The Point of No Return

(Photo: And I am led once again to the same conclusion…but not the one I expected. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.)

Last month, I accepted the job offer of my life in New York City. Today, I turned it down. At long last, I admit it. I am hopelessly in love with Chicago. I’m staying right here.

In some alternate reality, I could be the communications director for a very groovy environmental nonprofit in Manhattan. I could be living and working back in my Gotham hometown, hanging with my old friends, and rediscovering the New Yorker in me. As I’ve recently chronicled, I was on the verge.

The unexpected offer came in the first half of August. But with the second half of August came my apartment search. I was standing in the living room of a $1,450-a-month, erroneously allegedly non-basement apartment in Astoria, Queens, when doubt crept in. I told my apartment broker I wasn’t interested, at which point the irked landlady leaned in to him and whispered, “You need to show him some more apartments around here so he gains some perspective.”

Prescient words they were. My job offer would have afforded me the apartment. But, as I realized with each passing day I spent in my hometown, my heart simply wouldn’t afford me New York. Not anymore.

You can’t fill up the present with the past. Don’t get me wrong, I love my old east-coast friends. But while I remembered the New Yorker in me for a glorious month spent along non-Lake Michigan shores, I also remembered the myriad reasons why I don’t live along those shores, anymore. All the things I formerly took for granted, factored into the cost of living in the Big Apple, I now found weighing heavily on me (primarily because of their lack in America’s Second City): dirty sidewalks; potholed streets; 110-degree summer subway stations; perilously crowded everything; rifle-toting National Guardsmen at every commuter rail terminal; NYPD S.W.A.T. teams in Times Square.

Worse, for the privilege of living in such a–compared to Chicago, anyway–squalid environment, the finagling and financing to be done in order to secure an NYC apartment is worse than ever. As the gap between haves and have-nots grows ever wider in the five boroughs, the ability of common folk to find, afford, and be approved for the smallest of apartments in the most marginal of neighborhoods has waned beyond my ability to comprehend (six- to 12-month security deposit, anyone?).

My New York City friends find all of this to be absolutely normal, part and parcel of being able to live in the self-described capital of the world. I used to agree with them. But after four-and-a-half years in Chicago, I had the terrifying feeling that the day after my potential move I would wake up in sweat-stained sheets screaming names of Chicago neighborhoods into the east-coast darkness.

Because I have gained perspective. I live in a city that, although imperfect, affords to most of its citizens the ability to have a quality of life that only the wealthy and lucky can touch in New York. Care to live in the heart of downtown Chicago on the 38th floor of a historic tower? Have a panoramic view from your pillow? Walk to four supermarkets, three department stores, dozens of restaurants, every rapid-transit, bus, and commuter rail line in town, the Art Institute of Chicago, the financial district, and river and lake–within five to 10 minutes from your front door? What would you pay? In New York City, my rent on that would be about $3,000.

In Chicago, I pay $835. (Have I mentioned the balcony you could park a car on and the 360-degree, 61st floor roofdeck?) Any questions?

Well hold off on them, because there’s more. In four weeks in New York, I also failed to encounter a neighborhood with the same friendliness or finesse as the Hogtown nabes that I’ve come to haunt and covet in my years here. Andersonville? Lakeview? Pilsen? Printers Row? It’s a long list without equal outside Chicago. Boy, has this town spoiled me.

Ultimately, Chicago is without equal outside Chicago, and I am too deeply in love with this city to give it up–obviously even if you paid me. Such has been my lesson this year. So why have I been trying so hard to leave? I believe I was so lonely in my former, now-failed relationship that when my old New York friends came back into my life last spring, I saw them–and New York–as an antidote for my emptiness. Once Devyn left (and moved on his own to NYC), the feeling only worsened, stiffening my resolve to go through with my own moving plans.

But it’s four months later now. My dance card in Chicago, both platonic and romantic, is (astoundingly for me) more full than ever before in my life. Life has returned in a big way, and that’s a blessing I don’t take lightly. I no longer feel lonely, and I’m far better able to appreciate all that I’ve got in Chicago. Not the least of which, as I’ve said many times before, is the ability to live among Chicagoans, the friendliest, most upstanding, and, indeed, most loving people I’ve ever encountered anywhere.

I expected this post to be about coming to the same conclusion that I came to four months ago: that I still want to move to New York. Instead, I’ve come, happily, to the same conclusion I came to four years ago: that I would much prefer to be a (carpet-bagging) Chicagoan. And so it is.

I will always be grateful for a history spent in America’s biggest city. But I continue to look forward to a future to be spent in America’s best city. Chicago, what the hell was I thinking? I love you. I like you. I get you. I’m staying.

Um, buckle your seatbelt, folks.

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