I spent part of today in Chicago. I was there for a business meeting with a potential investor. Most investor meetings are more or less the same thing over and over again, so I probably won't go into detail on that right now - but perhaps in a future post.
Instead I want to talk about cities.
My family didn't have enough money to travel very much when I was growing up. I mainly spent time in the Dallas-Ft. Wroth metroplex where I grew up with the occasional trip to visit relatives in Texarkana thrown in around the holidays. It was a small slice of the planet to grow up in. I never knew what it was like to spend time in cities around the rest of the country - much less the rest of the world,
I started traveling much more often when I began looking at colleges. I looked at schools around the state of Texas and one on the east coast. My grades were good enough that I was invited out for a couple of all expense paid trips to those schools, so I got to experience traveling to a new city by myself for the first time when I was 18.
Since then I've visited a lot of cities all over the world. There's nothing quite like stepping out of a plane, train, bus, car, or boat and seeing a new city for the first time. It's especially cool to visit a place with a big enough skyline that you can see the buildings rising out of the distance as you close in on the destination.
Or maybe instead of a skyline you get mountains. Or a coast. Or a swamp. Or cornfields. It doesn't really matter what the new city has - you just know that the city and the people who live there will be as different from the other cities you've visited as a mountain is from a corn field.
Cities make me think. The history that surrounds you in London, the gleaming sky scrapers in Hong Kong, the winding roads of Boston, and the crumbling streets of down town Buffalo all tell a different story and provoke different kinds of reflection.
Which brings me back to Chicago. When I'm in Chicago I invariably think about beauty, rebirth, and bitterness.
I think about beauty because the city has some of the most amazing buildings in North America. It's no secret that the Chicago skyline is one of the best in the world. The variety that exists in the city - from the Sears tower (or whatever they are calling it this year) to the old Chicago Tribune building - is a magnificent showcase of beautiful 19th and 20th century architecture.
Rebirth comes to mind because of the Chicago fire. I've probably visited Chicago fifteen times in the past three years and I have yet to make the trip without the Chicago fire of 1871 coming up in some form or fashion. It's a fascinating story of a city rebuilding itself in the midst of massive destruction. The rebirth of Chicago after the fire made it into the nationally relevant place that it is today.
Finally, I think about bitterness. Despite the amazing rebirth and the incredible architecture I can't help but feel like the entire city has a chip on it's shoulder. Everyone there is quick to tout the great things that are happening in the city, but it always feels like there's an undertone of comparison with the rest of the country. Without going into too much detail I think that the nickname "Second City" has sunk into the collective psyche of the citizens of Chicago to a deep level. It almost feels like the city is constantly comparing itself to the rest of the nation and coming up short instead of resting in the knowledge that it can be unique without having to be the best at everything.
I can't say for sure if these impressions were formed on my first visit to Chicago, but they were confirmed on my visit there today. I wonder if my impressions will change next time I'm in the windy city?