October 09, 2006

North to Chicago

I'm not physically capable of driving anywhere near Chicago without driving into it. I just can't bring myself to depress the accelerator and keep going past, even if the city is 500 miles to the north. Those of you on the coasts who have never been there have no idea. Unless you live in New York, Chicago is better than your city. Sorry, that's just how it is.

So I was in Louisville, Kentucky. Right across the river from downtown is Indiana -- not an exciting state, but some of Chicago's suburbs (the grim ones that Chicago doesn't want anyway) spill over into it. By my way of thinking I was already right next to Chicago! So I crossed the river, formally left the South, and entered what is technically and geographically the Midwest.

Welcome to Indiana.jpg

Indiana may be physically in the North, but it is kind of, culturally, a Southern state. Internal migration patterns long ago brought Southerners north into the plains. So you'll hear lots of Southern accents in South Indiana, even though the state is ostensibly Northern and Midwestern. This partly explains, perhaps, why Indiana is a conservative "red state" while other Midwestern states on the Great Lakes are more liberal, "blue," and Democratic.

I found evidence of Indiana's unofficial Southernness even at a rest stop on the Interstate. Three flags flew from the pole: the American flag, the state flag, and the Vietnam "Prisoners of War" banner that I otherwise saw only in Southern states (and also in Missouri which, like Indiana, is sort of Northern and also sort of Southern.)

Three Flags Indiana.jpg

There isn't much to see from the Interstate. Just pavement, trees, and traffic, the same as on just about every other Interstate freeway in the eastern part of the country.

Indiana Interstate 1.jpg

Because Indiana is the Midwest, though, (sort of) there also were wheat and corn fields.

Indiana Interstate 2.jpg

The freeway took me through Indianapolis. I've heard the city is nicer than it used to be. Lots of American cities are nicer than they used to be now. So I was slightly curious about what kind of urban renewal has taken place.


But I didn't stop. Indianapolis can't compete with Chicago for my time and attention. Sorry Indiana! It's nothing personal.

Road Sign to Chicago.jpg

They say every state in America has a city names Springfield. (Does that include Hawaii? Somehow I doubt it.) You know what else pretty much every state has? Every state, or so it appears, has a small town somewhere named Lebanon.

Lebanon One Mile.jpg

I don't know what's up with that. There are more Lebanese in America than there are in Lebanon. There are more Lebanese in Brazil than there are in Lebanon. Lebanese, as the Perpetual Refugee used to put it, are masters of voyage. Like Indians and Chinese, they're pretty much everywhere. But they're urban, for the most part. They are traders and businessmen and restauranteurs. They didn't move to America to get into farming. So I suspect all of America's Lebanons were named thusly because Lebanon is a Biblical place. (Jesus turned water into wine at Israel's favorite target village of Qana.) I doubt you'll find many Lebanese-Americans in America's little Lebanons.

Below is a picture of Lebanon, Indiana. It isn't exactly Beirut when it comes to fun, exotic, and charming. But hey, at least no Hezbollah!

Lebanon Indiana.jpg

Like I said, Indians are pretty much everywhere. The guy who owns the gas station (complete with a bail bonds office in back) spoke English with an Indian accent. All the other customers in the store spoke English with a Southern rather than the flat Midwestern accent. How weird is it that an Indian moves to small-town America and helps bail out the local yokels who find themselves in the clink?

Lebanon Bail Bond Office.jpg

You won't find Lebanese (I don't think) in Lebanon, Indiana. But you will find at least some in Northern Indiana on the shore of Lake Michigan.

I stopped to pick up Charles Malik (formerly known as Lebanon.Profile at the Lebanese Political Journal) who is temporarily staying at his parents' house in Chicago's eastern suburbs. He was more or less driven out of Beirut during Israel's war against Hezbollah. He's marooned there for the time being until he figures out what to do next, stuck in one of Indiana's nicer 'burbs with no social life and a gigantic phone bill. Poor Charles. You can see the faint skyline of Chicago from the deck of his house.

Chicago from Indiana.jpg

But he does not own a car. So the city of fun and light is close enough to see but just far enough away to be unreachable. So I picked his refugee ass up and took him to town.

He, or least his parents, lives in a nice place, though, right on the lake next to the beach and some sand dunes.

Indiana Beach Road.jpg

Most of Northern Indiana in the region next to Chicago is industial. But Indiana has some nice beaches, too. If you squint you can pretend you're on actual coastline.

