Archive | Lifestyles RSS feed for this section

One Creature Small & Great


I hail from a family of pet-owning animal lovers, but I must confess:

I’ve always had a bit of an odd relationship with our furry friends.

It all began when my family adopted our first dog. I was an anxious, frustrated kid, and at the tender age of six didn’t really understand the distinction between “play” and “harrassment.” My prankish antics earned me much growling and a lifetime of doggie detachment — she was a proud little lady and didn’t suffer foolish children lightly. Of the six members of my family, she liked me the least.

After our dog passed on a semi-feral cat adopted us. My sisters did their best to coddle her and get her to trust humans; I, meanwhile, made the kitty-clueless mistake of having him attempt to swat my extremities (not very successfully: I was faster). After I left home, my parents adopted another cat, and this one, while more gregarious, was no less tough-minded in the play department. Winston liked me more than Mookie did, but I couldn’t say any kind of bond was formed.

Even though I’ve lived alone for nearly all my adult life, these early experiences made me resist the notion of getting a furry critter of my own. And other excuses as well: too much bother; the anticipation of presiding over yet another passing; and, of course, my own ever-mobile, ever-transient lifestyle.

That is, until this year.

For one thing, that settledness bugaboo: I’ve lived in San Francisco five years, and have been at my current job for three — the longest such stints in my adult life, with no plans on altering either. And then came this summer, that anguished stride through the looking glass. Is it unusual that watching a loved one die somehow elicits the desire to foster and care for new life?

With those notions in mind, I went with my sister and mother over Labor Day weekend to San Francisco’s palatial SPCA to see if a kitten was available who could enter my life.

Indeed, there was no shortage: between its mild climate and the resilience (and fertility) of the feline species, San Francisco is never wanting for baby cats. They were adorable, but one struck my fancy: a five-month old, near-solid dark brown female resting alone in one of the glass-walled “cat condos.” She came out of her cat tree and meowed as I approached; when I entered, with a volunteer, she continued her vocalizations and climbed into my lap.

I took Daenerys home that afternoon, bracing for the worst: refusal to come out of the “safe room” I’d created for her in my spare bathroom; hiding under bed and sofa; scratching up furniture. Instead, it seemed to me, a miracle occurred: she adjusted to the full expanse of my two-stories and 800 square feet in an afternoon; willingly ate everything that was put in front of her; and slept in my bed that night and every night thereafter.

Oh, her kittenish feisty side did come out eventually, but on the whole she’s been a wonder to play with, to hold, to chat with (she must be part Burmese, given her vocal/social/adaptable tendencies). She’s even handled the couple of trips I’ve taken out of town with (relative) aplomb… though I did get an earful on my return from my latest excursion this morning.

They say people in good relationships live longer, healthier lives — and now research is coming out that the same holds true for owning a pet. I’m hoping to spend many happy years with my new adopted housemate, and feel I’ve happily expunged the ghosts of pet misfortune of times gone by.




“What shocked both gays and the straight establishment was that gays had, for once, openly fought back.”

I had a dream last night that I was being bullied.

It was some spoiled kid from my elementary/high school (who later actually came out, I believe). Admittedly, the bullying in question — both the dream and its real-life counterpart — were nothing serious or systematic, but one thing about both incidents (real and subconsciously synthesized) struck me.

I didn’t fight back.

Instead, I learned to hide, to “pass”, to subsume my true identity. I’d let parts of it discreetly shine through — I was a nerd, I liked computers and science fiction, all that — but that certain fascination, that quickening of my heart when I walked past a a good-looking boy in high school… well, I ignored that impulse, pretended it wasn’t there, thought it was anything but what it really was. And for my troubles, I was (limitedly) rewarded: the bullying stopped. In exchange for suppressing who I really was, I was quietly ignored.

But eventually, the elimination of a fundamental part of what it means to be human — to love, to date, to marry, even (yes) to have sex both meaningful and not-so-meaningful — took its toll. From early adolescence right into my twenties, I could never remember what dreams I had after I woke up. It’s as if my subconscious had switched itself off.

Then, one snowy February night, after a traumatizing friendship and falling out with a fetching lad in college (nothing happened, alas, except to me, internally), I sat beside my parents’ cat on the sofa at two-thirty in the morning and laid the truth bare.

