On Provincialism

Something that I’ve thought for some time has come into sharp relief the past few days. It is also an observation shared by Jay Mariotti, someone who used to be quite the celebrity in these parts, wonder what happened to him? Anyway, I deal with students for a living in Chicago and talking to so many in the last week I’m once again struck at how provincial people from Chicago are. Seriously, people do not leave this area. From the college students that I deal with, to people my age and older generations stay around here forever, with no real thought of leaving. I ask students what their plans are and almost to a person they say, “I’d really like to stay around here.” Really? What is it about Chicago that inspires such loyalty? Many people cite the fact that their family is here and they are close to them and would like to remain geographically close to them as well. I get that I suppose, but there are planes these days that can in fact get a person from one end of the country to the other within a day. What I guess I don’t understand is that impulse in young people, that staying put mentality. I think it has to do with the fact that I was desperate to leave my hometown and did so as fast as I could as far as I could at the time. I even toyed with going into the Army to get out and about even further than an in-state college would allow. Glad that didn’t happen, but I still am a sucker for uniforms. It’s not just me, or I don’t think it’s just me. I just remember, especially in college, not just talking about my career, but talking, dreaming about seeing the world, getting out, experiencing the world and that didn’t translate to moving back home, or within an hour of home. It just seems like so many of the kids I talk to are limiting themselves to the little world they know, not reaching beyond, not challenging themselves, and probably most concerning, not scaring themselves a little bit. It just seems like the advice that “even a safe harbor rots boats” is lost on kids around here.

What is funny is that people have commented on how I am very Midwestern in my values and demeanor, which is true, I guess. I’ve also been told by a number of people that believe that I “fit” Chicago, again true I suppose. However, to people born and raised in Chicago, I’ll never be from here, never truly get what it means to be a Chicagoan, as if I was trying to understand living in Asia as opposed to a city in the United States, with the same weather, topography, and same culture as where I grew up. No offense Chicago, but a pound of cheese baked with a little crust and covered in a crappy sauce isn’t exactly the same as sampling guinea pig in the Andes, not pushing the cultural envelope. And it is such a point of pride around here, to be from Chicago. The newspaper columnists, the local news anchors, and many other local celebrities tout the fact that they’re from Chicago, they know Chicago and its people. Again, they make it sound like they have a deep insight into some exotic locale like the Amazon, not Lake Michigan. It even translates to the sports teams that there is some kind of Chicago style to baseball, hockey, and especially football. I don’t mean to break the news to people around here, but most of the players and coaches for your local teams are not from here, don’t live here and learned how to play their respective sports somewhere else.

Yet, here I am and I have been for quite some time. I do like it and I can see myself sticking around a lot longer. There is something about this city that isn’t as intimidating as New York, as annoying as Boston or as “out there” as San Francisco. Of course I love to visit all of those cities, but Chicago is great to come back to each time and maybe that’s what people from here see, something I’m still not accustomed to, a place that is easy to call home.

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