Indiana Beach.jpg

Charles made fun of his mother in the kitchen and said "Leave it to an Arab to move to Indiana and buy a house on top of the only sand dunes in the Midwest." (Nevermind that there aren't any sand dunes in Lebanon.) He also made fun of his mother (behind her back) for her large signed portraits of Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) and George W. Bush (R-America). "Just like a Middle Easterner, hanging up portraits of the Leader in the living room.")

His mother may be American. But she also is Lebanese. Old world habits die hard -- she kept pushing food on me. She insisted we stay for dinner and gave me a five-pound bag of pastries, apples, and pomegranite juice to take with me in the car as I drove west toward home.

Charles and I did not stay for dinner. We piled into the car and took the Chicago Skyway into the heart of the city, which is great fun to drive on if there isn't very much traffic. You soar over the lake and the city below in the plains. And when you enter Chicago from Indiana the sign says "Welcome to Chicago." Not "Welcome to Illinois." Welcome to Chicago. Greater Chicago, or "Chicagoland" as the locals like to call it, is practically a city-state unto itself, a spectacular cosmopolitan megalopolis that only accidentally happens to exist in the Midwest surrounded by farmers and cornfields.

He took me out to dinner at a restaurant called Avec near the Greek neighborhoods just west of downtown. We ate duck, pork shoulder, and dates stuffed with sausage. (The last may sound bizarre, but it was fanstastic.)

Avec Restaurant.jpg

Avec is one of those restaurants where everyone sits together, which encourages socialization at dinner with strangers.

Avec 2.jpg

Then we drove downtown at night and walked around so I could take night shots of the city. You see that building pictured below, the one with the top that's shaped like a diamond? Although you can't make it out in the photo, the words "Think Pink" were lit up inside. The diamond, you see, represents a vagina, supposedly as a counterweight to the hundreds of "phallic" skyscrapers that make up the city.

Lake Shore Drive.jpg

Chicago is truly an architectural wonderland, possibly the most aesthetically spectacular skyscraper city on Earth.

Chicago Clock Tower.jpg

I could spend a week photographing the city and never get bored.

Chicago River Night.jpg

Chicago River West at Night.jpg

Chicago Streaked Headlights.jpg

Chicago Towers with Clouds.jpg

Walking Chicago Night.jpg

We later ended up at a bar in the bohemian Wicker Park neighborhood. I like Wicker Park. It reminds me of the fun hipster neighborhoods of Portland and Seattle.

Wicker Park Bar.jpg

Later that night a storm blew over the lake. Here's what it looked like on the south shore along Indiana, lightning on the right and the lights of Chicago on the left.

Lightning Over Lake Michigan.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 9, 2006 10:01 PM


Utterly beautiful pictures of Chicago, Mr. Totten. Always a joy to read your photo essays.


Posted by: The Mechanical Eye at October 9, 2006 11:11 PM

Spectacular -- and the final photo a real spectacle!

I wish I had been to Chicago more often; since I was born there and still have some cousins nearby. Looks much better than in 1976.

[You should be recommending and using Skype for lower cost PC - phone comm.]

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at October 9, 2006 11:49 PM

Quite a few of the post offices here in Southern California have POW MIA flags flying.

Posted by: Fern R at October 10, 2006 12:40 AM

Awesome. Makes me long for home! (West Michigan & adopted city of Chicago, until Detroit gets its act together).

Also, there are some incredible sand dunes in Northern Michigan, with beaches up the entire Lake Michigan shoreline!

Posted by: Shawn in Tokyo at October 10, 2006 12:54 AM

Yup, now I'm homesick too. I'm actually from "the burbs" but worked in Chicago for several years and know the Loop quite intimately.

Interesting that the Citibank building is now considered a sort of "vagina design" to offset all the "phallic" skyscrapers. I'd never heard that before. It was always just the Citibank building. Featured prominently in some teen movie about baby-sitting in the late 80's, if I'm remembering correctly as well.

Posted by: JC at October 10, 2006 02:32 AM

Hey, Wicker Park is where I live! What bar?

Posted by: Norman Pfyster at October 10, 2006 03:39 PM

I grew up in the south side of Chicago. That area has a bad reputation but there are plenty of noce areas. (And some not nice ones as well.)

We had a young woman over from Poland in the '90s working in a Girl Scout day camp. When she heard I was from Chicago she said, "Oh, the Polish city!". She was right. There are more Poles in Chicago than in Warsaw. One of my sisters husband's father is from Poland and they live in the Polish area, about 3400 North and a bit West. If you walk around there you hear a lot more Polish than English. It's great for them, they found a wonderful Polish lady to watch their kids when they work.

Even though I have not lived there in a long time Chicago is still my favorite city. I would have stayed but I found a great job opportunity in NH and this is, in some ways, a better place to raise a family.

