I’ve never spent Christmas in Chicago.
I’ve never spent Christmas in Bali either, for that matter, but I live in Chicago with Bali being a dream- and not a particularly optimistic one.
The last of Chicago I see before departing for California is a tour of her given to me by the Elevated. I take the brown line to the loop and catch the orange line out to Midway airport. This is a commute I’ve repeated every year for the last seven on Christmas and it reminds me how big the city is that I’ll be missing.
Coming from up north, one swoops through the northside with its streets so clean that even the trees that line them seem gentrified, their branches curling barrenly upward as if poshly insulted at your presence. Through this and outward you proceed into it’s southern tip where condos give way to scattered churches and cigarette choked sidewalks. This is the neighborhood of broken promises where housing projects planned and executed still bear the plaques of their dedication even as residents are kicked out to make way for more advantageous developments. Dissolving out of this fray the city looms up at an accelerated pace all around you as if it grows to contain you. The cranes and half-done buildings sit skeletal against a perfect blue winter sky, their structures seem to hum in the freezing cold while their ground floors stand sentient with a bases girded by concrete and screaming traffic. The air is clean, not sterile, but how one imagines outer-space must be. Or the high altitudes of mountains or airplanes wherein moisture forms ice on the outside of windows. This is a cold that will freeze the inside of your nose into crystalline ice-caves, but if viewed from inside the traincar the sunlight will refract through the windows cleansed of pollutants and reflect warmly on your face.
As the train leaves downtown you see the Chicago of Industry. Hulking factories pluming white steam and smoke, their roofs scrawled with illegible graffiti as red rusted trains clunk and clacker by to destinations inestimable. Barges on the unfashionable end of the Chicago river and trucks on weed-bordered sidestreets lumber on laden with product.
This Chicago transforms to the one my father grew up in. Rows of brown brick bungalows stretch boulevards leading to seeming nothingness. It’s the scene you glimpse in the opening of All in the Family and YEA, my grandfather was of an Archie Bunker sort. With his cigar clenched firmly over suspendered self-righteousness, he could tell you what was wrong with this city with a white blue-collared good’ol downhome racism. These cookie cutter neighborhoods feel the weight of Midway full well with low flying aircraft a staple of their christmas-lit lawns and driveways. And so I come to Midway.
Chicago, I could write a million love songs to you and not be sated. I will see you in just seven days. Please do not fall in love with anyone else in my absence.