The cat’s reaction was predictably unenthused, but for me it was a revelation — the revelation — that would change the course of my life. But it took time. I was scared — terrified of those feelings that are for many the baptism-by-fire of teenagerhood. I gradually told friends, then siblings, then parents. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I began dating. It wasn’t until my very late twenties that I experienced love, if only briefly. It was only in my thirties that I had my first serious, multi-year relationship.

I’ve often mused about the awkwardness of Pride: a combination party and political rally. But, then, maybe that’s the point. Unlike most minoritarian identities, being gay is something that lives dormant inside you, only reaching fruition with the onset of adult emotion. As such, it’s easy to suppress, ignore, wish away, be told doesn’t exist.

Which is why Pride is what it is: a fight for your right not only to party, but to love, marry, form families, be happy with yourself. Proud. That’s what those youths and drag queens, fighting the New York City police at a speakeasy many Junes ago, understood better than so many of us in the mainstream did: that coming out is, for each of us who’ve gone through it, a mini Stonewall inside ourselves to awaken who we truly are.

Happy Pride to all.


Can We All Be Rich?

It’s a comment Presidential wannabe Mitt Romney got reamed for last fall, and it even finds its way into far-right Tea Party manifestos: the notion that our society can make everyone wealthy.

I thought about this as I watched another meditation on this notion from last fall, the dsytopian sci-fi thriller In Time. Written and directed by Gattaca‘s Andrew Niccol (I consider the latter film one of the best sci-fi movies ever made), In Time failed to resonate with critics though was a moderate box-office success — no thanks to me, who gave it a miss in theaters. But in spite of its tepid directing (Niccol’s measured, deliberative pacing doesn’t work as well here as in his earlier films) and needlessly Michael Bay-like action-adventure plotting, well, I maintain this is the most brilliantly conceived filmed sci-fi dystopia since 1999’s The Matrix.

It’s all in the premise: In Time posits a future world where the genetic code has been cracked so completely that we can control aging. Nobody ages past 25, but there’s a cruel caveat: you have to earn your “time” beyond that, and time left to live — eerily displayed on people’s arms as a glowing green “life clock” — has become the currency of the age. Just at the reimagined Battlestar Galactica brought us a contemporaneous, Western-style society with spaceships and polytheism, so too does In Time deliver up a world nearly like our own, but with a completely different medium of exchange standing in for present-day money. My back-of-the-envelope calculation from the film, based on “four minutes [of life] for a cup of coffee” and 100 years being considered a fortune, puts 1 minute as roughly equal to 50 present-day cents — which means a day is worth about $700, a month about 20 grand, a year at just over a quarter-of-a-million. When a bank safe containing a “time capsule” (which can be delivered into a person, and can be transferred from individual to individual) is revealed to contain a million years ($250 billion), it elicits gasps — and a boast from its owner/tycoon on how it’s not his first.

It’s interesting that the movie came out within a month of Occupy Wall Street: both push the revolutionary premise that “there’s enough for everyone” if only the rich would quit hoarding it. But where the Occupy movement (or at least some of its supporters) and In Time part ways, it’s in the notion that everyone can be rich. In sci-fi-land, it’s the wealthy members of the establishment who claim that time isn’t infinite, that distributing it to the unwashed masses will “crash the system.” In our present-day world, it’s liberals claiming that not everybody wants to be rich, but most everybody wants a job, a roof over their head, and some degree of security — what I always call a “basic minimum” and agree that every First World country ought to and can provide its citizenry. Bill Maher famously claimed, “of course everybody can’t be rich; who’d be left to do stuff for rich people that nobody wants to do?”

Actually, that’s an excellent point: In Time never quite explains the mechanism by which its “currency” is produced. Does it require energy? Manufacturing? Even if we assume it’s nothing more than a digital countdown, and that the complexity of genetic aging processes can simply be switched on and off — not as far-fetched as its sounds, given research into telomeres — what are the raw economic costs of producing other goods and services to society? This is the basis of economics, at least as I understand it: the medium of exchange reflects, or should reflect, the aggregate cost of producing the stuff we use. As long as these products require human labor and — yes — time to create, an economic system involving scarcity (whether it’s monetary or temporal) seems inevitable.

But this begs the next question: what if stuff costs nothing, or next to nothing, to make? Well, speculative fiction addresses that too… I’m thinking, particularly, of Isaac Asimov‘s robot novels.

