My Kinda Town

A big-shouldered biography for that big prairie metropolis, Chicago.

Book Cover These days geography has devolved to a chauvinism and regional rivalry not quite as virulent as evidenced in the Balkans and former Yugoslavia. Much of this can be laid at the feet of New York City—that cesspool of ambition, striving, and air-kissing. Who coined that slander on the best part of the country—the “fly-over zone”? No doubt some black-clad denizen of Tribeca or the latest gentrified ghetto in Manhattan.

As an expatriated son of Chicago, living in the psyche experiment known as the Northeast, I am much heartened to see Chicago: A Biography by Dominic Pacyga (U of Chicago Press). Pacyga, a born-and-bred Chicagoan and Columbia College (of Chicago) mentor and dean, has compacted the “City on the Make’s” story into 400 pages, from its settlement by Haitian immigrant Jean-Baptiste Pointe de Sable, and later by Fathers Marquette and Jolliet, to the jubilant triumph of adopted son of the “City with Big Shoulders,” President Barack Obama.

For those of you ignorant of the long list of the so-called Second City’s noteworthy names and events—Nelson Algren, Ernie Banks, The Cubs, Joseph Epstein, Studs Terkel, Louis Sullivan, Curtis Mayfield, Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells, Anthony Braxton, John Belushi, Jack Brickhouse, Vienna hot dogs, Lincoln Park, Daddio Daley, Leon Depres, Ken Holzman, Thief, Wrigley Field, Al Capone, Richard Daley, John Prine, The 1968 Democratic Convention, Rising Up Angry, Yippies, Dick Gregory, Playboy, Adlai Stevenson, Karl Shapiro, Mike Royko, The Art Institute, George Saunders, Stuart Dybek, Chess Records, Major Lance, Mike Bloomfield, Bronzeville, Oscar Mayer…

On my all too infrequent visits to the home of my youth, I am struck by how upbeat and friendly people are on its wide and tree-lined boulevards, and how Chicago has not (yet) succumbed to the claustrophobia that is a mark of eastern cities. And, in fact, has retained a freshness and vitality I had forgotten could be associated with a vast metropolis.

Yeah—give it up for Chicago.
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