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Reprising the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

When I moved on from my formerly beloved high-rise home, Marina City, last May, I never planned to be back. At the time, drowning in the watery surge of the tsunami of the Great Recession, I decided greener, more northern, and, er, cheaper pastures would be in my future. Lincoln Square seemed more bucolic. Edgewater was a lot closer to my temple. And after five years living in Chicago’s (in)famous, twin corncobs (regarding the ‘in’ part, just read through my Marina City archives), I needed a break from living in the dead-center heart of the middle of urban America.

Three months later, living with roommates at the foot of Milwaukee Avenue, tantalizingly close to downtown but not really in it anymore, I started to reconsider my decision. But I was still too poor to do anything about it, and too humble after my emotional and spiritual leaves (after forty years finally) turned over midyear to do anything about it. And spending time in Edgewater, I really started to fall for the neighborhood vibe of the place. In many ways, it reminded me of the local-neighborhoodiness I gave up when I left Brooklyn in the early 2000s.

By year’s end, I started a volunteer position managing the web presence of a major local nonprofit that very quickly turned into something more. (I’m not at liberty to flesh out further details yet, but suffice it to say, I can let my Link card expire now.) But I had spent a lot of time loving on the vibe of Chicago’s northern neighborhoods–and a lot of time doting on the noise, scandal, and troublesome condo board at Marina City. So downtown still wasn’t in the picture.

I had forgotten about the community spirit of the corncobs’ longtime-resident couch ladies, the comfort of knowing so many of your neighbors (don’t ask why, but Marina City in all its 60-story glory seems to promote neighborliness), the security of being on a first-name basis with building staff, and the sheer convenience of having five supermarkets and the entire Windy City transit system within a short walk from your front door.

I was reminded of all these things when Ryan, whom I love and–for once–whom you haven’t heard all about, suggested we have a living-room picnic a few weekends ago. We visited my old Trader Joe’s, on Ontario Street in River North, just up the street from Marina City. He almost had a heart attack from the crowded, Saturday evening bumper-shopping-cart action. But I started to remember how much I missed it, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot along with it. (Oddly enough, Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco whose so-named album featured the towers on its cover art, is a member of my temple.)

Gainfully employed, I had already started planning my move to Edgewater. At the same time, Ryan wanted to move closer to his Berwyn job than his current Aurora home. We decided to look for an apartment together and move in (now there’s a buried lede for you), and mused that maybe we should look downtown. But we really figured we were going to move in together in Edgewater.

Until Trader Joe’s.

So in February, for the first time ever, I’ll live with my boyfriend. And we’ll be living in Marina City’s West Tower. So remember all that yapping I did in 2007 about yearning to move home? Well, I’m finally doing it. Just not to New York. But back to where, in the end, I guess I really belong. Downtown Chicago.


Categories: Backstory Marina City Should I Move to Marina City?

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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6 replies

  1. I wondered which of us would flinch first: you back to Marina Towers or I to Columbus Plaza. I’ve thought about moving back to the beige hunk of concrete on Wacker Drive more than six dozen times since January 2009, and every time I remind myself of the following: My rent at the new place is $750. For me, the desire to stay here is purely math and a few extras I never felt truly comfortable with downtown.

    Cons of living in Columbus Plaza:
    1. My rent was $690 in 1994. By the time I left, my rent was $1325 for a 500 sq. ft. convertible. I was paying about $200 per month more than the college kids filling up the building.
    2. Constant arguments with management about outrageous rental increases.
    3. My Soviet-era utilitarian, featureless apartment with cheap particle board cabinets
    4. Above average costs for groceries at the Dominick’s on Grand & Fairbanks and the depressing, creepy homeless hangout Jewel on State Street. Trader Joe’s was ok, but it was a nine-block hike or a 3-block walk & one bus ride away.
    5. A fire station a block away that answered calls half a dozen times in the middle of the night. Blaring sirens woke me up at least once or twice every night.
    6. Living next to the noisy, overly lighted Hyatt Regency whose “decorative uplighting” bathed my apartment in errant white light, even with the blinds closed.
    7. Laundry room prices went up every three years. A load of wash was $1 when I moved in; $2.25/load to wash or dry by the time I left.
    8. Absolutely no amenities while living there. Oh, trash pickup was paid for; the leasing office made a big deal about that.
    9. Electric everything=average electric bills of $75–125/month.
    10. Water shut-offs several times a year that seemed sporadic and less about installing new pipes than tinkering with the old pipe infrastructure.
    11. New digital cable wiring installation done the cheapest way possible resulting in ugly white conduits running through the hallways and around the ceilings of my apartment.
    12. Inability to ever get a breeze from the tiny hopper-style windows openings.
    13. Western exposure=blinding sunsets & hot apartments in the summer
    14. Window heating/cooling units stuck inside the apartment that were the size of funeral caskets, produced a pittance of either heat or AC, and required a separate fuse box to control the voraceous amount of electricity needed.
    15. How many homeless people can: “ask me a question,” “shine my shoes,” “spare some change” in a two block area. There were homeless people begging along Wacker Drive for longer than I knew most of my neighbors.

