The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

June 11, 2003

Brush with suburbia

Originally posted to Diary-X on June 11, 2003

We were supposed to go camping last weekend—we had reservations at a park in Wisconsin. But the weather forecast was iffy, and, well, waiting out a rainstorm in a tent with a wet dog is not my idea of a good time. So we stayed home instead. And the sun shone all day on Saturday.

We slept in, and made a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and fruit smoothies, and drank multiple cups of coffee, and read the good sections of the Tribune. We took the dog for a jog by the lake, and I sat at Starbucks for a few hours doing homework while John watched the Cubs/Yankees game on TV.

Later in the afternoon, we pondered the all-important question: where should we go for dinner? I suggested something radical, something totally new: “Let’s go to a suburb!”

Now, Oak Park isn’t really a suburb. I think of it as “urban suburbia”—it’s right on the western border of Chicago, and two different el lines have stations there. It’s one of the areas where we’ll search for a house, whenever that time comes. Actually, that time could come sooner than we’ve planned. The woman who owns our condo recently told us that she may sell it next winter, and we don’t want to buy it—it’s too small for anything long-term. The thought of enduring the nightmare of moving again, simply to bide our time in another apartment for a year, is loathsome… so if she does put our place on the market, we’ll probably try to buy something. (We’ve considered buying a two-bedroom condo in the city, but something about that just doesn’t feel right to me. There’s only so long you can live in a two-bedroom condo. Condo buildings usually don’t have fenced-in yards for dogs, which is something I want if I’m paying six figures for a home. And who wants to pony up those $200+ assessment fees every month?)

So. We’ve heard great things about Oak Park, but we’d never been there, so we decided to make the trek west last Saturday. We left around 6 p.m., driving down Lakeshore Drive, admiring the deep blue of the lake and Lincoln Park spreading out on our right. We chugged through downtown, momentarily slowed by crowds from Gospel Fest and the Printers’ Row Book Fair. We got onto 294, also known as the Eisenhower. And then we crawled. And crawled some more. My husband is not always the most patient of guys, and traffic brings out the worst in him. He was not happy that it took us about an hour to get to Oak Park. While I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of girl, my excitement was quashed a bit, too. We felt so… far away.

Oak Park is a really, really pretty town. There are canopies of tall green trees everywhere, and cute old houses lining up behind cracked sidewalks, and corner stores and elementary schools and venerable stone churches. The downtown is picturesque and walkable—lots of cool-looking restaurants and stores, little art galleries, an old movie theater, an opera house. Big, beautiful green parks are everywhere. North of downtown, there are some truly magnificent (and $800,000+) homes, many designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a cultural town, a historical town, and it has excellent access to the city (by train, it probably takes about 20-25 minutes to get downtown).

We drove by a house that we’d seen on a realtor’s website. It was built in the 1930s, a two-story bungalow, and it had a front porch with a bench swing. It was on one of those leafy sidewalked streets. The neighbors had “No War” signs in their front yards. As we drove by, we saw that it had a back porch, too. And a little fenced-in lawn.

Two porches. Two. I immediately saw us sitting on the back porch after dinner, drinking beers, John playing guitar, Murphy chasing squirrels in the yard.

We went out to dinner at a casual alehouse that got a positive review in the Tribune. We sat outside on the deck and ate mediocre meals. Something felt a bit strange to me… I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then, suddenly, I figured it out. We were surrounded by people who were either in their 40s and 50s or in their teens. There were only two other couples on that crowded deck that were our age. And I realized that in our neighborhood, everyone’s in their 20s and 30s. We hardly ever see children or teenagers or people our parents’ age. I’m not sure I’d ever noticed that before.

After dinner, we drove around town a little longer, then headed back to the city, a shorter drive this time. We felt tired and decided to go home and relax on our rooftop deck with some drinks. We hauled out our camping chairs and set ourselves up in the dark, looking out over the Chicago skyline, the buildings rising up dark and bejeweled in the night sky. To the west, less than a mile away, the lights were still glowing at Wrigley. (On the following night, we’d hear the immense roar of the crowd coming through our living room windows as the Cubs walloped the Yanks.) We could hear faint sirens and car horns, and the “brrr” of a low-flying helicopter scuttling past on its way to the hospital. We could also hear the wind. The skyscrapers twinkled. The sky above us was huge and black.

“I like it here,” I said.

“Me too,” John answered.

“I don’t think I’m ready to buy a house,” I said. “I mean, having a porch would be nice, and a yard. But I’m just not ready to leave this.”

“Me neither.”

“Anyway, we have a porch now,” I said, sipping my beer and looking out at my city. “And a view.”

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