Where I'm At

Sweet Home

55th Street Station
Big Shoulders
To Infinity and Beyond
What city do you live in? What neighborhood?

I actually live in the famous little "village" of Oak Park--mainly famous for the fact that it's the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture in the world--but my commute ensures that I spend just as much time in Chicago proper. As such, these photos were taken with my daily life in mind and the area it covers. In fact, I bristle when people refer to Oak Park as "the burbs" as it's only different from many parts of Chicago in name. We have the El, we even have city buses come downtown, and the architecture in general and the way of life isn't terribly different from Hyde Park, the neighborhood on the South Side where I used to live and still visit frequently. "Where I'm At" is certainly the best title for this as I am constantly on the move within the city and in Oak Park.

What are some adjectives that describe your neighborhood?

I would actually say that the areas are largely traditional--while remaining modern, which seems to be a rare feat to pull off. Each is an intellectual area with the comfort of a contemporary carefree city life but with enough of normal urban problems to keep an accurate perspective about the condition of the world. As for Oak Park, I wouldn't really say that it fits with native son Ernest Hemingway's description of "broad lawns and narrow minds" these days; instead, it's a rare outpost of true diversity.

How long have you lived there, and what brought you there?

I'm originally from Texas, and I lived throughout much of central and southern parts of the state while growing up. From ages 16-19, I worked as a cowboy on a large ranch east of Austin--horse, spurs, chaps, saddle, and all--and so it comes as a surprise to people who knew me in the early days that I've found my way up here. More than that, it surprises them that I'm quite happy here.

I originally came up here to go to graduate school at the University of Chicago in 2003. I received my master's degree there and studied for two additional years on a PhD before I decided that I wanted to do something else. Along the way I met Evonne, my lovely wife, who grew up south of here close to Kankakee and we were married in Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago. Like me, she lived in both rural and urban areas while growing up. Today we both have very satisfying jobs and I think I'll be up here for the long haul.

What is your favorite thing about this place? Your least favorite?

I suppose my favorite thing about the Chicago area is that I don't have to drive. Coming from Texas, where driving is an unavoidable fact of life largely due to the fact that our cities grew after the rise of the car, this is an unbelievable convenience. This is especially true with gas prices so high. In fact, for the first few years here I didn't even have a car and I lived quite well without it (not to mention that I kept quite a few pounds off).

There's surprisingly not too many things I dislike about Chicago. For the most part, the people are friendly, life is largely easy, and it's simply a gorgeous city. A couple of weeks ago I witnessed an event that distressed me, however, and it's probably more indicative of a problem throughout America. While I was on the El going home, a young woman's purse was grabbed at the Cicero stop on the Green Line. Even though there were several very tall guys around, nobody went after him. I got out and chased him and no one followed. I was shocked at the indifference . . . or the fear.

Do you feel that you belong there?

Ever since I first saw downtown on a freezing March night as I was driving to Hyde Park from O'Hare, I've felt like this is home. Chicago has become my favorite city--and I've traveled a lot. This is not to say, however, that I don't miss the rural areas of my native Texas. i grew up in both urban and rural areas, and while I enjoy the peace of the cornfields when I visit my wife's parents, I miss the wild ruggedness of the Texas countryside and the indescribable rural culture that exists there. I miss being able to drive an hour from Austin and seeing the scenery change dramatically. I miss being able to leave a city and be in utter wildness in no time at all. I miss the dark night sky full of stars and I miss the jingle of spurs in rural convenience stores far from the highways. Northern Michigan and Wisconsin fill this void somewhat, but they're still far away. Chicago will always be my "urban" home, but in my dreams I still long for the often unforgiving landscape of Texas.

What is the most common misconception about where you live?

The crime--it's quite possible to live a normal life without even getting close to being shot.

What is a special fact about your city that you have to live there to know?

One of the best Mexican restaurants in the United States is right in Oak Park--New Rebozo--and I say this as a Texan. Chef Paco is fond of saying "Oh, My God!" in reference to his food, and it's definitely an apt description.

What aspect of your city do you secretly love?

One of Chicago's nicknames is the "city in a garden"--"urbs in horto" for all you fellow Latin lovers out there--and I love that I'm never especially far from a nice patch of green. While I lived in Hyde Park, I could go west to Washington Park and almost forget that I was in the city for a while. I could also walk down the gorgeous tree-lined pathways of the Midway Plaisance. Even beside my apartment there was a tiny city park where crowds gathered in the summer to watch movies on large screens placed among the trees and landscaping. Even in Oak Park, where we live now, a nice park is never far away.

I also love that Chicago is something of an everyman's city. Especially in the early years of the city's construction, buildings were built so that the entire populace could enjoy them and feel as though they actually possessed or shared some of that beauty. It doesn't seem as exclusive as it seems in, say, New York. I suppose the "city in a garden" concept goes along with that as well.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I suppose all of these photos would be best appreciated as a view of Chicago from someone who came from an intensely rural background from 1,200 miles away.

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—The JPG team

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