Category Archives: Chicago vs London

Pints and Possibilities: The Curious American in London

jubilee17

There comes a point in every trip to London where I begin wishing I were home. Not America home, but home home, I miss my shower, with its hard water, and my sofa and my bed. You know, creature comforts.

Obviously this won’t be a problem when I move here, and I actually imagine it’ll be the bigger things I miss, like being able to get a drip coffee at any coffeehouse, and not having the barista sneer when you request it. (Seriously, London, this isn’t Italy; get over your coffee snobbishness.)

I just noticed a young man at the table across from me wearing Crocs. I suddenly feel a lot less basic for drinking drip coffee.

So anyway, this trip is coming to a close, and for those of you who follow me on social media, you know that getting here was quite an Odyssey. I’ll chronicle that at a later date. Right now I want to focus on how it feels to be back in London, and shoot off some quick, unedited thoughts. This is a free write (much like my Ferguson blog), so don’t expect a polished piece. Just stick with me. I’ll get somewhere eventually. I always manage.

I want to be here. More than anything, I want to be here. But the here I want is changing. My hostel is in Brondesbury, a fairly middle-class area on the cusp of Zone 3, with brick row houses and little children in school uniforms crowding corners in the afternoon. It doesn’t remind me of Logan Square (my neighbourhood in Chicago), but does have a bit of a Roscoe Village feel to it. Very quiet, residential, with just enough restaurants and bars and pubs to keep things interesting but not enough that it’s somewhere you want to stay on your holiday. That is, unless you’re me, and you like your holiday to be basically like your workweek except without the work. We’ll come back to this thought.

So here I am in Brondesbury. An ambulance has just blared its sirens past the cafe. That’s happened a lot here, with both ambulances and police cruisers, so I reckon there must be a station nearby. I’m not far from the Kilburn Tube Station, so I can see commuters hurrying to and from. You can tell the ones who have somewhere to be-maybe a job interview, possibly a lunch date-because they keep bumping into the wicker chairs and metallic tables that this place uses to create some semblance of cafe culture. In London. In November.

But you can pop out there for a cigarette, so I’m not complaining.

I really like Brondesbury, actually. There’s a gorgeous tavern/pub right around the corner, fully restored. Looks Victorian, but may be Edwardian; I haven’t investigated the history. The staff is incredibly friendly, as are the patrons. I had some great conversations last night whilst waiting to go over to my mate Nick’s for Thanksgiving dinner. My favourite was the old man who didn’t understand why a Frenchman could move to the UK without question but an American couldn’t. I didn’t bother to explain. I just accepted the compliment of his righteous indignation.

I could see myself living here, or just down the road in West Hampstead or Finchley. This is pretty significant, because in the past, I couldn’t tell you where in London I would live. My stock answer was also a complete fantasy; there is no way I will ever afford property in SW3. So where in London I “belonged,” where I would call “home,” was always a bit of a mystery, even to me. Bloomsbury will forever have a part of my heart, being where I stayed back in 2007 whilst at UCL, but again, that’s a cheque I can’t cash. And whilst I’m not even sure I could comfortably afford to live in Finchley-London is so much more expensive than Chicago-it certainly feels more attainable.

Indeed, I’ve seen a lot of London this trip that I haven’t seen before. I went down to Richmond, and then to Twickenham, a couple different times. On my way back, I stopped off in Chiswick, though I was slightly disappointed to not bump into Donna Noble. It was an entire side of the city I had never explored, and though my time there was brief, it was enjoyable. (Not least because of the company.)

Twickenham, and indeed Richmond, feels a world away from Brondesbury, though. I loved it down there, full stop. Not as unattainably posh as Kensington and Chelsea, but posher than Brondesbury or Logan Square, Richmond was just lovely. Like Logan Square in Chicago, it felt more breathable than the rest of London, but unlike Logan Square, my host told me many people wouldn’t consider it properly London. Indeed, Twickenham in particular, but Richmond as well, did feel more suburban than Logan Square and certainly more suburban than the parts of London I’m familiar with, but suprisingly, I enjoyed that. I didn’t spend enough time there to pretend to be an expert, but from what I saw, it was a bit of a slower pace of life, a little more laid back, and a lot, lot quieter.

