I lived in Chicago once, for about 3 years. I don’t want to do that again. Not because the people weren’t nice, but because of the unbearably extreme weather. In the summer, it gets so hot and humid that your make-up almost instantly melts off your face. I’m not sure what happens to people with spray-on tans; they probably have a formula created especially for Chicagoans. Your clothing sticks to your skin like a wet tattoo within about five minutes of venturing outside of the cooling refuge of air conditioning. In the Chicago heat, sweat doesn’t seep or ooze or dampen, but pours from sweat glands. It fills all available bodily creases and crevices, and where there are no creases and crevices, the sweat just beads up, then rolls off in rivulets after saturating your clothing and hair. Don’t bother with deodorant. Showers make more sense at the end of the day, once you’ve escaped the heat. If you happen to get caught in a cloud of dust, the folds of skin on your neck immediately become filled with this gritty grime that you can almost hear grind when you turn your head. The hot, humid air can become so stifling, it feels like you’re breathing through a water filter. Think: very wet sauna. My hair, which has a rough sort of natural curl, would immediately frizz up into some sort of freaky afro-looking do, so short hair or bald is definitely the way to go in Chicago in the summer.
Spring and fall in Chicago are beautiful. There is the marvelous changing of leaf colors that signals the coming of fall. Then, there’s the bright green return of tree leaves and brilliant new flower blossoms that hail the arrival of spring. If I had to go back to Chicago, it would definitely be in the spring or fall. Where I live now, in the Pacific Northwest, there are basically two seasons: rain and not-rain. Seasons here rarely have the sweet distinction that I saw in the midwest. So I’ve decided I like rain and not-rain. Either season is fine with me. And when I start getting grumpy because we haven’t had a rain-free day for 99 days, I just reel my mind back to the summers and winters of Chicago.
Winter in Chicago is amazing. First, it’s cold. Very, very, very cold! Like, 60-below zero, considering- windchill-factor cold. I can remember going off to work one morning, and as I rounded the corner of my apartment complex, a hand that felt like dry ice slapped me across the face, then tears froze in my eyelashes and eyebrows, and on my cheeks like little icicles, because the bitter, stinging cold made my eyes water. People wore those scary-slasher-movie, knit stocking caps that had holes only for the eyes, and for a very good reason. At that temperature, exposed skin feels like a burn, and can become frostbitten in minutes.
People who live in Chicago and drive in the winter use heated dip-sticks in their oil reservoir to keep the engine from freezing up. (This may have changed with the times; I lived in Chicago in the seventies, so car manufacturers may have come up with something better since then.) The only thing that ever stops the city of Chicago is an ice storm. That stops everything, except the EL, which is Chicago’s public rail transportation system. In an ice storm, the air is so humid and the temperature so cold, that the very second the moisture-filled air hits any object, it turns to ice. That includes windshields, so scraping the ice off your windshield is pointless during an ice storm; it’s back in moments, so thick you can’t see through it. Chains and studded tires are of little help keeping you on the road in an ice storm. And good luck staying vertical if you’re trying to walk. You really need a good pair of cramp-ons strapped to a pair of very well-insulated snow-boots.
But the people in Chicago are nice, so I don’t want any Chicagoans to be offended by my little rant on the weather in Chicago. In fact, as far as weather and all things considered, Houston is a much more miserable place to live. I spent four years or so in that tropical hell. It didn’t have the cold, but the heat and humidity were even more oppressive and suffocating than that of Chicago. So if I had to choose between Houston and Chicago, I’d choose Chicago. But I’d rather not do either. I like the rain and the not-rain in the Pacific Northwest, and simply remembering Chicago is just fine.
©Janet Mitchell, October 2011