Tourist season is upon us in Chicago as well, which is my cue to hide in my house until early October. Not really, I mean, I love the summer festival season, with the exception of Taste of Chicago which turns the entire lakefront into a beshitted refugee camp full of vomiting frat creatures and their skanks. I just wish summer festival season could be accompanied by less than a full serving of the most congealed form of human stupid on the planet.
I’m sympathetic to the bewildered tourist, I mean, I’ve been unfamiliar places myself. The rules are not always apparent, and it’s unfair for those of us who spend every day negotiating the indignities of city life to complain when people who choose another milieu don’t immediately pick it all up. But I do wish that there was some kind of crash course, perhaps a Practice City, in which people could be enrolled before showing up here from the exurbs for the first time, all twitterpated and frightened.
For instance, in the Practice City there could be a parking garage, and people who’ve never parked in one before could be taught the proper way to maneuver their minivan or SUV into a space that is NOT labeled “compact” and is also not on the first six floors so don’t even bother looking, without creating a giant backup line of people who need to be someplace and don’t have time for the learning curve.
There could also be Practice Sidewalks and Practice Escalators, to demonstrate that one does not walk five abreast holding hands at a snail’s pace and then stop at the bottom of the MOVING STAIRCASE. I don’t like bumping into people but when the escalator disgorges me directly into your backside while you’re consulting your map of IKEA, it might be useful to realize it’s not my fault.
Oh, and Practice Food Line, in which tutors emphasize the importance of reading a menu far, far, far away so that by the time you get to the front you’ve already conversed with the family about what little Timmy and Becky both want and can rattle off the order without making a scene. The efficient functioning of a crowded food joint is dependent on you being able to respond to your environment decisively, and if you don’t do that naturally it may take some work to get you there.
Don’t Stare at the Blue-Haired Kids, He’s A Doorman Not A Car Jacker, and Yes It Costs More For A Sandwich Here could be take-home reading.
And there should also be a Small Talk Phrasebook, so that out of towners don’t make the mistake of saying things like, “Gosh, the traffic is just terrible!” and “How do you live here?!!!” and “Isn’t this a (furtive look around)bad part of town?” and “Everything’s so expensive!” much in the same way city dwellers shouldn’t moan about the presence of wildlife in the country or lack of a Starbucks or a stoplight on every corner of a small town.
(In fact, I think everybody could use a Don’t Insult Somebody Else’s Home refresher course since many acquaintances seem to have no problem telling me how nuts they think I am to live in this close proximity to 8 million other people. “The traffic is terrible,” is my favorite one. Yeah, it is. You know WHY it is? Because lots of people drive in for the summer festivals. Including YOU. I’m supposed to do what about this exactly?)
The best visitors always understand that the occasional inconvenience is part of the deal. You want to experience the city, you’re going to have to experience the city. Traffic, crowds, waiting in lines, paying $5 for a cup of coffee, that’s the city, too. It’s what you get that makes up for it:
Eat the dodgy street food. Dance to the music. Have another overpriced beer at the ballgame. Go back home happy and stuffed and broke as nature intended. That’s what I want for you, because it’s what I used to have before I moved here, and it’s part of what convinced me this was one of the most wonderful places on earth to be. But if we could just have a Practice City session or two to get everybody over the culture shock, I think it might make things easier on everybody.