Today, on my 12th anniversary of moving to Chicago, I am recounting the experiences that made me a Chicagoan…
When I moved here I was 24 and I had no idea how long I would stay in Chicago – I was just ready to get out of NYC. In the past 12 years I’ve met my husband, gotten married, had a baby, and moved 3 times living in 3 different neighborhoods. I also think that I have become a Chicagoan.
I’ve decided being a Chicagoan isn’t about the big things. It isn’t about checking a visit to Wrigley Field off the list, it’s about going to Wrigley Field and knowing all the words to “Go Cubs Go”. Or getting a midnight tamale from the Tamale Man. It’s the things that people probably don’t know about if they aren’t from here.
Experiences that Make You a Chicagoan
Singing Go Cubs Go from the Bleachers
Going to Wrigley is one thing. Sitting in the Bleachers – where the rowdy locals congregate and yelling out the words to Go Cubs Go when the Cubs win – that makes you a local.
Knowing Sunny Winter Days are the Coldest
Chicago’s weather likes to play tricks on you. Over time you learn that the sunny winter days can be the most brutally cold and windy. At first you might look outside and grab a lighter jacket, but now I know that it’s time to put on the Canada Goose.
Going to Lollapalooza/Outgrowing Lollapalooza
Going to Lollapalooza is a right of passage, but I think realizing that you don’t want to go anymore is too. After a few years we realized that the lineup seems to repeat the same bands year after year, and that we would rather splurge on VIP tickets to see one band we love instead of seeing a several bands play shorter sets. Also, it’s crowded and the bathroom situation is less than ideal.
Recognizing Dibs/Calling Dibs
In the winter, there is an unwritten rule that if you shovel out a parking spot and leave an object in the spot, the spot is yours and no one else can steal it. Chicagoans get creative with their dibs markers, it might be a chair, an ironing board, a milk crate, a saw horse, or anything else someone can find to mark their territory. Once the snow is gone, dibs markers need to go. Calling dibs is only acceptable if there is snow on the ground.
Buying a Late Night Tamale from the Tamale Man
If there is one thing that makes you a true Chicagoan, it’s buying a tamale from the Tamale Man. That’s because it takes a bit of luck, so you will need to devote some time to drinking in some dive bars in order for the stars to align. The Tamale Man, Claudio Velez, is a man that goes around Chicago bars late at night selling tamales. He is always a welcome sight. Bars love him because he feeds the masses without patrons needing to leave bars (that don’t serve food or whose kitchens are closed) to go get something to eat. He frequents bars in Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, the Ukrainian Village, and Roscoe Village. You never know his exact route or which bars he will stop at. I’ve encountered him only once but it was wonderful. I remember the tamale, I don’t remember which bar I was in. If you want to increase your chances of digging into a delicious pork, chicken, or cheese tamale, follow @tamaletracker on Twitter, and have cash on hand.
Going to a Neighborhood Street Festival
Chicago loves street festivals. These neighborhood events take place in the summer and it seems that each neighborhood has at least one. Most bring together food, artists, craftspeople, and live music. Some are more specific. There is a Rib Fest and a Taco Fest, Old Town has an Art Fair, and Lakeview has a Garden Walk. Going to a street fest is part of being a Chicagoan, I go to at least one a summer.
Seeing the Chicago River Being Dyed Green
Similar to Lollapalooza, this falls into the category of things that are fun in your 20s that might not seem as appealing in your 30s. Chicago celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by dying the river bright green. This happens at 9am on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day (or on St. Patrick’s Day if it falls on a Saturday). Don’t think that because this takes place at 9am that it won’t be rowdy, many of the attendees are already drunk.
Seeing a Concert at the Riviera, the Vic, or the Aragon
I love these smaller Chicago concert venues. Taking the train to see a concert is something that makes me realize why I love living in a city. I grew up in Maine, a place that many bands don’t visit, and seeing concerts definitely wasn’t as easy as hopping on the train and going to a concert. The ease of seeing a show means that I can go to weeknight shows too.
Going to a Blackhawks Game
You can feel the Chicago pride during a Blackhawks game. I am not much of a hockey fan, but it was fun watching Chicago win the Stanley Cup several times since I have moved here. Their multiple championships make the Blackhawks our best sports team, and Chicagoans are very proud of them.
Celebrating Paczki Day
One thing that I didn’t know about Chicago until I lived here is that there is a massive Polish population here – in fact, the only city in the world with more Polish people is Warsaw. As a result, some Polish traditions have become mainstream in Chicago. A prime example is Paczki Day. A Paczki is a Polish doughnut that is filled with flavored cream, it’s similar to a Boston Cream although Paczki are made with a variety of flavored creams in the middle. Paczki Day is the same day as Fat Tuesday. Many bakeries encourage people to place orders for Paczki in advance because demand is high.
Playing Beach Volleyball
Yes, Chicago has beaches. Over 20 miles of them along Lake Michigan and there are hundreds volleyball courts on those beaches. People rent courts on weekends or join after work volleyball leagues in the summer.
Going to the Green Mill or Kingston Mines
These two blues bars are Chicago institutions. Swinging by to catch a show is one of the luxuries of living in Chicago.
Magically Getting a Table at Au Cheval
Waiting hours for a table at Au Cheval? Everyone does that. It takes a special amount of local knowledge and intuition to know exactly when to go so that you can get a table without waiting.
Did you move to a new city? Was there a moment when you started to feel like a local? Share in the comments!