I’m moving back to northern California this week, finally. I’ll get there Tuesday night, and be received back into the Bear Republic’s welcoming embrace at long last.
I don’t really have a good explanation for why it took me this long. I really don’t. Chicago was wonderful to me for a few years, but it became evident to me that it was no longer working out a while ago. Like the hopeless romantic that I am, I kept thinking if I stayed, Chicago would change, and she would blossom into this wonderful tech mecca and I’d be there as it happened. I kept thinking that, if I stayed here long enough, the winters wouldn’t bother me as much. Instead, the winters bothered me more the longer I stayed here.
The first few years, I loved Chicago so much. I loved living here, loved living in a nice neighborhood with lots of bars and restaurants and things to do. My first apartment here was in Wicker Park, right above the Jay’s Beef at North and Oakley. When I first moved in there, there was a Pizza-Ria™ on the first floor, with a huge sign with flashing incandescent lights on it that shined through my living room window. Living in Chicago felt like a temporary thing then. I felt horrifically homesick all the time, for California. Leaving had really hurt, but I couldn’t stay. Lack of money and lack of resources drove me back to Chicago where I had family. Leaving Santa Cruz stung, and I really did mean to just stay in Chicago long enough to get myself back on my feet and return to California.
But then I got a nice job and the sting from my breakup with my college girlfriend wore off, and I started to love it here. I started to go out and enjoy all the things that Chicago had to offer. I explored every corner of Chicago I could think of, and there are still to this day pieces of Chicago I’ve never seen, and many I won’t ever see. When I lost my apartment in Westridge, at Devon and Leavitt, because the owner of the building was selling it (I was living in the model unit), I had to make a very consequential choice: to live in Chicago and try to find the best place for me there, or to go back to California and try to make it out there. Short on resources and short on confidence, and not really wanting to move out to CA without having a job lined up, I settled for the first place that met my qualifications and I settled for the first job that did the same. It was a mistake I would repeat over and over again, with regard to jobs at least, in the 5 years I’ve lived here in Humboldt Park. Startup after startup didn’t work out for me, either failed spectacularly or discarded me capriciously. One ended with a frantic sell-off and a CEO’s rapid descent into alcoholism and apathy. That was fun….
Humboldt Park is very special to me. I learned Spanish as a child and have always felt a certain familiarity, if not affinity, for Latin American culture. Adding a Caribbean zest to it all just made this place irresistible to me. It’s a rough neighborhood compared to most—the crime in this neighborhood is reported elsewhere on this blog—but it’s got personality. Heart. It’s a real neighborhood; people care about each other here. I really liked that. It was a place in Chicago where I could afford a 2-bedroom apartment with a garage, and it didn’t matter to me that the landlords sucked and that within six months of moving here I witnessed a massive 6-on-6 street brawl right outside my front gate. That didn’t matter, ‘cause this was home for me, for 5 years. I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had here. I’ve loved, and lost. I’ve experienced some of the most brutal winters this city has experienced in decades, and some of the hottest summers the city has experienced ever. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful bright spring days here, and the most incredible summer thunderstorms.
I’ve also seen rampant homelessness, closing schools, kids selling drugs on the street, and shootings. So it’s been a mixed bag really.
Living in Chicago the past 9 years and change has been a positively wonderful experience overall. I love this town and I love all the people who choose to make it their home, but it’s been obvious to me for a while now that it’s time to move on. I give all kinds of reasons for going—my mom and sister live out there, my girlfriend moved out there, there are more opportunities for me out there—but really what it comes down to is that overall right now I’m not happy living in Chicago anymore, and I think I will be more happy living in northern California. That’s all there is to it, really.
I’m leaving behind a city that loves me, the way an alcoholic, detached mother would, and I’ve loved her back all these years. Chicago is always going to be a part of me and I will always, forever, be from Chicago.
Take care, space cadets, and I’ll see you on the other side of this.