I had one of my best sleeps this year in Twickenham. That my bedmate was a fantastic big spoon was only part of that reason.

Yes, I met a man. Yes, I fancy him. Yes, I would love to see where things go. But no, he’s not putting a ring on it any time soon. I don’t even know if he’s that interested in me, and I know the whole transatlantic thing kind of freaks him out. It’s understandable. It should freak him out. It’s scary as hell.

I don’t want to talk too much about him, though, because he A) hasn’t really given me permission to put his life and our date(s) on full blast and B) he reads my work so I bet this is already a little awkward (hey, you told me my best work was the confessional stuff). But what I will say is that he’s lovely. And when he texts me I smile. And that he’s good in a crisis.

I will also say that it’s nice to be dating again, even if just for this week. I mean the fact that this bloke is a gem aside, it’s been genuinely fun getting to know someone, flirting, and going through the inevitable self-doubt of whether they like you like you like them. I’d forgotten how exciting and terrifying and wonderful and stressful this could be.

Dating is fun, but it’s also frustrating. How many times have we all had that amazing first date, where you think everything went swimmingly, only to find out they don’t want to see you the next day? In 2012 and 2013, that happened all the time in Chicago. Sometimes you can tell, and you set reasonable expectations. But sometimes, man, men are dicks.

I did a cost/benefit analysis of romance and decided that it just isn’t worth it. Not in Chicago. Not when it’s impossible to find men stateside who want to move to the UK. I’m focusing so much on my writing career, and finding a job in Britain, that I don’t have the time or the energy to date.

Except in London. In London I do. Because he’s already here. But you try finding a man who is ready to do a long-distance relationship. A quick fling with an American, sure. But commitment across continents? Nope. And I don’t blame them. It’s bonkers. And even I’m not the biggest fan of it, because the last thing I want is anyone ever thinking that I’ve married a man for citizenship. I had that opportunity five years ago and passed on it, because I want to marry for love, not a passport. And could you imagine his family and friends always questioning whether my motives were pure? Fuck me. I’d never be able to live with that.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to date men in Chicago because I want to be in London, which means I don’t date. But when I date in London it’s only for a few days, and finding something that lasts is incredibly unrealistic.

There’s an obvious solution to this, and you’re probably screaming it right now. “Skylar, just fucking move to London!” That would alleviate a lot of my concerns, wouldn’t it?

So I think I’m going to. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but I’m going to figure that out. It’s not going to happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen next year. But I’m going to figure out a way to get here. Everything I want is here. My future is here. My home is here. Somewhere, my husband is here too. But I’m not here. So I’ve gotta get me here.

Each time I’m in London I feel closer to moving here. But this time my resolve is rock solid. This time I truly feel as though I belong. The problem is I have no idea how to make this happen. It’s something that comes up time and time again. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t know. My most obvious option is marriage, but as I said before, that’s out of the question. Trying to find a job is my next best option, but it’s hard, and I have no distinguishable talent other than writing. And until my career takes off back in America, I’ve no chance of actually moving here.

So I’m stuck. I’m stuck in Chicago. I’m stuck in America. And I’m stuck on my own. I’ll get here. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll get here. I just… have no fucking clue how I’m going to make that happen.

But then, I’m the bloke who sold everything he had, bought a one-way bus ticket to Chicago, and never looked back. I figured that out. I’ll figure this out.

Watch this space.

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Chicago vs London: Round Two – Cityscape

It’s tough loving two cities. My London followers get annoyed when I live-tweet Blackhawks games (Jonathan Toews is my pretend boyfriend, after all). My Chicago followers get annoyed when I live-tweet Question Time. I miss so much about London, including Sloane Square, the KR and Soho. But I know there are so many things about Chicago I’ll miss when leave, like Logan Square (full disclosure: my home), the Mag Mile (or Magnificent Mile, aka Michigan Ave., for out-of-towners), and Boystown. Both cities are wonderful to call home, but which comes out on top? I’ve judged them like I’m Sharon Osbourne, and when it comes to a cityscape, only one can reign supreme. But which? Let’s find out. (That’s some lazy writing, but I’m tired and on beer number three, so it’s all I can muster. Sod off.)

