Arvind Narayanan (arvindn) wrote,
Arvind Narayanan

Observations from Chicago

A couple of weeks ago I was in Chicago as a tourist. It was my first time in the city. The usual caveats about my "observations" posts applies — I spent all of 48 hours there, and probably don't know what I'm talking about.

Somehow, during this trip I got into my city groove again. That involves, among other things, talking to strangers. A lot. Whenever I do this, incredibly weird things happen — like walking into a random bar in Ukrainian village and finding that the first person I talk to is someone I apparently went to middle school with back in India.

Anyway, without further ado:


Driving seems to be the easiest way to get around anywhere except downtown, and possibly even downtown. I think the opinions I heard about driving being a nightmare are greatly exaggerated. Parking is apparently expensive, but whatever.

The metro is quite decent as well. Overall I think the transportation options are great.

There were far fewer cyclists than I would have expected. I suspect this is because of the weather, especially the wind.

There is cellular coverage in the Subway! Why is it different from New York?


The city is quite segregated, way more than New York. It's amazing how the demographic on the Metro changes from all-black to almost-all-white within a couple of stops.

East Village has a lot of character. For example, there's a Mexican dude selling vegetables all day out of the back of a truck at the corner of Paulina and Chicago. Nice of the cops not to shut him down.

Hyde Park (where Obama lived), is a Black neighborhood that's not poor. I'm still trying to develop an intuition for such neighborhoods. For example, it's impressive that they stay segregated despite the apparent absence of economic stratification. Impressively bad, that is.

I failed to get the supposed snooty vibe from Lincoln Park. Maybe I didn't spend enough time there, or maybe I'm snooty myself.

Colleges and universities

There was a surprisingly large number of colleges/universities in the areas I visited. In some places, one in every block, or so it seemed. And there was a student center (housing + recreational facilities) that is shared by four universities. 

The University of Chicago is... unique, both the architecture and the atmosphere. My first thought was that it looked exactly like Hogwarts. Definitely worth a visit.

I hung out at DePaul for a while, and the vibe was interesting. The kids seemed excited to be there, just in the course of a normal day. Later I looked it up and found that it has often ranked #1 in student satisfaction.


I talked to a Chicago native and was blown away by how thick the accent is. I had no idea. I guess we hear very diluted Midwestern accents in the rest of the country.

I took a chance on the Lincoln Park zoo, even though it was on the standard list of tourist activities. It was actually quite nice.

There was a secret service vehicle stationed outside Obama's house — where he still spends his holidays — but otherwise everything is normal. There is an elementary school directly across the street from his house, and children were playing on the street. When those kids grow up, they will probably have amazing memories of playing right outside the gate of the President's house as five-year olds.
Tags: chicago, travel
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