Six years ago today I moved to Chicago. This single event changed my life more than any other (except for the birth of my son, of course).
I had been wanting to move here for awhile. My son lives with his dad et al in the far west suburbs and I’d been commuting from Indianapolis to see him. That is not a short commute, and I-65 has to be the most boring stretch of highway this side of Kansas. I knew the mile marker number for every rest area, gas station, town, and point of interest. Yet, I kept delaying the move. I didn’t know a soul up here, except for my parents, and they lived in another suburb. Besides that, I’m as stubborn as a redheaded Irish Taurus can be and I wasn’t about to follow my ex up here, uh uh no way.
Then came September 11, 2001. On September 15 I drove up to Chicago, found a place with a view of the Sears Tower, and signed the lease with a move-in date of October 20. My parents didn’t even know I had been looking until I was already on my way back to Indy. I had to move to Chicago, and move here now. I was missing out on too much in my son’s life, and I was missing out on too much of my own.
Looking back I know I had been in a holding pattern. I’d finally graduated from college, but instead of pursuing a career with my Journalism degree I remained an office manager and toyed with the idea of freelancing. I dabbled a little in web design, creating a site for my mom with links to sites focused on her interests, and playing around with the idea of a health-focused website. Moving to Chicago kicked my bloomin’ you-know-what into gear.
Ten of us caravaned up I-65, and my parents met us at my new apartment in the sky. I knew I was going to love this city when they had beer and liquor delivered. You could get alcohol delivered? Wow! (The sad part is Binny’s was a block away!)
Most of my friends who’d helped me move spent the night, and we went out to celebrate my move. I was afraid that when they left the next day I would be terribly lonely.
Sunday evening, after they’d all left with my best friend the last to go, I poured a glass of wine and looked out my window across the Merchandise Mart to the soaring Sears Tower and thought “I’m home”. It was as simple as that.
The next day I went for an interview at Kinzie Chophouse and breathed a sigh of relief when I was hired (yes, I moved here without a job, to my father’s chagrin). I had decided I was going to wait tables because I wanted the flexibility a restaurant job would offer me, and the pay was better than being an office manager or a working journalist. I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I had no idea doing what, beyond knowing I needed to write.
I spent the next few months getting to know my new home. I reveled in being 3 hours closer to my son and getting to explore the city with him. I met a wonderful friend who became my Chicago Sherpa and showed me his favorite local haunts. I loved inline skating to the lakefront and walking to Michigan Avenue and hearing the rumble of the Brown Line as it passed 18 stories below. But, I was frustrated with trying to find grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. etc. etc. that were close to my home. I was new here and the city-wide sites were more confusing than helpful. Finally, I had one of those Aha! moments. I can’t tell you the date or where I was or what I was doing. All I can tell you is that I wanted to create a neighborhood based guide to Chicago, and I would start with my neighborhood, River North.
My first effort was amateurish at best. Fortunately, I’ve learned a bit over the years! Now it’s hard for even me to believe how much TLT’s changed. I saw Susan Frasca this week, the owner of Kinzie Chophouse and Mambo Grill, and we reminisced to that fragile beginning. She was there for me when I started The Local Tourist, and supported this crazy dream I had of creating a one-stop spot for both locals and tourists. She remembers how excited I was when I got my first four subscribers – and they weren’t family or friends. Now I’m in a position to give back by helping to promote her efforts. That is a wonderful feeling.
Another wonderful feeling is watching my parents go from “when are you going to get a real job” to “when are you going to expand to other cities so we can check them out.” You can imagine their feelings. Their 31-year-old daughter moves to Chicago with a college degree and chooses to be a waitress, then decides to create a website, of all things, when she has no technical background and barely knows her subject matter! To their immense credit, they kept their concerns to a minimum and simply supported me. I have the best parents in the world, and I’m glad that I can finally start giving back to them.
“Wonderful feelings” are where I suppose I’m going with all of this. I feel so incredibly blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to not only create a life that I love, but also that my job is to help people enjoy their own lives more. I get to help you choose where to go and what to do so that you can grab the most out of every day.
If someone would have told me six years ago that this would be my life, I’m not sure it would have surprised me. Chicago has a way of making dreams seem within reach, even if you’re not sure what they are yet. I’ll quote Irv Krupcinet: “There is none other quite like my city of big shoulders.”