Jersey vs. Chicago: My impressions (Pt. 2)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

This is the conclusion to my previous blog post, where I compared aspects of Chicago, where I currently live, with those of my home state, New Jersey. It’s just an interesting little personal analysis that I decided to do, after having spent many years in both places. Last time, I awarded one place (CHI or N.J.) a point if I found it superior in some area to the other. I ended yesterday’s post with five points in Chicago’s favor, and six in Jersey’s. Let’s see which of the two I really like best, overall. Bear in mind that what follows is just my opinion.

NOTE: See Part 1 HERE.


I shouldn’t have to reiterate my appreciation for books, and when it comes to places to buy them, Chicago has these types of stores in spades. Not only do more people generally seem to enjoy reading in the Windy City, but the ease of access to book stores means that this is probably not going to change anytime soon, even as America as a whole continues to experience a decline in readership and the death of print magazines and newspapers. In my neighborhood, Hyde Park, there are at least four book stores that I know of - all independent (not that there are many book store chains left in the U.S.). Meanwhile, it isn’t hard to get to a Barnes and Noble if you’re looking for a larger storefront - there’s a huge one right downtown.

As for Jersey? The absolute dearth of available book stores is reflective of a population that has an aversion to reading. It’s rather scary, actually. People in my home state tend to actually laugh or look at you strange when you ask if they read books, and men in particular see it either as something “feminine” or “boring.” It’s sad to see, and it goes hand in hand with the steady collapse of intellect I’ve been seeing in Jersey over the past 10 years or so. If you’re looking for some books, other than libraries you’ll have to travel to some larger towns, like Clifton or Wayne, or NYC itself, which, compared to Chicago, also has less book stores.

It looks like I’ll have to be a little bit hard on Jersey this time around. You see, I’ve noticed that people back home (apart from my friends, who are actually quite smart!) often struggle to maintain a conversation about anything other than very small-minded topics. Petty gossip and stupid humor seem to be the prevailing subjects when you talk with the average Jersey resident, at least in the areas I’ve been through - and I’ve been around a lot of the state.

Meanwhile, typical conversations in Chicago might range from science to world issues to pop culture. Once you know someone in this city, it’s relatively easy to discuss larger or more complex matters, but the downside is that in my experience, Chicagoans seem much colder and more standoffish - they’re not very approachable, whereas by contrast, Jerseyans are admittedly quite down to earth and eager to “shoot the shit.” So I suppose there’s always a trade-off. Still, in recent years, when talking to random folks in N.J., I’ve actually had to try to dumb down my sentences and not use as many “big words,” because people just don’t understand what I’m saying, so I guess I really have to award the point here to Chicago.

I usually don’t like jargonistic terms that end in “-phobia.” I prefer that people just say it straight, like “hey, this guy’s prejudiced,” or “that guy’s very disrespectful toward women,” rather than slap folks with all these buzzwords. Still, when it comes to a lot of Jersey residents, the term “xenophobia” is definitely applicable. Many people in my state don’t just come off as ignorant of matters outside their own towns, state, or country; the fear they seem to have of things they’re unfamiliar with is actually palpable. Do you not eat Italian food? Expect people to get their faces twisted and ask you if you’re crazy. And if you mention some other ethnic food you’re having, they might go so far as to insult the nationality of whoever made the food. I’ve heard a lot of crude and disrespectful comments made about Indian people and Middle Eastern people, along with their foods. It’s sad, and also obnoxious.

What’s even scarier is that some of these people back home actually seem to want to be ignorant. They’re proud of it. Are you traveling to another state or city? For example, Seattle or something? Expect to hear “Seattle?! What the fuck is in Seattle? Why would you go there?” People even bash each other’s towns, let alone other states. If you told someone you wanted to visit other countries, a lot of these people would probably have a fucking seizure. There’s just so much fear of anything outside their little cultural bubble, if you can even use the word “cultural.” Don’t get me wrong, I personally know a lot of intelligent people in my state who are not like this, but yes, xenophobia does seem to prevail.

Chicago has its own forms of this phobia, but to a lesser extent. I’ve seen people who have traveled here from Germany, Sweden, and France. I’ve struck up conversations with British folks coming here via Amtrak. People are generally excited to try different foods and meet people from different parts of the U.S., and the world. Despite the myriad problems this city has, which include violence and yes, Chicago’s own form of insular ignorance, on the whole it seems that intellectualism and cultured attitudes triumph over closed-mindedness.

Crime & safety

Look, I’m going to get shit for this from a lot of people, but I don’t care. I support responsible gun ownership. I don’t support the crazed Second Amendment lunatics who need to talk about guns 24/7, but I also don’t support the idea of banning concealed carry or gun ownership in the home. I support hunting and shooting ranges, and I also support background checks and firearm registration. Now, Chicago is obviously one of the shooting capitals of the country, but there is an immutable hatred around here for guns themselves, when things like jobs, gang violence, drugs, and mental illness are closer to the core of the problem than the actual weapons. The irony that the city that has one of the strictest, most limiting gun laws, also has some of the worst gun violence, is not lost on me, proving that something in the system itself is broken or dysfunctional.

