Monday, August 29, 2011

Missing Chicago ... and loving Charlotte

Hard to believe, but it's been a year since I became a North Carolinian. Mostly, it's been a positive experience, though I've missed plenty about my former home.

Which brings me to today's topic ...


(*I'm not going to include the obvious: family and friends. Of course we miss our kids and the great friends we made during our 16 years in Chicago. That's No. 1 and 1A on any list!)

5. The skyline and the lake.

We lived just a few minutes from Lake Michigan and I miss those walks we'd regularly take -- although I don't miss trying to dodge bicyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers and runners on weekends!

As for the skyline, we loved it so much that in 2004 we spent way too much money on a poorly built condo just because it had an incredible view. Thankfully, we got out just before the housing market crashed and spent our last few Chicago years in a 17th-floor Lakeview apartment that had a pretty decent skyline view of its own.

I don't know why, but I never got sick of looking at that skyline. It truly was awesome -- not the way the word is used today to describe everything; it really did inspire awe.

4. Milwaukee.

Yes, being able to get to Chicago's largest suburb in 90 minutes was a big deal for me. My little brother lives there. My alma mater is there, and I liked to catch a few Golden Warrior Eagles games a year. The best frozen custard on the planet is there ... I'm talkin' Leon's; don't settle for the chains!

Every time I go to Milwaukee, I have a good time. As a bonus, I get to experience great memories of all those brain cells I killed as a college kid.

3. Pizza.

I hate to sound like a pizza snob, so I cringe a little whenever a Charlottean asks what my favorite pizza joint in town is. But I can't help myself and invariably say something like: "Well, an average Chicago pizza place would be the best pizza place here."

What a pizza snob!

When we visited the kids last month, we went to our favorite -- Pequod's -- and I savored every morsel. I think I could get rich by opening a Pequod's South here, but maybe not. Maybe they are conditioned to mediocre (and worse) pizza in these parts.

While I'm on the subject of food, I miss those great South Side BBQ joints, the wide variety of ethnic food, hot dogs and other encased meats, and the hamburger place that was right down the street, Flub A Dub Chubs. (Maybe I just miss saying the name.)

2. Baseball.

Though neither Cubs nor Sox fan, I miss having a home game in my town every day from April 1 to Oct. 1. I miss the annual rite of passage: Cubbie Hope turning into Cubbie Angst and then into Cubbie Resignation. I miss the inferior complex on the South Side.

Oh, and I might as well say it: I miss the cash I used to make covering baseball for AP.

1. The city experience.

When we moved from Minneapolis to Chicago in 1994, we surprised ourselves by choosing to live in the city. I mean, we had even lived in the burbs in Madison! Chicago seemed to be such an intimidating place, dangerous even.

It wasn't always a perfect experience. I hated driving there so much that we went down to one car and often went a week without using it. We had two grills and three bikes stolen, reminding us that although we lived in a nice neighborhood, it still was a big city with big-city problems. Chicago politics was rife with corruption and bullspit. Winter sucked, with its howling winds and ugly mud-snow mix.

And yet, I wouldn't trade those 16 years for anything.

Our kids went to public schools and learned firsthand the ideals of tolerance and inclusion. Chicago was a living, breathing anthropology class.

We could walk to most things we needed, and we happily used trains and buses to get to almost everything else.

Then there was just the feel. Going for a walk (especially on a weekend) in Lakeview or Lincoln Park or downtown, one can't help but be impressed by the vibrancy of Chicago.

There were many days I'd take one of those walks with no destination in mind, just to experience that vibrancy, and I'd think: Wow, what a great town this is!

And now, let's give equal time to my new town ...


(*Again, this is in addition to the many friends we've made!)

5. Convenience.

It's nice to have a 2-minute drive to the grocery store. It's nice to live where the rush hour is normal. It's nice to have several parks and other natural areas near us. It's nice to not have to drive 45 minutes (or more) to enjoy a decent golf course.

Parking downtown is so plentiful and inexpensive, it seems quaint compared to the parking nightmare we left behind. And parking at the airport is $4 per night. That's right: 4 bucks!

4. My jobs.

It took a little while to find my groove in a new town, but both my coaching gig at Country Day and my golf job at Ballantyne Country Club have been all I could ask for.

