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10.05.2002

Going Proustian

I landed in Chicago Friday to a terrific wind - the clouds were practically shooting across the sky. Anyone and everyone here will indignantly explain to you that Chicago is only the eleventh-windiest city in the country ( the Twin Cities are number one ), and that the place is called the 'Windy City' in deference to the verbosity of local politicians, but on Friday it hardly seemed to matter. Gales!

I turned on the radio in my rental car and had a pleasant little moment of confusion -- the local news was on, and the reception was clear, but it wasn't for several seconds that I realized the announcer was speaking in Polish, or rather that strange hybrid language that Polish becomes after a few years marinating on Milwaukee Avenue. I don't know of any community more insular and parochial than a big crowd of expatriates, wherever they're from, but boy can you find good sausage in Chicago.

When you go away, things have every right to change, so I was braced for the unexpected after my seven years' absence from Illinois. For the most part, I need not have worried - they were quite good about keeping the place as I left it. The only real embarrassment on that front was the complete failure of the Glenview Naval Air Station to still exist. It used to sit there, three long blocks from my anonymous old house, vast and empty and punctuated with the occasional flight of fighter jets so dear to a young boy's heart. The Air Station fueled my adolescent worries about nuclear attack ( it had to be a primary target ), and it turned my suburb of Glenview into a skinny doughnut, with sixty thousand people living around an off-limits middle that opened once a year for a very satisfying air show. I guess the Wisconsin threat must have receded, because the fences are now all gone, and huge tract houses grow like mushrooms in every direction. Only the last bits of the old tower were left to assure me that I hadn't invented the whole thing. So I took another bite of my madeleine, got back in the car, and moved on.

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