Second {to None} City

Have you heard of Chicago as the Second City? What do you think is the meaning behind that? The Chicago History Journal has a great take on the meaning of "Second City" in case you'd like to consider that. My long {although perhaps incorrect} thought was that the meaning had something to do with a comparison between New York City and Chicago. Competing both in population and cultural offerings, the Big Apple and the Second City seem to duke it out on several levels.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit NYC for the very first time and thought I'd document a few of my observations. I should be clear that my observations are strictly my own opinions and I'm sure, therefore, subject to much criticism.

1. It smells.

Blame it on the ridiculous humidity or the sweltering temps, New York smells.  Badly. A combination of rotting garbage and who knows what, my 6 a.m. walk was met with gagging and overpowering stench. I later learned, that unlike Chicago, New York doesn't have alleys which means that all the mounting garbage gets dumped in the streets. Blame it on the summer heat or the lack of alley-ways, but I don't think I've ever smelled Chicago so...powerfully.

2. Everyone has somewhere to be right then, but no way to actually get there.

At 5:30 a.m., there are already cars, buses, taxis, and human beings piling into the streets going somewhere. I have complained about traffic and congestion in Chicago, but NYC is a whole different animal. I tried at two separate times after 3 p.m. to hail a cab with no success. The buses seemed caught in the traffic and even the hotel only managed to wrangle a cabbie once every five or six minutes. I finally opted for a pedi-cab and was surprisingly pleased. Apparently though, this is not the preferred form of transportation.

3. Toys R Us in Times Square is the fifth circle of hell.

I should have known when Nick warned me about how crowded it might be, but I ventured in anyway and am 99% sure I lost marbles. Three floors of merchandise, a Willy Wonka candy factory, Scoops R Us ice cream parlor and a FERRIS WHEEL are just a few of the things that must be drawing everyone in. I had visions of Black Friday and all the injuries that inevitably occur as a result.

4. People are rude or at least generally unfriendly.

Apart from the cab driver from hell, people just didn't seem friendly. Everyone was busily walking to where they needed to be and eye contact was limited.  And that's just not how us Midwestern folk roll. My hosts (Hi, Greg & Nick!) were fabulous of course, but Greg is from Chicago and Nick is from Connecticut so I don't count them. I even had a private driver attempt to rip me off with a cab fare of over $50!!

5. Did you know that Hell's Kitchen in New York is not Gordon Ramsay's restaurant?

Yeah, neither did I.

6. Don't talk to Elmo. or Cookie Monster. or Mario. or Luigi. in Times Square.

They want your money.

7. Random bags of garbage on the street may be fake purses or could be just garbage.

I didn't really know how to tell the difference, but apparently a true New Yorker does. Just ask one.

8. Celebrities aren't really celebrities there. Unless you're Uncle Jesse.

In NYC, celebrities can be anywhere at anytime. In the course of my time there, I saw a few different famous people and I was instructed to act like they were regular joes (hello, Joey Fatone!!). That was until catching Uncle Jesse on Broadway in The Best Man. Then? All hell breaks loose and women, young and old, act like little kids again, screaming out "UNCLE JESSE!" and are tamed by the local police force.

I had an amazing time while I was there and would love to visit again and hit the major tourist destinations. (This was a quick trip.) But until then, I'll appreciate the big city that I seem to have in my own backyard - with friendly people, {mostly} clean streets, and Garrett's popcorn. Have you been to New York? How do you think it matches up to Chicago?


Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    I heard that Chicago was known as the Second City because it was always second in population to New York. Who knows if that's true? But now, it's third in population to New York and LA.

    I've never been to New York, but I went to LA. I wasn't very impressed. Actually, the people in LA were very nice, so there was that. However, traffic was terrible. Public transportation there sucks, so everyone drives. Also, their city is very sprawled out, or not very condensed. People can't easily walk where they need to go, so, again, everyone drives. It's basically rush hour all the time, but not just in the city. You can't even get to other cities (like San Diego, for example) without sitting in traffic THE WHOLE WAY. LA was also very run down, even in tourist spots. There weren't very many people on the streets at all for it being such a heavily populated city. I didn't feel safe there anywhere. I mean, even when we walked along Hollywood Blvd with all the star squares, there was nothing but deserted buildings around us. The food there (especially the pizza!) was just god-awful. Again, the people were super friendly to us, but I couldn't imagine living there.

    What I love about Chicago is how its bustling. There are musicians on the streets, but they're not creepy. They're talented and fun to watch. The food is amazing, and there's always lots to do. You can people watch and just hang out in some city parks, chomp on a hot dog (veggie dogs are available!), listen to music, and have a great afternoon in the city. It's not dirty. You have to go looking for bad neighborhoods, for the most part. It's easy to avoid deserted streets and alleyways. Their city parks and their food is unmatched! I love Chicago. It really is the best city.

    Having lived in the Denver area for a while now, it's very different. Most people leave the city for entertainment and go to the mountains. The city isn't a big draw--the food is no good, and even only busy street downtown (16th Street) is often pretty empty. There is the occasional street entertainer, but there are many more homeless people just asking for money. City draw is just not a priority here. People don't pay many taxes (our state tax is very, very low at under 3% tax, and many of the towns have NO city tax whatsoever), so there are almost no festivals or parades or anything. When there are festivals, you have to pay an arm and a leg to go. Nothing is "free" because tax money can't pay for anything. Basically, the city offers very little, but that's OK with the people because they'd rather just go to the mountains. People drive to get where they're going (like to the mountains) and then get out their bikes or kayaks or whatever and do their own thing, so there's not as much of a sense of community.

    I think Chicago is able to get people in and out of the city efficiently with public transportation. Their transportation isn't just good IN the city... it's good to GET TO the city. It's not just poor people and inner-city people who use it. A lot of working people commute from the suburbs to get there. They also have nice draw to places like Millennium Park and FREE trolley transportation for tourists to get around the Museum Campus and such. Chicago mght have a lower population than New York and LA, but their taxes are higher, so they can pay for all these nice things that make the city so pleasant.

    <3 Chicago!


  • In reply to Becky Shattuck:

    I've never been to California (hope to go next year), but I've heard some of the same commentary. Don't get me wrong - NYC is nice, but just not a preferred place to live. Chicago really does have a lot to offer people, including families, and I'm proud to live so close - even amidst crooked politics.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • I've been to NYC many times, and you think it smells now? Should have been there in the late 70's early 80's. What an F-ing mess. Then, 42nd Street was filled with drug dealers, hookers and pimps, all times of the day. Times Square, especially at night, looked like a scene from a Zombie movie.

    NYC is much better now. I like it. In fact, I have always found NYC to be much friendlier than Chicago. You can strike up a conversation with anybody there -- on the street, at a lunch counter, at a bar. Try that in Chicago, and you get a look like, "What the F do you want?".

    The people there may seem rude, but they, for the most part, just tell it like it is. I would never take something like, "Out of the way, stupid f-ing a-hole," personally, coming from a New Yorker.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:


    Thanks so much for your response! I laughed several times at your imagery - even moreso when I realized I had stayed with friends who lived ON 42nd Street...glad to know it's changed a bit!

    It's interesting the people that you come across in either city, but perhaps I'm just partial to what I'm familiar with. Thanks again! Hope you enjoyed the post!

  • In reply to Samantha Schultz:

    Samatha, I did enjoy the post. The first visit to NYC is always something, because of the inevitable comparisons.

    Hope you get back there many times!

Leave a comment