My life in Chicago did not start in lovely, fashionable Lincoln Park. Instead, my first apartment in the city was in Boys Town at the intersection of Grace and Broadway, near Irving Park and the Lakefront. For those who are not familiar with Chicago, this neck of the woods is on the border of some very seedy areas (it probably has improved somewhat over the last eleven years but my recent visit still told me to be careful! When I lived there, I often saw a “women of the night” at the corner).
Photo of my first apartment in Chicago at 732 W. Grace Street. I lived on the second floor in a three bedroom apartment with two of my girlfriends from college. Little did we know, we had a group of sex offenders living on the floor above us who had 24/7 monitoring! We found that out later during the unusual conversations in the basement laundry room and other unpleasant situations.
Inside living room of our first Chicago pad.
The location of my first apartment wasn’t ideal. If I ventured a few blocks south, I was in Boys Town, which was wonderful and safe (especially for a women!). Yet if I ventured further north, the neighborhood got extremely dangerous so I never did it. The only directions I moved from my apartment were south and east: South towards the city and east towards the fabulous lakefront where I enjoyed runs, walks and bike rides along some of the best city skyline in the world.
View from my apartment on Grace, looking east towards Lakeshore Drive and Lake Michigan. Lovely!
So, how did I end up in this crazy neighborhood as my first apartment? A place that occasionally supplied a ready and available prostitute for hire on the corner of Grace and Broadway? Plus seedy, trashy thrift shops selling loads and loads of junk? The explanation is simple: Chance, price and hurry. Let me back up a bit and tell my story.
After I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison (another fantastic place!) I had no choice but to move back home to the suburbs of Minnesota with my parents. I worked and played hard in college and earned a double major in four years flat. Yet, after graduation I had… No job. No money. No prospects. Nada. I had just spent the summer after graduation doing an internship in Marseille, France and then returned home to reality. My parents sat me down and calmly said it was time to get a “real” job. “Enough is enough“.
Having no idea whatsoever how on earth to find a job, especially with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations (Western Europe Area Studies of course) and French, I was lost, confused and back at home under my parents wing. No offense Mom and Dad, but that is not where a newly independent college graduate wants to be! Unfortunately sometimes in life, reality bites. It was time to suck it up and get a job.
I started in the want ads (yes I am old and this was a different era before the internet and all its resources), networking with the few contacts I had and doing the dreadful cold-calling. It took months and I only scrapped a couple of interviews. No one wanted to hire a newbie without experience. Yet, I held on to my hopes and kept trying. I didn’t give up and persisted until I finally landed a job as an International Inside Sales Rep with a small firm in town. It sounds glamorous but it wasn’t at all! The salary was poverty wages and there was no way I could ever move out on my own. I had to stay at home with my parents and keep saving (Note: In many cultures, young adults remain with their families until marriage. It is not the case in the United States. We do anything to be able to have a place of our own!).
It was around that time that I happened to go to Madison, Wisconsin for my first ever college Homecoming weekend. I was excited to get back to my old stomping grounds and see my friends. I greatly missed the fun and excitement of college life. The real world was not at all what I had hoped for.
To make a long story short, by chance I happened to run into an old guy friend of mine at one of the main bars in Madison. He was living in Chicago yet had a wedding in Minneapolis the following weekend. He invited me to tag along as his guest, well, and the rest is history! We dated long distance for eight months back and forth from Minneapolis to Chicago. Then, by early Spring my only college friend living in Minnesota told me that she was packing up and moving to Chicago to be closer to her boyfriend. Did I want to come?
The eight months living at home provided me with enough cash to pack up and join her in the big city. I could hardly contain my joy and excitement! We literally had one day to find an apartment in Chicago. A city of over 8 million people. We hired an apartment finder, drove around all day to neighborhoods that I didn’t know, seeing apartments that would fit our budget. Well, the only one that had enough space for the three of us (another college friend was joining us in Chicago) was to find a three-bedroom flat and the only place that we could afford to rent in was at 626 W. Grace Street.
We moved a month later into our new humble adobe, and lived a terrifyingly hot summer (the Chicago heat wave of 1995 in which many people died) without any AC! I recall hanging out in my bikini inside the apartment while I was typing up resumes and cover letters, while sweating like a dog. It was one miserable summer to be without AC but I survived. By the end of the hot summer, I had finally landed a new job at World Book International, a publishing house in downtown Chicago located directly across the street from my boyfriend’s office (convenient!). I only lasted a year in the place on Grace Street before moving to closer in to the city, to a nicer part of town: Lovely Lincoln Park. But I sure had a lot of great memories from my place on Grace!
Me in Chicago circa 1996.
Me and my sister circa 1996
My Mom and I in Chicago, Lincoln Park circa 1996.
Paul (my boyfriend at the time and now my husband, my mom and I at a restaurant in Lincoln Park 1996).
Stay tuned… more Chicago to come!