By • Mar 2nd, 2010 • Category: Prologue

During the summer before my 21st birthday, my cousin flew to Chicago for a visit. It was something we’d been talking about for years, and a few months before we each legally could kick back with a nice glass of wine, he took the cross-country flight from Arizona.

Growing up a few train stops outside of the Windy City meant that I thought I was familiar with many of the city’s famous tourist traps – The Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Wrigley Field – as well as some of the hidden, neighborhood gems kept in business through local patronage and word-of-mouth praise.

Having a hometown not far from the city limits also meant that I fell into a hybrid of a Chicagoan. I was part city-dweller too cool to play the tourist, looking down on those who gleefully snapped pictures and forked over money toward inflated ticket prices in wide-grinned awe. But I was part suburbanite, from a town of big-box stores, cookie-cutter housing and chain restaurants who never had experienced the traditionally “Chicago” locales I spent so much time belittling.

So Mark’s visit would be a way for both of us to see the big-ticket locations in the city. I adored Chicago, and had spent much of the past decade urging him to come visit. We had talked about it heavily during my family’s biannual vacations to the Southwest and both naively felt that with upper-level college courses, careers, then adulthood seemingly just around the corner, this would be our last chance at ultimate freedom.

His visit dually meant that I would have to put my unjustifiable and irrational pride on the shelf, dust off my camera, and fully embody the sightseeing tourists whom we’d become during his stay.

We visited Buckingham Fountain, Union Station, The Chicago Theatre, The Wrigley Building, and many other places that I had been too stubborn to invest in. The buildings I had walked past for years took on new faces when I looked closer. The stories behind the scenic skyline came to life during audio tours, and the days that we spent gallivanting around Chicago together showed me a side of the city that I never was interested in seeing on my own.

A few times, my arrogance seeped in and I grew self-conscious of how uninformed I was about a city I called home. During those ill-advised moments, I spoke with a broken attempt at an Irish brogue, as if to pass myself off as some sort of legitimate tourist instead of a sheltered Chicagoan. I have strong Irish heritage, damnit, and this was going to be the time to use it to my advantage.

But no one cared. No one treated me any differently when I spoke like an exaggerated version of the Lucky Charms leprechaun than I did when I spoke in my regular Midwestern tongue. And why should they care? Taking in one’s surroundings isn’t mutually exclusive to being a foreigner, but rather it comes with the wisdom that you don’t know everything.

That is the essence of why some of us love to travel. We move about, engage in conversation, and keep our eyes peeled because we want to learn, … because we’re afraid to think that we know everything.

For too long, I made the mistake of thinking that being in a place was all it took to know it.

All these years later, I remember my cousin’s visit as a moment when I put down my pride, picked up a camera, my pen and a woeful Irish accent, and learned to look closer at the world around me.

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