In 2011, Travel and Leisure named Chicago fourth-best in civic pride — of the country’s major cities. In “Proud of Their City,” T&L put Chicago after New Orleans, San Juan and Savannah. As they begin to conduct their survey for next year, I compiled a partial list of the millions of great things that make me proud to call Chicago home. Because Chicago deserves to be number one on that list. Sorry I’m not sorry, Savannah.
1. The winters. They make you stronger. The best part is when you travel to another city during the winter — to flee from the snowpocalypse — and don’t have to wear a coat, because their winter is comparatively awesome. And then you look like a total badass. Or completely out of your mind.
2. How much Chicago loves its pizza. It’s not the pizza itself I dig (although I do have mad love for Pizza Rustica and Pete’s Pizza, my second home). Instead it’s the obscene lengths Chicagoans will go to argue that our pizza beats all other pizzas. I have actually witnessed Chicagoans get in shouting matches with New Yorkers on this issue.
3. Costello’s. They will put anything on a sandwich — including fries and coleslaw — and I respect that. One day, I expect to find another sandwich in my sandwich. It will be called the M.C. Escher.
4. The Red Line train conductor who practically narrates your ride. However, I’m always vaguely disappointed that he’s not Werner Herzog, only because when I’m dropped off at Fullerton, I feel like hearing about existential despair would be appropriate.
5. The ongoing debate about whether the Red Line or the Blue Line is a better train system. I will always be Team Red Line, because it’s better connected. I respect good networking skills.
6. When you can walk down a street in Andersonville, Roscoe Village, Albany Park or Lincoln Square and momentarily forget you are in Chicago or walk through Pilsen, Greektown, West Loop or Uptown and feel so connected to its rhythms.
7. Always having another café to try out. Chicago has an endless supply of them. Every time I think I’ve gotten to all of them, a new one pops up. This also allows you to deliberate with your friends as to which coffee shop has the hottest baristas. The only acceptable answers are Dollop and Metropolis.
8. Seeing your friends in shows at the Second City. Improv is always better when you can bring pom-poms and a big foam finger.
9. Taking the bus. I might be alone here, but I genuinely enjoy taking the bus and always prefer it to the train. There’s a weird sense of community on the bus and bonding with other riders via people-watching is one of the best things in the world. The Broadway bus may be a total shitshow, especially late at night, but it’s a shitshow you’re all a part of.
10. Those moments when there’s magically enough bike rack space for everyone or you find a parking spot in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park or Buena Park without driving around for an hour.
11. Knowing that I never have to be in Wrigleyville on a Friday night if I don’t want to. It’s a large city, and the diversity of neighborhoods allows you to choose your locales carefully.
12. Midnight shows at the Music Box theatre. Any place where I can throw spoons at the screen and scream at the top of my lungs is a good place. It’s even better when those are quotes from The Room or Rocky Horror. Lisa might be tearing you apart, but the Music Box always makes you whole again.
13. How well the city is mapped out. And if I ever get lost, I can just find my way around using familiar place markers, like buildings the mob used to own or apartment complexes I’ve hooked up with someone in.
14. The milkshakes at Chicago Diner. Even if you aren’t vegan or are a total Ron Swanson-esque carnivore, they are the most delicious things in the world.
15. That I’ll never need to learn how to drive, ever, and judging by the driving on the Dan Ryan, it’s probably best that I don’t.
16. Talking about Rick Bayless as if you know him.
17. Living in a city populated with families, babies and dogs. I hate the stroller set when they are elbowing past me at Uncommon Ground to make room for their legion of infant spawn. But when it’s sunny out and you are next to a mom and her adorable newborn on the sidewalk, babies get pretty awesome.
18. Staying up all night at Belmont Harbor, if you don’t get fined for loitering or drinking in public, and late night dates to Ratigan Beach off the Loyola Red Line stop, which secretly offers the best view of the skyline in town.
19. Knowing that most of the people around you know what happens “When You’re Good to Mama,” especially if you’re drunk at a queer karaoke bar.