Chicago!

Chicago!

1. Architecture. Merchandise Mart. The Gherkin. St Paul’s. St James’. The Willis Sears Tower. The Shard. Both cities are possess magnificent buildings, and I’ve been privileged to walk in the shadows and walk down the halls of many of them. Ever been on the floor of the House of Commons? Breathtaking. The history! The craftsmanship! The sheer grandeur! But I’ve also been to Robie House, amazed at the geometrical genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. Chicago is renowned for its architecture. Its skyline, jutting out of Lake Michigan’s shores like a mass of Gothic lighthouses, is one of the wonders of the world. And while we may lack the gravitas of London, where every corner you turn around something notable happened, our neighbourhoods are just as gorgeous as the Loop. I’ve been to Stoke Newington. Lovely neighbourhood. But architecturally, it doesn’t hold a candle to Logan Square. (Still, the view of London from Primrose Hill is a sight to behold.)

Score: Chicago 1 – 0 London

My feet. Kensington Gardens. 2013.

My feet. Kensington Gardens. 2013.

2. Parks/Greenspace: Londoners pride themselves on their parks, and rightly so. If you enter Kensington Gardens via the Queensway, you’ll find my favourite spot to read anywhere in the world. The thistle fields are breathtaking, and the way they scratch your soles in the hot summer sun can really touch your soul. Then there’s Hyde Park, St James’ Park, Hampstead Heath, and a plethora of neighbourhood parks. When you think of Chicago, you don’t think of greenery. But its aplenty. Our parks rival Paris, in particular the symetrically planned and imacuately pruned Grant Park and Lincoln Park, both of which have preserved the lakeshore in grandeur, harkening more to Marie-Antoinette than the Midwest. Our boulevards likewise invoke the Champs-Élysées, and we likewise have a wonderful community parks system. It’s a tossup, because again London has history on its side. However, Chicago has the lake and its beaches. With that, Chicago wins by a hair.

Score: Chicago 2 – 0 London

underground

3. Transport. I feel like Cinderella whenever I’m in London, because I have to leave the ball well before I’m ready, and usually before I’ve gotten Prince Charming’s number. Cabs are too expensive, and the Tube shuts down at dusk, it seems. Sure, London has great night buses, but that can make a 3 mile journey into an hour-and-a-half ordeal. Chicago, on the other hand, has two train lines (the Red and the Blue) which run 24 hours. Our cabs are affordable. And after our city burned to the ground, we were able to rebuild on a grid, making navigating easy. London carriages offer cushier seating, more space, and are, frankly, safer for standing passengers. It also has an iconic map and “Mind the Gap.” Of course, both London and Chicago have both sold their fare collecting souls to Cubic, so in this way are both screwed. Still, my Oyster card works. My Ventra card? Well, I’m lucky if I can get through the turnstyle after 35 tries.

Score: Chicago 2 – 1 London

London may have won in entertainment, but Chicago had its night tonight. There’s no denying; this city is gorgeous. It’s the most beautiful North American city, and a wonderful place to call home. From May through October, anyway. Now we’re halfway through November and I want to be anywhere but here. It’s freaking cold. But at least we don’t shut down for a little bit of snow. Just sayin’.

Overall score: Chicago 1 – 1 London

Chicago vs London: Round 1 – Entertainment

I first told my father I wanted to move to London when I was five. I last swore I would never live in Chicago when I was 25. Yet somehow, despite my best efforts, I’ve not properly lived in London, but have managed the Windy City for over two years. I’ve fallen in love with Chicago, its lakeshore, its giant rats that look like Master Splinter but attack like a friggin’ honey badger, and the friendly and forward-thinking Midwesterners who live here. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my beloved London, with its winding streets which, on the night bus, make you feel like you’re in A Newport State of Mind. Yes, Chicago may be my husband, but London is my lover. As soon as I get enough money and the cats are grown, I’ll leave Chi-town for Londontown.

