What really makes you a Chicagoan?

I haven’t lived my life entirely within the walls of the Chicago border, but I will always consider myself a proud Chicagoan.  Someone recently labeled me as a ‘suburbanite’ just because I now live in the ‘burbs. I also recently read a blog that said you could only call yourself a Chicagoan only if you live within the proper area codes.

I call bullshit on both those theories.

A few weeks back, I wrote a short blog about me re-visiting my old apartment in Bridgeport, where I grew up in until I was 8 years old. It had been 33 years since I’ve seen that beautiful 3-story brick building, and the emotions hit me hard.

My entire early childhood came rushing back as I identified each specific spot where I had a burning memory: the exact location where I painfully learned to roller skate. The stoop where I thought I could fly, jumping down a flight of steps and busting open my mouth. Nativity of Our Lord, the catholic elementary school 2 blocks down, where I attended through 2nd grade (also the site where my mother had a smack down with a nun who was trying to force me to use my right hand to write. Mom – 1, Nun – 0.)  I allowed my eyes to follow the familiar path my stepdad and I use to walk to Comiskey Park. The one and only. The original. Stepping outside on my stoop every morning to go to school, the sight of CPD and undercover cars parked outside Mayor Daley Sr.’s house the next block down became commonplace.

On the corner was Shinnick’s Pub, where my dad would take me after each ball game. The bartender would sneak me a shot glass of beer and I would play horseshoes in the backyard with the waitresses during their break. Maxwell’s and DiCola’s were a regular part of our diet. Regardless of our skin color and the language we spoke, everyone was friendly. The neighbors that lived on the bottom level of our apartment were an older couple who treated me like a granddaughter. We were different yet the same, and we all took care of each other. My world at that time was very small, yet it was my whole world. I was a 312er.

When I was 8, we moved to the south side suburb of Evergreen Park, where I spent my formative years. All new loves would greet me there; Barraco’s Pizza, the seedy yet exciting crowd at the Ford City Mall, fights in Packey’s alley, Bleeker’s donut holes and endless summers at Aqua Pool. At this point, Richie Daley Jr. was making regular visits to our home, and this, like his dad, became commonplace. EP was a much bigger pool than Bridgeport, but still had the same strong hometown ties. I became a 708er.

When I was 17, I chose to move to the west suburbs of Villa Park, where I lived through college, until I moved away at the age of 23. I spent the next 10 years moving around the country, doing my thing and fulfilling every dream possible. My journey included Los Angeles, Portland, Columbus and NYC. At 33, I returned while going through a painful divorce, and have resided in the suburbs ever since. I became a 630er.

Yet through the entire course of my life, I’ve always proudly called myself a Chicagoan. I earned that right, and I wear it well. So for those who say if you live outside the 312 or 708 area code that you’re not a Chicagoan, I beg to differ. Oakbrook, Park Ridge, Naperville, Schaumburg, Aurora, Oak Lawn….whatever area code or suburb you now choose to live in does not define you.

Being a Chicagoan is a mindset. It’s the attitude you carry, the way-of-life you choose to follow and the attitude you embrace. It’s what you present to others you meet, and a unique willingness to stand behind your beliefs. We greet each other with smiles, handshakes and hugs. We look at each other in the eye when talking. Generosity is second nature and loyalty is respected. Our whole silly ‘accent’ is just the icing on the cake.

So you want to box me in just because I’m no longer a 312er? I don’t like boxes much, so try it. I’ll just break your tiny little box down into tiny little pieces. Eventually you’ll want to drive out to the far west side just share a cup of coffee with me, because we’re all the same, just a slightly different geographic coordinance.

This proud south side broad will be waiting for your call...if you dare venture into the 630 area code. Any takers?

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