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Chicago or the suburbs? Depends on your attitude

Kayakers Chicago River.  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times files

Kayakers on the Chicago River. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times files

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Updated: September 20, 2012 6:13AM

A letter writer on our editorial page last week started out by admitting she could never survive in the city, and she gave 10 reasons why.

I was OK with her not being a city type. I could never make it in the suburbs, having learned that the day I was visiting a friend in her very neat tree-lined suburb. Lovely place. But as we pulled out of the driveway, she sighed, looked at a neighbor’s pumpkin that was out front and said, “Don’t they know Halloween is over?”

It was Nov. 2.

In that moment I realized that if I moved to the suburbs, I’d be the one getting the tsk-ing. (My pumpkins stay out till Thanksgiving. Or until I remember to toss them.) I needed to stay in the city, where things are more relaxed, forgiving.

So I’m OK with there being different types. But when that reader started maligning Chicago, blaming it for public cellphone users and clueless smokers, as if that sort of rudeness were restricted to within the city limits. I decided I had to speak up.

See, how you see things in the city is all in your attitude.

The letter writer didn’t like that there were a lot of kayakers in the Chicago River. One of the most beautiful dinners I ever had here was at Fulton’s on the River. As we sat on the outside deck, groups of kayakers were moving up and down the river in the moonlight, with the skyscrapers to the south twinkling in the background. The same Chicago River that, just a few short years earlier, no one went near except on St. Patrick’s Day. Now, here I was, having a lovely dinner along it as people were enjoying being in it.

She saw a “rush hour.” I saw progress.

Our public transportation got a thumbs-down too. Jampacked, as she described it. I get on buses and L trains, and notice that the crowd is younger and often professional. I see that they’re not tethered to the automobile, the way too many suburbanites (my friend’s tree-lined suburb? I never see anyone walking there) and, frankly, the people of my generation, are. With gas prices again in the $4 range, isn’t weaning ourselves off automobiles progress?

I figure that younger generation also is learning to navigate the city, and so if and when they decide to have children, they won’t feel the need to hightail it to the suburbs. I bet Mayor Rahm Emanuel would agree with me that that’s progress.

The rude bicyclists soured her, too. Yeah, the hot dogs on wheels can be a pain. But again, I see these bikes and remember when there were none. Now, when I ride in along Wells Street, there’s a whole stream of bikers of all ages, which is good for their health and our environment. Progress.

No doubt about it, the city can be loud and crowded, and people can be pushy. But with the right attitude, you’re going to have some amazing experiences in Chicago. I wouldn’t trade my life and adventures in this vibrant city for anything.

Once on vacation in a small Wisconsin town, as my son and I walked along a quiet stretch, he pointed out the passing cars, all with their windows rolled up. He turned to me and said wistfully, “See. In Chicago, people share their music.”

All in the attitude, folks.

Follow me on Twitter: @sueontiveros

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