Monday, May 25, 2009

Chicago and Montana: more information than the travel brochure!

Chicago life and Montana life are quite different. On population and amenities alone, this is not surprising:

Chicago metropolitan area has 9.5 million people, two professional baseball teams, umpteen museums, Lake Michigan, and the primary non-tourism industry is nepotism in politics.

Montana has almost 1 million people, no professional baseball teams, umpteen mining museums, the Berkeley Pit, and the primary non-tourism industry is agriculture.

If you conduct your own search, you'll find many more stark differences between the two places. If you can imagine, the differences between Chicago and Montana are bigger than they first appear. These differences make adapting to Chicago life quite interesting. Rather than comparing the two places on the basis of travel brochures, this post compares living in Chicago to living in Montana on four unconventional dimensions.

1. Driving

Chicago. In a previous post, I commented on Chicago's crazy Rules of the Road. But, the fun does not stop with your interactions with other Chicago drivers. Driving in Chicago involves more than just driving over the speed limit and flashing one's headlights. Since my last post, I have discovered two additional joys of driving in Chicago:
  • One-way streets are wonderful. It is more thrilling than a rollercoaster to go the wrong way down a Chicago one-way street.
  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) busses also pose interesting challenges for the Chicago driver. Passing a CTA bus on Lake Shore Drive is like playing Crusin' USA, but in real life!
Montana. To someone from Chicago, Montana driving must be surreal. On almost all interstate highways, there are only two lanes going in each direction. For most places, there is no need for the second lane. Although the speed limit is 75 mph, drivers often encounter people driving around 55 mph, just to enjoy the scenery.

As a Montana driver passes one of these slow moving vehicles, it is often appropriate to smile and wave. On two-lane highways in Eastern Montana, it is customary to wave to every driver going in the opposite direction. It's true! If you don't believe me, rent a car and drive around Eastern Montana near Culbertson.

2. The wildlife.

Chicago. The wildlife in Chicago is breathtaking, especially if you are an entemologist. Since moving in August, we have had numerous visitors to our apartment ranging from ants to gnats to centipedes. Heck, we have even had the joy of seeing about seventeen different species of spider. Chicago isn't just for the bug lovers. The deck on our apartment is perfect habitat for a family of squirrels.

Montana. Although Chicago wildlife are abundant, we have yet to see deer, antelope, moose, or bears in Chicago, unless you are talking about 300-lb linemen. Montana has all of these types of wildlife and more. Indeed, Montana is a haven for wildlife: there are two National Parks (Yellowstone and Glacier) and plenty of open spaces.

3. The underground economy.

Chicago. Especially on the south and west sides of the city, there are numerous social organizations, called gangs, which offer services that the shops on the Magnificent Mile cannot or will not provide. For some reason, the existence of these gangs is left out of the travel brochures. I wonder why! These gangs usually employ young locals who, in turn, provide a myriad of services to their surrounding communities. Want an illegal drug? No problem. Want to know where to find a prostitute? They've got you covered.

Montana. In Montana, you won't easily find service like what's provided by Chicago gangs unless you go to Butte, MT in the 1970s. On the other hand, Montana has six (maybe seven) American Indian reservations. Technically, these reservations are sovereign territory of the tribes that inhabit them, and Montana law does not apply there. The dubious legality of activities near the reservations leads to all sorts of fun underground activities. Tribes use the fact that they can make their own laws to their advantage. That is why we have Indian casinos! On that measure, I hear that one of the Montana tribes is building a casino. I wonder if it will do well. I doubt it.

4. The tourists.

Chicago. You are most likely to encounter the Chicago tourist downtown where the lights are bright. They flock in droves to stores like Macy*s (ahem, Marshall Fields), Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. You may also find these interesting creatures in their natural habitat at Navy Pier or at any of Chicago's fabulous museums.

How can you spot a tourist in Chicago? He or she typically walks slowly, has a big smile and is looking upwards. Much like someone from Montana!

Montana. The Montana tourist is an equally interesting creature. Tourists in Montana scour gift shops at mining museums. If the restaurant has the buffalo burger on its menu, hungry Montana tourists are willing to pay an extra $2 for the novelty. Montana tourists are most frequently found at the two National Parks, but surprising numbers of tourists visit my hometown of Butte.

How can you spot a tourist in Montana? If the weather is in the mid-fifties, the tourists are the ones wearing the down coats. At 50 degrees Fairenheit, Montanans switch from jeans to shorts, making it easy to spot an outsider.

Regardless of whether you find a tourist in Chicago or Montana, if you encounter one, beware! Tourists frequently approach strangers, requesting that you take their picture. The trouble is, so do Montanans!

Do you have any other ways you would like me to compare Chicago to Montana? We have only lived here for eight months, so our memory of Montana is fresh and we are still learning new things about our new place. I appreciate any input.

1 comment:

  1. Having spent many years living in both Montana and (just outside of) Chicago, this post humored me mostly because of how absurdly accurate it is!


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