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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thinking back

The day after I graduated from college, my belongings were packed in the back of a truck, and my parents and I drove to Chicago.

Growing up, every time we'd visit, we'd arrive the same way, from the south, up the Dan Ryan to LSD, and then the home stretch to my grandparents' home just north of the city, in Evanston. Coming up Sheridan Road in Rogers Park, I'd get a thrill of excitement, because to me, Rogers Park was the city. It was the embodiment of everything I believed Chicago to be.

So I was finally there! The city was mine! (Well, sort of. The fact that I lived in what could technically be called a suburb didn't phase me.) Evanston wasn't a typical suburb, anyway. It was a cross between being its own city and a small town.

That summer, I ran the baked streets, getting to know the cafes, vintage bookstores, and thrifts. I worked at a cafe near Northwestern, and I flirted with the intellectual professors who'd spend their Sunday mornings over my coffee and a newspaper. Sometimes nights I'd walk through the neighborhood on the lake, the one with unbelievably fancy mansions and daydream about what it would be like to live in one.

I was lonely still, missing my Kansas boyfriend and worried about job prospects, but it was also a glorious time, filled with newness. The world unrolled itself at my feet, and I could have done anything.

Memories like that rush back at the touch of hot summer wind, or the smell of coffee beans freshly ground. Certain music can resurrect the exact feelings I had at any given moment during that period. The experience is so deeply imprinted upon my psyche.

It goes without saying that there is an entire chamber of my heart devoted to Evanston. I still work here, 9.5 years after that beautiful summer. So I was excited to also do my internship here.
And it's different.

I'm older.

I'm seeing a different side of the city, the one where 25% of the citizens live at or below the poverty line. Where the streets I formerly skipped down, if I turn left instead of right, I discover low-income areas I never knew existed.

Knowing about the urban problems that Evanston's pretty, tree-lined streets cover up sour my memories of the perfect college "town" I used to know. It's hard to enjoy its beauty when I know about the uneasy alliance between the priviledged and unpriviledged.

But sometimes, sometimes sometimes, I'm able to walk into the organic cafe that's near my internship, sit down with some tea, and be transported back, unfettered, in the glorious spell that this place once cast upon me.

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