I’m glad to be back in Chicago (I lived a year ago in New York with Jeff) but I wonder how much of the homey-ness we feel in a familiar place is caused not by the grand differences we think matter like architecture and social politics, but by tiny little differences that speak to our illogical bias.
Everyone knows the Chicago Hot Dog is superior, for example, but what really annoyed me about New York fast food was that the teller would always ask if my meal was “to stay or to go.” What? “Do you want that to stay?” To stay where? On the plate? The proper phrase is to ask if it’s “for here,” children. Where did these East Coast bumpkins go to school?
Another issue is the disparity in brands. They have different pharmacies and grocery stores and gas stations in different regions. I know, I know, a lot of branches are owned by the same national company and just given a different name, but it doesn’t feel the same. Layouts are different and my loyalty cards to Dominick’s and Jewel look like carnival prank printouts. To say nothing of Duane Reade: I don’t know this Mr. Reade, and how can I trust him to buy my condoms and Tylenol from him; much less can I imagine if I was in dire need of lube, Halloween-remainder bunny costumes, and/or the morning-after pill late at night that I would give this unknown Mr. Reade said implied information about my life. That’s between me and the steadfast Walgreen clan, thank you very much.
Same goes for filling up the tank at Hess – that one looks deliberately drab and hostile, like Road Warrior is about to drive up and fight for a bag of chips (“Utz”-brand) in the last of the V8s – and lacking the comforting red pattern glow of my Brookstone sour cream in the refrigerator aisle. These things add up, you know.
The human brain is looking for an oasis of familiarity and safety in between the hobos taking shits on the penultimate car of the West-bound 7 train and the Asian retiree women that crack your solar plexus for that last seat on the N. So as convinced as I am that the reason I prefer my beloved Windy City is its cleaner streets, its less antagonistic people, its higher standard of living for the money, its neater beauty encapsulated in LSD or the River Walk, maybe the real reason I feel at home is the 1-800-EMPIRE jingle and the knowledge when my car gives up the ghost, a tow truck will arrive from Victory Auto Wreckers. To stay or to go? I think I’ll have it for here.