It’s only human nature, but we often take for granted that which is closest to us and most familiar. That’s true whether we’re talking about our family and friends, our homes – and even the incredible city where we live.
There’s nothing like having visitors come to town – especially those who’ve had to cross oceans or continents to get here – to help us remind us of what’s so special about sweet home Chicago.
A food and hotel industry acquaintance my dad and I met during a week-long travel writing trip to Costa Rica three years ago was in town last month for the National Restaurant Association show at McCormick Place. He’d visited the city briefly last September, loved it and hoped to return. So when work brought him here, he added a weekend to experience what makes the Windy City so great.
He hit Navy Pier in search of Cubs gear. He made sure to purchase tickets to an afternoon game at Wrigley Field, having been introduced to both Chicago and the Cubs through ‘Chicago’s Very Own’ WGN, one of the first American TV stations he remembers being regularly broadcast into Costa Rican homes. That afternoon he spent hanging out in the friendly confines provided him with memories that’ll probably last a lifetime.
Just a couple weekends ago, my wonderful French teacher from the year I spent in living in Samois-sur-Seine, France, and her husband were in town on a company-sponsored trip. Thankfully, we were having one of our brief stretches of sunny, rain-free days – and from the time they arrived at their Streeterville hotel, they took to our streets. They walked for miles, taking in Millennium Park and making mental notes of which museums they wanted to check out during their brief stay. They marveled, oohed and aahed at the city’s incredible structures, which they experienced during an incomparable Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. (Okay, local folks…if you haven’t done this, either borrow some tourists or buy a ticket on your own. Accept no substitutes! These docent-led 90-minute tours are worth every cent and will give you an appreciation of Chicago you’ll never get from street level.)
My French friends wanted to sample cuisine that’s hard if not impossible to find back home, even in fabulous Paris. Long waits kept us walking and looking at different spots – but what an embarrassment of culinary riches. We tried Weber Grill Restaurant for charcoal-cooked barbecue, Heaven on Seven for Cajun-with-a-kick cuisine and sophisticated Mexican at Cantina Laredo. After wandering through downtown, we ended up happily settling for sushi and Japanese food at Oysy on East Grand.
They also wanted to take in real Chicago blues, something else that’s incredibly rare in France. I recommended Buddy Guy’s Legends, a great music space owned by the multiple Grammy Award-winning blues guitarist that’s just a few short blocks from my home. My friends absolutely loved it – the sounds, the atmosphere – and even sampled the fried catfish and collard greens I ordered, wanting them to experience a bit of Southern soul while on this side of the Atlantic. They fell hard for Chicago, would love to come back here for a longer stay.
But why do we wait until visitors come to town to take those boat cruises, to stroll through museums, to admire the incredible architecture, to visit massive downtown parks and to marvel at thoughtful urban design? Despite all its real challenges and problems, Chicago’s still a world-class city with loads to offer those of us whose tax dollars help make it so special. Why not fall back in love with our first love? I’ve promised myself I’ll try to do that before the summer’s through.