Note: Matthew V. Storin is a former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe. He wrote this for the Chicago News Cooperative, where it first appeared Oct. 25. It is reprinted by permission.
So you’re leaving Boston for Chicago? Been there; done that.
One of my few claims to fame is that I’m the only person to serve as editor of a Chicago newspaper (the Sun-Times, 1986-87) and a Boston newspaper (The Globe, 1993-2001). My time in Chicago was brief — a total of 19 months — but I’ve spent about 20 percent of my life in the Midwest, including 14 years at the University of Notre Dame as a student, administrator and faculty member.
Apart from where people do or don’t put R’s when they talk, the cities are more similar than not. But here are 10 hints to help you get acclimated.
1. In Chicago you can never be lost. While in Boston the cowpaths became streets without rhyme or reason, in Chicago, the grid means you can be in the wrong place but you can never not know where you are. (Wrigley is in the 1000 block west and 3600 block north.)
2. Like Boston, only more so, traffic on Chicago’s expressways can take years off your life (think John Lackey), but on city streets you can drive and park in a way you’d only dream of in Boston.
3. Compared to Boston, Chicago is really big, the metro area of 9 million being twice the size of Boston at 4.6 million. The architecture is dazzling. Be sure to take the architectural boat tour even before you check out the ivy at Wrigley. Do not, however, brag about the Atlantic Ocean vs. Lake Michigan. They have no sense of humor about that. (Yes, occasionally there are waves.) In Chicago, there’s a street (Western Ave.) that’s nearly 24 miles long. At that rate you’d be in the Beverly, MA on the North Shore of Massachusetts. And speaking of Beverly, a city that has a population of 40,000, Chicago has a neighborhood called Beverly with over 20,000 residents.
4. Politically, though both Democratic strongholds, Chicago and Boston are very different, and you need to know this right away. As you know, Boston is the capital of its state. The governor gets a lot of ink; the state is a huge employer. Chicago is more like a nation-state. Springfield, the capital of Illinois, is in another country called “Downstate.” The Mayor of Chicago is a King compared to the Mayor of Boston. And they take their city government seriously in Chicago. Ask folks in the Loop who their alderman is, they may very well know the answer. They almost certainly know which ward they live in. Try that in Boston and get ready for the shrugs. And Chicago’s parks are generally in better shape. Those alderman tend to watch things like that.
5. If you thought winter in Boston was tough, wait till you try Chicago. Yeah, it was named the Windy City for its politicians, and Boston is plenty windy too, but all the tall buildings in the Loop create arctic havoc. Statistically in January, Chicago is five degrees colder, according to the Weather Channel (Chicago’s average high: 31; Boston’s 36) but there is nothing in Boston to compare with crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge. I mean people wear fur coats in Chicago for warmth. You won’t be able to get to Mesa for spring training fast enough.
6. Of course you’ll have a honeymoon with the Cubs, but beware. I used to think that the fans at Wrigley were not so intense as those at Fenway (at least pre-2004), but if you have any questions on this, ask Steve Bartman. There is another team in town, which can occasionally ease or enhance the pressure. But bear in mind, for you the South Side is a foreign country.
7. Make sure you get a limo. Compared to Boston, it seems like every big shot has one. Or pretenders are renting them.
8. In Boston, they ask “Did you go to school around here?” (If you didn’t go to Harvard, the answer is “No.”) In Chicago, they ask “Who sent you?”
9. In Chicago, it’s North Side or South Side. In Boston, you’re considered a higher form of life if you actually live within the city limits.
10. Did I mention it’s flat?