I'm staying with friends in Chicago this week, left to my own devices while my husband attends a conference. Aside from weather delays and a strange toddler in the boarding area who licked my leg, the trip from Maine was uneventful.
I love the challenge of orienting myself in a new city, building a mental map of its layout and public transit, noticing how the people move. I've heard Chicago is a great place to be vegan, but all I can report on so far is this soy chai. We're keeping it frugal for now, cooking portobellos and pea shoots at home until this weekend when we'll check out The Chicago Diner.
I spent yesterday walking Chicago's tourist route, from the top of the Hancock building and down the shopping streets to Millenium Park, where visitors use the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (known as "the bean," though it's shaped more like a red blood cell) to photograph themselves taking a photograph.
Back in Maine, there's plenty of room and plenty of time for everyone to get where they're going. When I lived the city, I had to learn the unspoken rules of urban pedestrian life: walk quickly and decisively, stay out of the way, and do not look at anyone directly. Traveling up Michigan Avenue during rush hour felt like a fast, precise game of pinball, the steel marble dodging to avoid opening doors, weaving around strollers, perfectly timing a jump between oncoming taxis. I cursed the oblivious lumps who stopped to talk in the middle of the sidewalk, halting my progress. I've learned how to go about my business without interrupting the flow of the crowd. I glance around at the swiftly moving feet and think, I am in this club. Do I belong in the city?
Where is vegan utopia? Is it a metropolis, with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, a dozen vegan restaurants, and ethnic markets full of exotic spices? Or is it a small community where you grow your own salad, make pickles and trade them for loaves of your neighbor's homemade bread, and let the dogs run wild in grass that smells of deer and turkeys? I'm pretty sure it's one or the other, and not somewhere in between. When you live in the suburbs you spend your life driving between Lowe's and the Cheesecake Factory.
I love the rush and anonymity of the city, but I also love leaving my windows open at night, waking up to bird noises, and noticing what the weather does to trees.
For now, a city visit is enough. If you have suggestions for the rest of my stay, let me know.