Chicago. Chicago.

Unlike any other airport in the world, O’Hare feels like home. Even now, after three years leaving the Windy City, I don’t ever look at the signs. I know where to go. I know what to do. It’s here that I get my first taste of Chicago and the Midwest. Maybe it’s just me, but here I see more smiles than I do at other airports. SFO may have blazing fast wifi, gourmet food and yoga rooms, but it’s O’Hare I’d rather be. And if I do want to get fancy, I’ll land at Midway instead. It’s got Potbelly’s.

Down a couple escalators, I make my way into the dank underbelly of the beast. Where the Blue Line starts and ends at O’Hare could possibly be the the point where the air is the most dead, if indeed there are varying degrees of death. The air is heavy, and I immediately begin to sweat, my nose visibly disturbed.

The Blue Line comes not too long after I make my through the turnstiles and the escalator. The el is not clean; it’s not dirty. It’s just the el. Once we emerge from the tunnel, grey skies greet me. I am hugging the Kennedy now, traffic light on this particular Thursday morning. I pass by the old Careerbuilder building near the Cumberland stop, the place where my true professional career began, where I met so many of my friends. It’s logo no longer sits atop the building on Bryn Mawr. The train moves on, unimpressed with my nostalgia.

I am excited beyond belief; very soon I will be in the city that I’ve loved for over two decades.

Chicago, here I come!

After 35 minutes or so, we come upon the Damen stop in the Bucktown and Wicker Park areas of town. I spent eleven years of my life in this neighborhood, just as much my home as anywhere else that I’ve lived. This particular stop of course carries even greater significance. On December 22, 2008 at 7:28 AM, I was crossing the street on my way to catch this very train heading into the office downtown in the Loop. I never made it that frigid morning, instead getting hit by a car as I was crossing the street. In the times I’ve been back, I’ve always made a point to visit this spot and give it homage for sparing me that day. God and the universe had decided long ago that there was more for me to do, more for me to give, before leaving for good.

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Pretty soon I am underground again. I get off at Clark & Lake, Thompson Center stop, the stop I entered and left for years while I worked for Careerbuilder at 180 North LaSalle and the building across the street at 200. Monk’s Pub sat behind me a block, as it had for the past 38 years. Sidebar was across the street, where I had so many happy hours that went later into the evening, where one of its employees would eventually become a close friend that later worked with me at Glassdoor in the Bay Area. My memories of this area are filled with good times with good friends.

Chicago, I am here!!

I am about to have lunch with someone I have not seen in three years; and I’ve never been more excited. We met at Nico Osteria in the Gold Coast. An old-fashioned to start, followed by a proper glass of cabernet sauvignon to accompany the rigatoni bolognese I ordered, seemed like the perfect thing to complement my lovely company, reminiscing about the past and talking about the present and future.

After connecting with a couple dear friends of mine, dropping off my luggage at their high-rise in The Loop, and getting dressed for the start of the pre-wedding festivities that evening, I was off. The rehearsal at Jackson Junge Art Gallery across the street from where I lived in Wicker Park years ago brought back so many memories of the area and my life back then. The subsequent get together and dinner at The Intercontinental reunited me with the couple I was blessed to officiate their wedding the next day, and friends of my sisters, who were also younger brothers of friends of mine from when I was growing up, made for a lovely evening.

Tomorrow would be the wedding.

In a few days, Chicago, I will leave you.

Until then?
I will enjoy you as I have always done.
You’ve been good to me.
You always are.

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