In these — starting with The Caves of Steel in 1954 — Asimov imagines a far-ish future (around 1,000 years) where groups of settlers had colonized a bunch of worlds with the aid of robots. But unlike Blade Runner‘s maniacal, malfunctioning replicants, these robots have been (successfully) engineered to be docile, helpful, near-indestructible servants — happy, willing, perfect slaves. They are self-repairing, self-manufacturing, and can (and do) produce all the goods and services anybody could ever want. In contrast to overpopulated, impoverished Earth (gotta have one of those for contrast), these off-world colonies are paradises of wealth. There, too, people live for centuries (though not forever — the prospect of genetic agelessness was unknown to Asimov in 1954) and population is voluntarily held in check. Everyone lives in mansions surrounded by flotillas of well-meaning servants, and does what one likes. Everyone is, indeed, wealthy.

And yet, the Spacer worlds (as they’re known) are far from utopian: jealousy, intrigue, even murder (the premise of at least one of the books) are present. It seems, in eradicating poverty and disease from these brave new worlds, future humans had forgotten to engineer away the not-so-better angels of our nature.

So maybe that’s where real-life activism and speculative fiction come together: technology can solve our problems (though it can also make them worse) but technology alone (or, for that matter, political policy) isn’t enough. As an unrepentant idealist, futurist, and geek, yes, I hold out hope that our scientific advances can improve our world. But we need to change, too. Many of us accept a certain degree of inequality in our lives (this very interesting blog post deals with such notions and how they fall on the political spectrum) — those who take initiatives, who work harder, ought to reap a greater reward — but a society based entirely on one-upsmanship, on reinforcement of inequality, on scarcity as a self-reinforcing idea… that’s a society which, sadly, too many of us have decided to accept.

And here’s where I rejoin my Occupy cohorts, and almost anyone who doesn’t accept our world at face value: I don’t think our current state, our current way of being, is static and inevitable. It may take time — more than on most people’s clocks — but I for one believe we can change, and shouldn’t throw up our hands and refuse to try.

I’ll take a million years, too, if that’s on the table.


Nine One One


It’s retrospection day in America, ten years after the worst foreign-sourced attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. So here’s one more voice in the chorus. Not the most interesting or traumatic, I grant you, even within my family and friend circle: one of my sisters was living in Manhattan at the time; one friend, a native Manhattanite, was charged with working for the crisis center for Canter Fitzgerald in the weeks and months after that terrible day.

It was a gorgeous morning in New York, one of those sunny September days described in a later Sex & the City episode (one that practically anticipated the day) as “when you could feel the seasons click.” I wasn’t living in New York. I was out here in San Francisco, where an equally sunny morning greeted me as well (seasons and weather patterns being what they are, Indian Summer in SF often resembles early fall Back East).

Back then I would fret about minutiae: a tech economy that was starting to tip, jeopardizing my job and Green Card application at the startup where I worked; an uncertain relationship with a young fellow, a New Jerseyian who’d just moved Out West himself; some second thoughts about my life in California, my adopted state then of five years within my adopted homeland, where I’d struggled, kicked and torn to get in; and the usual news of the day, from market uncertainty to Gary Condit. Chicago was a city I’d once visited and liked but never considered a place to much more than lay over on connecting flights. Liver donations were unknown to me. Going around the world? I struggled to make it around the continent. And on the subject of flights, I remember reveling in the perk of being able to meet arriving passengers at the gate.

Nothing could have prepared me — not even that phone call from an early-rising friend I let go to voicemail at 6:30 in the morning Pacific Time (who the heck calls at that hour? mused my half-asleep brain at the time) — for the world-changing event that was to hit me like a Mack Truck when I switched on CNN to check the wobbly stock market on that sunny Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.

All manner of musings today bray the conventional wisdom that “nothing was ever the same again.” That was true in America… though for denizens of poorer, strife-torn nations — like much of Africa or even parts of our own hemisphere — America’s latter-era Day of Infamy would have felt familiar: such acts of violence are tragically common in such places. Yes, as some have proferred, some of the world’s geopolitical catastrophes had even been, in some way, caused by American meddling, American profiteering… or simply the unintended consequences of Frankenstein monsters gone amuck (Osama was one of these, natch). Yet I rejected then — when I was more politically right-leaning than I am today — and reject today the notion that 9/11 was in any way legitimate payback or retribution for past American sins: the receptionist at Canter Fitzgerald or the waiter at Windows on the World restaurant was not to blame for the fate of Palestinians in Jenin or Mexicans in Chiapas — and let’s be honest, the psychopaths who planned these attacks weren’t avengers for anything but their own demented notions.

