Monday, June 23, 2008

Illinois and Louisiana: Different Song, Same Rhythm

In a few days it will be a full month since I moved to Chicago, marking the longest period of time that I have spent outside of Louisiana. Clearly, I need to take extended travel experiences more often. Don’t get me wrong; I’m in love with Louisiana. This time outside of my normal surroundings, however, has allowed me to experience certain aspects of a different state; some things that are iconically different from Louisiana, and some that are perplexingly similar.

Public Transit
As far as Lafayette and Baton Rouge go, we have the CATS and the COLT. Though the names are clever, these public transit systems are, for the most part, ignored. The CTA trains and buses, however, are the blood cells that flow through Chicago’s veining streets. The New Orleans Street cars may be the best comparison, but a ten-minute bus ride is hard to beat, and is a rare-find in Louisiana.
Revolving Doors
The concept and purpose behind revolving doors may be the reason you see very few of them in the south. Never creating a complete opening between indoors and outdoors, a revolving door prevents drafty winter winds from disturbing the peace of an otherwise warm lobby. Clever.
If I recall correctly, the tallest building in Louisiana is One Shell Square in New Orleans, coming in at 50 stories. In Chicago, most of the downtown area exists between elevator rides, climbing to heights unfamiliar to Louisiana buildings (which is understandable considering the bedrock needed for such foundations). I guess the comparison is difficult, considering that the tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere is in Chicago.
NFL Teams: Check. NBA Teams: Check. MLB Teams: Louisiana has to root for the Astros. Chicagoans, however, really love their baseball, so much so that they have two hometown teams just to satisfy this baseball craving. Wait, how foolish of me: Geaux Zephyrs!
Quick Turnaround
Needless to say, I was quite surprised as I listened to the casual voice of a Public Service Announcement that came in between the stops on a CTA bus. The voice said, “The renovation to the Brown Line is ahead of schedule…” Ahead of schedule? I didn’t know such a thing existed.
Cold Summers
Forty-Eight degree high temperature for the last week of May? Are you insane? Call FEMA, because if it were up to me, that would be categorized as natural disaster. That was only for one week, but still, for a warm-natured person like me, I was a little scared. Walking to the bus stop on my first day, I wondered if I had brought enough warm clothes.
Bland Food
They may have Deep-dish pizzas, Italian Beef sandwiches and Polish sausages, but my after a couple of bits my arm makes a Pavlovian dart toward a can of Tony Chachere's that isn’t there. Sorry northerners, your food could use some spice.

Amazing Food
Just because it’s not particularly spicy, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flavor. Just reference the whole article about the Rib Fest. Plus, it’s difficult to go to Little Italy, enjoy an authentic Italian Ice and a Tiramisu and say that the food has no flavor.
I guess it’s hard to find a good politician, but whenever I listened in on the random bus conversations of locals discussing kickbacks and under-the-table dealings, it felt all too familiar, almost to the point of comforting. Imagine Louisiana politics but with teamsters and pipe-fitters in the mix.
Bad Drivers, Turning Right on Red
Chicagoans and Louisianans share the same fascinating ability to turn right on red lights, a cultural phenomena if you will. And as far as driving goes, to think I thought New Orleans drivers were bad! I’m just grateful that the CTA does the work for me, but even they could afford to learn how to apply the breaks slowly.
Jazz and Blues Culture
When I took The City of New Orleans train to Chicago in December of this last year, I couldn’t help but fantasize about the romance and mystic of the train, carrying some of America’s jazz greats to and from Chicago and New Orleans. When that train came to a halt, the musicians had to get off somewhere, and their influence rumbles through the streets like the subways underground.
Cultural Meccas
Perhaps it’s the different ethnic neighborhoods, the different languages being spoken on the street or the selection of music played at Millennium Park, Chicago mirrors the diversity, history and cultural blend of Creoles and Cajuns that makes up Louisiana.
It’s no Mississippi river humidity that sticks to your arms on a late August night, but Lake Michigan produces enough humidity for me to perspire at a familiar level, (at least after that first week.)

The similarities are certainly comforting. There is, however, one thing that Chicago doesn’t have, and that is the people I love. My friends and family have helped to define everything I love about Louisiana. At times, it feels as though I’m so caught up in the pulse of this city that I forget about returning home. All it takes, however, is a text message, a phone call or a facebook message to remind me what I miss about Louisiana. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not distressed or homesick – I was born to live in this city. Let’s just say Chicago would be only that much better if you were here to enjoy it with me.

[Clarification: Though the URL address for this blog is “chicagojoe2008” I am no way affiliated with Chicago Joe’s Bar and Grill (which, by the way, was present at the rib fest). I only picked the name because Pop called me that a few days before I left.

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