    Pros of living in Columbus Plaza:
    1. Extraordinarily good corporate management that knew how to run a building and keep tenants docile. Problems between residents were handled swiftly and equally.
    2. Terrific security.
    3. Lower than average rent…for the area. Then again, everything else is newer than 10 years old.
    4. Fantastic views. But…those grow old especially when the Trump tower blocked 40% of my west-northwest view.
    5. Decent ventilation

    Cons of living in my East Lakeview studio:
    1. An undisclosed/ unknown cat urine problem from a previous tenant resulted in part of my apartment needing to be completely rehabbed with new drywall and new carpet—two weeks after I moved in. You would not believe how bad this was unless you lived through it. I was severely depressed for an entire month.
    2. A year-long battle with my neurotic, passive-aggressive next-door neighbor-owner who did the most insane things to piss me off. It took six complaint letters, one extremely embarrassing lobby confrontation and a formal meeting with the condo board to finally get her to stop. A few months after we were called to the special condo board meeting, if we happened to be in the same common area (laundry room, lobby, she would give me the finger whenever possible—as the CCTV cameras caught her doing. After the building manager threatened to fine her, she stopped. Now, she runs away from me whenever she sees me.
    3. A problematic upstairs neighbor-owner who has the original, linoleum tiles over bare concrete without any padding. I hear every step she makes. I hear every step her live-in boyfriend makes. I hear when their bed pounds against the floor during—well, yeah…I hear that, too. I hear her cat knocking over things day and night. Three complaints and ten emails later, the best management can do is ask her to get a few throw rugs in “high traffic areas.” Explain to kitty what a high-traffic area is when it wants to knock something around at 3 am.
    4. The building is full of owners who don’t want to spend a dime on sprucing/renovating/remodeling ANYTHING. Everything in the building is original from when the building was built in 1968 using the cheapest materials possible. Last year, they made the biggest change in recent history: They painted the laundry room from canary yellow to…battleship grey. Pleasant.
    5. The building manager is a nice guy, but when it comes to resolving issues involving renters versus owners, guess which side ultimately wins…yeah, I’m low man on the totem pole. I might win a battle every now and then, but I have to get my unit’s owner involved if it requires any conflict resolution a screwdriver can’t fix. At my old place, management would solve anything with a couple 5-Day Notices and an eviction; that’s the difference between owning a place and renting.

    Pros of living in my East Lakeview studio:
    1. In three years, my rent has gone up just $18 per month. The monthly rent is still a little over half what I paid my last year in Columbus Plaza.
    2. My unit owner/landlord is the spitting image of Ivana Trump with a voice and attitude like Sylvia Miles. Everyone respects her. She can get things done—like getting the maintenance guys to rid my apartment’s cat urine odor problem in a week.
    3. The maintenance staff will do small special maintenance jobs—drywall patching, install/relocate electrical outlets, install blinds, painting, etc., for low prices. It’s amazing what a Bundt cake will get you.
    4. A full-size, heated indoor heated pool with deep end.
    5. Beautiful Berber carpeting, great kitchen cabinets and nice appliances. YES. I finally have a kitchen I love.
    6. Full size, double hung (shut up, Michael) windows that I can open and get nice Lake Michigan breezes from in the spring/summer/fall months.
    7. The building takes care of heat, which is baseboard radiator. Nice and toasty during the winter.
    8. Cooking gas—paid for by the building. Another reason to love the kitchen.
    9. Add #7 and 8 together, and now my electric bill averages only $14 per month.
    10. I face Northwest. I can see Wrigley Field in the distance. My dear Dad would’ve loved it and wondered why I haven’t been to any Cubs games in the two years of living in my new place.
    11. There are seven CTA bus routes (four of which are express to downtown) a block from my building. I have three El train lines within a 15-minute walk away. My commute to work using buses is shorter now than it would’ve been had I stayed at Columbus Plaza and walked to work.
    12. There’s a full size Jewel and a Treasure Island within a 20-minute walk away…or, if I’m lazy, I can take a bus and get there in 10. There are two Whole Foods within a mile. I can also take an express bus and be down to Trader Joes in 15 minutes.
    13. There are—I am not kidding—about 40 places to eat within a ¾ mile radius. I have my faves and seem to eat at the same five or six places every week, but that’s better than the two I had while in Columbus Plaza.
    14. A large Walgreens, open 24-hours, two blocks from my building
    15. This is a village: there are umpteen family-owned shops for almost everything. We’re not posh Armitage, but the hat shop, boutique book store and gelato place come close.

    All in all, I think I made the right decision to move. Every time I think about moving back to Columbus Plaza, I just can’t fathom the idea of paying all that rent for the few benefits a rather bland “New Eastside” neighborhood returned.

  2. Well, Ryan and I hope we’ll move in now. The tenant in the unit we’re renting hasn’t left yet, has lied about her moving date, and now looks like she’ll be there on the day we were planning on moving in. So we may have to wait out her eviction. Or just, you know, throw her ass over the railing.

    At this point, I’m partial to that latter option. Grrr.

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