Thursday, November 12, 2009

Between the Coasts

Warning: another sailing blog post with virtually no sailing content.

I’ve lived in New England long enough now to have a full fledged case of East Coast snobbery. That was seriously called into question last weekend when I visited Chicago for the first time. Maybe it was because the trip was juxtaposed against an absolutely miserable evening of local sailing politics, but it seemed to me Chicago is a pretty cool place.

We only went there because we were obliged to attend a family wedding. Given the November timing and our gloomy long range weather forecast, we planned for as little time there as possible. What a mistake! Chicago is beautiful with plenty of things to do. The restaurants are excellent, the public transportation is clean and efficient, and the people are friendly – so much so that a New Englander is taken aback with every friendly encounter. And the weather – sunny and 65 degrees.

We stayed in the least swanky hotel (but very nice and surprisingly inexpensive) on the edge of the swankiest part of town, the “Magnificent Mile.” The high end shopping district in Chicago, it is a wide boulevard lined by sidewalks with areas of flowers, shrubs, and trees, as well oversized versions of all the best stores in the country.

Unlike Eastern cities, there is enough open space to afford views of the intriguing variety of creative urban architecture. The high rise buildings all seem to feature unique designs instead of the tall boxes with a few decorations at the top that characterize new Boston buildings. The older architecture features the work of world famous architects Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies Van Der Rohe. It’s all interesting enough to support several architectural tour businesses. Chicago also boasts the most green buildings in the country. That seems to beat what we have here in the Hub of the Universe.

In the little free time we had, we spent a summer-like afternoon in Oak Park, 12 miles west of downtown, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and studio. It is a work from the very beginning of his career, and the neighborhood contains numerous examples of his early works as well as lovely “painted lady” Victorian houses. Mrs. Yarg was mostly humoring me in this little adventure, but afterward confessed to a visceral positive reaction to the house. The wide streets in Oak Park have sidewalks set far enough back to be lined with mature trees, giving them a welcoming and friendly feel.

It’s difficult to have anything more than a first impression of the people, but we encountered several unsolicited acts of kindness. When we asked the concierge where to buy a tie because I had forgotten to bring one, he offered me his. A stranger struck up a conversation on the subway, introduced himself and wished us well on our return trip. When walking with luggage toward the subway, another stranger asked if we were heading for the airport and offered us directions before we showed any signs of confusion. I wonder why we don’t treat each other more like this in the East.

And I hear they have a big lake with sailing! Ever heard of a sailing bachelorette party?

When we say in jest that there isn’t much between the coasts, the joke may be on us for thinking we are so smart and so cool. I would suspect that some of those Midwesterners laugh at us for being pompous asses, but they are probably too damn nice!

1 comment:

  1. Once in New York I met some really nice, warm, friendly folks. They were Borinquen~os, however -- immigrants from Puerto Rico. We also had a friendly talkative limo driver.

    Pat (whose dad was born in Brooklyn many years ago)