And like just like when sleeping with two people, it’s hard not to compare everything from size to warmth to overall performance. When I first moved here, it was very hard not to compare Chicago to London. They have many similarities-both are an amalgamation of neighbourhoods which were once separate villages, each with its own unique identity. They both smell brackish and industrial if you catch the wind at the right angle. And both will have hosted the Olympics by the end of this decade. Oh wait.

But which is better? Which is truly superior? I set out-and by out, I mean down, on the couch, with a beer-to investigate. In this week’s “London vs Chicago” matchup, we take on three key components of entertainment-sport, music, and telly. Will London leap to the top, or will the Windy City win this one? Find out below in an in-depth study just chock full of alliteration!

Sport
I confess, I’m not much of a sports fan. Or, at least I wasn’t until I moved to Chicago. From the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to the Madhouse on Madison all the way down to the Cell and Soldier Field, Chicago has some of the greatest and most storied stadiums in the world. Yes, London has Wembley, Wimbledon, and Stamford Bridge-perhaps my favourite sporting venue on earth (I keep the blue flag flying high!)-and yes, it hosted the Olympics with characteristic

Wrigley Field opened in 1916 and has served as home of the "lovable losers" of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs, ever since. Affectionately known to fans and enthusiasts as "the friendly confines," it is one of the last bastions of pure Americana.

Wrigley Field opened in 1916 and has served as home of the “lovable losers” of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs, ever since. Affectionately known to fans and enthusiasts as “the friendly confines,” it is one of the last bastions of pure Americana.

pomp and circumstance. And while there’s no denying that Londoners can make a football match into a Mardi Gras party at Animal House, it can quickly it can quickly turn into the stampede that killed Mufassa. Chicagoans, on the other hand, just get drunk-whether tailgating before the Bears game, betting on NCAA basketball, or cheering on the Blackhawks for a 2010s Stanley Cup three-peat. Sport isn’t just a form of entertainment here, it’s a way of life. I’ve literally seen grown men come to fisticuffs over who the greatest Cub was. Our greatest steakhouse was founded by a sportscaster. A goat is responsible for the Cubs’ century-long misfortune. And we have an entire neighbourhood built around a baseball diamond that is essentially one giant fraternity party 24/7.

Score: Chicago 1 – 0 London

Music
Ask me about the time I was invited to do heroin with Pete Doherty. Okay, so heroin wasn’t explicitly part of the invitation, but I mean, come on. It’s Pete. London has produced some of the world’s greatest music, from Handel to Adele. The undisputed capital of the European

Pete Doherty is one of the most poetic songwriters of this century. And he paints with his own blood, too.

Pete Doherty is one of the most poetic songwriters of this century. And he paints with his own blood, too.

entertainment industry, London combines the  best of New York, LA, Stockholm, and Nashville, producing an eclectic and talented group of artists. And don’t get me started on the live music scene, from The Hope and Anchor to The Old Queens Head (both in Islington) to the more legendary Royal Albert Hall and O2 Arena. Sure, Chicago has the Metro, the Congress, and a decent local music scene. And yeah, we’re rivaled only by New Orleans in jazz and Memphis in blues. But it’s just not even a contest. Chicago is an X Factor reject; London is Leona.

Score: Chicago 1 – 1 London

Telly
One word: Broadcasting House. One more word: Elstree. Plus, Chicago Fire keeps shutting down my neighbourhood because they like to blow up cars at 8:00 am, like this is Karachi or something. Bonus for London: Blue Peter is filmed there, which is of little consequence, except it

EastEnders was one of my first introductions to workaday Britain. I used to dream of living in Walford. I also wanted to be a rubbish collector. Kids are silly.

EastEnders was one of my first introductions to workaday Britain. I used to dream of living in Walford. I also wanted to be a rubbish collector. Kids are silly.

gives me an excuse to say Blue Peter. I seriously don’t think the Brits know just how filthy that sounds to us Yanks. (But really-the BBC is one of the most respected broadcasters in the world. Chicago just can’t compete.)

Score: Chicago 1 – 2 London

So London won tonight. But don’t worry Chicago, I still love you and your horrible drivers, your pseudo-Canadian accent and your hot dogs. Actually, not your hot dogs. I like ketchup on mine. Guess in that regard, London wins again.