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City Profile: Chicago – A whirldwind tour through Chi-Town

The largest city of the American Midwest, Chicago, Illinois, was founded in 1830 and quickly grew to become, as Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem put it, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation”. 

8 February 2017

Originally established as a water transit hub, the city evolved into an industrial metropolis, processing and transporting the raw materials of its vast hinterland.  The name Chicago comes from a Miami Indian word for the wild leeks that grew on the bank of the short Chicago River. Over the centuries the Miami, Sauk, Fox and Potawatomi tribes all lived in the area.

Notable Chicago times…..

In 1860 the Republican National Convention was held in Chicago. Illinois legislator Abraham Lincoln won the nomination, taking the Presidency.

In October 1871, a fire destroyed one-third of Chicago and left more than 100,000 homeless. Its initial spark remains unknown….legends of Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern kicking cow notwithstanding…but it was more likely fueled by drought, high winds and wooden buildings.  It caused over 300 deaths and the destruction of over 17,000 structures.  The factories and railroads were largely spared and the city rebuilt with astonishing speed.

In 1885 Chicago gave the world its first skyscraper and by the 1930s Chicago’s population reached 3 million with 2 of its most notorious residents being none other than the infamous Al Capone and John Dillinger.

Windy City walkabout…..

Chicago has numerous nicknames…..Chi-Town, Windy City and Second City. The city is a center for business and finance and is considered one of the world’s top global financial centers. Since its founding, Chicago has remained a major hub for industry, telecommunications and infrastructure, with O’Hare International Airport being the second busiest airport in the world.

The city’s distinct neighborhoods offer a large array of cultural, historical, sporting and entertainment focal points that bring thousands of tourists to the area yearly. Grant Park hosts the annual Taste of Chicago festival, while also featuring Millennium Park, home to the iconic Cloud Gate Structure, Buckingham Fountain and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicago, Illinois is a major center for music in the mid-western United States where distinctive forms of blues and house music were developed.  Chicago’s music scene has been well known for its blues music for many years. “Chicago Blues” uses a variety of instruments in a way which heavily influenced early rock and roll music.  And of course, there’s Jazz.  The distinctive “Chicago style” of jazz originated in southern musicians moving North after 1917, bringing with them the New Orleans “Dixieland” or sometimes called “hot jazz” styles and was created by pioneer musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

Today Chicago continues its proud history of being rich in jazz culture. The scene is very active across the city in nightclubs and festivals. Head to the Green Mill in Chicago’s North Side Uptown neighborhood for a healthy dose of classic jazz. The legendary club has seen all of the greats and is believed to be the oldest continuously running jazz club in the country.

Chicago has a wonderful cultural scene as well. The city is the home of the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. Chicago also has many beautiful sculptures in its parks throughout the city, including the fountain at Grant Park and the Cloud Gate, or as you might know it – “The Bean” – at AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park.  When one faces The Bean and Lake Michigan, the remarkable image of the Chicago skyline is reflected back to viewers.  It’s quite spectacular.

There’s also no shortage of museums like the Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African-American History, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  Sometimes it’s ok to be a tourist….so go forth and be sure to make trips to Navy Pier, Willis Tower, the legendary Chicago Theater, the Chicago Riverwalk and the Magnificent Mile.

The sports teams of Chicago are other well-known attractions of the city.  Chicago is home to the NFL franchise the Chicago Bears, two MLB teams – the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox, the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, and last but certainly not least, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.  No matter what your preference, there’s a game for it.

Chi-Town cuisine…..

Chicago is famous for and home to several local specialties.  What was born out of the Great Depression has since risen in the ranks to become a famous Chicago staple. So what is a Chicago style hot dog?  Glad you asked.  What you’ll get when you order one of these quintessential Chicago eats is a primo all-beef hot dog on a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, relish, tomato wedges, chopped onions, a pickle spear, hot peppers and celery salt. That’s it!  Of course, defining it is one thing….tasting it is a whole different ballgame.  But remember, this is a food that has rules!

Rule #1: Poppy seed bun. Always. No exceptions. Whatsoever.

Rule #2: No ketchup. Ever. No exceptions. Whatsoever.

Philly might have its cheese steak and Chicago has an answer for that.  Imagine, thin slices of seasoned roast beef bursting out from an Italian roll, dripping with juice and flavor….this is the famous Italian beef sandwich.  This sandwich comes with options….you can order it hot, with Giardiniera peppers.  Or if hot isn’t your thing, order it sweet with sweet peppers.  You can get it dipped and have your bread quickly dunked in the beef juice, or you can order it soaked, which pretty much means what you think.  It’s more than just a Chicago specialty. It’s an historic icon.

Forget thin crusts and delicate toppings. This treasured food staple is as hearty as they come, baked in a deep, round pan filled to the brim with cheese and topped with a thick layer of tomato sauce. The result is a piping hot, gooey piece of pizza on a buttery, flaky crust.  Quintessential Chicago.

You might find yourself wondering, what in the world is a Jibarito sandwich?  Well, it’s a sandwich, but not one made using bread.  Instead of the bread, it’s made using fried plantains and includes your more traditional sandwich fillings… meats, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and so on.  This sandwich spin was created about 40 years ago at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Humboldt Park and is still a staple in many of local Chicago neighborhoods. Or you can try the Mother-in-Law, not the person though it may still give you heartburn, but if you order this you’ll enjoy a tamale on a hot dog bun, topped with chili….a layered flavorful masterpiece.

What the locals know…..

Chicagoans say pop, not soda. If you say soda, everyone will know youre a newbie.  Also, the train is called the El which stands for elevated train, and it’s called El even if it’s underground.  A gangway is a passage between buildings that you would normally call an alley.

Even though Chicago has an extensive public transportation system, it also has a very heavy car culture.  This brings about a phenomenon called “Dibs” and happens in winter months when it snows, which it tends to do a lot in Chicago.  Because people oftentimes don’t have garages this is what they do….they will shovel out a space around their cars and then they will put lawn chairs or tables or well, anything, in the parking spot to call “dibs” on it. Sometimes the stuff remains in the space all day while the “dibber” is out working, shopping, socializing, or whatever their heart desires.  Some people respect Dibs, others as you might imagine, get very angry about it.  Which would you be?

Call it home…..

All in all, Chicago is a livable city. What do I mean by that? I mean that in comparison to a lot of other big cities, is reasonably priced in most necessities and most importantly, rent, are affordable for a great deal of its residents.  And, as a bonues, they have lower income tax then the rest of the US.

Probably the best thing about living in Chicago is Chicago summers. Between the lakefront runs and bike rides, weekend festivals, beach bumming, boat parties, rooftop parties, walks at the park, concerts until your body can’t take any more music….there is no better city for summer. You’d gladly take the Polar Vortex of Chicago winters every other week, just to bask in the Chicago summer.

Big city life doesn’t mean walking around with a chip on your shoulder or a loss of neighborly values here, so you will definitely find yourself immersed among friendly fellow Chicagoans.  The city is beautiful.  A fact that often goes underappreciated by those who live in it.  It’s not Paris or Prague, but it can hold its own.  Between the architecture, monuments, museums, and street art, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.   Chicago is a city filled with a contagious energy, a great zest for life, and the residents have a deep love and pride for their city.  Chicago’s love of music, the arts, and have fervor for their sports teams….this along with so many down to earth people, make it one of the most popular cities in the US for visiting and living.  They’re proud to be the third largest city in the country and love being Chicagoans, as will you.  Chicago is an experience everyone should have and one that everyone, yourself including, will reflect fondly upon.

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