Still, it’s hard, living in the weaker beast that is the American imperium ten years on, not to suspect the bad guys won, if only just a little. If their goal was to terrorize America, to divide America, to bankrupt America… well? Although the bombings were, of course, an act of willful aggression, they really served the ultimate passive-aggressive goal of provoking an overreaction, deepening divisions, throwing the adversary off guard. Oh sure, the battle against Al-Qaeda itself has been largely won, its tentacles smashed, its leader dead. But it’s never the goal of a death cult to emerge sunlit and victorious: for them, true victory lies in taking the enemy down in subtler ways — even at the expense of their own existence.

But then, it’s all too easy to cement in one’s mind a future for the world’s most powerful superpower that is questionable at best and bleak at worst. Recurrent economic crisis — really just a delayed reaction to 9/11 that was put on the nation’s credit card in the years immediately following the attacks — only heightens present-day gloom. But as in anything in life, there is always the prospect of change, of altered shadows and better outcomes. Americans can look past their partisan divides — little more than the squabbles of outmoded ideologies anyway — and discover a new sense of purpose in the challenges of the age: the income divide, the energy question (itself tied up in 9/11 when you consider Mideast oil revenue and how it led to the wealth of the Bin Laden family… you see where this is going), the need to retain and celebrate and make ever-more accessible the “you can do anything” notion — however naive it may sometimes sound — that is a cornerstone of this country’s ideals. Talk here often shifts to the unity of the World War II era… and however sepia-tinged and swing-music-infused that bygone time may seem, we can probably learn a thing or two from the sense of purpose of the Greatest Generation.

I hope we do. Our country — nay, our world — is on the line.


Everyone Knows It’s Windy

(with apologies to The Association)

Just about four years ago, I moved away from Chicago, my home for almost half a decade (I blogged about that, too, and I’m republishing that post below for those of you without Flash-enabled devices to view my old blog). It was a bittersweet, almost painful goodbye: it meant leaving a long-term partner, a condo I’d remodeled in a charming vintage brick courtyard building in East Lake View, and a pleasant mix of acquaintances and friends.

So why on Earth did I leave? As I wrote back then, Chicago was a tough place for an unconventional gay techie nerd like myself. I’d suffered a disastrous run of employment there, and California’s startups and workplace culture — where I’d worked years before — beckoned. So too did a number of old friends who’d weathered the dot-com downturn of the early 2000s and seemed to be flourishing Out West. With the Village People’s exhortation to Go West ringing in my ears, I sailed off into the western sky to re-ignite a life in the City by the Bay.

The results have been decidedly mixed: the career stuff did prove as wonderful as I’d hoped; I also managed to navigate the pricey shoals of San Francisco’s real estate market (okay, the real-estate downturn in 2008-9 helped me out there a bit), and found a place to live that makes me as happy as my Chicago spot once did.

But the softer stuff proved, well, softer: I’ve found San Francisco to be a challenging place to put down roots, make friends, find romance and all that goes with it. Some of that may simply be the whims of chance, but I can’t help wondering if a city buffeted by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the unstoppable tech juggernaut in the years following can really lay claim to being the communitarian, laid-back bohemian capital it was in decades past. I’ve often said that newly-minted North American boomtowns try to clone those aspects of New York they think befit a “world city”: high prices, materialism, pretension — while often overlooking the eight million other stories in America’s naked city. Consequently, as I boarded my flight to Chicago this past Thursday, I was most curious to see if my fond memories of Midwestern friendliness (outside of the workplace, at least) were simply nostalgic reverie or if I could rekindle that old-time magic once more.

Initial signs were hopeful: I was staying with a friend who’d recently snagged a place in a high-rise in Edgewater, an appropriately-named lakefront district with sweeping views of cobalt-blue Lake Michigan and its beaches. When I first moved to Chicago locals would tell me “it’s like living in a seafront city,” and I didn’t believe them. That is, until I witnessed for myself the shores of the great inland waterway and the amazing work the city’s done to maintain and preserve its waterfront. It rivals — in the summer at least — some of the grandest waterfront cities I’ve lived in or visited — from the beach cities of Los Angeles to Cape Town, South Africa and Sydney, Australia.