And it goes way beyond just guns. You can’t even carry a taser, brass knuckles, or a pocket knife in Chicago! How the hell are people supposed to defend themselves? As far as I’m concerned that’s a civil liberties issue, but I’m not going to get too much into it here. Let me just say that, despite also having pretty tough gun laws, the culture in my home state is generally much more pro-gun, and hunting, especially, is common in the Northwestern part of the state. And with the exception of dangerous areas like Newark, Camden, Paterson, West Orange, etc., there isn’t nearly as much gun violence as in Chicago. Most people I know have actually never heard a single shooting in their entire lives. The worst thing that ever happens in a typical N.J. town is a robbery or car theft. Meanwhile, more people tend to own guns in the rural parts of Jersey, and in these parts, gun violence is completely unheard of. Jersey, in both law and cultural attitude, wins here as far as I’m concerned.

Night hours
I sometimes hesitate going out too late at night in Chicago. It’s fine if you’re taking public transit or Uber and getting from one place to another. And if you’re on the North Side or even Downtown, you don’t usually need to worry. But in some of the other neighborhoods, where shootings are common, you could take a big risk if you decide to go out for a stroll at 2 or 3 in the morning. Not that many people do it. Unlike Jersey, getting a bunch of people together and just hanging out in the park or on a street corner isn’t part of the culture here, unless of course you’re involved in something illegal, like drugs or gang activity.

Jersey has this culture that I’m really fond of, where you can just step outside late at night in your pajamas and head to the 24-hour diner for a late-night snack, or sit on the hill of a park with a friend or partner and just talk and enjoy the cool air on your face, beneath a dark sky. It’s just not as easy to do that in Chicago, and it’s just as hard to find people who want to do that with you. If people aren’t headed somewhere specific (clubs, bars, etc.), they seem to just want to get home, and I can’t say I blame them. I wish things in this city were quieter and safer, but then, it is a city. Still, I feel less anxious when I’m out at night in an NYC neighborhood, compared to one in Chicago.

Nature & weather

Hiking, nature
It’s a lot easier to get to places to go hiking in Chicago, and that might seem a bit ironic, since Jersey has more woods, parks, hills, and mountains. Even in the city-adjacent suburbs back home, like Garfield or Elmwood Park, you can still take a train ride to someplace in the sticks. But it’s a bit easier to do that in this city, for some reason. I can easily get out to a forest preserve to do some hiking in Illinois, even if the trip there can be rather time-consuming. Still, if I take an Uber instead of public transit, I can trim an hour out of the trip there. Overall, I just struggle a lot less when I want to go hiking in Chicago vs. when I feel that need in Jersey.

Biodiversity, scenery
Jersey comes out on top when you compare its wildlife variety and scenery with that of Chicago (or that of Illinois overall). This might be colored by my own preferences, though, since I prefer the beautiful mountain ranges of N.J. to the dull, flat landscape in the Midwest. There are times when I truly miss the rolling green hills back home, as well as the animals. There are no bears in Illinois, and I miss seeing birds of prey, like eagles and falcons, which I could easily see on a scenic bus ride from rural Jersey to upstate New York. 

And the fall colors? In Jersey they’re so much more vibrant than in Chicago. In this city, you’re lucky to see yellow and orange before the leaves drop off. In Jersey, expect to see those, but even brighter, along with blood-reds and purples. Suffice it to say that when you’re driving through towns like Upper Greenwood Lake, you feel like you’re living inside a postcard. Illinois definitely has its own natural scenery that I can appreciate, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to that of the Northeast.

So, as I’ve said previously, sometimes things are a trade-off, in terms of one area vs. another. In the case of Chicago, you get very, very cold winters, with lots of ice (including black ice) and brutal wind. In fact, there’s a particularly sharp, cold wind that people around here refer to as “the Hawk,” which makes it feel like your skin is being repeatedly sliced off and peeled away. Some icy hail will often hit you in the face too, to complete that lovely feeling. Now, Jersey gets much more snow, but it doesn’t get nearly as cold there, and wind in the winter, unless you’re having a big snowstorm, is not a big issue. So I’ll take snow over wind and ice, any day.

Beyond that, Jersey does admittedly get hurricanes, but with the exception of Sandy, there hasn’t really been a bad one since Floyd in ’95. Flooding can be an issue, but it’s never been something that has ever put my life in danger or caused any problem for me. Illinois occasionally gets tornadoes (even Chicago), but again, it’s only ever been an inconvenience to me at best, so CHI and N.J. are kind of tied on this matter. Still, because of the harsh and unforgiving Chicago winters, I have to hand the winning point to my home state.

Aaaaaand Jersey wins! But just by one point, surprisingly! I honestly wasn’t paying attention to the amount of points each place was getting as I was writing and comparing. It says something that, despite how I complained about Chicago in years past, there really are things about it that I rather like, just as with New Jersey. Overall? I will always prefer my state, because it’s where I was born and raised, and I feel a natural comfort and ease when I’m there. Plus, some of my best and closest friends are from there. Still, I can’t fully hate on Chicago, can I? I’ve learned, as I’ve grown older, to just appreciate the positive things about a place, and understand that everywhere you go, there’s good and bad. You just need to focus on the good.

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