Tuesday, June 24, 2008

...in with the new

I'm slowly getting used to the neighborhood my new job is in. I'm learning various public transport routes too and from work. I'm learning where to get lunch. I'm learning where to get coffee. I don't know it like the back of my hand, but I'm starting to feel at home there.

The neighborhood, West Loop, like many in Chicago, is a neighborhood in transition. When I first started driving through the neighborhood on a somewhat regular basis, about 15 years ago, it was a completely different place. The landscape was full of old warehouses and run down buildings. If you would have told me then that it would one day look how it does now I would have laughed in your face.

But then, politics called. The 1996 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago at the United Center. To get to the UC from the ritzy Michigan Avenue hotels the delegates stayed at they had to go through West Loop. Almost overnight it seemed that Madison Street and Washington Blvd. were completely different places. I knew change was afoot when I missed my turn for the United Center when the seedy liquor store I used as a landmark was torn down.

Over the next few years the rest of the neighborhood started to change, and now it's a completely different place.

My favorite aspect of the neighborhood is that, like many Chicago neighborhoods, there is a completely different vibe from street to street.

There are two Starbucks stores equidistant from my office. One is on Madison, one is on Randolph, and they are on the same cross street. I usually alternate stores, going to the Madison location one day and the Randolph location the next. On the days I walk to the Madison location I am greeted with gleaming new (and expensive) condos and expensive looking businesses, such as ritzy hair salons. A typical affluent neighborhood. The vibe on Randolph, two streets to the north, is completely different. Randolph Street is now occupied by some really nice restaurants; places I generally can't afford to eat at very often. Amongst those restaurants are meat packers and some of the other old Randolph Street Market businesses. It's quite a contrast from building to building. The restaurants are closed, but the markets are bustling. Walking past each building is a different experience. I hope it stays that way.

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