The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
Like most people who disregard a good thing when they’ve got it, I took Chicago for granted. That is, at first. I was born in the city, raised in the city. Learned how to ride a bike on Longwood Drive, and weathered my first heartbreak there, too. When my high school friends would fawn over downtown Chicago — “It’s so clean,” they’d say; “It’s so beautiful” they’d profess — I’d shrug a little, nod without protest. I thought the city was fine. It was the Midwest. Nothing to get weak in the knees over.
Partway through college, I transferred to Columbia University in New York. Now this city was something. I walked fast, saw scores of plays, drank too much coffee, took in Times Square first with wide-eyed wonder (later, with disdain), devoured bagel sandwiches, frequented the Strand bookstore, snuck into dive bars and interned in a newsroom on election night. The city was diverse. It never slept. It was frenetic and full of texture. And somehow, in quiet moments, it made me long for Chicago — its slower pace, its cleaner sidewalks, the way people smile if you catch their eye on the street.
After graduation, I moved back. I got my first job at a content marketing company in the suburbs, where I grew my editing skills and developed a monk-like patience for clients who sent their changes in red. I met my bookish, blonde work wife, Sarah, who in short order became one of my best girlfriends. I relished Chicago summers and cursed Chicago winters, particularly when my gray Ford Focus got hopelessly ensnared in mounds of snow. Weekends were often spent completing every possible errand with my early-rising friend Marrissa, who inevitably texted before 8 a.m. (Because I love her like a sister, I forgave these crimes.) My one-bedroom apartment was airy, full of character, a five-minute walk from the lakefront and only $1,095 a month. Not once in four years did my landlord raise the rent, which surely makes him eligible for sainthood. And my jack-of-all-trades neighbor, Troy, was capable of fixing anything, from malfunctioning computers to the eyeglasses I broke and unsuccessfully tried to weld back together. I constantly availed myself of his services.
In time, I went on to work as a section editor at the Chicago Tribune, a job move that wildly enriched my life, personally and professionally. Walking through the stately lobby of the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, the newspaper’s home from July 1925 to June 2018, never lost its appeal. The rhythm of my days was soon defined by that building, those coworkers. My seatmate, Cindy — whom I met for the first time when she was gunning to kill a cockroach with her stiletto heel — and I would discuss podcasts and whatever creepy incident had captured our imagination that day. Like clockwork, Will, a metro reporter, would hold court around 4 p.m., regaling us with random details about 1970s TV shows and his trademark gallows humor. Denise, our darling Texas transplant, would inevitably bless someone’s heart. At the end of long workdays, my mentor Marcia and I would sip beer in her office and laugh until we cried.
But those days are gone. In late August, I left Chicago for a new job at The Washington Post. I live in a (way more expensive) D.C. apartment now, though I am constantly, frustratingly, still typing my Chicago address in online forms. Relocating was the right move, but right is rarely easy.
Chicago taught me that setting down roots isn’t about places, it’s about people, and my roots run deep in that city. Chicago taught me to be proud of where I live, and fiercely protective of its reputation. And Chicago taught me that saying goodbye is not a destination, it’s a journey.
I’m still traveling.
Any Chicagoan worth her salt knows there are multiple Nookies locations. My tight-knit group of girlfriends and I call ourselves The Panel — a story too long to tell here — and the Lakeview Nookies is The Panel’s preferred outpost. Weekdays, Christine, Colleen, Alison and I would often meet here for cheap breakfast and deep conversation.
Chicagoans are obsessed with Lake Michigan. It’s our birthright. The lakefront trail spans 18 miles and hugs several neighborhoods. One warm spring evening, my friend Alison — I call her my A1 — and I walked north along the trail from the downtown area to our respective apartments, about a 5-mile trek.
This indie film hub is on the top level of a largely shop-free shopping mall. There are few businesses remaining. The Victoria’s Secret? Gone. The CVS? Gone. There is an Aveda Institute. There is a Hertz Car Rental. Really, the only reason to visit is for the cinema. Some people have church. I had the Landmark. Whenever I needed a mental escape, I threw on a hoodie, leggings and my red Keds and headed to the theater.
I’m telling you, this place has the best guacamole in town. It’s exquisitely balanced: not too smooth, not too chunky, perfectly salted, spicy if you so choose. My aunt Amelia and I are Adobo Grill devotees. At this point, the servers recognize us.
Here’s what’s seductive about the Steppenwolf: It’s a neighborhood theater that feels cozy and accessible, but the productions are provocative, immensely intelligent and occasionally haunting. Once, on a date, I went to see a play that’d previously been on Broadway. I shifted in my seat before the show started, and there was Lucy Liu, sitting right behind us.
In my early 20s, I’d visit this Hyde Park dive bar weekly with my girlfriends, Lucia and Tara, for Tipsy Tuesday. We’d shoot the breeze with the bartender, Sonny, and scan the crowd, which was always a mix of University of Chicago students and older residents. One winter night, we doubled down on Tipsy Tuesday despite a relentless snowstorm. We expected the bar to be empty. Inside, we found a group of patrons eating pizza and dancing in a “Soul Train” line.
The Tower commands attention. The exterior features fragments from famous structures around the world: the Berlin Wall, the shore of Pearl Harbor, the remains of the World Trade Center. Inside, quotes about the crucial importance of a free press are etched into the walls. This year, shortly before I left for D.C., the Chicago Tribune relocated to a different building; the company no longer owns the Tower. Many employees grieved the move; we were forced to leave behind history, memories. For me, that was an important lesson in letting go. And looking ahead.
Visiting Chicago? Find Nneka’s recommendations mapped out here.