I meandered the city’s downtown on Friday, enjoying the warm (but not too warm) weather that I sometimes miss during San Francisco’s “coldest winter I ever spent” (in Twain parlance) of July and August. It was just as I’d remembered: Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive, and the Loop remain one of the world’s truly grand urban cores, and here too Chicago’s done wonders keeping the place (relatively) safe and clean. The Chicago River is cleaner than it’s ever been since large-scale settlement began here at the confluence of this waterway and the lake beyond (a recently-erected statue to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable bears witness to this history); a riverwalk allows access in a manner remniscient of Paris’s Seine. The Trump building, still a construction site when I left, is now complete and is the city’s fourth-tallest skyscraper — bigger than anything on my side of the Mississippi.

But beyond the big buildings, it’s the city’s warmth that captivates. After a pleasant rendezvous with my ex and his parents (who used to live in the ‘burbs but relocated to the city a year or so after I left), a bunch of us headed out to the bars of Boystown. A number were unchanged; some had augmented their offerings; others were utterly new. And yes, the friendliness and strong drinks were on tap that night (one wonders how much the latter influences the former). I reconnected with old friends and (yes) made a couple of new ones.

Dodging the rain on Saturday, we headed down to the area’s big attraction this past weekend, a two-day street festival, Northalsted Market Days. As chance would have it, I ran into nearly everyone I’d recontacted but hadn’t made concrete plans to see. Later that evening we went for a fabulous (and affordable) meal then hit the town for one more night.

But it was Sunday when things really shone. The rain has swept away the lingering heat and humidity, and the afternoon turned into one of those spectacular days you usually only see in Southern California. A group of us headed north to Ravinia, Chicago’s long-time eclectic outdoor summer music festival, to hear fellow gay Montrealer Rufus Wainwright perform Shakespearean sonnets set to musical accompaniment care of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Afterward, we rendezvous-ed on the balcony of another of my old-time chums for a late-evening drink and afterparty — hanging out on people’s expansive porches is a Chicago tradition, one I’d almost forgotten how much I’d missed.

Watching dawn break over the lake through the picture windows of my friend’s condo, I pondered the ambiguity of life’s choices: while I don’t regret having pulled up stakes and moved out West, I sometimes feel I left my heart not in San Francisco but here, in this glorious, affable, brawny city by the azure waters in mid-continent. I’ve been away from this place too long, and I have no doubt I’ll be back again soon and often.




The (Real) U.S. Capital
Reflections on Chicago as America
(Tue Jun 5 2007)

Mention the words “nation’s capital” in the U.S. and the image that comes to mind is that grandiose yet low-slung southern town on the Potomac, Washington D.C. And yet, as has also been said about New York, Washington D.C. ain’t America.

Although no one place can purport to be the “real” heart of a continent-sized country of 300 million, one gets the sense that the coasts, in all their glory, with all their teeming population centers, represent an America that is, for lack of a better term, somehow un-American. Or so U.S. conservatives would have us believe, with all their railing against the “godless coasts,” replete as they are with mammon, sin, and foreign influence.

If so, where does the “real” America lie? The geographically obvious choice is Kansas — and some recent books, such as Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas, suggest as much. In ages past, prairie populism came roaring out of midcountry to take on the moneyed interests in New York and fight for the little guy. However, this Guilded-Age rhetoric (as Frank’s book points out) has been repackaged as part of a conservative, pro-business ideology that is not uniquely Midwestern. Moreover, while I’m inclined to accept that populism and a certain degree of insularity are part of the American psyche, I’m not sure that Pat Buchanan conservatism is necessarily representative of all (or even most) of the U.S. No, the coastal cities count too, as do the pockets of colorful, progressive, iconoclastic smaller places like Austin, Texas or Madison, Wisconsin. By that token, right-leaning Kansas ain’t really America either. Is there somewhere in this land that encapsulates all of this?

The state that’s often been touted as “America in microcosm” is Missouri, whose landscapes run the gamut from gritty urban industrial centers (with their inner-city ghettos), wealthy suburbs, agrarian hinterlands… even wineries. Having visited there a couple of times, I’m inclined to agree — and next year’s Presidential race will prove interesting as Missouri is usually a bellwether for how the rest of the nation votes.

