The Chicago Way

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. THAT’S the CHICAGO way!”

I first heard this line from the 1987 film The Untouchables way before I ever thought I would live in the Windy City.  I always thought it was a badass line, especially being uttered by Scottish actor Sean Connery playing Irish beat cop Jim Malone.  Of course, given the current reality of rampant gang violence in some pockets around the city, this line has a slightly distaste in such context.

And that is one thing that has bothered me a bit for quite some time, the reputation that the city that I have called home for seven years now has as being a corrupt, mismanaged, gang-infested war zone.  Well, corrupt and mismanaged . . . yeah it kind of is, “This town stinks like a whorehouse at low tide.” (Malone, The Untouchables.)  But a gang-infested war zone?  In certain areas at certain hours, perhaps, but there are far, far worse cities than Chicago.  A recent quick trip to my birth town of New Orleans, Louisiana had me a bit peeved when I saw the state of the east side and heard from my aunts and uncles of how deadly some areas were–why does New Orleans not make national headlines, then?  Why, instead, has my beloved Chicago been bombarded with reputations as being a murder capital when in has not even made it on the top 25 dangerous American cities?  (See

As I had anticipated, one of my uncles asked me during my short New Orleans visit why I would live in such a violent and dangerous city as Chicago.  Defensively, I cited to how it really is not as bad as the news makes it out and how I feel perfectly safe wandering around downtown at 3:00 AM.  Of course, I omitted that either whisky or grandiose photojournalistic delusions with a rugged camera in my hand often plays a role in me feeling invincible.

Much of the love I have for this city derives from my personal experiences, achievements and failures that would lead to other achievements.  It was in Chicago that I discovered and decided that I did not want to be a physician, that I was not strong enough to deal with death and illness.  It was Chicago that I discovered a passion for intellectual property law.  It was in Chicago that I became not only a photographer but a visual artist and recorder of history.

It was in Chicago that I lost many old friends and made new, more loyal and sincere friends; indeed, it was in Chicago that I was made to learn what loyalty meant.  It was in Chicago that I learned to take more chances, to live for life, to embrace change and the wonderful things that comes with it all.  It was in Chicago that I discovered what love is, what love is not, and how lust can blind.  It was in Chicago that I became a better man.

So you see, I am willing to put up with crap such as a tax on shopping bags, an inefficient public transit system with trains that sometimes literally smell of feces, horrible traffic whenever there is some festival in Grant Park, being yelled at by the “State Street Preacher” that I am going to Hell for smoking cigarettes even though the most I ever smoke is a cigar once in a while, to name a few gripes.  But at least I can admire the incredible city architecture while riding the ‘L around the Loop, even though there is usually a rider taking up three seats who prove to be a perfect example of why Hannibal Lector eats the rude.

Despite its flaws, Chicago has an incredible charm.  It is unfortunate that the political, fiscal, and tax situations have either driven people out of Chicago (and Illinois even) or has made others consider relocating elsewhere.  I, on the other than, feel a deep bond to this city, stronger than what I feel to the Dutch island of Curaçao that was my home for two years, and far, far stronger than to the suburb next to Youngstown, Ohio where I grew up and lived for 22 years.  I am forever linked to Chicago, as Allan Quatermain was to Africa or as T.E. Lawrence was to Arabia.  With this week in June being the seventh anniversary of my move to this city, I have been giving some thought to breaking my self-imposed restriction of one-tattoo-per-year and commissioning the flag of Chicago inked on the back of my shoulder.  Perhaps next year; I am still fixated on my first and recent one.

Some may call me a fool for being so loyal to a fault to the Windy City.  Chicago is by no means perfect–quite flawed, rather.  Then again, so am I.