Column: The best places I’ve never lived

Jason-Column2First of all, thank you to everyone who wrote in suggesting things I should do during my 12-hour layover in Chicago this past weekend. I took the Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise, which was the most suggested thing, and it was great. In fact, my whole do-it-yourself Amtrak residency to get started on my next fiction project was exactly what I hoped and wanted it to be, and I have you to thank in part for that, so well done.

The next time I’m in Chicago, and there’s definitely going to be one as I had a great nine or so hours there. Great big city feel, but cleaner and with a more consistent, intentional look and feel than Manhattan. The Red Line subway was immaculate and, though I’d never been there before, Chicago felt welcoming to me in a way only one other city I’ve ever been topped.

More on that city in a bit.

During the architectural river cruise, the docent pointed out a building, the balconies of which looked like Morse Code, that was recently built to house condominiums. She said the developer was having some trouble selling the condos in the current economic climate, so right now you can buy a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in this new, Morse Code looking building for around $200,000.

I almost jumped overboard and ran for it.

This building is right in the middle of central Chicago; it’s not far from the Willis Tower. Two bedrooms? Two baths? For 200 large in a city that sure seems cool and inviting to me? Where do I sign?

This is not the first time I’ve gone somewhere and wanted to live there immediately, but, as you’re about to read, this one might be for real.

The last time I rode an Amtrak train before this weekend was round about 1998. My wife, then my girlfriend, and I took the train to Atlanta to visit her family, who lived in a nice suburb thereof.

Strip malls, town houses and a slower pace; I loved it. When we got back, I was all set to start looking at real estate listings.

Back then, having children was still a possibility for us. My mother wondered how that would work for her and my father if we lived in Atlanta. Don’t worry, I said, we’d be just a short plane ride away.

“Yeah,” she said. “But they won’t know me.”

And there went moving to Atlanta.

Looking back, it would have been a terrible idea, and not just because of the separation from my family. I realize it was just a capricious thing to think, probably driven by dissatisfaction with other things going on, or not going on, in my life at the time.

Moving to Atlanta probably would have just been running away, and that has never a reason to go anywhere.

Jump ahead to 2009.

My wife and I went to Disneyland Paris to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. That trip included a 36-hour visit to London before we boarded the Eurostar train for Paris.

I don’t think a day has passed since that I don’t think about our one full day in London.

I loved everything about it, the look, the feel, the people, the history, the size—only about one square-mile at its core—the character; everything. I felt like I belonged there. I remember telling my wife London was like Walt Disney World, but real.

You know when people have their living room just so, and it looks beautiful, but you’re not allowed to touch anything? That was Paris.

When we got home, I, of course, looked into what it might be like to live in London or one of its suburbs. I got as far as the VAT tax and six-month quarantines for incoming pets.

Still, I want to get back to London for a full vacation. I think we’ll do that in the next year or two.

Back to Chicago.

It’s not all Walmarts and subdivisions the way suburban Atlanta was and it’s not in a foreign country the way London is, rather it’s a unique, geographically and financially attainable place with a character and pace perhaps much more conducive to me than Manhattan ever has been, or ever could be.

Plus, let’s be honest with each other; apart from a 12-year stint in the north Bronx, I’ve lived my entire life in the same basic area of Yonkers.

I’m not sure I want to say that 30 years from now.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com