We moved to Palos Heights five months ago today. I drove my family along the Calumet-Saganashkee Channel, otherwise known as the Cal Sag, late on a Friday afternoon. I drove slowly so I could take in the sights, something I hadn’t done much for the previous 4,000 miles.
When you leave Alaska, you drive all day just to leave the state. Then you drive another whole day just to leave the Yukon Territory. Then another day to get through British Columbia.
After seven days of driving across two countries, countless mountain ranges, plains and rivers, we were finally at our new home, and I just wanted to slow down and drink it all in.
I pulled into the circular driveway and gazed up at the two-story brick house my wife had picked out during a short scouting expedition three weeks earlier.
I got out and looked down West Park Lane at the majestic oak trees, and the rusty brick houses with wide, manicured lawns.
I smiled at her, kissed her and told her that it was perfect.
In our 17 years of marriage, we had never lived in an established neighborhood in the suburbs of a metropolitan city like Chicago.
At 3.88 square miles, Palos Heights is officially the smallest town we have ever lived in.
The town packs 11,260 people into that 3.88 square miles, and for about three days, the two Alaska license plates in the driveway seemed to be the center of the universe.
Neighbors stopped by to ask about the epic journey we had just taken. They brought fresh bread from the local bakery and cold watermelon, which was wonderful in the 90-degree heat of early July.
My blood still was a little thick coming off of the snowiest winter on record in Anchorage and one of the coolest summers in recent history.
After the question that is not really a question, “So, you’re from Alaska?” the second most-frequently asked question we got from Palos residents and my co-workers at WBEZ was: “Why Palos Heights?”
And it’s a fair question.
How do you look at a map of Chicago’s famous neighborhoods and seemingly endless suburbs and pick a spot that is 3.88 square miles in size?
I could say we just threw a dart and it landed in that spot, but that would only be half right.
A friend and co-worker in Alaska grew up in Palos Heights. And somewhere during the midnight-sun summer barbecues on our deck in Anchorage, his stories of growing up in the Chicago suburbs — and in this one little idyllic spot —probably stuck to some part of my brain where such things go to take root.
When my wife, Cheryl, flew to Chicago to scout out homes for the family, she explored the northern suburbs before she and a friend mapped out an afternoon trip out to Palos Heights to see what this place was all about.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the place other than that the schools were pretty good, the Cook County Forest Preserves were pretty close (allowing us space to roam) and that there was a Metra stop just a few miles from the house, we decided that all things being equal in our lack of knowledge about Chicago in general, it was a perfectly fine place to land.
In the last five months, I have been getting to know Palos Heights. And normally I’d recommend that you get to know a place before you commit to it, but that’s just not our style. We tend to explore a place after we land.
At WBEZ, we’re committed to being “the circuit that connects residents of our region to one another, to the nation and to the world in a relevant and evocative way.” For me, that means in addition to covering Chicago's neigborhoods, we also go into the suburbs to introduce you to the people who live there.
Starting in January, we’re going to feature a different community each week on our website at WBEZ.org. Through pictures, videos and words online and on air, we’re going to introduce you to your neighbors.
I’m going to introduce you to my neighbors right here in Palos Heights through this blog. And we’ll take you all around this great city and help you get to know those around you. For me, that’s one of the tenets of journalism that often goes unmentioned. Sure, we do investigations and features and we hold Pat Quinn and Rahm Emanuel accountable. Yes, we’re the Fourth Estate with a mission to inform the public. But we’re also here to make sure you know your neighbors through the diverse, interesting and creative ways that make us all so unique and endlessly fascinating.
Along the way, we’ll ask you to help us tell your story through your photographs, your memories, your stories and your words. I hope you’ll participate and come out to get to know your neighbors.