Posted by: Tony Lekas at October 10, 2006 04:38 PM

As a native Chicagoan, now your neighbor in Portland, I loved your perspective of "The City of Big Shoulders".

Your shot of LaSalle St. and the magnificent ArtDeco shrine, the Chicago Board of Trade Building, should have been in daylight, though!

I love your posts, and


Posted by: Michael B at October 10, 2006 05:29 PM

I found evidence of Indiana's unofficial Southernness even at a rest stop on the Interstate. Three flags flew from the pole: the American flag, the state flag, and the Vietnam "Prisoners of War" banner that I otherwise saw only in Southern states (and also in Missouri which, like Indiana, is sort of Northern and also sort of Southern.)

Um, Michael? The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, flies the black MIA flag beneath the American Flag on a pole that stands right outside Harvard Yard. (By coincidence, I noticed this just this morning as I waited for my bus, because both were flying at half-mast -- I'm not sure why, but I do know that there have been plenty of local servicemembers lost in recent weeks, so ... )

Posted by: DIL at October 10, 2006 06:19 PM
I found evidence of Indiana's unofficial Southernness even at a rest stop on the Interstate. Three flags flew from the pole: the American flag, the state flag, and the Vietnam "Prisoners of War" banner that I otherwise saw only in Southern states (and also in Missouri which, like Indiana, is sort of Northern and also sort of Southern.)
I guess you've never been to Washington, DC then.

Nice pictures.

Posted by: Swan at October 10, 2006 06:37 PM

I feel priviledged to live on the Near North side of Chicago. I am amazed walking along Michigan Avenue, listening to languages from around the world. It is truly a beautiful place to live.

Posted by: mayport at October 10, 2006 06:46 PM

Just thought I'd drop in and say that you have some readers in Indiana, and I am among them.

You also missed the signs for New Palestine, IN and Carmel, IN (originally called Bethlehem)

Can't argue that Indiana is less than exciting...

Posted by: ofek at October 10, 2006 07:29 PM

Quite a few of the post offices here in Southern California have POW MIA flags flying.

Western Wasthington, too. More of a Tacoma (which has army & af bases) and Everett (navy) thing than a Seattle thing, tho.

I second the suggestion that Mr. Profile look into Skype. There is no reason to give the telcos more than you absolutely have to.

Posted by: rosignol at October 10, 2006 07:32 PM

You should have pulled into South Bend, IN for a Notre Dame tailgate. I dare you to not have a blast there. Go Irish....Go Bears!

Posted by: Joe at October 10, 2006 07:38 PM

Great writing, as always. A few points:

1. As some have pointed out, MIA-POW flags are not exclusively a Southern thing. I saw them everywhere when I lived in Maryland, and I see them often now that I live in Massachusetts. (And in all other states I visited, like California and Kentucky and New Hampshire and everything in between.)

2. The biblical village of Qana is located in Galilee, which is in modern Israel, not Lebanon. I am not sure if the two villages are spelled the same way (and in what language?) but they are definitely not the same village.

3. According to http://springfield.ftldesign.com, "35 states have a Springfield or a close cousin" (quote).

4. Even if you live in New York city, Chicago is better than the city you live in!

Posted by: Simon Hawkin at October 10, 2006 08:00 PM

Well, there you have it. A Springfield for every US state except Hawaii, and a Qana for every Middle Eastern country.

Posted by: allan at October 10, 2006 08:54 PM

What?! No pictures of Gary, Indiana?! Right next door to Chicago, the greatest American city (not America's greatest city, but greatest 'American' city. Chicago is more distinctly American than New York.) lies Gary, Indiana, which I call America's armpit. Some Gary pictures would have been appropriate for this Halloween season. Definitely horrific. James Howard Kunstler's worst nightmare.

You're definitely right about Chicago's downtown architecture. When I've travelled in other countries, and told other people about Chicago, they are always surprised to hear how architecturally beautiful it is. Go Bears!

Posted by: John Mc at October 10, 2006 09:16 PM

No qualms about your article or pictures, both were very well done. However, it just pointed out to me (again) the difference between those who like urban living (such as yourself) and those of us who don't (like me - if my nearest neighbor is a 1/2 mile away thats a bit too close). I view cities as a place to have a bit of fun, now and then, but it's not what I call living - to each their own.

Posted by: marchangel at October 11, 2006 06:07 AM

Great post, as always. Fascinating to read. One quibble though. Qana isn't Israel's favorite target so much as it's Hiz'b'allah's favorite launching site. Because of its Biblical association, any retaliatory or defensive attack on it can be turned into another symbolic Christ-killing. The armed Israeli is presented to the press, over and over, as a Jew at the foot of the Cross, hammer and spike in hand.

