Out Of My Usual Loop

It’s a shame we have to leave Leaugefest 2013 early. But so it goes. We’ve taken a whole week and most of it was with family. Family time is important but not always relaxing. Neither, as it turns out, was much of the bloggy get-together.

You know how Chicago was founded by New Yorkers, right? They said, “We really like all the traffic, crime, and pollution, but this place is just too damn warm!” Chicagoans will have a sarcastic comeback at the ready, I’m sure. But there’s something to the joke.

For the day we were at Leaguefest, we faced what seemed like bizarre weather. Much of the mornings and early afternoons it was uncomfortably chilly and breezy. I know Chicago is called the “Windy City” for a reason but I’d expected it to be warm in June. Mrs. Likko fled the stands at Wrigley Park to find somewhere warm and out of the wind, along with frontpager Michelle and Mark Thompson’s wife, and James Aitch and I dissected academic life and the Pirates’ fielding patterns while the ladies (other than Johanna, who it turns out my have worked with me at a SoCal amusement park ehen we were teenagers!) drank downstairs and we all wore hoodies to stay warm.

I was and still am very grateful to Reader Angela for taking us out on a sail cruise after the ballgame. Keeping upright while the boat took chop from the lake was, however, just a bit more physical work than I’d expected. Safety cable or no, Burt Likko falling in to Lake Michigan was not on the agenda and so I spent some effort on our sail working my legs and abdominal muscles in ways my untrained muscles were not pleased with. I still feel sore today. Not Angela’s responsibility by any stretch of the imagination — more like the soreness one feels after skiing.

Chicago is a handsome, colorful city. People are out and about at night, enjoying clubs and restaurants, but the natives seem largely nonplussed by the skyline and seem to take for granted how densely built their city is. The upper and lower deck streets by the river in particular are a bit intimidating to the newcomer’s eye. Underground walkways and sidewalks left me a bit nervous but on surface streets I always felt safe despite seeing very few of Chicago’s Finest out on patrol. Much of that came from seeing the natives strolling about with confidence — even on the El late at night.

The streets are in terrible shape. They’re in constant use and constant weather so I can easily see how potholes would form, but still. Taxis were easy to come by during the day and impossible to hail at night. We also saw multiple incidences of volcanic anger on the streets. Not just the “light-turns-green-horn-goes-on” that seems to pervade most big east-of-the-Mississippi cities, but men (always men) shouting profanity so loud as to be heard blocks away, and following behavior that can only be described as threatening. I thought one time on the Eisenhower Expressway we’d be stopped by two cars parking so their drivers could get out and fight.

So in the city we walked more than anything. Not just cheaper, but more efficient. And less chance of getting beat up. “Less” does not mean “zero” given that one time a cabbie shouted explosively at us for reasons that remain unclear to this day.

The preservation of the lakefront was a very good thing for the city. The big parks, the landmark museums, Soldier Field, and the other public spaces create an open area where the city’s people mingle democratically. I very much enjoy the energy that results. This seems to me an important part of urban life — one that requires a significant and maintained civic commitment to both creatte and maintain. As I understand it Chicago has Marshall Field to thank for this — and so should the developers who felt the squeeze on available space resulting from this, creating over time the tall, long skyline that it seems so few Chicagoans stop to appreciate bit which is so much the signature of the city.

The river is always green, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. There are signs advising that one ought not to dive or swim in it, but who on Earth would want to do something like that?

Chicagoans love their sports. It’s the NHL playoffs now and about every fifth Chicagoan, male or female, that we interacted with was wearing Blackhawks gear. Cubs, Sox, Bulls, and Bears gear were all well-represented too. Not a lot of college sports stuff on display, though.

What we didn’t get a taste of were the ‘burbs. I know what a Milwaukee suburb is like and I have to imagine a Chicago suburb is much the same. And it’s not at all like a California suburb. Oh sure there’s the Super Wal-Mart and the Burger King. But the kids working these jobs seem to smile more sincerely and actually care about the customer having a good experience.

On the whole I enjoyed Chicago very much. Despite the fact that it’s loud, all the time. So really only one thing, one word, is what holds me back from wanting to live there: winter.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I’m sorry I missed you (and everyone else) at the festivities. It just wasn’t in the cards for me to participate this time around.

    Your impression of Chicago is pretty similar to mine, except I think you like it a lot more than I do.

    Regarding potholes, there’s an expression here that’s become a cliche (although I don’t know how many non-Chicagoans say the exact same thing about their own cities): “There are two seasons here: Winter and Road Work.”

    I wish you a safe journey back to California.

    • Thanks dude! Thanks to modern technology, I got to write this post over Nebraska and Colorado.

  2. City of Broad Shoulders. It’s that in a big way.

    I, too, am sorry I couldn’t be there for this one in particular. It’s likely to have been the best opportunity to attend a Leaguefest for me for some time to come, unless something weird happens. Still, I just couldn’t make it work. Sorry to hear the weather didn’t exactly cooperate. The Chicago lakefront on a hot, sunny summer afternoon is one of the most exhilarating urban settings I’ve ever come across.

    I hope everyone still hanging out is having a good time.

  3. Mrs. Likko, Mrs. Thompson, and I hung out in a Wrigley Field adjacent bar nursing our drinks for as many innings as we thought we could get away with before the remaining Leaguefest folks sent out a search party. Friday was freakishly cold for June and parts of Wrigley, including where our seat were located, are wind tunnels.

