Right of Return

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(Photo: Stick pre-kindergarten me and my grandmother in this picture and you’ve got every weekend jaunt we ever took into Manhattan from Queens in the early 1970s. Credit: NYC Subway Resources/Doug Grotjahn & Joe Testagrose.)

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my Korean foodie friend, (dammit I don’t look like Margaret Cho) Rozella, on the breakwater at Montrose Harbor and ticked off my personal pros and cons surrounding my impending move back home to Gotham. After four-and-a-half years in Hogtown, it wasn’t an easy cost-benefit analysis to do, even for a former urban planner like me.

At the time, one element loomed large on both lists: my breakup with Devyn (who still plans to move to NYC on his own). Could I deal with living in our downtown Chicago neighborhood if I stayed behind? Could I deal with living in my hometown knowing Devyn lived there, too? Eight weeks of outright estrangement and a daily clinical dose of St. Johns Wort (aka God’s natural Zoloft) has pushed those concerns off the table for now.

But others remain, which, although not making me change my mind about going home, definitely make this a bittersweet move. I invite you to take a walk under my clouds of indecision for a moment with my annotated lists of what I would miss about my adopted–and native–hometowns:

What I’d Miss about Chicago

–Rent in the hundreds of dollars.

–“Please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, as social requirements, not bygone relics.

–Two words: Lake Michigan.

–Two more words: Rozella; Val.

–Affording to live deeply downtown.

–A 10-minute walk to Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Jewel, and Dominick’s.

–A 10-minute walk to the Art Institute of Chicago.

–The view from Marina City’s 61st-floor roofdeck.

–Deep dish pizza.

–The best Mexican food in America.

–Cooler by the Lake (and warmer in winter).

–The best high-rise skyline on the planet, and the best of Mies, Sullivan, Wright, and almost every single living or recently living modern or contemporary architect showcased in one place.

–Everyone freely engaging in friendly conversation with everyone else.

–Considering where I’ll be moving to, the above entry bears repeating.

What I’d Miss about New York

–My old friends who’ve so miraculously become new again.

–Employment and gig opportunities in much greater numbers, that overwhelmingly exist downtown and not in the suburbs.

–A world-class transit system.

–Considering where I’m moving from, the above entry bears repeating.

–Lively, peopled streets (and subways) at all hours of the day, evening, and late into the night.

–One word: Brooklyn.

–Three more words: Coney Island Cyclone.

–The ability to get a bagel at 3 a.m. from a Korean Deli on every corner.

–Korean Delis on every corner.

–“Ethnic food” being considered just plain old everyday food.

–The chance to fix my mistakes in my hometown and, finally, bring my scared inner child back home the right way (to a city that isn’t a 12-step recovery desert).

It’s New York’s first and last entries that really clinch it for me. When your closest mates come back into your life after more than a decade away, when your social life suddenly grows exponentially, when you realize how much you gave up when your inner child ran away from home…and when you realize God is giving you a second chance… The greater work opportunities, the greater costs, all else really becomes commentary. Home, in the end, is home, and, no pun intended, I keep coming back to that.

So I’ll always leave a piece of my heart in Chicago, visit as much as humanly possible, and defend this city forever to all Big Apple detractors. But in the end, the heart that beats in this New York goy knows one thing with absolute clarity.

It’s time to exercise my right of return.

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