Monday, July 28, 2008

The Chicago Black and White and Brown Sox

I departed Chicago on Sunday, just as Barack Obama was coming back home there. I was driving back to St. Louis to edit a newspaper, and Obama was coming home from ... well, you know what he was coming back from. He was coming back from restoring international confidence in the United States. He was coming back to win The White House.

I am sure he was relieved to get home and see his city, his family, his family on the cover of every People magazine on every endcap in every supermarket.

I was just as happy to be leaving. Not that I have any reason to have anything against Chicago.

Chicago has been very, very good to me, as the wise man once said about baseball. When I was a young man in a traveling band out of St. Louis, we made most of our money in Chicago. The people loved us there - or at least about 250 of the people loved us, one Staurday night a month; and, at a $15 cover, with the headliner getting a 40 percent split of the door, that wasn't bad.

The people loved us, I tell you. It got to the point where we had to make appointments and book in advance as to which of our local friends would cook us homemade food and hand-deliver it to the gig to forestall any more fateful, post-sound check rush runs through Pete's Broasted Chicken.

These local friends were always beautiful and smart young women. (Lori Malatesta! Grandma's handrolled ravioli!) We were young men, who were neither ugly nor stupid. Chicago was very, very good to us.

But I never took to the place. Just as we were discovering Chicago on the road, we were discovering New York City on the road. It was an unfair comparison, but there it was, in our faces. Chicago has always suffered by that comparison, in my eyes. In my view, if I am going to swallow urban congestion on a massive scale, I need an ocean or mountains. I need something better than a big lake.

That's what I usually think, whenever I visit Chicago. But that wasn't what I was thinking, this time around. This time, I was thinking, "This is Barack Obama's adopted hometown." This is where Barack Obama feels at home.

I was thinking, "This is not Crawford, Texas." This is not a burning, bogus, alienated ranch. This is a throbbing Midwestern city, home to every kind of human being you can imagine.

This is not Phoenix, Arizona, home of John McCain. This is not a burning, alienated desert, born yesterday into a sprawling retirement megalopolis.

This is a throbbing Midwestern city, home to every kind of human being you can imagine. A confluence city. Home to Barack Obama, whose identity partakes of a large number of the kinds of human beings you can imagine - black, white, Midwestern, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Mid-Atlantic, New England. A confluence candidate.

Welcome home, Barack Obama. But a guy like you, I guess you're always at least a little bit at home, wherever you go.

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