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From Here on Out: Jonathan Messinger

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From Here on Out: Jonathan Messinger

Jonathan Messinger. (WBEZ/Melissa Townsend)

As part of our Chicago Matters: Beyond Burnham series we asked local residents to reflect on the past year and share their hopes for the region—“From Here on Out”. All this week we’re sharing some of their thoughts. Today we hear from local writer Jonathan Messinger. Messinger says this year he’s noticed Chicago has been growing a hefty ego. And in the future, he’d like to see a little more humility.

When I look back at 2009, I’m a little worried that I’ll remember it as the year Chicago started taking ourselves too seriously. Ever since Obama was elected, all we’ve heard about is how Chicago is now the center. We’ve been told tourism is on the rise. Magazines like GQ and Fast Company named us “City of the Year”, and the British literary magazine Granta devoted an entire issue to us. And you know when British lit mags are getting in on the game, you’re big time.

We may have even dropped our sense of humor about our ridiculous local politics. On January 19, I was at Senator Dick Durbin’s inauguration reception for Illinois residents, when appointed senator Roland Burris gave a speech. Burris had just been appointed by our Elvis-impersonating, soon-to-be-impeached governor, under questionable circumstances. As he walked to the podium, people started cheering for him, yelling, “Attaboy, Roland!” and “Way to go Senator!” And I thought to myself, “Really? We’re taking this guy seriously now?”

And of course, for a while, everyone was convinced we were going to win the Olympic bid. Or, it looked that way to us because we were so swept up in our global awesomeness. We got 18 votes and booted in the first round.

When that vote came back, I couldn’t help but wonder what the late, great Studs Terkel would have said about it all. Studs loved the city because of its warts. He understood that pretending they don’t exist robs Chicago of its charm. And 2009 was the first year this city didn’t have Studs in nearly a century, and when I’d see all of the slick production behind the Olympics bid or tourism pushes, I’d wish we had him to crack wise about it.

What I love about Chicago is that it’s not the center. I love its otherness, its lack of polish, the way it’s a city stitched together from pockets, and the way its big city bravado has always been tempered by an embrace of the second city moniker.

That’s what I miss, its humility. It’s not our fault, I suppose. Take election night. Obama’s win was a beautiful moment. Here was our hometown guy, our first black president, speaking on an unseasonably warm November night in the heart of our city. Oprah was there, resting her head on some guy’s shoulder. It was easy to get lost in that moment, and conflate Obama’s pitch-perfect victory speech with Grant Park’s splendor. But you know, I’ve also been to Blues Fest and watched a teenager vomit an entire barbecue turkey leg onto Grant Park’s splendor.

And strange as it may sound, from here on out, I’ve lately been wanting to see a little bit more of that side of our city.

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