BY ANIKA MAIBERGER
My name is Anika and I recently traded my farm town existence in Northern Ohio for life in the big—and windy—city. I’ve been an official Chicagoan for about two weeks now, and in that time I think I’ve managed to walk half the city!
Though my directional abilities are laughable at best, I told myself that I would not be intimidated by the city—I would get my bearings straight and make it work. As expected, I’ve gotten lost quite a few times, but along the way, I’ve stumbled upon some great neighborhoods, local stores, and many an advertisement for the goings on about town.
Everyone had told me summertime in Chicago was nothing short of magical, so I decided to test that theory first-hand. In these two short weeks, Chicago has left me bewitched with its combination of history and modernity. What follows is a photo diary of sorts, documenting my adventures as a newbie, a Dorothy in my own Oz. I knew leaving my own (metaphorical) Kansas would be a difficult endeavor, but I never anticipated that it would be so rewarding.
I cannot explain why I was so surprised that there would a beach so close to downtown. It never occurred to me that there were beaches in Chicago at all, but I suppose that’s just the Ohioan in me, expecting everything to be flat and covered with cornfields.
Weather permitting, this is my new go-to location when I have downtime. With my hardcover copy of David Sedaris’s new book in hand, I walk at a brisk pace (I hate slow walkers, and I think it gives others the impression that I am from here) towards the lake. Oak Street Beach is a fantastic location for people watching because even though there are a few tourists sprinkled in, it is mostly younger locals.
I admire those going for a run or engaging in a high-stakes game of beach volleyball while I hold the pages of my book until I’ve read the last sentence and then let the wind take them, turning them for me, as if to say, “Hurry up—read faster.”
When the sunshine gave way to rain, I wandered around the Art Institute, and even though I can’t say I have enough working knowledge about art to fully appreciate all the breathtaking pieces on display, I did find myself getting lost in the intricacy of a Renoir and the amazement on the faces of those who did not realize that Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks was in this very museum.
Late on a Tuesday night, I decided that it had been far too long since I had seen a Broadway musical, and before I knew it, I had tickets to see The King and I on Thursday at the Oriental Theatre. It was a full house and the guests, ranging from small children to seasoned theatre-goers, agreed: the show was captivating. I walked home humming “Shall We Dance” to myself and wishing I had persisted with those ballet lessons I despised so much as a child.
While I was truly enjoying my excursions, my wallet was starting to get passive aggressive with me, so I figured it was time to chill with the spending and find free things that didn’t cause me immense guilt. As a twenty-one-year-old, my first thought was, of course, to google “free things to do in Chicago,” and I was not disappointed. I found a lot of positive buzz on the Summer Concert Series in Millennium Park and decided to give it a try.
I arrived early enough to watch people trickle in, bottles of wine and assorted cheeses in tow. I made a mental note to bring refreshments next time but then question whether drinking alone in the park is my best idea. I decide to hold off on the vino until I have someone to share it with.
I sat on the steps, making a list of the things I needed to get accomplished that week, when two boys, about thirteen years old, began tossing a football. Each time someone walked in the line of fire, I thought for sure they were going to get hit in the face, but before that could happen, a little girl no older than six, went up to the boys and asked to play with them.
After watching them show her how to hold the ball that was five times too big for her tiny hands, cheer her on as she threw it, and high-five her when she caught the ones they tossed to her, my heart had melted and formed into a puddle around my feet. They were so kind and patient with her.
Off to the side, two girls had started playing double-dutch, and before I knew it, there was a line of kids waiting to take their turn and onlookers were clapping when one of them finished a particularly long and impressive streak. At that point, it didn’t matter what the concert was like; I was perfectly happy watching them spread love to those who looked up from their phones and realized that childhood innocence still existed and that it was happening right in front of them.
When I get stir crazy, yet cannot decide on a destination, I wander around the city until I get so lost that I have to take an Uber back to my apartment. It is on these adventures that I often take the most photos. If someone were to ask me where a certain photo was taken, I would have no answer to give, which, for me, is part of the beauty.
Instead of staring intently at my google maps, I actually get to look at what is around me and enjoy the moment, a concept I struggle with daily. I remind myself constantly that although I may not have a set plan for my life or career, I do have the exceptional opportunity of living in Chicago as a twenty-one-year-old college graduate with no restrictions or weighty expectations.
There is so much pressure to have an answer to the dreaded question, “What are your plans?” and for me, this summer is all about coming to terms with the fact that I do not have an answer and that not having one is arguably the biggest blessing of all.