Grid and bear it

Don’t let geographic fundamentalists tell you that you’re not in Midtown

Sitting at the Golden Bear with a girlfriend on an early Thursday evening, we were approached by a man who immediately—and with no prompting—announced himself a “resident of the world!” My compatriot reclined back, brought her cigarette steadily to her lips, and shot me an amused glance, as if to say, “Let’s give this pompous ass enough rope to hang himself!”

“Take a seat, Gulliver,” she spat. “Tell us about your travels.”

He either didn’t notice or was unconcerned by her lightly veiled hostility. Gulliver settled into our booth and removed a pack of American Spirits from the pocket of his cargo shorts.

“Just got back from Thailand,” he said. “Beautiful country. Warm people.”

He balanced his smoke lightly between his teeth, then lifted his black Kangol cap with one hand while smoothing the hair underneath with the palm of the other. “Europe before that. Think I’m just going to keep moving until I’ve seen the whole damned world!”

Clearly satisfied with his speech, Gulliver leaned back dramatically, further establishing his affecting presence with the outstretching of both travel-weary arms, awaiting our congratulations and respect.

“You know, Gulliver,” my friend sarcastically retorted, “We think you’ve got the right idea. As a matter of fact, we’re so inspired, I think we’re going to get moving right now!”

“Too bad, gorgeous,” he smirked. “I was planning on buying you a drink.”

“Well, we’re going to the Raven,” she cooed in faux-appreciation. “You can buy me one there.”

“The Raven?” Gulliver snapped, self-righteous grin now even more firmly in place. His eyes contorted into slits as he chuckled disapprovingly under his breath. “No way, honey,” he declared. “I don’t leave the grid.”

My friend Megan, of 14th and G, once said she’d always told people that she lived in Midtown, until “some hateful bitch” corrected her, putting her in her proper place.

“Midtown ends at 20th Street,” the girl yawned, as if to say she was too pretty and too bored to actually care. “You live downtown.”

I’ve told people on occasion that I live in Midtown, in East Sac, “near the Fab Forties,” “a couple of blocks from McKinley Park,” and “just on the other side of Alhambra.” I can ride my bike easily both to campus (65th and J, possibly East Sac) and to work (10th and K, clearly downtown). I shop routinely at the Alhambra Boulevard Safeway, and rarely find myself needing to go anywhere that the No. 30 bus cannot take me.

One hot Monday night, cell-phone irrevocably broken and dead, I hopped onto my bike (a beach-cruiser, purchased at City Works, 25th and K), secure in the knowledge that at least several friends could be found throwing darts and drinking Kronenbourg at the Streets of London (18th and J).

I eat noon breakfasts at Cornerstone, take 3 p.m. lunches at Beach Hut Deli, and kill midnight chocolate cravings with my girlfriends at Rick’s. I monitor the window displays at Krazy Mary’s and splurge routinely at Dara Denim. I, along with most of my friends, eagerly awaited this fall’s opening of Chicago Fire, because we’ve never quite gotten over the way that girl puked on our table at Pieces that one time at two in the morning. The Plum Blossom delivery boy and I have developed something that might loosely be defined as a friendship.

My entire life, it seems, can be mapped out solidly within “the grid”; the very same grid that so many strict, Midtown-fundamentalists’ demarcation excludes me from.

I know—technically, actually—that my adorable 34th Street apartment, what with its proximity to the best dive bar in town, lands unfortunately outside the coveted Midtown boundaries. Nonetheless, when I lie quietly in bed, listening to mile-long freight trains run noisily across 19th Street, I privately permit the likes of Gulliver to define their “grid” however they like, then allow the sounds of my neighborhood to wash over me, gently lulling me to sleep.