Twenty-one years ago this week (can it possibly be that long ago?) I moved what few belongings I had from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois. I was to be working at The Sporting Club for an internship to finish up my fitness degree from University. Yes, I graduated with a fitness degree. So what?
I was so excited to be moving to Chicago! I had no idea where I would live or what life would be like but I knew it would be pretty fantastic. Somehow I stumbled into a studio apartment lease in Lincoln Park East, just a stones throw from Lake Michigan and a short walk from the Magnificent Mile that is Michigan Avenue. The studio was so small but absolutely perfect. I had a day bed, a kitchen table, a microwave and a black and white television. God, rock and roll huh?
The apartment building was quiet and clean and borded Lincoln Park which is a little like Central Park in New York but a lot smaller. I was also right across from the Lincoln Park Zoo, the world’s oldest free zoo…still open today! I had a car which I would leave for weeks at a time when I managed to find a parking space for it. One time my car got towed because I was parked across from a church on a Sunday. That was a very expensive mistake!
The fitness center that I worked at was immense. 7 storeys in total with, at that time, the US’s largest indoor climbing wall running up the middle of the building. There were high-powered business men and women who came in before work to burn off a few hundred calories; young Chicagoans striving to be the next great thing and professional athletes working out and signing autographs. I even saw Michael Jordan, World famous NBA/Chicago Bulls basketball player, on a number of occasions and became friends with his personal trainer. It was a pretty awesome place to be for a 21-year-old girl from middle-class Wisconsin and I loved it!
When my internship ended, I was hired on permanently for the astronomical rate of $8/hour. I could barely afford to eat, that’s how little money I had. My rent was around $500 per month and I had to ration out my bus tokens to afford the luxury of riding the bus to work. I worked the early shift every day which meant that I had to be into work at 5:30am. This meant waking at 4:30am, walking across pitch-black, deserted Chicago streets to wait in the park for a 5:05am bus which would take me to work. Let me tell you, 5am in Chicago in the winter? Not fun! Yet, at 21 and very naive, I was fearless and blissfully unaware that life could have been dangerous for me. The only thing I worried about was the hallway full of cockroaches that I hurdled over on my way out of my apartment building every morning.
When I was saving money, what little I had, I would walk home from work. My shift ended at 3pm so I could take a leisurely walk home, along Michigan Avenue and back down into Lincoln Park. This usually took me about 45 minutes just to walk home but it was a treat for me. Very occasionally I would pop into Marshall Fields (like Debenhams or John Lewis here), walk into the chocolate department and buy myself a 4 piece teeny box of Frango Mints. I would ration out one to eat on the walk home and the other three to finish later in the week.
In my 18 months of living in Chicago I lived in 5 different apartments. The first was in Lincoln Park East; the 2nd and 3rd were disasterous choices of living with two
slutty bitches not very nice girls; the 4th and 5th were back in Lincoln Park but both in the same building. The 2nd and 3rd apartments taught me what NOT to look for in a roommate and subjected me to rats the size of small cats and the “El” (Underground) at its worst and scariest. Did you know that homeless people sleep in the Underground at night? I didn’t but quickly learned as I stepped over their huddled bodies as I hurried to work. My final 2 abodes were lovely although this was the building with the cockroaches. My 4th apartment was hotter than Hades and was right next to an exceptionally loud gay couple who liked to sing Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” at the top of their lungs as often as possible. I can’t hear that song today without hearing them singing along! My 5th and final apartment was the best. It even had a view of downtown Chicago. Shame I wasn’t there long enough to properly enjoy it.
Chicago was an amazing experience for me. Had I not been fired from my job, who knows what would have happened? I’m sharing these memories with you as a part of The American Resident’s Linky, Where I Live. Chicago was good, bad and ugly for me; I’m so glad that I was there however short the time was. I took Mark and a 17-month old Ella there the last time we were back in the US. We even visited the Lincoln Park Zoo which is something I had never done despite living right across the road from it. I would love to go back again and really revisit my old neighborhoods and walk the walks I took. Chicago really was my kind of town.
Ella at Lincoln Park Zoo at 17 months