However, being a city boy, I’m equally interested in finding a city that represents America best, one that would encapsulate much, if not all, of what this country’s about. I think I’ve found it. Having lived here for 4 years (and on the verge of leaving it — the sale of my condo in the city’s Lake View district closes next week), I’m nominating Chicago as best urban candidate to be America In Miniature.

I can’t profess to be an expert, of course, having only come to this country as an adult. But being a bit of an outsider sometimes gives one a perspective that born-and-bred locals lack — witness artist David Hockney’s visions of Los Angeles. In my travels (American cities I’ve visited or lived in include Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego), Chicago feels to me most like the America portrayed in art, in song, in film — all rolled together in one skyscraper-sized bundle.

In fact, skyscrapers are a good place to start: Although New York’s edifices are sometimes better known (including, tragically, the Twin Towers of 9/11), Chicago’s behemoths (The Sears Tower, The John Hancock Center, and others) stand toe-to-toe with anything in Gotham; although eclipsed by some new projects in Asia, Chicago’s tallest buildings are still among the biggest around. In fact, this most American of building forms started in the Windy City: The Monadnock and Reliance Buildings in Chicago’s Loop represent some of the first experiments in steel-frame construction, eliminating the need for load-bearing outer walls. This freed architects from the tyranny of gravity (even the biggest of Europe’s medieval cathedrals are only about 15 or so stories high), and let buildings soar skyward. And it began mostly in Chicago during America’s rise to industrial prominence in the later-19th century.

Equally significant, no discussion of Chicago can exclude its food: The place has some of the best around, and even its hometown staples bespeak all-American-ness (steak, deep-dish pizza — for the best of the latter, I recommend ordering from here), with all the caloric excess that implies.

Beyond architecture and gastronomy, Chicago reveals its all-American colors through its people. In one way, they embody what I like best about America — that open, gregarious friendliness so often parodied in movies and the media (“hey, how ya doin’?”). There are few cities where the trendiest restaurants and nightclubs feature small-town-style cheeriness from bouncers and maitres-d. The down-home feel is no accident: Many of Chicago’s residents are transplants (as is true of most big cities), but in Chicago’s case, drawn largely from smaller centers in the nation’s heartland; in spite of its size (it’s a larger metro area than D.C., Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area), it is more a regional center than a national one.

It was that reality that ultimately did in the city’s future as my hometown: As befits a regional center (I imagine Curitiba, Brazil or Chengdu, China suffer the same plight), I found it to be a more conventional-minded place than crazy California or edgy New York. Oh, Chicago does have its art scene (not to mention a terrific theatre community), but it seemed to me that any time “important” work was being done or careers were being made, it was all too often in the context of a large, staid company (in spite of having lost some corporate head offices, the city and surrounding suburbs are still home to Kraft, United Airlines, Accenture, and a host of others); the very-friendly younger set love their liquor but often look with Nancy Reagan-esque disapproval at even the most infrequent use of other substances (a second Amsterdam Chicago will never be). And overall friendliness notwithstanding, there remains an undercurrent of midcountry resentment toward the better-known coasts: One middle manager at a major investment banking firm downtown tried to convince me that the coasts were “silly” (his words) and produce little that folks like him care about; instead, the Midwest, he claimed, was where the best and brightest really lay.

I suppose if there’s one constant I’ve found among all the places I have lived it is provincialism, and sadly there too Chicago does not disappoint.

As I bid adieu to John Hughes country (more evidence of the city’s representative stature — its use as a backdrop in teen flicks of the 1980s), it is with a measure of sadness: It’s a great city, frequently overlooked by foreigners and coastal residents alike. Unfortunately, this reality also means that Chicago misses out on some of what makes the coasts great: The iconoclastic nature of a California high-tech startup; the interplay with academia that is Boston (Chicago has terrific universities as well, but in typical Midwestern fashion the most prestigious schools — Northwestern and The University of Chicago — are some distance from the city, or, in the case of the top state school, in a small town some 200 miles away). Even at its most liberal, at its most progressive, there’s a feeling that the landmass of America insulates Chicago from some of the most colorful and progressive (though, admittedly, not always the best) influences. For a guy like me, who’s always thrived on swimming against the stream… well, somehow the shores of Lake Michigan just didn’t quite fit.

But I will miss the pizza.