city maps and love notes

Dang but a lot of things just keep happening! I am still in full-fledged recovery mode from the Pitchfork festival, highlights of which included not dying in the mosh pit for No Age and singing/yelling “Patty Lee” into the mic/Tim Harrington’s face. (Here is a picture of Tim Harrington’s face, and also a dude who paid him $2 for a haircut.) That bit with the sing/yelling of my favorite song of 2007 was also one of the highlights of my concert-going existence. Holy butts.

I have an entirely different post planned about why Les Savy Fav are such a monumental live act, but first, some paragraphs are in order. I wrote them into a little notebook while waiting for a bus last weekend, because I realized that July 3 was the anniversary of my move to Chicago. In the first hours and days that I spent alone here, as a visitor and then as a resident who felt like she was permanently on vacation, I noticed how much longer a block seems when you don’t know what is on it. The seven blocks from Nick’s former apartment to the blue line seemed like an epic journey of several miles for the first few days. By winter, despite the winds and the struggle of my shoes against the slush, the distance had shrunk to a standard twenty minutes down the same path or a close variation on it. I’d charted the path in my memory and mapped it to an accurate scale.

Having been here for one year, it still seems like I do something new surprisingly often, wheter it’s visiting a new restaurant or walking around a slightly familiar street at a different time of night or going to the Taste of Chicago. (That last one I don’t really advise, unless you really savor watching very large and very slowly-moving crowds stuffing their faces.) I’ve been on top of buildings and below streets, and stuck, once, on a brown line train with signal problems on the curvy cusp between stations. I’ve learned the way the street grid bends to make way for the river and how it wraps itself along the lake. One block is an eighth of a mile, a fact I latched onto in my first days here and still use, methodically, to count my distance from home at any given point.

Once when I was in high school, my boyfriend and I wanted to go to Central Oriental for unpronounceable Asian soft drinks and cheap tea, so we had a friend and neighbor of his who knew the route draw up a map for us. The route from his neighborhood to the store was straightforward enough; it was what Google Maps would display automatically, or what you’d quickly deduce from an atlas. In the surrounding space, though, he’d drawn things like space dragons and a lunar trampoline: the idea being, I guess, that when we hit the lunar trampoline and were catapulted into space in a ’96 Buick Century, we would know we’d gone past the turn for the Asian grocery store. The thing I notice now, though, is that a city – a smaller one like Charlotte or a denser and long-established one like Chicago – has more ever-changing sidewalks than one person can ever walk down, more space than a lifetime can fix into memory. If there was a lunar trampoline we wouldn’t have known; it was off our path.

On the map of Chicago I’ve drawn up in my mind, there are lots of blank spaces where a lunar trampoline might go. There are the blocks that I’ve lived in and frequented: those are the colorful, well-annotated bits. Then there are the parts that are purely theoretical. Ever the informed native, nickd will sometimes quiz me: Where’s Naragansett? Never having been there, I answer: 6800 West. It’s far out of my way, but I have the grid to guide me, with the things I remember shining brightly and the sketchy dotted lines and lunar trampolines in the distant corners: the imagined bits of a map that I’m pleased to say I’ll never complete.


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