I've spent some time downtown and on the north side during my time as a grad student and having experienced the city, I find myself wondering what the appeal is. Supposedly, there is much more to do here than in the much smaller city that I came from, enough to make it worth the while of those who've made this place their permanent abode to put up with the crime, the high rents, the rudeness, the poor job opportunities ... and so on. But I'm at a loss to imagine what. I was wondering if someone could clear that up for me. What are people doing for fun, here?
Yes, I've seen the museums. And those held my interest for a few months. But one can only go to the Art Institute so often, and the collection isn't so vast or growing so quickly that eventually, you won't run out of things to see there. As for the view, I've seen it. But, like going to the nightclubs and the theatre and so on, even if what you are seeing is good, there's still one problem. You aren't doing something yourself. At most you're watching someone else do it, while you kick back and veg out. Unless you're in an art museum. In which case you stand up and veg out.
Not that I'm necessarily slamming the enjoyment of such things. No, far from it. But there are needs that they do nothing to satisfy. Like human contact, for example. I almost hesitate to bring this up, because of a predictable, sanctimonious response that it produces most of the time. Some activist will write in and say that if I have a hard time finding things to do, there are plenty of charities to volunteer my time to. What these guys can't, or should I say refuse to understand is the difference between saying "I'm having trouble finding something fun to do" and saying "I have trouble finding ANYTHING to do". Finding work to do, which one doesn't get paid for, is something that no grad student needs a lot of help with. We're plenty overworked already these days, thank you, and dishing out food to the local drug addicts (or doing someone else's yardwork for him) is not my idea of a good time. But that's just me.
But what else is there to do?
I've tried the local bars. Theoretically, these are meeting places, but they don't seem to function as such. In the ones that I've seen, the men sit on one side of the bar, the women on the other, and anyone who dares to cross the imaginary line in the middle gets cut down without mercy. If one is male, one may find oneself confronting a very large man of dubious emotional stability whom the bar has hired to randomly terrorise the clientele. If one attempts to talk to one of the other male customers, the other customer concludes that since you are talking to him, you must want to sleep with him. Aside from the opportunity to ponder what his family life must have been like, one is left with nothing to do there but stare at the other customers, like everyone else. This rapidly loses its appeal.
I've tried the church groups. See aforementioned comment about doing someone else's yardwork. Don't even suggest trying to have a good time, how selfish of you to bring it up. Volunteer work is ALL they do, and it's all that you had better want to do too, sinner.
Yes, I've tried the campus. Every time something starts to function as a central meeting place for students, even as a meeting place for the students of one department, the administration gets rid of it. The forum, the table in the hallway in the theatre department, and any number of little corners here and there - gone, gone, gone. The second of these after one of the professors informed me that he didn't like seeing HIS students just lounging around and talking and he was going to do something about it. Not that this made him intolerant. Nooooo. As for staying in the dorms and meeting people there, forget it. The University has a rule on its books prohibiting the presence of more than three people in a dorm room at a time. But you're still free to have parties. Just as long as no more than three people attend.
Not that there are no activities on campus. As an Electrical Engineering major with a math degree, I can join both the math and the electrical engineering clubs, because, you know, I just don't ever seem to spend enough time on those subjects, just doing my thesis work. Or, I could join an ethnic organization on campus. If I was still Jewish. Or managed to become black. Gee, maybe I could try to pass myself off as an Italian. The possibilities are endless.
As for meeting people in the great outdoors, say in one of the many parks that dot the city, one would have to stay around long enough for people to come by and maybe stay a while. Won't happen, though. The ever vigilant Chicago police force will drop by and enforce the anti-loitering ordinances, and ask you for a permit to assemble if too many people are hanging around. I still remember one guy who was hauled off for creating a public disturbance. His crime had been playing a game of charades in public. But, he'd already been warned about talking to strangers, so the patrolman saw no alternative but to take him in and pat down the rest of us for weapons. I had no idea that people took the game so seriously around here.
Am I missing something? OK, when I first started spending time in the city, I had this mental picture of encountering an actual community. In fact, a variety of them. I pictured there being places where people would gather and talk to people that they hadn't necessarily come in with, and actually do things. I thought that the problems that came with living here were compensated by having a wider variety of possible experiences, and people that one could meet. To my amazement, though, I'm left with the impression that one doesn't escape the boredom of the suburbs by travelling to the city, but rather, the reverse.
Please tell me that I'm missing something, and what. The thought of Naperville being the most vibrant, tolerant community in the region is just too depressing to even think about.
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