Chi-town v NoCal

Last weekend I took a trip to Chicago where I rubbed elbows with quite a diverse group of fellows. On the one hand was my brother’s community, people on the verge of graduating from medical school or moving through the ranks of their respective majors. On the other hand was Jeff’s high school friends, a collection of ordinary guys who stuck pretty close to home. But talking to them revealed quite a lot of common threads in Chicago culture, something that I think is very interesting when contrasted with the culture of the Bay Area.

First off, let me say that the culture of Chicago is brilliant but crazy. It’s a place where people try everything and has built itself up on sheer imagination. And as the tour guide on the architecture tour said, Chicago’s attitude towards problems is that you find whatever obstacles are in your way and go right through them. As you might imagine, such an attitude leads to all kinds of examples of blowing it. The Board of Trade has a giant statue of Ceres (the Greek goddess of the grain), but the architect decided not to finish the face because nobody could ever build something taller than the BoT and notice that the statue was missing a face. Of course, today the Board of Trade is surrounded by buildings taller than it, so everyone can see the statue now. But don’t laugh too hard because Chicago has produced more Nobel Laureates than any other city in the world. Their architecture is absolutely incredible as well, and true to form, Chicago architects have had a hand in every building taller than the Sears Tower. Chicago’s sons are a proud lot who will take on any challenge.

Here are my pros and cons of the people living in Chicago:

+bright attitudes. As they say, you’ll never meet people more thrilled with life than Chicagoans.

+nice. Friendship and love is unconditional and people don’t segregate by level of success

+mature. Almost everybody in Chicago either had a very clear picture of their future and what they wanted from it, or they had accepted their poverty and were working. Here’s an interesting point: there was a clear correlation among the people I met in Chicago between the clarity of goals and success. Those who had the most tangible and focused answer to the question “what do you want to do?” were far and away more successful academically and financially. Um, ignore my last Xanga post about Free Trash Day where adults were rooting through each other’s piles of garbage.

+smack. The people of Chicago really love their city. Unlike Los Angeles, which is so abused that I’m really like a whipped dog when someone cracks my home town, Chicagoans will fight you if you try to say anything bad about their city. They will also fight you if you have anything good to say about Indiana or Wisconsin.

+food. My God, people in Chicago eat better and more voraciously than anybody I’ve ever seen. Which leads to:

-fat. I did not meet or see a single person over the age of 30 who I would even hesitate to label “fat”. Exercise didn’t seem to be a big priority. People saw me running and looked around for the donut that I had to be chasing.

-transportation. I complain a lot about BART and the bus in the Bay Area, but Chicago’s mass transit is a flaming abortion covered in fecal matter by comparison. Seriously, their ticket machines are so poorly designed that I honestly think they do have feces in them. And you avoid the mass transit only to be raped by angry foreigners driving the cabs or driving yourself and paying the highest gas prices in the country.

-manual labor. Cover your eyes if you’re afraid of racism, but look, eastern Europeans are a more angry and less hard-working breed of people than Mexicans. Say what you will about Mexicans stealing all the jobs, they keep their jobs because they shut up and work hard at crappy jobs. Eastern Europeans who do crappy work will give you the stink-eye and they’ll delight in screaming NO in your face to whatever request you have.

+-mean. They don’t have as many bums in Chicago as California, but the bums there have a healthy does of respect for the natives. One bum actually flinched a little when a bond trader walked by him. The old lady who served us at White Castle was one of the meaner people I’ve ever met in my life. Good times, good times.

Compare that to San Francisco:

+high standards. I’ve met a lot of extremely accomplished and well educated people in the Bay Area. The standard for educating yourself and what you should know is definitely much higher than in Chicago.

+diversity. On top of being accomplished, people in the Bay Area come from all walks of life and try all sorts of different things. For their brilliance and craziness, the people of Chicago all seemed cut out of the same cloth, which led to a lot of people being sort of left out in terms of interests. No matter what insanity you enjoy, you will find a community of people who share your interest in the Bay Area. While Berkeley doesn’t have as many Nobel Prize winners as the University of Chicago, the sons of California have won Nobel Prizes nearly evenly in every category. 80% of Chicago’s Nobel Prizes are in economics and physics.

+genuine. The thing about being very nice and polite is that a lot of it is insincere. One good thing about the Bay Area is that if people don’t like you, they’ll let you know pretty quick.

+motivation. When they put their mind to something, Bay Area people can achieve some pretty impressive things too. The Campanile at Berkeley and the Golden Gate Bridge are good examples. Of course, that can be a problem if it starts with:

-drifters. Unlike Chicago where people are very clear about their goals, there are a lot of people in the Bay Area who are sort of drifting about and expecting some giant beam of light from the sky to tell them what to do with themselves. The idea of “taking a break” and “thinking about what I want to do” are acceptable and even lauded in the Bay Area, but everywhere else those are answers that get others to laugh in your face, especially if it is in lieu of getting a job.

-immaturity. A lot of people in the Bay Area are spoiled from the nice weather, so they invent problems to have. The only people on my facebook who complain about being tired are from the Bay Area. I know bond traders, investment bankers, med school students, budding lawyers, and other people who work 80 hour weeks, yet it is the Berkeley undergrad with 13 units who complains about losing sleep. I don’t know what disgusts me more – that it takes an all-nighter to finish 10 hours of work assigned three weeks ago or the fact that Berkeley undergrads choose to sleep at 3 AM then wonder why they’re tired at 830 AM. I’m convinced the drifting is also a product of being immature, wanting to stay a little kid.

-dogmatic. Like it or not, the Bay Area isn’t quite the mecca of free thought that it likes to think of itself. In fact, most of the “free thinking” that I see going on is stuff that nobody else thinks about because it’s too stupid. The Bay Area isn’t drifting to gay marriage and banning cars because of the miracle of free discussion, it’s because people have decided that’s what they want and now they’re just trying to ram those round pieces into whatever square hole anybody else thinks. The proportion of people in the Bay Area who are just waiting to talk rather than listening and processing information is infinite.

+-tolerance. One thing that is true about the Bay Area is that it is extremely tolerant. You can basically do whatever you want and nobody will say anything to you. It’s always funny to me when Bay Area natives complain that you can’t just stand on a crowded New York City street corner and cross when the light turns like you can in San Francisco, unless you want to hear the sound of furious honking and enjoy being called every variant of the F word. It’s good because you can always find acceptance somewhere, but it’s bad if you’re trying to get somewhere or accomplish something.