The memories don't take long to come flooding back. Every corner pricks another part of my history, reminding me that once, a long, long time ago, I was young here.
There's no more free parking at the Lincoln Park Zoo; the city is charging to drive down the road on which we always used to find a spot. My parking karma never failed me on Cannon Drive; spaces would materialize before my eyes. Friends were amazed, perplexed, bemused. I knew that the city and I had a special relationship when it came to visiting the seals. I'd been a fan since I moved to the Midwest for graduate school. Impoverished, living on mac-and-cheese and spaghetti, the free zoo was a great escape from the problems I encountered in my social work world.
Today, in the rain, I could only drive by and sigh. Paying $18 for a quick trip in to bark back at the pinipeds felt self-indulgent. Of course, the rain may have had something to do with it, too
Yes, it's raining. Not a Tucson deluge, with buckets upended in the heavens, dowsing the streets with the biggest drops ever. No, this is a Chicago rainstorm, constant, steady, and soft. Umbrellas offer ample protection to the moms with their strollers and toddlers with their yellow rubber boots. The wind hasn't picked up; it's not winter time. The temperature is in the high 60's and no one is rushing to get out of the storm. It's the kind of drippiness that makes the plants stand up and take notice.
I found a spot in my old neighborhood, on Roslyn, off Clark, just down the street from Basil Leaf where I'll be lunching with Sandra Lynne in an hour or so. Were it drier, I'd browse the little shops lining Clark Street. Instead, I'm cozy in the driver's seat, typing to you. The raindrops on the roof are keeping me company.
I came into town the way I used to come home from work, back when I commuted to the western suburbs every day. The street names came back to me without any effort. I knew how to take the right and the right and the left to get from the highway to Armitage. I forgot that Clifton was one way south, but that just gave me the chance to drive down Dickens and see the changes that time has wrought. I lived there before gentrification took hold; fancy-schmancy facades have replaced the wooden porches which overlooked the alleys. There are hardly any front stoops left; I suppose the well-to-do new owners don't have time to sit there and watch the world go by.
It was so different when I was a 20-something student, searching for a spot large enough to house my Bonneville. Then, the old Italian ladies perched in their lawn chairs would holler as I drove by – “That blue car will be leaving shortly, pull up and wait, honey.”
Our first apartment was a three flat. Mom lived on the first floor, Junior on the third, Young Jimmy in the basement, TBG and I in the middle. The steps they painted one Saturday morning are gone, replaced with three concrete blocks and a massive front door. The man working on the masonry wondered why I was looking so intently; I drove away before he could inquire.
After lunch, I headed to Oak Street. Since the city removed the parking meters and put in Pay At The Box stations there is usually a space on the street, and this afternoon was no exception. I strolled and drooled.
I wondered who would pay hundreds of dollars for a black leather jumpsuit in a six month size... and then stood, mesmerized, as the two silver haired gentlemen asked for it to be gift wrapped. I saw jewels in the windows that stopped me in my tracks. I admired leather handbags and 1000-thread-count sheets. I was surrounded by luxury and sprinkling raindrops. I couldn't stop smiling.
I drove downtown to pick up Little Cuter.
Chicago is vibrant and bustling and full of culture and shopping and friends. It's more expensive and more crowded than Tucson and it's not the place for us at this stage of life. But being here feels like coming home.