I don’t need to tell you that Chicago is a wonderful place filled with mostly wonderful people; compared to other major metropolises the citizens of this city are true class acts. But there are a few small common courtesies even the best Chicagoan should remember to do to make sure they are the best citizen they can be. These are just a few of the things you can do to keep our city great, not just for the sake of your fellow Windy City denizens, but for yourself and the future of mankind.
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All across our fair city the old institutions are falling to the hip, high-end, the “reimagined.” This is not always a bad thing, of course; when innovation is done with skill and soul, as it often is here, you can get something worthwhile and delicious. The hot dog stand, however, needs no improvement. Yes we love our fancy ostrich or alligator sausages, but the simple joy of the Chicago Dog has been a defining symbol of the city for 70 years and counting, and the local greasy counter joints are the stewards of this most essential meal. So even if it looks a little sketch, even if there is someplace new and shiny touting their new takes on the classic hot dog (and charging appropriately), stop in order a combo with fries and remind yourself that there are some things worth preserving.
Don’t take up two seats on the "L"
For the love of all that is holy, just don’t do it. Ever, ever, ever. I don’t care if you have a backpack, slide it under the seat, put it on your lap. Don’t manspread, nobody on earth needs that much space, you’re not fooling anyone. The I-don’t-give-a-damn arrogance of this is maddening to anyone with a sense of what is right in the world. It’s often the small slights that drive people the most crazy and I can assure you that by taking up two seats not only are you being an unredeemable selfish prick, but because of the anger swelling up in the crowded masses you are also taking your life into your hands. Don’t do it. And on that note.
Don't try to get on the train before anyone gets off
I can only assume you are in quite the hurry because apparently even the slightest break to let people walk by will destroy your day. But get this: the train isn’t leaving. It is not going to pull out of the station with the doors still open as people desperately cling for dear life to the side. In fact by pulling a goal-line stand on the wave of commuters trying to squeeze through the exit you are actually slowing things down. So instead of jamming up everything by trying to shove your way through a crowd of people heading in the opposite direction take a deep breath and stand aside so everyone can get off before you rush on the train. You will make all of your fellow Chicagoans day a little more pleasant.
Consider paying a visit to the southern half of the city
Yes I know there are fewer coffee shops and Korean taco stands down there, and things don’t always look great on the news while you are sitting in your condo. But there are two big reasons why you should want to give fellow citizens down there a visit. First, the South Side has tons to offer: history, food, great parks and museums, all the things we love about Chicago. Second, things are not going to get better if half the city keeps trying to pretend the other half doesn’t exist. But if we actually spend a weekend down south, spend some money, support some businesses, maybe even realize we like it and move down there, we can do our small part towards bringing attention to a great city’s great other side.
Shovel your damn sidewalk
So you probably aren’t a landlord yourself, but do them a favor and give this a little forward. Or be a friend and lend your neighbors a hand. Yes it’s not the most pleasant task in the world but neither is trudging across a 3ft-deep block of solid ice that’s been accumulating since November, or swimming through it when it melts and leaves an icy lake an olympic long jumper couldn’t get over. Please, the frozen people of Chicago beg this one small favor from you.
As a citizen of Chicago you are in an enviable position, you live in one of the great beer cities on the globe. There are a lot of fantastic brews from all over the country to sample at a given time, but do everyone around you (and your own taste-buds) a favor and sample what we have to offer first. You certainly won’t get bored because it seems like a new brewery opens up somewhere in Chicago every month, but the not-really-a-problem problem is that a lot of them are really damn good. With so many places that are worth keeping open, we say it’s your civic duty to drink (responsibly) at least one beer brewed in town every time you hit the bar, and bring home a six-pack from the grocery store while you're at it.
See comedy shows all over the city
Take this not as a dis of Chicago comedy college Second City, which still puts on great shows in its fifth decade, but as a reminder that there are lots of smaller, more daring things going on in the Chicago comedy scene that could use a little bit more of your attention. Chicago probably has the best comedic minds outside of New York and LA, and so many of your favorite comedians at least got their start on the small improv stages and bar-room open mics around the city. It can be a hard life as comedians spend years in front of tiny crowds honing their craft before they are ready to hit the big time, so popping in for a local show (maybe start here) and supporting them can be a nice unexpected boost and helps add fuel to the fire that makes this city the hotbed of comedy talent that it is.
Pony up for a StreetWise
Undoubtedly you’ve seen at least a few amiable StreetWise vendors during your time in Chicago. Hopefully you’ve grabbed a few issues before, but if not you should reconsider the next time you pass by a salesperson on your way to work. Costing only $2, StreetWise supports homeless or at-risk individuals throughout Chicago by providing them with employment, retraining, and housing to help them get back on their feet. It is one of Chicago’s most recognizable anti-poverty institutions and is one of the most read street papers on the country. It’s a small gesture but one that will go a long way for some people in your city.
Suck it up and stop complaining about the weather
It’s cold, and the winters are long and gray, and seem to be getting longer and grayer every year -- anyone from Chicago understands this implicitly. Not to get all righteous, but complaining about it won’t do anything. All it does is bring down other people who are already pissed about it themselves. Instead take pride in the fact that you fight your way through snow and wind for five months a year. You’re tough. It’s not comfortable, but it is invigorating. Not everything should be sun and tank tops 365 days of the year; that’s monotony. This is not California. This is the Midwest, so suck it up, appreciate that you live in one of the world’s great cities, and love it for what it is.
This one should be obvious, but it’s worthy saying. The allure of the coasts is strong, but unless there’s a job you just can’t swing in Chicago, or you have somehow evolved to be cold-blooded and need to lie in the sun all year, New York and LA don’t have anything you can’t get here. Instead of fleeing for seemingly greener pastures stick around and build something here. Chicago may always be the second city, but we can make sure our oceanside countrymen don’t know what they're missing.
Be a pal and let that other driver make their left turn in front of you
Anyone who lives in the city has seen the infamous “Chicago left” play out: The light turns red, and a couple cars power through in the brief time frame before everyone else starts moving, disregarding everything they learned in driver's-ed. Don’t blame them though. Chicago is a nightmare for left turns, mostly do to the inexplicable lack of left turn signals at major intersections all over the city. Anyone who tries to be a good law-abiding citizen and wait for an opening on green is likely to back up traffic for an hour before getting a shot. So let them go. If you are sitting across from them, let that first person cut through before you start moving without getting mad. Treat them how you would want to be treated.
Maybe open up a decent bagel place
Consider this more of a call to action to the entrepreneurial citizens out there. Look there are some pretty good bagels in Chicago, but there are not enough, plain and simple. Unlike the smaller personal things on this list consider this one a large-scale civic emergency. The bagel is the best breakfast food in the world bar-none, and don’t even open your mouth to suggest otherwise. Perfectly chewy and dense with a variety of great toppings (God help you if you take your breakfast sandwich on anything else), bagels are a way of life for people who readily have access to great ones. But that access should be a right, not a privilege for the lucky few. So if you are looking to open a business in Chicago or just invest in one I implore you to take up the bagel craft and do it right. None of us should sleep easy until there is a world-class bagel shop in every Chicago neighborhood.
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Matt Spina is a writer living in Chicago who is trying, really trying, to follow his own rules for other people. Follow him @MR_spina