Spring and Fall.

The way the trees get full and green by early March is spectacular. Fall weather here is perfect and golfing is great well past Thanksgiving.

Oh, and winter ain't half-bad, either.

Yes, summer is hot and humid, but I can't think of one thing I haven't done just because of the heat and the humidity. And it's not as if Chicago doesn't have heat and humidity, too.

If I believed in jinxes, I'd be worried about jinxing it. But I don't, so I'll say it: The weather in my first year in Charlotte actually exceeded my expectations.

2. Simcha.

As long as we lived in an apartment in Chicago, we going to be dogless. We planned to get a pooch when we got settled in our next house, wherever that might be. It didn't have to be in Charlotte, I suppose; we could have ended up in Chapel Hill or Phoenix or Sarasota. Still, Simmie is such a wonderful addition to our family, it almost seems we were destined to rescue her from the Charlotte shelter.

Lucky her ... and lucky us!

1. Our home.

Financially, it's hard to argue that buying a house was the right move. The market is still stumbling here and we probably could have saved thousands by waiting.

Owning a home shouldn't be about the investment, though. That's one of the things that got our country in a mess. A house is not an ATM or an annuity. It is a place to live, a place to go home to at the end of a long day, a place to be with your loved ones.

In addition to having everything we need on the inside, our house has a screenroom that overlooks our heavily wooded backyard. The deer walk past almost daily. We have tree buffers between the houses on both sides, adding to the peaceful feel. (That being said, we have great next-door neighbors!) Our street is quiet and well-located near a park.

Sure, having to mow the lawn and fix things and deal with the unpleasant surprises that crop up is a pain. Nevertheless, I'm glad my beautiful wife talked me into being a homeowner again, because the pluses far outweigh the minuses.

When we're ready to sell in 5 or 10 or 20 years, who knows if we'll even make money? We might lose money, but we were going to have to pay rent all that time anyway.

In the meantime, we have put down roots for the first time in years. Life is good.


  1. good to hear the funny man is happy...

  2. Great blog, Mike. So glad everything is working out for you and that indeed, LIFE IS GOOD!!!

    So.... which team ARE you a fan of? You've got to be happy for the Brewers.

  3. Really, a year? Where does the time go?

    You're not missing much in the sports scene in Chicago. Attention turns to the Bears and the Blackhawks. I don't think anyone is missing the Bulls yet. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Soon it will be only hockey, then back to spring training. Another sports cycle complete and life goes on.

    Glad you are happy and settled. It's a great feeling.

  4. Hey great to hear you've certainly landed on your feet in NC. One of my favorite places in the states. Next time you come in to visit and play golf with Phil, let me in on it...hope your game is good. Best of luck
    Jeff Mo

  5. Thanks for the nice words, everybody.

    Jeff ... not sure when I'll be back in town, but if I'm teeing it up with Phil, I'll try to remember to have him ask you. (I say "try" because my memory isn't what it used to, um, what was I saying?)

    J David ... I root for only one team: Marquette basketball.

    When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, I was a big fan of New York teams (Knicks, Yankees, Rangers) as well as the Dolphins (because they were winners, and kids are easily influenced). But I moved to the Midwest and became a sportswriter for an organization (AP) that preached objectivity. As the years went on, I stopped caring at all if any pro team -- including the Yankees and Knicks -- won or lost.

    When my kids were young athletes, I was fortunate to be able to root for their teams. After Katie played her last competitive game, it was a real empty feeling. Thankfully, Marquette is still fun to follow; we even have a group of ex-Warriors here in Charlotte and we get together at a local bar to watch games.

    I really don't miss being a fan. I am still interested in sports. I thoroughly enjoy great performances by great athletes and great contests between competing teams. I admire certain athletes for their skills, personalities or both. And sometimes in the course of events, I pick out a team to root for -- sometimes the underdog, sometimes not.

    I also have had jocks whom I liked or disliked personally based on my contact with them over the years, and I do kind of root for them to do well (or to flame out). Doc Rivers and Jim Thome are examples of the former; Christian Laettner and Lovie Smith are examples of the latter.

    So there you have it. No Cubs, no Sox, no Brewers, no Yankees. Just give me a well-played game, one with great individual performances and one that goes down to the final at-bat, and I'm happy!