Chico and Chicago

I lived 40 years in Chicago, my hometown, so long that I still tend to type Chicago instead of Chico. I hadn’t been back in several years and was frankly missing it when I went to a trade show there recently and realized that two letters are the least of their differences.

First, Chico should quit calling itself a city. Chico is a good place, and the longer I’m here and meet more wackos, the better it seems. Still, Chico is a town. Chicago is a city. New York is a city. Los Angeles is a city. Even Sacramento is a city. Not Chico, though, and that’s a big part of what’s good about it. Even during the school year, Chico’s not a city, and in the summer—forget about it.

I’ve said for years that, other than friends and good food, the only things I missed about Chicago were the Art Institute, the lakefront, and author and radio talk-show host Studs Terkel. That’s still true, except now I don’t miss the friends so much, because I don’t have as many of them there as I used to. They keep dying and moving away, and I keep forgetting about the rest. After 18 years in the Twin Cities (that’s St. Paul and Minneapolis, in Minnesota), I know far more people there than in Chicago. And Chico has enough Thai restaurants to cover my food front, so that’s all right.

When I got to Chicago, I immediately recognized the energy—much faster and somehow more massive than I remember. It felt like the rumbling vibration of the engines in a good-sized boat, not seen and ever present.

When I got to Chico and stopped at One Mile three years ago, I didn’t feel any energy whatsoever. Not that it doesn’t exist—it does. Chico’s energy is different, though—way more laid back and way more suited to my life and outlook. If I want to feel some energy in Chico, I usually have to generate it myself. Chicago’s relentless low roar was one of the things I wanted to get away from.

Chicago has been called the big city that works. They’re forever building and improving and expanding and whatnot, and I suppose that’s working. The Old South worked, too.

Chicago now has Millenium Park, a section of Grant Park, on the downtown lakefront. Millenium Park reminded me of Chico’s eventual town square, except with lovely landscaping, great sculpture and a stunning bandshell by Frank Gehry.

About Chico’s eventual town square: Like any right-thinking adult, I at first loathed the town square, or at least what it looked like the town square was going to be.

Ann Schwab has asked us not to judge the town square/park/plaza until it’s finished. The judgment’s not going to wait, but it’s a reasonable request anyway. I’m willing to wait and see. Maybe by the time it’s finished, some of that concrete will be gone, along with the monument to toilets. That’s worth waiting for.