Sex and Another City – or One Writer’s Love Letter to Chicago

I am an unabashed “Sex and the City” devotee. I’m that annoying person who can recite whole episodes verbatim, owns all the seasons on DVD and the gorgeous “Kiss and Tell” coffee table book. I even own a First Edition hardcover of Candace Bushnell’s compilation of newspaper columns that inspired the show (which, if you’re expecting any resemblance to the TV show . . . don’t.).

I Love "Sex and City," but...
 As deep as my affection for the show runs, one thing always irritated me: the hero worship of New York City. If you went by the show, you’d think Manhattan was the center of universe. You’d think crappy dates only happen in New York. You’d think you couldn’t get a decent drink anywhere but New York. You’d think everything outside New York was Podunk U.S.A.  

Don’t get me wrong:

(as an aside, my best friend got married at the Boathouse in Central Park. “Sex and the City” junkies know the Boathouse was featured in the Season Three finale, “Cock a Doodle Do!” when Big and Carrie fall into the pond after he tries to kiss her.). I love the myth, the legend, the culture, the history, the architecture, the fashion—everything. But I also know there is life outside of New York. There are a multitude of amazing cities across this great land known as America.

And my “City” is Chicago.

I wasn’t born in Chicago, which always surprises people, but I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere, so, it’s home. My parents divorced when I was a kid and shortly after, my mother moved to Chicago while my brother and I relocated to Texas with my father. However, we spent every summer and every other Christmas in Chicago. The first time we came to visit was a major culture shock. I’d been to Dallas and Houston, sizable cities in their own right, but nothing prepared my ten-year old self for life in the Windy City.

For starters, my mother lived in a high-rise building with a doorman—there was no bounding in and out of the house all day. If you wanted to go out, you had to really want to go out. We didn’t play in the street (unless you had a death wish) and our backyard was the parks dotting the lakefront a few steps from our building. For ten weeks out of the year, “L” trains, city buses, towering skyscrapers, museums for every conceivable art and science were our norm. We walked EVEYWHERE. Glittering vertical malls housing Marshall Field’s, Lord and Taylor and Carson Pirie Scott were where we shopped for clothes and “The Jewel” was where we shopped for food. We didn’t go to Baskin Robbins, but gorged on Rainbow Cones. Bags of Hershey’s Kisses paled next to boxes of Frango Mints. Pizza was Chicago-style deep dish.

Christmas was a trip downtown for a performance of the Nutcracker and to marvel over the window displays at Field’s on State (Christmas was also snow, a novelty whose charms are totally lost on me today). Chicago was where Oprah Winfrey was a local morning talk show host, light years away from world domination. We hummed the jingle for Empire Carpet and memorized the number for Victory Auto Wreckers without even trying.

I'm old enough to remember when there was no "800" in front of the Empire Carpet phone number

I eventually wound up living in the North Shore suburbs and like so many antsy high school seniors, I fled “Chicagoland” in search of warmer climes and a home far from home as soon as I could. But Chicago is like a magnet and after graduating from college, I moved back.  As a young, twenty-something with a few dollars in her pocket (and I mean, very few), I began to explore Chicago through new eyes, including the multitude of neighborhoods (okay, neighborhood bars), street festivals and homegrown boutiques. I went to Cubs games in the summer and suffered through Bears games in the winter.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is a marvel in the middle of the city. I liked the creaky charm of the old Esquire movie theater and the beer-splattered floors of the Brew and View. You have to hit the Green Mill at least once in your Chicago life and the Indian food on Devon Avenue will change your life. My favorite view of the city is the Signature Lounge at the 96th with a frothy cocktail in my hand. The only place to go dancing is the Hangge Uppe (though I did love the Riviera back in the day). You should try all the deep-dish pizza places so you can argue with your fellow Chicagoans about which one is the best (Lou Malnati’s gets my vote.) And yeah, it’s cheesy, but ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier at least once.

And yes, this city has supplied me with more than my fair share of crappy dates, but that’s a blog post (or two or ten) for another day.

My affection for Chicago has only expanded and deepened over the years and it was that love and appreciation that spurred me to make Chicago the setting for all of my books. I went through a period where it seemed every book, movie and TV show I stumbled across was set in New York. It had almost become a cliché. John Hughes called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off his love letter to Chicago and indeed, my books are meant to be their own little missives on what makes this city so spectacular. Whether it’s the lights along Lake Shore Drive winking at you at night ("Killing Me Softly") or shutting yourself within the confines of the Harold Washington Library Center ("Sweet Little Lies") or contemplating whether or not to recreate Rocky’s triumphant run on the steps of the Art Institute ("Every Breath You Take"), each one of my books is Chicago born and bred.

To celebrate my third love letter to the city, my newest eBook, Every Breath You Take, is FREE on Amazon March 18-19 (click HERE to download), so grab a copy and see what kisses I’m blowing Chicago’s way this time around.