While in Door County, we met a native New Yorker (Dave) who now lived in Chicago; he told us he 'wouldn't live anywhere else', regaled us with tales of the theatres and the parks... but I couldn't help but think, as I always do when I go to a new city, that we were going to walk into a shady, gun/drug/prostitute-ridden city, and it was time to keep our wits about us after travelling through 'the sticks'. I'm thinking loud, incoherent homeless people, cars driving slowly as they pass you with tinted glass (most likely with an AK47 popping out of the offside window for good measure). Call it self preservation; if I expect the worst, then at least I'm prepared.
Time and time again, my perception of that reality is just plain false - but it's something I find hard to shake, and I wish I could.
It turns out Dave wasn't just crowing about his adopted city for no good reason. While perhaps not quite rivalling NYC, Chicago can certainly hold its own, that's for sure. From the towering architecture along the Chicago River, which is rich in history and awe inspiring for its sheer diversity and inventiveness (we took an architecture river cruise, a highly recommended tour given by passionate experts), the compact centre of the city with its raised subway system (the 'L' system) that reminds you of classic car chases from The French Connection, to the outer 'burbs that give the city its true beating heart away from the madding tourist crowds. Then there is the omnipresent lake - Lake Michigan. So vast I couldn't help but think of it as a freshwater ocean complete with a beach front and a pier. The lack of a tide is the only clue that you aren't looking out over the Atlantic.
This great city on the banks of Lake Michigan had the power to remind us that, while National Parks are the lungs of the country, an easy and beautiful trip back into simpler times echoed in the chosen typefaces and signage, America does have great cities (outside of LA and NY) that provide the muscle and the power of this nation, a wondrous combination for natives and visitors alike.