Following up on Brenna’s insights for first-time travelers yesterday, here are three things I’ve noticed you can’t know about a place until you get there.
1) Under what circumstances it is acceptable to jaywalk. In Norway? Never. You stand back from the curb like a civilized person. In New York? The only reason to stop walking is if you are actually run over by a cab.
2) The degree of public displays of affection. In Marrakech, anything beyond holding hands would cause a stir. In Vegas… well, that stays there.
3) What, if anything, you can eat or drink while walking down the street. Sevillanos are OK with ice cream but not really anything else. On the other hand, Chicagoans will not even blink if you are devouring an entire pizza on a street corner.
Why these things don’t make it into guidebooks is beyond me. What other little details of places do you need to experience yourself to understand?
[Mary Ann Starus is a gardener, cartoonist, and English major who is not afraid of the semi-colon; she loves animals, especially cats, way too much.]
I always hoped for a blinking red neon arrow, pointing me in the direction to take in life. I haven’t actually seen the arrow yet, but the closest I came to it was my move to Duluth, MN, in November 2000.
I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know Duluth existed before 1999. Even when I lived in Sault Ste. Marie. MI, for two years, I apparently never looked at the west end of Lake Superior on a map to see what was there. Back in Illinois, when I saw in the Chicago Sunday Tribune a full page review of the book Cold Comfort by Barton Sutter, I was intrigued. The cover photo of the lift bridge looked so cold and mysterious. I bought the hardcover book, something I rarely do.
I’m not expecting company. But I would be pleased if this book not only entertained you, restless reader, but pointed the way to some odd, forsaken place that makes the tuning fork beneath your breastbone hum.
Well, I was a restless reader, and Duluth sounded like the right forsaken place for me.
That was 1999. I was working as a paralegal at the Environmental Protection Agency in downtown Chicago, and living in Villa Park, an older suburb twenty miles from the city. My commute took about one hour and twenty minutes each way, by car-train-walking. To get to Lake Michigan I had to walk the gauntlet of many blocks of downtown Chicago, pretty intense when it was 90° and high humidity.
I had a vague goal “to move to the country” by the time I was fifty–the end of that year. I was hoping that a vague intention would work as well as the successful detailed lists some of my friends had made to get jobs or relationships.
One day at work, I saw an article on an EPA lab in Duluth. I didn’t have much to do with the EPA labs, but I wrote to a scientist whose name was mentioned anyway and told him I would like to transfer to Duluth. He replied that the lab didn’t need any paralegals but that I could write to HR and see if any admin positions were available.
I impressed the Duluth EPA boss when I visited in summer of 1999. He wanted to hire me, saying that the lab needed more generalists, but there was a hiring freeze. He gave me an assignment–to rewrite the lab’s web pages so “ordinary” people (that is, non-scientists) could understand them–and told me “this is not a test” (yeah, right!)
October 16, 2000: Back in Chicago, I visited Lake Michigan at lunchtime.
She said: “Say hello to Lake Superior for me.”
When I got back to the office, the new boss had called: I had the job! No red blinking arrow–but a strong, calm feeling I should go.
I had a month to get ready and move. I said goodbye to the crows in my backyard: “You’ll have to get food from someone else, but I’ll be feeding your Duluth relatives.”
November 17, 2000: My red Honda civic hatchback loaded with stuff, two cats on Valium in carriers in the back, headed for Duluth on the eve of the Wisconsin deer-hunting opener–trucks passing me with “Buck or Bust” on the rear window and huge coolers strapped to the back.
Where the heck am I going?
It got colder and colder as I went farther and farther north. I listened to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories on tape–a real “multimedia experience.”
I got to the rented house–really cold–and my air mattress would not blow up. The cats were walking around making weird moaning sounds. I called Walmart and got complicated instructions from my neighborhood (Lakeside) to the store eleven miles away and managed to get there in the freezing rain. Once there, I got a second wind of energy and shopped–shower curtain, logs for fireplace… and a new air mattress.
That first night I slept on the living room floor, fire burning, cats finally quiet on the mattress with me. Where am I?
No more than 150 feet from the lake! I can hear waves!
Lake Superior used to be an intimidating goddess to me. I always felt awe in her presence. A total vacation destination, except for my two years in the Soo. Since I have been living so close to the lake for twelve years now, she is more like a really good friend who usually feels familiar and comfortable, but who occasionally blows me away with her brilliance and can reduce me to tears by her beauty.
Now I’m here. I’m very calm. My daily commute is very short. I see the lake from my home and office. It’s not as cold as I expected. My cats are really happy and aren’t afraid of the lake anymore. I’ve met some really great people, most wearing those “practical, unfashionable clothes,” as Bart put it in the book that started it all.
Bridge construction is surreal…
[Kim Kovalick is a designer, cat-rescuer, and supermom who lives in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. She is Go Go Go's official Mural Spotter™.]
You can find some great street art in Chicago . . . some commissioned, some not. For several years while taking the Blue Line downtown from my stop at California, a few moments after the train had started up again, I would look down from the elevated tracks and see the huge ferrets.
They are painted on the back side of a long, 1-story brick building. The words “It’s not where you’r from it’s where you’r at” (sic) wrap the back and side of the top edge of the walls. Finally, during a temperate day last week, I searched for the alley/lot that contained this building so that I could get a closer look. After walking around Milwaukee Ave. and up and down some side streets, I was able to get to the parking lot that is between this building and a defunct thrift store. Brief, internet research identifies the artist as ROA from Belgium.
See more on the artist’s Flickr page.
Here are some additional murals from Logan Square:
Check out this Flickr Group that features a lot of great Chicago Graffiti and Street Art