Bicycle Diaries: Why Chicago?

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26.5.06

Why Chicago?

Because it's a city of neighborhoods. Now, lots of folks who hope and work for a more peaceful world usually think in terms of a global village where people live simply (an consciously) so that others might simply live. Everyone is decent and polite, regularly protest against "The Man," and watch PBS. It's all so very, very civil ... and BORING!!!!

But in a global neighborhood, we have our families and our friends, our neurosies and our dramas. We stand on line at the local coffee shop with people distinctly different from ourselves. We go out to hear the latest fad band in world music. Our taxi drivers, waiters, and corner store owners aren't native English speakers.

Every time I write or say village I can't help but think about The Prisoner, that wacky British TV show from the 60s. Or I think back on my home village in Upstate New York where I spent my painful adolescence. The problem wasn't that it was all white. There were difference, big differences, between the French and the Poles and the Irish. Our one exotic, foreign restaraunt was Italian! The problem was that that the economy had sucked for over 100 years and everyone knew all your business. I'll never go back.

Nor would I ever want the world to become a global village either. I prefer a global neighborhood like the one I've discovered here in Chicago. Isn't half the world's population living in cities anyway? In those cities differences are concentrated in neighborhoods. They give you a home without issolating you from everyone else's home. And isolation isn't good for business. Asians go to the blues bars. Africans patronize Thai restaraunts. We all go to the museums, at least in the first few months after we first arrive.

Don't kid yourself, the folks we leave behind in our hometowns hate cities - hate 'em deep down in their guts. Perhaps they're jealous since they weren't brave enough to leave. Perhaps they're uncomfortable with a world where the differences vastly outnumber the similarities. The people we city dwellers leave behind, even family and close friends, just don't get it.

So give me a global neighborhood. Give me all the different people whose lives I may not understand or even like. Give me all the different restaraunts even if I don't like every cuisine. Give me the old neighborhood bars with their cranky regulars. Give me the liquor stores owned by the members of obscure Middle Eastern christian sects. Give me the buses and trains driven by the grandchildren of Southern sharecroppers. Give me the taxi drivers with engineering degress from Lagos, Islamabad, or Bucharest.

Hell, give me a global neighborhood where you could be a racist or a biggot who nonetheless stands on line at the 7-11 and chit-chats with the Gujarati about Chicago's crappy, crazy weather.

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