16 Miles, Paid in Twenties and Hundreds

Wilshire Boulevard 1960

My recent trip to Los Angeles, as with any major-city travel I do, has had me thinking about the cityness of the place for a few weeks now. Being a native New Yorker and a former urban planner, I often like to try other towns on for size. Usually in print and image formats. Sometimes in person. In the instance of Chicago, of course, by actually moving here, and remaining here.

Now that I’ve been in Chicago for a decade, I’ve also found myself wondering about my urban future. I never expected to be here this long, but that’s because at first I figured I would eventually (and much more quickly than in ten years’ time) return to NYC. In my heart, though, my hometown is a closed book that I have no desire to reopen, much less-reread. The past decade has taught me that life is simply nicer lived elsewhere.

For a long time, I’ve felt less like a Chicago transplant and more like a Chicago lifer. But after ten years, and as always after a major trip, I wonder. The world is a big place that I love exploring, and I’m not getting any younger. So I’m no longer married to the concept of growing old and gray on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Honestly, I never was able to picture an elderly me in the five boroughs. There was a time, though, I could picture renewing my Irish passport (I’m a dual-citizen) and growing old in Western Europe. Or at the very least, spending a year or five blogging about a life “temporarily” lived in a non-expat neighborhood of Lisbon or London. (Well really, just Lisbon.) After leaping away from New York, I never expected to happily pause in one place for this long.

Not that I could make a living just anywhere, or easily be a Jew just anywhere. Not to mention become a rabbi just anywhere. But Los Angeles is one of those places where the couldness of those three criteria feels about right to me. I’m not a fan of smirky, knee-jerk opinions about L.A., it’s a very complicated, layered place. Just like Chicago or any other world city. It’s got much better and quickly expanding public transit than most people give it credit for. And approaching my mid-forties, learning to drive is no longer a deal breaker for me. (Unlike walking, depending on the weather of the day and the cooperativeness of my lower back.)

This (not to mention my back) comes and goes far more often than I actually do. But for now I muse. And if nothing else, I’ve learned where my municipal baseline now lies. Reading an article about the diverse Los Angeles urbanity lined up along the 16-mile length of the city’s major east-west Wilshire Boulevard, I sent that particular account of measurement into my head to be paid. For many years, including most of my time in Chicago, I have estimated distance in terms of 20 city blocks–the north-south span of a mile in Manhattan. The way I learned to figure out farness growing up in Gotham.

Wrapping my mind around Wilshire Boulevard’s length, however, I found myself counting upwards in increments of 800 house numbers–the standard measurement of a mile in Chicago. Only after coming to the conclusion that Wilshire would stretch from the Chicago Loop to the southern border of the city did I realize I really didn’t care how many Manhattans that would work out to.

So I may not know where I’ll eventually end up, but I certainly know where I belong right now.

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