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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, August 15

Gapers Block

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For seven weeks this summer I had an intern from work living with me. It worked out well. He was clean and quiet, and he showed great intelligence and promise in his chosen career.

In fact, that may have been my biggest beef: too much intelligence and promise.

His first night here I made us tacos and asked him what sort of things he hoped to do while in Chicago. "Well, I have a stack of books this big," he said, spreading his arms wide.

I recoiled. "But you can read anywhere! What are you going to do in Chicago?"

He made some progress. Within a few weeks he'd been to the Green Mill, Devon Avenue and movies in the park. Nonetheless, I found a lot of Big Bowl and Einstein's bags in my garbage, and he spent an irresponsible amount of time working and reading. I don't think the boy ever even had a hot dog.

I fear he missed out on the real Chicago, my Chicago. Likewise, I fear I squandered my chance to mold him into my kind of townsfolk, one who, when asked where Navy Pier is, knows -- but also knows better, and thus points west.

Tourists see things. Chicagoans do things, so I have prepared a list of things that future roommates must agree to do if they are to rent from me (in addition to washing their dishes, recycling and not smoking):

  • Buy a mango from a street vendor (or elotes, come corn season).
  • Sox or Cubs. Choose for life. Watch an entire game in a dive bar.
  • Use a bike to get downtown.
  • Learn euchre.
  • Silently fall in love, if for but three stops, with a pretty girl/boy on the train. Give her a name. Give your children names.
  • Get stuck in a blizzard in nice shoes. (May be difficult in July.)
  • Eat at a restaurant in which English is spoken only by the owners' 11-year-old son, daughter or television set.
  • Bowl.
  • Consume the trinity of Chicago sandwiches: gyros, Italian beef and a Chicago-style dog. Then for lunch, go grab some deep dish.
  • Forget something on the El.
  • Starting from State and Madison, learn every fourth street in any direction but east.
  • Have a favorite coffeeshop, taqueria and hot dog stand. Claim ownership, refering to them as "my coffeeshop" and such.
  • Go to enough street festivals to realize that whatever their ethnic roots, they're all pretty much the same and you'd have been better off ordering takeout and staying home with a radio, a six-pack of warm beer and a stack of cell-phone advertisements.
  • Buy tube socks at Maxwell Street Market.
  • Give a dollar to a street musician. Give five if he's good. Give ten if he's good and appears to be unlicensed.
  • Take cabs driven by natives of each continent. vThree words: "Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Cheezborger!" Four more words: "And a boilermaker, please."
  • Stop shopping at Jewel. Start shopping at the Jewel. Stop bitching about the mayor. Start bitching about da mare.
  • Lose badly at the North Avenue chess pavilion.
  • Find your favorite spot to see the skyline.
  • Watch a movie set in Chicago and excitedly say "Hey, I've been there!" when there is a scene somewhere you've been.
  • Learn a bartender's name.
  • Get on the wrong bus. Know the city well enough to recover gracefully.
  • Get a parking ticket. Contest it. (If no car -- good for you! -- rent, borrow or steal one.)
  • Have some kid on the street tell a sob story about being stranded in Chicago and needing only $10 for the train home to Indiana. Give her $10. Five minutes later, realize you probably fell for a scam. Despite this new wisdom, fall for it again a week later.
  • Swim in Lake Michigan, in street clothes. (May be difficult in January.)

And the list, as you all well know, goes on and on, but it is my belief that only after doing these things -- or by having enough similar adventures -- can one honestly say "Yes, I lived in Chicago."

My roommate says he may be back next summer. He'll have his work cut out for him.

GB store


sandor weisz / September 19, 2003 11:15 AM

Find your favorite spot to see the skyline.

I'm glad you included this one. It was when I first realized I had a favorite spot (at the time, looking southwest from the south side of the Aon building) that Chicago started to really feel like my town. My new favorite spot is when it first comes into view as you're biking north on the lakefront path from Hyde Park. I think it's somewhere around 47th. It's gorgeous.