20. Finding out that other people are secretly from your hometown. Whenever I see a Cincinnatian wearing the town’s sports paraphernalia — like a Xavier or Miami sweatshirt — I just want to walk up and whisper: “I know your secret! I’ll never tell.”
21. Knowing which movies and TV shows about Chicago were actually filmed here (hey, Save the Last Dance!) and which are full of crap. Happy Endings, I’ve got my eye on you.
22. The supreme loyalty of Cubs fans. I didn’t grow up here so I don’t feel invested in their foibles, but I appreciate the way their fans stick by them, no matter what. There isn’t always next year and it will probably be like this year, but that blind hope is inspiring.
23. Great drunk food. What else do you think those Chicago dogs are for? (However, know that you are never drunk enough to go to Flash Taco. That’s just called “asking for food poisoning.”)
24. The crazy number of Live Lit shows and queer dance spaces in the city. How do people have time to go to them all? Simply put: they don’t. Thus, I’ve decided to clone myself and have him go to all of them. Now, I just have to worry about feeding him.
25. Neighborhood pride. Chicagoans care. We genuinely give a hoot about the wellbeing of other people: our friends, families, neighborhoods and communities and seem to genuinely want to make the city a better place. Proof? The number of amazing community resources for marginalized and minority residents.
26. Accidentally watching television at Big Chicks. Because if you put Absolutely Fabulous on the screen, I will always end up glued to my TV.
27. Gorging yourself on Ethopian food on Clark or Indian food on Devon and then promptly going into a coma from which you shall never emerge. Thanksgiving turkey ain’t got nothing on vindaloo.
28. Always having the option to go to Ed Debevic’s or the Weiner Circle and never taking it. I think the idea of blatantly rude service is funny, but it’s funny only if I never have to actually experience it.
29. Reenacting scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off while at the Art Institute or going there or the MCA on free days and pretending like I know what I’m looking at. (Sometimes, Kandinsky, I think you just might be fucking with me, and I fully expect one day to look over at the title of your piece and see: “JK, LOL.”)
30. That Chicagoans are some of the only Americans to actually pay attention to hockey.
31. Chicago summers. I hate the humidity, but with the crazy number of street festivals and concerts around, I’m too busy getting excited about Lolla (see: that At The Drive-In reunion) to care.
32. Defending the Chicago theatre scene. Steppenwolf. The Goodman. Over half of the storefront theatres on the Northside. Done. If you are still unconvinced, I will fight you.
33. Those weird moments on cloudy days when you are skulking around downtown in an oversized coat and feel like you are in a Carl Sandburg poem.
34. Using the Red Eye for things that aren’t reading, like an umbrella when it’s raining or toilet paper when you are between paychecks.
35. Buying two-dollar hats I’ll never wear from the Hollywood Mirror and Ragstock. My justification is always that if the apocalypse happens and I have to make my apartment into a bunker, I’ll never have a shortage of costumes to entertain myself.
36. Going into Myopic or the Book Cellar and saying that I’m only going to buy one book but then leaving with twenty. Or going to the Chicago Book Fair and leaving with all the books.
37. Trying to figure out exactly why the tourists like the Bean so much. What do you see in there? Is there free candy inside?
38. Always feeling like I might run into one of the Cusacks. I’m really hoping it’s Joan, only because I feel like she’d be so fun to get drunk with.
39. Those days when you really need to curse Chicago and let all of your frustrations out, because Chicago gives you a lot of material. (For potential topics, see: the Olympics, NATO, Marshall Fields, G8, endless delays on the “L,” drunk Cubs fans, the Willis Tower. Seriously?)
40. That first moment when you know conclusively, if you just moved here or even if you’ve lived here all of your life, that you are home. That no matter how much Chicago might piss you off sometimes, it’s your city.
Note: I realize that this doesn’t have enough South Side on it (love you, Bridgeport and Bronzeville), but that’s because the city is making it increasingly impossible to get to, especially for us pedestrians and public-transit people. My Christmas wish? For our CTA to be less structurally racist.