    Having lived in Chicago for several years, I can attest to Burt’s observations re: potholes, road rage, and public space. Although road rage seems to have gotten somewhat worse and potholes much bigger since we left in 2004. We almost got sucked into one near my in-laws apartment. The city also seems to have gotten much more expensive in the last nine years. The price of gas alone is about $1.20 more per gallon than it is in North Carolina.

    And yes Burt, winter is freakin’ cold. One year when we were living in L.A., we decided it would be a good idea to visit friends and relatives in January. We must have had a good reason but it totally escapes me now. When we left L.A., it was a balmy 80 degrees. When we arrived in Chicago, it was about four below zero, and 84 degree differential. Plus, there were several inches of snow on the ground.


    I love Chicago. I really do. It’s my favorite American big city. But I don’t think I ever want to go visit anytime between December and March. The cold and wind is just too brutal and I’m not as tough as I used to be, when I could wait around an EL station buffeted by below zero wind chill factor breezes.

    Leaguefest was a blast and I’m so glad we made the trip and got a chance to meet people.

  4. I’m recovering from leaguefest in my hotel room today, I’ll fly tomorrow. I just need more more night to explore the city. I’m thinking… Dancing!

  5. Burt gives me too much credit in implying that I had anything intelligent to say about fielding. But he is that nice, as is Mrs. Likko. As, in fact, are Mark and Mrs.”We’re Not From Staten Island” Thompson. And Michelle, Miss Mary, Todd and our cruise director Angela. Even that dastardly libertarian Roger was really nice. (Hope I didn’t leave anyone out, and if so, please forgive me.) Truly, an amazingly down to earth group of people. Loved sailing and hanging at the blues festival with you all.

      • Now don’t go getting me all excited. I’m not even home yet!

  6. You know, I’ve lived in places where the tourists show up and get all like “Got-dam it’s beautiful here!” and then “What a shame that the locals don’t appreciate the beauty!” And I always smile at them. The locals do appreciate the beauty. That’s why they live there.

    And alsotoo, I’m from Chicago!

    • I’ve also been in places where the Tourists show up and say things like “it’s a shame somebody hasn’t done something useful with all these mountains”….. …….

      • Of course, the best thing I ever heard a tourist ask me, which happened when I was living in Steamboat, was if we heat all the streets in the wintertime, or only the main ones.

        • It’s tough being a tourist. Better to be a Traveler.

          • I would never willingly return to Chicago. Nothing there for me any more but evil memories.

            The best approach to any town is to find a good breakfast joint and make friends along the counter. Just be straight-up about it: “I’ve just come here and really want to get to know this place.” Amazing the reactions I’ve gotten saying just that much.

            Most cities and towns hide in plain sight, especially tourist towns. There’s no point in trying to act like a local. Learn from the locals. Show some respect. Learn the manners and customs. Even in an insular little town like Augusta WI, it was possible to make a few friends.

            Being a Traveller is tough. It’s never easy to say goodbye and it gets worse every time I have to do it.

        • I had a group of visitors on a hike up in the Rocky Mountain foothills, in one of the places where there’s just a staggering panorama spread out in front of you, on a perfect June afternoon (and here in Colorado, we have pretty high standards for perfect June weather). One of them remarked, “It’s like a postcard! And those clouds are… someone must make them to look that good!” I managed to straight-face the response, “Yeah, we have a little factory over on the Western Slope that turns them out.” There was a very long pause while they decided that I was kidding.

          • The philosophers among us must have a name for this phenomenon, or at least give us some working vocabulary…

            Colorado sneaks up on everyone who ever set eyes upon it, pulling them down and damned near killing them with loveliness. I went to Lost Valley Ranch in 1977. I had a set of acrylic paints with me and rendered a sunset on a plank of dessicated white pine wood. I am told it the painting is still on the mantelpiece of this exquisite little dude ranch.

            It’s rather like being set upon by a skilled courtesan. Arizona is lovely, I’ll tell you where, too, that state I know. But Colorado, truly there’s nothing comparable except parts of Idaho and perhaps British Columbia, a different animal entirely. Alberta at Banff might be close, also hallucinogenically beautiful.

            But as a legal entity, only Switzerland could possibly come close — and doesn’t.

          • I had lots of experiences like that in my raft guiding days. People would marvel at the beauty of the canyons we were floating thru, and the apparently intentionall-designed feel to the rapid-flatwater-rapid sequences and wonder how it all got that way. I’d say: “Each spring, before the season, all the outfitters pay a few guides to come down here and work on the canyon” or something to that effect. Awkward silences would ensue. Awkward on my part because I could see all-too-many folks nodding their heads in agreement with what I’d said. From their pov, it just couldn’t be natural.

        • There are a lot of parts of the country where you don’t say goodbye to the first real snow of winter until around Easter (e.g., Detroit and/or any place that doesn’t see the sun for 3-4 months during that awful season). If you don’t shovel your driveway, you will have snow on your driveway until spring.

          Seeing the clear streets in Colorado a couple of days after three feet of snowfall can be flabbergasting.

  7. Sorry I didn’t get to meet you, Burt. I joined the crowd on Saturday. Much better weather and the same stinkin’ potholes.

    I really enjoyed meeting and chatting with everyone. As we say in Chi-town, Youse guys are great!

  8. I find it remarkable that this post leaves me with a positive impression of Chicago despite mentioning “multiple incidences of volcanic anger on the streets”.

    If I went somewhere and saw *one* incident of volcanic anger, it would probably define my whole experience. I admire your ability to separate that from the rest of the stuff!

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