June 22, 2013

Truth About Chicago

1. DEEP DISH PIZZA
It's what we let the tourists eat. It's what you order in for delivery when Aunt Martha and Uncle Edmund are visiting from Hartford or something. I've had it once or twice and it's okay but when Chicagoans eat pizza when the out-of-towners aren't watching it's thin crust and would be recognizable anywhere. I don't know what the big deal is, and I don't like it when Chicago is identified as the place that either invented it or is THEE place to get it. I think the whole thing is stupid and, the truth is, so does most everybody I know here.

 2. LOU MALNATI'S PIZZA (deep dish or thin)
It's touted as the best in Chicago. It's overrated and can't hold a candle to any local, small chain, or Mom & Pop pizza joint you can find throughout the city or the suburbs.

3. WRIGLEY FIELD
When the Cubs won their last championship they didn't win it at Wrigley. Tinker to Evers to Chance happened at West Side Park. The fact of the matter is that ever since they moved to Wrigley Field they have been zeroed out in the World Series, and that was over 100 years ago. As a White Sox fan I eternally hope they stay there. If you're visiting and your team is in town try to go see the place. You'll get some nice scenery and your team will get a win. Win-win.

4. THE CHICAGO RIVER
Yes they dye it green for St. Patrick's Day, but it's mostly green anyway. It does, actually, flow the opposite way than all other rivers in the world - in from the lake rather than out to the lake.

5. CORRUPTION
It really isn't any more or less corrupt than any other big city in America. There aren't any "river wards" that bring in late votes to steal elections and haven't been since probably the 30's. There is nepotism and an old boy's network - that's how they crammed in Rahm Emmanuel as mayor even though he didn't live here long enough to qualify - and maybe that's done to a larger degree than most places. But under-the-table and bribery and skimming off the top or the bottom or anywhere else isn't any more prominent than other places. It mostly has to do with a long-ago reputation and sometimes we like to let you think that's how it is so you leave us the hell alone.

6. AWFUL WEATHER
Another thing we don't tell you if you're not from here is that, though we have a reputation for brutal and awful winters and torrid, humid summers, May and September are absolutely the best times to visit and the best times to be here and live here. Moderately warm, fresh days with cool nights ("good sleeping weather") are just about the law during those two months. Nobody tells you that because though we're proud of our city too many tourists are a pain in the ass. Yes winter can get dicey and August can be oppressive as hell itself. But really not that much worse than other places.

7. AL CAPONE
Nobody gives a shit anymore. Like deep-dish pizza. It's for the tourists. He lived in Cicero anyway so wtf?

8. THE LOOP
You call it the Loop. People who live here just "go downtown." I've never heard anybody who lives here ever call it "The Loop" unless they're, again, talking to a tourist. You know, we try to give you your money's worth.

9. THE MURDER RATE
Doesn't happen in places you would ever visit anyway. That doesn't mean it isn't a problem. But it really isn't related directly to poverty alone, unless you want to go great-big picture I guess. Mostly it's gang related. The tragedy is that the gangs around here can't seem to shoot straight and a lot of innocent people in their neighborhoods pay the price for it. People keep saying it's the police department's fault. I don't know. Maybe. But a little parenting before all this shit went down might have helped. I mean, y'know?

10. THE BEST STUFF YOU NEVER HEARD ABOUT
There's things here that are maybe hard to appreciate unless you live here or stop looking like a visitor from out-of-town. Like any big city we have our special things. Stuff that might interest you are things like
Resurrection Mary. A better and less-exploited ghost story that the stupid old St. Valentine's Day Massacre. There really isn't anywhere to go see, but it's a creepier story is all.
Portillo's  though most noted for it's Chicago-style hot dogs (A "Chicago-style" hot dog is all about the ingredients, but to locals old enough to remember it is also the entire comparison to the hot dogs sold in the summer by neighborhood street-vendors - now illegal - of yesteryear. Of which Dick Portillo himself understood because he basically did that when he started), it is also the home of the single most underrated cheeseburger I've ever known. Flame not grease. Red onions not white. And you are not hungry after one.Because Portillo's is known as the hot dog place, its cheeseburger may be the best kept secret in town.
Main Street - Museum of Science & Industry  It's not a big display, but for freaks like me you walk down this street inside the museum, go see a silent picture in a narrow little movie theater and then have an ice cream sundae at the soda shop. Great to take your kids here.
There are a few other things we keep from you. Like the weather in May and September. But you probably won't hear or experience them unless you worm your way into our world.

11. ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICHES
It is basically shredded Italian beef on a big french bread roll, sopping and dripping with grease and loaded with sweet or hot peppers. It can be ordered "dry" so that there's less grease, but it won't be totally dry. The best of these are in one-up shops, not usually chains. Neighborhood carry-outs and such. If ordering and eating there there is a proper stance taken in order to eat. Standing up, belly away from the counter, elbows supporting your weight on the counter, both hands on the sandwich, and bite. It is a Cryin' Shame (oh... that used to be a local rock band years ago). That we are more known for the stupid deep=dish pizza than this concoction is a living travesty.

12. THE CHICAGO ACCENT
Yes it's true, but it isn't anything like "Da Bears" or "Da Coach" crap they did on Saturday Night Live. That was a parody of the real thing. Besides, it would be DUH Bears or DUH Coach. But whattayagonna do? Like the proper way to say "Chicago." It's like AW. Chi-CAW-go. It isn't Chi-CAH-go. People who live here but aren't from here can be easily spotted because they can't shake the CAH.

The truth is it's better than what you've seen on TV. Here are a few examples...

"Jeet?" - It means "did you eat?" It's a way of saying hello because if you come for a visit we'll feed you before anything else.
"Grahjkee" - Someone is talking about the key to the garage. What?
"Tree." - This is the number 3.

I've done this before so I won't go further. But the truth is the farther out into the suburbs you go the less prominent this is.

13. THE CITY-SUBURB THING
In recent years there are constant disparaging remarks made between the two communities (city and burbs) but after looking into it a little I find it to be a false argument. It seems to be more prevalent among young people. But most of the young people who live in the city who make disparaging remarks about the suburbs were born in the suburbs and moved into the city. Likewise most of the young people who make disparaging remarks about the city are transplanted from there to the burbs. Beyond a certain age - say 40 or so - it isn't even a subject. So that whole thing is one big false flag.

14. VISITING WITH RW WHEN YOU GET HERE
Not something you should miss.

6 comments:

flask said...

thank you for this insider's guide.

it makes me think i should write a "truth about west bolton", but have you looked at a map?

SK Waller said...

This was a great post. The only reasons I'd come to Chicago would be to meet you and to hear some jazz and blues. I've often tried to read your work with a Chicago accent in my mind and you know what? It really works better! The same as when I read Henry Miller with a Brooklyn accent in my head. My next question is if your voice is baritone, because that's what I hear. Hm... I hope you don't hear an Okie accent when you read me because I'm from southern California!

Dave2 said...

I've eaten deep dish a couple times, but the thin butter crust as Pizano's is hands-down my favorite pizza in the city.

The story of reversing the flow of the Chicago River is a good one. If you have a chance, you should watch this documentary on YouTube.

Spring and Fall in Chicago ARE pretty spectacular. I can sympathize, because Seattle gets a bad rep for their "rainy weather" when they get less than dozens of other major cities (and most places in south Florida).

I only hear "The Loop" used in context of the trains. And, speaking of trains, Is it "L" or "El" for elevated trains? I see it both ways.

Portillo's has tuna and halibut listed under "Meatless Sandwiches" on the menu, which pretty much says it all.

I'd agree with your final comment, but that would mean less cacio e pepe for me.

RW said...

flask - I bet there's ghost stories in West Bolton.

SK - I have a modified Chicago accent. It's there, but not as pronounced. I'm told.

Dave2 - Dick Portillo is Catholic. And any Chicago Catholic will tell you that fish ain't meat because you can eat it on Friday. Another item for the Chicago list!

Gino said...

Chi-CAH-go, chi-CAW-go...from what i hear from my native family, its not one or the other, but somwhere in between... more like Chi-CAWH-go.
but its always been Chi-CAW-go from me.

i cant say it the way they can, but they're natives.
i've also noticed a difference tween the west side cousins accents and the south side cousins accents.
(and the southsiders are much more in-yer-face per general attitude toward everything, but again, thats just my observation of
the cousinery).

i'm from Cicero, a long time ago. the family has always said that Capone was not a threat to anybody back in the day, unless you were trying to compete with him...
outside of that, Cicero was as safe a neighborhood to live in as anywhere else if not more so.
and Capone did not live there.

several years ago, Portillo's made it to the west coast (my Orange County, actually). over the years, i've taken several friends for the italian beef and the response is always the same: yer just now telling me about this???
Portillos aint the best, but they are good, consistent, reliable, damn close enuf... and most importantly, here.

Brian said...

Visiting with RW is definitely not to be missed.

Chicago (however one says it) is in my top two favorite cities in which to eat in the U.S. (It's tied with Portland, and I don't like comparing them--both great for different reasons.) And I haven't had deep dish pizza there since about 1998.

Seattle's reputation for rain is definitely overstated. But its reputation for gloom and darkness most definitely is not.