Originally from the Bronx, I spent most of my formative years on Long Island, dreaming of the city through the works of Selby, Warhol, Reed, Wolfe, and, of course, Joey Ramone. After college I dove in. The mid 80s. Bright lights, big city, all of that. And while I loved the streets, the offerings, the smell of it all, truth be told I never really fit, but not for lack of trying. As downtown as I wanted to be, my heart was really Central Park West. On the park. Near the Dinosaurs. And the best hot and salty pretzel carts on earth. Or so I wanted to believe. And so I worked for that Central Park dream.

Through my 20s and 30s, striving and living in shoe boxes and holding court at French Roast or McSorley's once a month (Ok, McSorley's was way more than once a month) while figuring out how to get up the $2000 plus rent for 700 square feet was all fine and good. One day, and soon, I was going to make it, and Central Park West would swoop down and gather me. Into my 40s, striving and scraping and squeezing through 700 square feet of living space, snockered by the noise, bedraggled by the crowds, filthy with the grime of bus exhaust, well... at the age of 46 I finally realized that New York was a woman I was in love with, but whom wasn't loving me back the way I needed to be loved (I'm sure that isn't original, in fact I know it isn't, some other transplant laid it on me when I asked her why she left, but I'll use it anyway. It's perfect).

I had hit the ceiling. And my head hurt. Chances were looking quite good that I was never going to live the New York life I had imagined for myself.

What to do?

Well, I did nothing.

Fate did all the work in the form of a lay off and a job offer in Chicago. I went with boxes and a bag and I went through withdrawals, depression, anger, fear, spite, and psychosomatic bouts of various sickness. But what I did, right off the bat, was find the closest thing, in my mind, to my Central Park dream. A grand old apartment building with good size space, right on a park -- with stunning views of the lake to max it all out -- smack dab in front of the zoo. Howling monkey's woke me.

Howling wolves put me to sleep.

Heaven -- for a hell of a lot less than I was spending on a much smaller apartment with no light on a street I had no interest in hanging out on. Slowly, I have come to embrace Chicago. It is NOT New York. To compare it would be unfair to either city. Chicago is its own beast, a city with a bit of a chip on its shoulder in truth, that second city moniker really having set into the psyche of many of its residents, if not its very soil and mortar. But it shouldn't ever feel inferior. It's so rich.

And so livable (despite the tragic violence of the south and west side). I can breathe in Chicago. I can partake in all of the things I was doing in New York -- art and foodie stuff and music and sports and literature and film and the ZOO. Right across the street. Nothing like sipping a latte, reading the Trib and the
NY Times (old habits die hard) while watching the seals take their morning constitutional. New York is sometimes a fantasy, and to live that fantasy some of us tend to become a little delusional to rationalize our often lacking situations. That's from me. I know people my age, still struggling, who would never leave NYC. For any reason.

Being true to myself, I know I am not one of them. I am also not the artistic elite, master of Wall Street, anyone near the upper echelons of any professional endeavor (am I now sounding pathetic, I wonder?) who can simply live exactly how they want anywhere where they want for as long as they want. I'm just a working guy who likes city life.

Emphasis on LIFE. I can LIVE in Chicago. New York is the world.

Chicago though is the more American city. It wants to be more. A Paris in the Midwest, and it tries, and, in a charming way, at least to me, it always fails. Chicago is at its best when it embraces its Chicago-ness. It's tough. Gritty. But there is that lake. And a small town moment around any given urban corner.

New York gets the attention, and it deserves it. But Chicago is a jewel and a star in its own right. I love it here.

(Many thanks to the reader who sent that along. Send the story of your life in cities to conor.friedersdorf@gmail.com)