April 04, 2006

The funny square hat protects you from the sun.

During my last semester in architecture and a few early months of anthropology, I maintained a cherished fantasy that I was going to drop out of school, sell all of my possessions, and buy a one-way bus ticket to Chicago. I don't know why I picked Chicago. It's the home of Alkaline Trio, but I'm pretty sure I don't actually know anyone there. Possibly that was the point. Whatever the reason, on my 1 a.m. walks home from studio in the cold and the dark I told myself that I could leave any time I liked. I looked up Greyhound fares. I contemplated what I'd put in the single duffel bag I'd take with me, and whether my first stop in town would be to find some job listings or a place to stay. As yet, I haven't done it.

Lately I'm finding myself in what I now think of as a Chicago mood. It's that mood in which, in order to have any motivation for anything, I need to evaluate it against an immediately available alternative of not doing it. Moving to a city I've never even visited, with no plans for personal subsistence, is a terrifying prospect and tends to come out less desirable than whatever else I'm considering. Write an application essay for a summer field school, or move to Chicago? Let me just get started on that essay. Struggle through a backlog of heavy reading for my LGBT Studies class, or move to Chicago? You know, I can't read on buses because I get motion sick. I'd better read while I can. God forbid, prepare a final project in the form of a twenty-minute in-class presentation for Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology, or move to Chicago? It's a shorter walk to the Anthropology library than to the Greyhound station, so that must mean it's easier for me to do the project.

It's striking me now that there are at least two major downsides to this strategy. One is that, if you can weigh schoolwork versus moving to Chicago, you can also weigh it versus reading webcomics or listening to music. The other is that, if I ever did move to Chicago, I'd find a whole lot more of what's making me depressed here. If my brain chemistry can't handle a California winter of patchy clouds, intermittent rain and 50-degree temperatures, a real winter would land me in a psychiatric ward within a few weeks. When I look at it in the cold light of reason, my cherished Plan B isn't really a very good one. While that does guarantee that I'll always pick schoolwork and California over the terror of the unknown and snowy, it makes the whole mental exercise a little less effective.

So if I know that I'm not going to pack up and move to Chicago, what else can I consider and reject? It needs to be something exciting, appealing to my impulsivity, but unappetizingly insecure. It also needs to be realistically achievable -- a bus ticket someplace is a perfect example, since it's something I can afford and know how to get. Rides on space shuttles, for instance, do not fit that condition, to say nothing of the heights, confined spaces, open spaces, and strange g-forces involved. Similarly, plane rides to Mauritius are not a top option.

Still, if we don't get some damned sun around here sometime soon, with attendant elevation of my mood and motivation, I may be pricing flights to Mauritius anyway. It's less emotionally taxing than schoolwork, and warmer than Chicago. Quick, someone call the MTPA -- this slogan is going to take the tourist world by storm.

Posted by dianna at April 4, 2006 10:28 PM

Hey! I get the same throwing-everything-away-and-moving-to-some-city fantasies when I'm faced with an oppressive level of work. Chicago is even my city of choice when I'm in such moods. For some reason I envision myself as a fry cook in these dreams. This makes no sense, as I'm not particularly a fan of cooking greasy food non-stop 8 hours a day, though it has the advantage of requiring no homework assignments or long-run duties beyond "fry up some eggs and pancakes."

You could move to Austin. Winter won't be much of a problem there and rumor is that it's a fun place to live.

Any thoughts on how Chicago in particular wormed its way into your sub-conscious to begin with?

Posted by: Zach S. at April 5, 2006 06:01 AM

I do have some thoughts on why Chicago. I've never been there, so I'm blissfully oblivious to all ways in which it might deviate from my fantasy blueprint -- and since I haven't seen many movies or TV shows that feature it, I don't even think I know what it looks like. I can make it look like anything.

At the same time, it's a major metropolitan area, and therefore theoretically a less jarring place to find myself than, say, the Kalahari Desert. But it's alien enough that I don't know anybody there, which means moving there would be unhaunted by the prospect of people I know criticizing my move. That's the whole reason for the move, I think -- you can do rash things and stay where you are, but it doesn't sound so appealing when you can predict a bunch of conversations in which people whose opinions you generally value suggest that you reconsider. In Chicago, you are not available for censure.

There must be something more to it than that, though, because I can name a half-dozen other cities that fit these criteria and still none of them sound as good as Chicago. And some of them, like Austin, are in better climates. Even if I chose the climate to reflect (or justify) my moods, why not Minneapolis? Boston? I hear Connecticut in general kind of sucks this time of year. So my reasons are pretty inconclusive. How about yours? I'm interested in both Chicago justifications and additional fry-cook details here.

Posted by: Dianna at April 5, 2006 05:37 PM

Hum, Chicago. I think the seed was planted years ago when I was infatuated with a manga/anime series called Gunsmith Cats. It was set in Chicago as envisioned by a Japanese man who'd never been to the United States. For whatever reason, his inexpert opinion caused me to think it'd be a fun place to live. It's just sort of grown on me since then; it's urban, has a good mass transit system, and it has a notably low cost of living compared to other large metropolitan areas, particularly with respect to the housing market. It's actually on my short list of places I'd like to move after law school.

I also don't know anyone there, which is important because an integral part of my fantasy is changing my name and disappearing completely. It's hard to vanish when people are periodically stopping by to order fried foods from you.

As for fry-cookery, I have no idea. I think as a kid I watched a short-order chef once and thought it'd be really neat to just cook up things quickly on-the-spot like that. That and fry cooking is a responsibility-free job. You screw up a fried egg, you throw it out and crack another. When you get off the job it doesn't occupy any of your mental real estate. Years of student life, coupled with impending decades of trials and deals to stress over, make that prospect very enticing.

Of course, I realize that this is just a romanticized vision of the fry-cook. I doubt, even if I could do the job, that I'd last a week at it, between the long hours and repetitive physical work. Still, there's always the option of defrauding the government out of my student loans, catching a bus, and hiding out in Chicago under the name of Phillip T. Gumbies.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 5, 2006 10:00 PM