On my annual trip back to the Midwest, after visiting with one of my older sisters, I headed down to Chicago to spend the night with my best friend. The river, the lake, the buildings were still breathtaking, even if I had seen them a thousand times before, I’d still be in love. The food was delicious as always, and the sights engaging, but in this place where people claim, you can get lead poisoning because of all the bullets in the air, I noticed the other side of this fast-paced city. A door held by a stranger, a seat offered to an older woman in the hotel lobby, the smiles on the kayakers paddling down the river and the beauty of the buildings (ok that one was being pointed out to me by the guide on the architecture tour, but I always knew it…). Even though this city has beauty, kindness and gastronomical delights, it also has a never-ending, can’t stop pace.
After I got my fill of urbanism, I set out for ‘my’ hometown. I always tell people Chicago, just easier, but in reality it’s Algonquin – such a fun name – located 40 miles NW of Chicago on the Fox River. What is it about the place we are raised? Perhaps the dirt I played in, still resides in my bloodstream because the smells of alfalfa being cut, the river and maple tree sightings brought back memories of lying under oak trees and wading in the river. A slower time came flooding back, one where walking down to the Ben Franklin seemed like a day trip! But my own little town had something new waiting for me – a bypass to alleviate the congestion of the two main highways in town. To be clear, there are ONLY two highways that cross in downtown and they’re really more like large streets.
As I walked down the main street with my younger sister, I wondered how were the breakfast shop located in the doctor’s office of our childhood or the hot yoga class inhabiting the old insurance building going to make it with a bypass? There were art galleries and day spas residing in the beautiful two story houses that were built in the late 1800’s. Who were going to patronize these businesses, or even be aware they existed if they didn’t drive by them?
After some thought I wondered, had the town council unknowingly created an escape from the ‘hurry here, see this, do that and always being connected’ that I had just left in the city? Was this Algonquin’s way of creating a sanctuary, a place to slow down, reconnect, and enjoy a slower pace – even for an evening? A place off the “heavily travelled” roads where one could enjoy a nice restaurant, walk to a gallery, stop in for ice cream and yet be just a block away from those highways where we spend way too much of our lives. They may not have imagined this refuge while trying to solve the congestion nightmare in a small river town, but they may just be on the edge of a revolution.
We need to bring the small towns back, the little boutiques, toy stores, book stores, independent restaurants, and ice cream shops. We need a place to escape; leaving the malls to the days of mindless shopping and the chain restaurants to those who have yet to experience a chef who truly loves their calling. My love affair with Chicago will never end, but the pull of my home town and its eccentricities will forever be indelibly etched in my heart. It will always be a place to rest, recover and reload my spirit.
With that said I’m saddened that I missed the Class of 73’s birthday party for all of us who turned 59 this year. What other town does this kind of stuff?? I’ll be there next year my friends, next year!
Grateful for you…