Friday, August 1, 2008

Chicago Denouement

In 1990, the City of Chicago issued an official apology to Mrs. O’Leary for the century of blame she received after her cow purportedly kicked over a kerosene lantern, igniting a fire in the barn and eventually laying the entire city to waste. Recent studies now indicate the great fire may have been started by a small meteor rocketing to the ground as part of a larger meteor shower.

Since then, of course, the city phoenixed, allowing some of history’s greatest architects, artists, designers and city planners to create a new metropolis. This redevelopment gave Chicago the nickname of “Second City” and reinforced the city’s adopted motto “I will.”

There is a flame still burning in Chicago, however. At sunset, the city streets produce an amber glow like a smoldering ember. The Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park even resembles smoke billowing from the red flame curtains of the symphonic stage. But even more than that, Chicago has a fire raging in the metaphorical sense. With a fire of motivation glowing inside them, the people in the “I will” city take this liberty and determination and become the people of an “I do” city. It’s amazing how the residents and visitors of Chicago take the city and make it their own, whether that’s in the form of architecture and art or just the way people interact with the city itself. I have certainly felt this as I walked through the valley-like streets; the city is for the taking.

Chicago revealed to me my own sense of adventure and excitement. I will look back on this trip with a sense of accomplishment, because on the rare occasion I would walk through the streets and just remind myself, “you made it.” It had always been a dream of mine to live in Chicago for an extended period of time, and now that the summer is coming to a sudden close, I can look back on the time spent here and know that not only did I live in the city, but I emersed myself into the city. I am proud to that I squeezed everything I could from this summer, never suffering through a dull moment and always looking toward the next item on my “to-do” list. In the “I will” city, I can board the plane tomorrow and say “I did.”

I never experienced a dull moment, even at work. The people that I worked with for the past ten weeks were comprised such an amazing team and made my stay here only that much more amazing. This, of course, made my departure from work quite difficult as I told everyone goodbye, promising to stay in touch and possibly return. Mark, Sharon, Sharon, Tim, Sandy, Lisa and Jinx not only helped me with my work and thus my work experience, but their kindness and generosity helped to craft this amazing summer. I find it funny that from now on I’ll never be able to look at Pepsi as just a tasty beverage, but an experience that not only prepared me for the business world, but helped to shape the way I will study, work and lead. It was an amazing internship, and for it to be in Chicago, I know somebody somewhere is looking out for me.

When I arrived in Chicago, I didn’t really pay to much attention to the family history I have with the city. My father came in 1960, my mother sometime after that, but I was really surprised to discover that my great-grandmother came for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. As soon as Pop told me this I felt such an amazing connection to her. At the time she was a young woman from a small town in Louisiana, experiencing the grandeur and mystic of a major city, interacting with people from all across the world, and witnessing all that Chicago had to offer. You see the parallel, I’m sure. This city was part of my family history well before I had the innate desire to come to Chicago. This city, steeped in history, is a gift to the entire world, and where as the Columbian Exposition showed the world what Chicago had to offer, Chicago showed me what the world had to offer. Though cut from the same American cloth, my transition from a relatively small city in Louisiana to a bustling city like Chicago was one of both amazement and quick assimilation. In the last few days I have been asked several times what the best part of my summer was, and though it is overly-difficult to point out one or two things, I would have to say the most rewarding experience was leading my family around the city. To step back and observe what was happening, here I was, the “baby” of the family, being the tour guide for my parents and brother, witnessing how impressed they were with my familiarity with the city.

This acquaintance with the city could not have come without much exploring, and the exploring could not have been completed without the company of friends. Alex, Sophie, Bill, Jana, Eimear and Abby, thank you for enjoying this city with me. My hope is that in the not too distant future, we will all see each other again, either in Chicago or navigating through a new city. My summer would not have been the same without the friends I have met along the way.

And, of course, you cannot go anywhere in the country without finding a fellow LSU tiger, and thanks to Bridget and Paige, my experience in the city never felt too far away from home. I thank you both for showing me around and enjoying this great city with me.

So now that all is said and done here in Chicago, I reflect on an unusual concept. We’ve all experienced it where we see someone that we have not seen in a while and they make a comment such as, “you’ve gotten taller since the last time I’ve seen you,” or “you’ve lost some wait,” or something like that. From a day-to-day basis, we never notice these changes as we evolve through them, but when observed in varied intervals the changes can be clearly observed. I can only imagine how I will have appeared to have changed since coming to Chicago and working with PepsiCo. I am almost certain I have allowed this experience to change me for the better, shaping me further into the person I aspire to be. I can only image if those changes will be perceivable and what they might be. I am more than confident, however, that if anything these experience have made me into a more courageous, knowledgeable, prepared and rational being than ever before. If this is true, then I am more than grateful for this amazing summer.

As I returned to my apartment for one last time, it was difficult to look at the skyline as the orange sunlight reflected in the tower windows. The word I have been (over-) using is bittersweet: Sad that I have to leave, but happy that I have experienced all that has come to pass. I have fallen in love with this city, and the question of my return is not “if” but “when.” It’s difficult to say goodbye to such an amazing experience, but Paul phrased it best when he said, “Joe, if you want to return to Chicago, you have to come home first.”

Goodbye Chicago. Thank you for everything. As long as the fire of life and inspiration glows through the streets and within everyone who experiences this city, you will forever be in my heart.

All My Love,
-Joe Coussan

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