Matt / September 19, 2003 11:54 AM

Learn Euchre.

People actually play Euchre here? I've hardly managed to find people who have actually heard of the game, much less play it.

Cinnamon / September 19, 2003 12:03 PM

Yeah, I think euchre may be a slightly more rural game. It's way popular in Ohio, much to Andrew's chagrin.

Great list. I think I've done almost all of these, or at least versions of all these.

Yep, I love this place!

Luke / September 19, 2003 12:36 PM

Time and mood are important things to consider vis-a-vis the skyline. I can't stand Wicker Park, but it's still my favorite spot to see the skyline, because when I first returned here and was still getting my bearings, it was the first time I got on top of a rooftop and was stunned by how close to downtown I was.

The other night I rode home and left the path at Diversey Avenue. Gliding through the parking lot at midnight, there was a stunning view of the skyline glistening through the trees and over the harbor, boats silently bobbing.

Euchre: Are you kidding? It's big with the postgrad pub crowd, expecially expats from midwestern land-grant colleges. I don't play that much myself and never in a bar, but McGee's for example has Euchre nights on Mondays: $2 Coronas, $6 all-you-can-eat chili.

Matt / September 19, 2003 12:48 PM

Ah, hadn't heard of that before. Thanks for the tip.

Andrew / September 19, 2003 1:31 PM

Cinnamon's right, I'm down on euchre. Refuse to learn, much less play. Gimme a good rounda poker anytime.

In fact, anyone up for a poker night sometime?

Luke / September 19, 2003 3:57 PM

Some other "You haven't lived her until you ..." obligations I thought of on my run today:

  • Read some Algren in Wicker Park, some Royko in City Hall and some Terkel anywhere.
  • Volunteer for the homeless.
  • Watch a world championship with non-native fans: soccer with Brazilians, cricket with Indo/Pakis, football with Cheeseheads.
  • Take an improv class.
  • Get a cranky letter to the editor published.
  • Outfit a room with furniture found in the alley.

What am I forgetting?

Luke / September 19, 2003 4:04 PM

Oops, that should be "loved her." I mean, "lived here."

Wiz of Odds / September 19, 2003 5:39 PM

Ooh, ooh, I'm down for poker night.

Matt / September 19, 2003 6:30 PM

Poker, euchre, it's all good to me.

kegz / September 22, 2003 11:31 AM

Count me in for poker, euchre, pinochle, monopoly or whatever game has a "night" for it. I can't resist any of em.

Nat / September 25, 2003 1:37 PM

A few more essential Chicago experiences:

*Have a regular CTA bus driver, even better if he plays tricks on the riders.

*Get yelled at at the Wiener's circle, then hang out and laugh at the others getting yelled at.

*Give trendy suburbanites asking where Belmont and Clark is poor directions.

Last night at poker night i was told euchre was for cheeseheads.

nnnikki / September 29, 2003 4:55 PM

Excellent, all of it. Now that I am in new york and miss it acutely, I add to your list:

*Go to the montrose pier early in the morning. watch the men fish. listen to them applaud and cheer (in russian and vietnamese) when someone reels in a big one.

*One winter night when the moon is vivid, in a different neighborhood, with a friend, decide to just walk home.

*Plan a party at the last minute. Invite all. Meet new friends in your living room. Live happily ever after.

*Never, ever miss a chance to visit the Christmas House on Logan Blvd. Be amazed how quickly your capacity for wonder returns.

I loved her maybe more than anybody.

some dude / April 28, 2004 4:38 AM

You can't forget a game of 16 inch softball at the park with your crew and some cold Budweiser. Remember, no gloves allowed in Chicago. I believe Chicago & Milwaukee are the only cities that play 16 inch. 2 things mentioned outside of Chicago almost always get a look of bewilderment..... Chicago Beef and softball with no gloves.

******Chi-town will always be my hometown


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