Posted by: Abu Nudnik at October 11, 2006 06:42 AM

Just wondering - how did you get the photos of the lightning storm. Did you patiently wait outside with a timer at the aperture set just right, or was it a lucky shot?

I always shoot one second too late, when the bolt has faded. All I get for my trouble is a wet camera and photos of a grey sky.

Posted by: mary at October 11, 2006 07:47 AM


I held the shutter open for 30 seconds. It's the only way.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 11, 2006 09:48 AM

Rhode Island has neither a Springfield nor a Lebanon, sadly.

There are, however, villages called Bethel, Galilee, Jerusalem, and Jericho. Among others, I'm sure.

Posted by: sally at October 11, 2006 11:48 AM

The POW flag is pretty common in Connecticut...

Posted by: Nouri Lumendifi at October 11, 2006 07:10 PM

In the 1920s, Indiana had the largest Klan contingent of any state -- the one unfortunate "Southern" quality of Indiana (long past, however).

Indiana also had the distinction in 1825 of convicting and hanging three white men for the killing of Native Americans (Falls Creek Massacre).

Posted by: Roderick Reilly at October 12, 2006 02:46 PM

Michael, Michael, Michael. (Note!--said with a grin.)

I'd agree with the Southern overtones in the Southern part of Indiana--especially the nearer you get to Kentucky. However, there is a marked difference between the southern and northern parts of the state. I'd describe the upper parts as decidedly Midwestwestern, culturally and otherwise (even the difference in topography is marked).

You have set incredible numbers of my relatives' bodies spinning in their graves by implying that they weren't Midwesterners, either by birth or immigrant adoption. (And I do mean incredible: My mother had scores and scores of cousins, on one side alone.)

And, by the way, assuming you were whipping through on I65, you had to have driven within just a couple of miles of farmhouses in which various of my relatives, including my mother, were born.

The Klan history is regrettably true, a horrible blot on the Hoosier state.

Indianapolis is much nicer now; I remember at least parts of it being very nasty for a while there in the '60 and '70s, when my father's two brothers and various relatives on the other side of the family lived there. I was born in Indiana, in a college town about 45 miles from Indy, where my parents met.

I like Chicago, as well--my father, though born in Brooklyn, was raised outside Chicago from age 4 on, and we spent much time there, too, over the years.

Anyway, glad your trip has gone well.


A Hoosier By Birth

P.S. Now, if Chicago hadn't exerted its incredible pull and you had switched Interstates at Indy, you could have whipped on over to my neck of the woods.

Yeah, yeah, I know--I'da stuck with Chicago, too.

Posted by: reader_iam at October 12, 2006 03:35 PM

Unbelievable! My life gets insanely busy. I stop reading your blog for a few months. And what happens? One second you're in Portland, the next...YOU DRIVE 2 MILES PAST MY HOUSE!!!

You should of stopped in Indy, Michael. It does suck. I really have no argument against that. But it doesn't suck nearly as much as you think. :)

Posted by: Grant McEntire at October 18, 2006 04:37 PM

I guess I've been to Chicago 1 too many times and it's old hat for me. I currently live in Miami but have relatives who live in Indianapolis and I've been there many times. I'm not trying to compare it to Chicago, because Chicago is more of a metropolis like New York... however I have found Indy to be an incredible city in it's own right (I actually prefer it to Miami!!!) I still haven't found a slice of Pizza in Miami or Chicago that compares to Bazebeaux's Pizza on Massachusettes Avenue in Indy. I'd go back just for that! Chicago rocks though and I still have close friends who live there. Looks like you had a great trip.

Posted by: Dick at June 7, 2007 12:14 PM

Actually, there were two migration paths into Indiana. The major migration was out of Kentucky into most of the state. This migration stopped at the Kankakee River and the immense swamp surrounding it, about 30 miles from Lake Michigan. Points farther north were settled from places like New England. The mills along the lake attracted immigrants from Europe and Mexico and African-Americans driven north by Jim Crow and by agricultural automation.

I agree 100% that metro Chicago is the city to which the portion of Indiana north of the Kankakee looks to. This usually works out very badly for the four counties in the corner of the state, since they don't follow what the state government does, a ticket for being screwed. The latest incident is a Hammond refinery being given permits to double its ammonia and silt emissions into the lake. It took the Chicago Tribune to alert Hoosiers who get their water from the lake.

Posted by: Yamaneko at July 26, 2007 12:04 AM
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