign to me than the late-night drinkers was the fact I waited in line at four a.m. in Walgreens. Chicago never sleeps either.

On weekends there is no point in trying to sleep early. You have to go out, or lay in your bed and listen to the taxis beeping their horns as they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Friday and Saturday nights the beeping never stops. It’s like listening to an awful elementary school band practice. Of course there are the police and ambulance and fire truck sirens that ring out periodically every day. Those you can ignore and even become accustomed to. The horns continue to annoy you. And the more you drink and the later you stay out the less you care about the beeping. It usually does subside around four.

Besides that it is easy to catch a cab (unlike Boston where I waited for an hour freezing my butt off at two-thirty in the morning trying to find an empty taxi) the subway system, or El, runs virtually all the time. Driving drunk and getting home is not an issue for the most part. Living south of the Loop is a different story.

And there is no better feeling than being young in a city filled with other young, intelligent good-looking people. The women, even in the winter, dress well and look good. Granted most of the women I run into are white, they’ve been very friendly and approachable. Midwestern women seem to know that they are going to be hit on and unlike other parts of the country, they play the game too. Maybe it’s because I am white and I look like most of the other guys in the bars. Maybe they know I’m trying to have a good time just like they are. Maybe they feel like a small fish in a big pond too. Maybe it’s because in a big city you don’t know most people you come in contact with so meeting new people and chatting with strangers is the norm. Sure, everyone has a friend or a group they hang out with, but the cliquish attitude doesn’t seem as pronounced here as the small towns and cities I’ve lived in. Then again, Chicago is very segregated by neighborhoods and ethnicities. Still, I never felt like I didn’t belong at the bars I’ve gone to.

People are very polite in this city and have good manners. The homeless are no exception. They ask you for spare change, but never in a demanding way. Every now and then you might run into one who is drunk and upset, but that’s an anomaly. The homeless I have seen wish me a happy holiday and say have a nice day though I don’t give them change usually. There is one man who is different from the other homeless men. In fact he isn’t homeless but he is in front of Walgreens almost every day asking for change. I kept seeing him and he reminded me of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. He exuded a bright smile and happiness toward passers by. Oh, there is one other thing. He has no feet. He lost them both in the past two years because of diabetes. He sits outside Walgreens in the cold and windy weather. He recently showed up with a red Chicago Blackhawks jacket and a red Chicago Bulls hat. He pulled the jacket hood over the brim on his hat when the wind starting slicing into his skin like a knife. It has dropped into the teens during the day and the wind makes it feel twice as cold. On days like that, he only is around for a few hours, accepting any change someone will give him. He hasn’t been able to get a job since he lost his feet, he told me the other day at lunch. I naturally treated him. We ate at a sandwich shop across the street. He said he lives on 105th Street and comes up to the Gold Coast because it lifts his spirits. He lived in the infamous Cabrini Green projects for seven years growing up. He is 36 now and balding and can’t find a job since he lost his feet. He said he worked at a Jewish funeral home and it changed his view about Jews. All the stereotypes are wrong, he said. I plan on writing a story about his life. Not everyone loses their feet and smiles about it. Not everyone lived in a YMCA before they lost their feet. But Hyson Brown did, and I know if I do the story right it will be a success. Patience and effort. Those two things are the formula for success once you have something to write about. Like Hemingway said, I would write about the entire world if I had enough time. The city is always moving and changing. Still some things never change. I have to find more people like Brown to write about.


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