Most of my relatives live in the south and southwest suburbs of Chicago, where I grew up. Mr. Tangerine and I have lived on the North Side for 15 years. Those who live out yonder (30 to 40 miles from me) find my location and the lack of ample parking to be most inconvenient; the city driving, harrowing; the city air, dirty and noisy. "Why don't you move out here?" they ask. "You know, in a few years, you'll have to move to the suburbs so Ben can have playmates in the neighborhood."
I honestly find suburban driving to be more stressful than city driving (with the exception of driving in the Loop—I haven't honed those skills yet). The city may seem big and anonymous, but there are familiar and friendly faces here. I don't hanker for a big yard that requires mowing and landscaping. I love the proximity to Lake Michigan and its beauty, not to mention the lake's moderating effect on the local climate (warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer—almost 20 degrees cooler today, in fact). I like the easy access to public transportation (Ben loves the bus and the El). It's great to have so many museums and parks nearby.
But what I value most about the North Side is its diversity—the kind of diversity that suburbs exclude almost by design. There are rich people and poor people. Black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered. Yuppies and goths. Old people and babies. Nerds and hipsters. Immigrants from all corners of the globe (well, not counting Antarctica), speaking dozens of languages. Families, childless couples, and singles. Hard-bodied jocks, fat people, skinny people. The able-bodied and people with all sorts of disabilities. Atheists, Christians, Muslims, and Hasidic Jews. I want Ben to grow up understanding that we are all one human race, that we can all be neighbors. In this part of Chicago, I think it will come naturally to him.
This afternoon, we walked down to Pride Fest (the street fair kicking off tomorrow's parade). There were shirtless men with nipple rings, buxom transsexuals, drag queens, same-sex couples holding hands or embracing, very dykish-looking lesbians (one sporting a t-shirt that read "Yes, I am in the right bathroom"), RuPaul live on stage (back after a five-year hiatus from fame), people of all races—the works. What one person caught Ben's eye and caused him to exclaim? A clown, clad in a red and white get-up with matching face paint and a wig. How many five-year-old kids in the 'burbs wouldn't think twice about all the rest of the folks at Pride Fest?
Here in the city, we're home.