City Guide: Authentic Chicago Part I

You’re either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan. You can be a Sox fan and live on the North side, but you cannot be a Cubs fan and live on the South side. Sorry, this is the way of the world. Pick a side and stick with it. How do you know which side you are on? Here’s a quick guide.

If you love rooting for the underdogs, if a baseball game is equal parts swilling beer, hanging with friends and watching the game, if you have a generally relaxed demeanor, then being a Cubs fan is for you. If you listen to rap, do Cuervo shots with salt and lime, drive a yellow Hummer, and vote Republican, you are probably a Sox fan.

“Downtown” Chicago is bordered by Roosevelt Road on the South, Damen Avenue on the West, North Avenue on the North, and Lake Michigan on the East. Anything outside of these boundaries is not “downtown” and should be referred to by its neighborhood name. Bronzeville, Old Town, Ravenswood, K-Town. Know them and love them.

Driving no-no’s in the city of Chicago include talking on your cellphone while driving, making a U-turn, passing a city bus on the left and then making a right turn in front of the bus. If one of Chicago’s Finest witnesses such behavior, you will be in trubba. And not the good kind of trubba, either. So don’t do it. Speeding on freeways is generally tolerated, just don’t be the crazy guy weaving in and out of traffic and leading the pack. Cutting people off and not using turn signals generally gets a pass from the Chicago cops most of the time. Running through an intersection when the light is “orange” (turning from yellow to red) is an accepted practice.

Chicago’s streets, for the most part, are a grid. Take the time to learn which streets are north/south and which streets are east/west. Remember that even-numbered buildings are on the west and north sides of the streets, and you will never be lost, even if you wander onto one of Chicago’s few diagonal streets.

By all means do not patronize chain restaurants and bars. Be diligent in searching out hole in the wall places and dive bars, mom and pop places where they learn your name 5 minutes after you sit down and greet you by name every time you come in after that. Friends and enemies will be made, stories will be told, new trouble will be caused to become part of the canon of stories associated with each place you frequent.

Keep in mind that Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. You will rarely feel out of place, especially if you venture out with a generally relaxed demeanor (see “Cubs fan,” above). Chicago natives are quick to suss out people who turn their noses up at things intrinsically Chicago, and those nose-turner-uppers will not find a warm welcome. Be relaxed, go along with the flow, you will have a good time. Go into every neighborhood and explore it without fear.

You could go to the Brookfield Zoo out in the burbs, but why? Lincoln Park Zoo is more intimate, less commercial, and has so many other things to see within walking distance. The Lincoln Park Conservatory, stunning in the spring time, is only one of those things. Also, R.J. Grunts (beware loud website music) is the first Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, and has a groovy, laid back flow which is perfect after a day of the zoo and conservatory.

Even though part of its track goes underground, Chicago’s public train system is called the “El” or “Elevated.” Do not call it the subway, no one will know what you’re referring to.

Garrett’s Popcorn. There are many pretenders to the throne of Popcorn King of Chicago, but Garrett’s is the original and best. Get some, on the regular.

Embrace every season in Chicago. Winter is cruel, cold and windy. Spring can be glorious or can bring torrential rains, or sometimes can be both on the same day. Summer is hot and humid, there’s no two ways about it. Fall is a glorious prelude to Winter’s barren chill, as the sun’s rays lengthen and light up the leaves as they transmute from green to red, yellow and gold.

The thing is, there’s always something to do in Chicago, no matter what time of year you’re here. There’s always a civic event or a book reading or some random group trying to improve their neighborhood or throw a crazy party.

Image sources: David Jones’s Flickr, “ed7929” Flickr.

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