I was born and raised in Chicago. Well, not exactly. But, pretty close to it. I grew up just across the western border of Chicago in the suburb of Oak Park. As a kid, my parents always took us downtown into the city to enjoy its sights and sounds. Now, as a parent myself, I'm glad to call Chicago my home, and I take great pride in living in, enjoying and constantly exploring this urban metropolis. After my many years and experiences here in the Windy City, I am proud to say that I know many of its streets, its neighborhoods, its cultural institutions and its so-called hidden gems so well. And, that's exactly why I love it whenever anyone asks me to play tour guide in my urban hometown.
The thrill of helping a tourist in need
I must profess that my heart races with joy whenever a tourist stops me along our Magnificent Mile to ask for help in locating their hotel, a popular restaurant, or even the very street they grace with their travel-weary feet. I guess I just somehow feel like it's my civic duty to help guide visitors to our city in the right direction and hopefully make their experience here all the better.
Midwesterners are known to be a warm and friendly bunch, and I always try to live up to our well-deserved reputation - amped up with a bit of urban savvy, too.
Of course, I also cherish it whenever anyone asks for recommendations for a nearby park, playground, restaurant, or cafe to enjoy with their family. Staying on top of all the city has to offer residents and visitors is a personal passion of mine, and I'm glad whenever I can put it to the test.
But, truth be told, I always get a bit anxious about how much they'll enjoy my recommendation. I guess you could say I take my own self-proclaimed title of hometown tour guide to heart, and hope it pays off in spades for any visitor brave enough to ask for a little extra assistance.
Happy to help "IRL" or online
These days, I also thrive on being a virtual hometown tour guide, and relish emails with requests to help a family coming to visit plan their time here in Chicago.
At one time, I started a running list of family-friendly attractions downtown that I could constantly update and then share as I got new emails with requests for similar advice for family, friends, or friends-of-friends heading to our fair city.
With each time I pressed "send," I sat back with a huge smile on my face and a feeling of satisfaction in helping another person or family. I know it's a small gesture, but I always hoped that each tip could help make at least one person's experience all the better and make their time in Chicago a memorable one.
A hometown tour guide at heart
Why do I enjoy this so much? I guess it's because I've been on the other side.
As someone who loves to travel to other urban locales, I know how much a simple act of kindness from a "local" can help make your day. And, in some cases, it can even help you discover a new place that might have never been on your tourist radar.
I see this willingness to help fellow tourists in my husband and see it blooming in our children. After staying in a rented "flat" in London for an extended time this summer, my family started to get a glimpse of life as a local and started to get a more confident swagger in our ventures throughout the city.
Perhaps that's why we were stopped one day on our way into a "Tube" station by a mother and son who were also on their way to a Manchester United match. (Or maybe it was our bright red Manchester United jerseys and scarves... Allow me to indulge in the swagger theory for a bit longer if you will.)
When asked for help, we kindly gave them directions and invited them to follow us on one train and then another until we reached Wembley Stadium. And, I loved it. We had played "hometown" tourist across "the pond."
A standing offer for assistance to my fellow travelers
As I explore and enjoy the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago, I'll continue to anxiously await someone to ask for directions or assistance. And, I'll even be so bold as to proactively ask someone blankly staring at a map on a CTA bus shelter or pensively looking from their iPhone to the street signs posted above them if I can help them .
But, I'm glad my assistance as self-proclaimed hometown tour guide isn't just limited to people who I stop or who stop me on the streets. I'm glad I can help do it here via this blog (including my Chicago neighborhood tour posts).
And, so tonight, I put out a standing offer for my assistance as your tour guide in my hometown of Chicago, and invite you to email or post comments with any questions or advice. I'd be glad to help whenever and wherever I am able to do so, and honestly admit when your Chicago question is outside my expertise.
I'll continue to offer help as a hometown tour guide, knowing that I also may need to call upon others for help as my family expands our travels to new and different urban metropolises here in the U.S. and around the world.
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