After college, I packed up my little gold Sunfire and took off on my first cross-country road trip sans Mom and Dad. Three days later I arrived in paradise, a.k.a. San Diego, California. It was January. It was 70. It was sunny. I was happy.
After a few months something strange began to happen. I found I actually missed the seasonal changes. I missed fresh water. I missed my summers at the cottage. I missed down-to-earth people. I needed to be somewhere less surreal. I needed familiar territory, but not too familiar. And to be close to my family, but not too close. I decided the perfect spot would be Chicago. Its a four-hour drive from home, still in the Midwest, but new and exciting and young and fun. So for the next three years, I called the Windy City my home.
This past summer, I decided to make a career change and thought maybe it was time to leave Chicago. I had loved it for three years, but was stressed and tired and it was time to slow down. Then, I got a job offer in Traverse City. I had some college friends from here and I had visited often, so I took the job.
I recently went back for a visit in Chicago and I realized that I didnt miss the busy city quite as much as I thought I would. I began comparing the lifestyles of those residents to those of Northern Michigan, and it made me appreciate what we have here. For those of you who are dying to get out of this town or wish you could spend a few years in a different environment, I have made a list of comparisons and contrasts. Here is what I have found:
Public Safety: One thing I dont miss is carrying around my pepper spray. In Chicago, I couldnt walk my dog after dark. Parking on the street was always a gamble, and I once looked up that there were six sex-offenders residing within a block of my apartment. Although I have seen a lot more bar fights since Ive moved to Northern Michigan, Id still say its a bit safer here. In 2004, there were 448 murders in Chicago and 0 in Traverse City. There were 51 burglaries here, compared to 24,428 in Chicago. Now granted, there are a lot more people in Chicago, but it helps that the number one public enemy in Northern Michigan is the drunken male ego.
Advantage: Northern Michigan
Transportation: I became rather horn-happy while living in Chicago. Its just a form of survival there. Even if you are not using it to warn others of a potential hazard, its a good stress relief and everyone knows that road rage never solves anything. But maybe its not that Chicagoans are bad drivers, but that everyone is, in their own right, a bad driver and it just so happens there are a lot more people to irritate on the roads in the big cities. Therefore, traffic sucks.
Then there is the total lack of parking. If you do find a spot, it ends up costing at least $10, and dont even think about staying overnight. The meter maids are like evil little fairies; you know they are out there haunting you, but no one ever sees them.
However, in Chicagos defense, they have a very convenient public transportation system, you can hail a cab at any street corner and you rarely have to travel far to get to all the necessities. Its actually very practical to not own a car, as well as cost-efficient.
Night Life: For the number of choices alone, Chicago has some of the best dining places in the world. There are numerous clubs that stay open until 4 or 5 a.m. The diversity will satisfy anyones night life appetite with reggae clubs, comedy shows, any and every kind of dancing and your good ole gin mills.
I went to see a friend who was performing at a place that was an underground club scene. There was poetry, punk rock, hard-core rap groups and break-dancing -- all at the same club. I dont mind the U&I or Dillengers, but nothing beats the big city clubs.
Day Life: When I think of things to do in Chicago, I think museums, small theatres, sidewalk cafes, Cubs games. Theres a lot, but its a 45-minute drive to the nearest state park, you cant go for a run in the city without some sort of comment or horn honking every other block, and bike rides on the boardwalk can be like dodging traffic on I-75. In the summers there are great beaches, but no one would ever dare to go swimming in that side of Lake Michigan. The winters serve as a sort of hibernation period for most, and when it does snow, the city usually goes into a panic mode.
Advantage: Northern Michigan
Shopping: One would think this was a given. All the shops in Chicago, glorious malls in the suburbs and outlet centers with more choices than all of Michigan combined. Its true that Chicago is the premier shopping capital of the Midwest, but better for an annual trip than your everyday wardrobe. Sometimes a girl just needs a pair of jeans or a simple tank. When the only stores within a few blocks of your apartment are designer brands and a little out of the budget, you end up taking a $15 cab ride to find one item or driving to the suburbs for better deals. Not to mention that last summer the sales tax in Chicago was raised to 9%.
So I have come to the conclusion that Northern Michigan is a superior living experience to that of Chicago. Although I loved the big city, Ive learned to enjoy the simpler lifestyle (and the five-hour road trip to visit when I get nostalgic). If you are like I was, and dying to get out of Michigan, I urge you to go and explore. Happy travels and maybe well see you back in a few years.