Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hometown Hearts: Chicago, IL


I left New York State last summer after 20-something years -- my entire life -- to go to graduate school in Chicago. I'd only visited the Windy City once before but I'd fallen for its midwestern charms and it's comparatively low rents. Well, and I just needed a fresh start - I'd lost the job I loved, ended a long-term relationship and frankly, I needed to try something new. I've been a reporter for several years now, for the Associated Press and other publications, including When I'm not busy with graduate school, I blog about gluten-free living ( and walk my little dachshund-mix Ruby Tuesday Weld along Lake Michigan. I also tweet: @jmpasko96.  Random fact: I've known Capow since high school and we even did a stint as roommates a few years ago.

     Chicago has a really unique feel about it, something that I'm not totally sure I can put into words. It's a big city and it has lots of big city sophistication, but it's also a lot less pretentious than many cities, namely New York City. It's got a far more laid-back feel to it. There isn't as much pressure to look a certain way or be a certain way, and there's a hometown pride among its residents that I've really started to love. Ask a Chicagoan which city makes a better pizza and be prepared for a tirade on the pros of deep-dish versus New York-style.

     There are over 70 neighborhoods and "community areas" in this city so I've only explored a small portion of it after six months of living here, but here are some of my favorite places so far:

I really love my neighborhood, Edgewater, on the city's north side. One of the major issues in Chicago is that although the city has an incredibly diverse population, it's actually very segregated when it comes down to it. I'm fortunate to live in a vibrant neighborhood that's legitimately diverse and that hasn't quite undergone total gentrification yet. I kind of like the little bit of grittiness - most of the time. Back in the 1950s and 60s, Edgewater was where wealthier folks would come to spend their summers in Chicago, and there are still tons of towering condos and hotels along the beach. These days the elite has left those hotels and condos behind in favor of more exotic locales, but the buildings still stand, resplendent in their vintage quality.

Lake Michigan
 One of the things I love best about where is live is that the beach is right across the street from my apartment. There is little that makes me happier than being able to stroll along Lake Michigan with my dog. I had no idea how big the lake was until I moved here - you can't see to the other side - and on sunny days, the water almost looks turquoise.  It's even beautiful in the winter, when the snow and ice give it this amazing arctic look.

 Andersonville is the ying to Edgewater's yang. Or something. Technically Andersonville is part of my neighborhood, Edgewater, but it's really it's own little place. It's far more gentrified but none the less, very cute, chockful of cool houseware and vintage stores, cafes and great little restaurants. It's a short walk from my place and it's just such a charming little neighborhood. I love spending an afternoon here window-shopping, browsing and sipping coffee from the Coffee Studio. It was originally established by Swedish immigrants so many of the businesses still have that Scandinavian charm and the 'hood is even home to the small Swedish-American Museum.

The Chicago River Riverwalk 
This is one of those places I really like but don't go to enough. Hopefully that will change with the warmer weather. This photo shows the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day, when it was temporarily dyed green in celebration. I'm standing below on the riverwalk, the promenade that goes along the river. You have to walk down a big set of stairs to get to it and it's just so pretty down there. It's a great place to spend a little time strolling along and watching the hub-bub of the city up above.

Millennium Park 
Okay, it's a little bit cliche to include one of Chicago's most well-known landmarks on this list, but I can't help myself. I love Millennium Park. It's no Central Park by any means, but it's awesome in its own way. Outgoing Mayor Richard Daley helped establish the park next to Grant Park and it contains some amazing installation pieces. One of those most popular pieces is this large silver kidney bean-shaped sculpture that everyone takes their picture in front of. Technically it's called the Cloud Gate, but everyone knows it as just "The Bean." In the summer there are also sprinklers to run in and concerts on the lawn in the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion.

 Pilsen is a great neighborhood that I never go to enough because it's quite a long trip on the L from where I live. Originally it was established by Czech immigrants but it's now home to a thriving Mexican population, serving as something of a central spot for the city's large Hispanic community. I love the taquerias here, the plenitude of beautiful murals and other street art, and the wonderful little array of shops. I love that when I go into a business here, more likely than not I will be greeted in Spanish. I love that I can buy fresh tortillas at the grocery store from a number of tortilla factories located in Pilsen. But more than anything else here, I love the National Museum of Mexican Art,  which was the first of its kind in the entire nation. It's free and their Dia de Los Muertos exhibit each fall is not to be missed.

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Thank you so much Jess for showing us your side of Chicago!

If you would like to share your hometown with the world, please email us:
windshielddiaries at gmail dot com


  1. I've always wanted to visit chicago!

  2. aw this post made my heart ache a little bit - okay a lot! i love chicago!!!

  3. i heart chicago! it's one of my favorite cities.

  4. what a great post!! I'm planning my first trip to chicago and this definitely helped :) also, thans to jess for sharing her perspective!! how beautiful to have the courage to start fresh, it looks like it's working out very well!!

  5. I love Chicago. I went last year and am looking for any excuse to go again. The bean is the coolest thing!! =)

    Melanie's Randomness

  6. I have been living here for 2,5 years now and I love Chicago!! xxx

  7. How cool! Chicago is awesome...went there on my honeymoon 20 years ago. I've only been back once since then, but it's on my list!


  8. We stopped in Chicago the summer before last for the Blues Fair. It was incredible, so full of energy, good food, and beer!

    Thanks so much for sharing your favorite parts of the city. I didn't know about Pilsen, and that would be neat to share with the Czech side of my family.

  9. Thank you for sharing your view of Chicago. I have never been there but it is on my list of places to visit. The neighborhood photos are great but I have to say that the kelly green river is the most impressive!


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