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This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Land Beyond O’Hare

Before I moved to Paradise (i.e. high cost of living, lousy wages, no jobs, but absolutely fantastic weather), I used to live in Chicago. Not the “greater Chicago tri-state area,” but CHICAGO. Right downtown. Across the street from Water Tower Place.

I make this distinction because in Chicago, as in many places, people get very defensive about their territory. In truth, it’s not really about geography but about the mindset that accompanies the geography. Rather like the famous 1976 New Yorker magazine cover that depicts a typical New Yorker’s point of view of the U.S., with everything west of the Hudson River lumped into one small barren blob.

In Kansas City it’s important to know if you are from the Kansas-side or the Missouri-side of town, because the Missouri side is chic but the Kansas side is not. Although my cousin Courtney claims to live in Cincinnati, she really lives across the river in Covington, Kentucky; but she would be as horrified if you referred to her as a Kentuckian as she would be if you had suggested that she marry her brother.

In Chicago, there are the city-folk, i.e. Chicagoans, and the suburbanites, whose suburb-names are not even differentiated in the city as anything other than “The Land Beyond O’Hare.” (O’Hare Airport sits just inside the city limits.) Chicagoans don’t like to go to the suburbs. They get lost. There are these vast expanses of nothingness, called “fields.” Very disconcerting. Then there is Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, whose 278 sq. mile parking lot has it’s own “Woodfield Mall Parking Lot, I Hate You” Facebook page with 3,887 members. Really.

In return, my Uncle Donn and Aunt Char lived in The Land Beyond O’Hare (OK, technically it was the suburb of Northbrook). They avoided the city like the plague. When Uncle Donn was forced to attend a dental convention at the Palmer House in Chicago, he hated every minute of it. Driving in the city made him nervous. Parking was always a problem. The prices drove him crazy. When they spoke of going to the “theater” they meant Drury Lane Dinner Theater in Evergreen Park to see the 156th revival of “Guys and Dolls.”

See, it’s a mindset. In business and in life, we don’t like that with which we are unfamiliar. We tend to do business with folks we know, which is why networking is so important these days. We want to see multiple references on your job application, hopeful that we will recognize one of them because we don’t like to deal with strangers. I am currently job-hunting and I keep avoiding “straight” for-profit postings, even though I was once President and CEO of a large Midwestern corporation with offices on both coasts. But that was years ago and now I feel more comfortable in the nonprofit world where I know where all the bodies are buried (one of them may be mine).

I don’t eat food that Norman Rockwell didn’t paint. My mother always read Roger Ebert’s review before deciding whether to join us at the movie (that way she would guarantee avoiding something that wasn’t upbeat). My son no longer dates, because he knows that eventually whomever-she-is will dump him. My husband has projects in the house that he has promised to fix for three years but has never even attempted, because he is worried that he won’t know how and he would rather be seen as a lazy bum than a failure.

Think of all of the things that we are depriving ourselves of because they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable or might make us appear to be less than competent or question our preconceived values. In defense, we mock the unknown as beneath us, uninteresting or tasteless. (My West End Avenue Manhattan friends, upon hearing that I had a ticket to see “The Addams Family” could not have been more appalled or horrified if I had intentionally smeared excrement across their white designer sofa.)

No matter the cost, we stay in our little boxes where it might be damn uncomfortable but at least it’s familiar. It defines us; who we are and what we do. It is our neighborhood, even if the geography is actually located squarely between our ears. Because, let’s face it, it’s pretty scary in our own neighborhood but it’s really scary out there in The Land Beyond O’Hare.


  1. This is a nice piece of writing. It connects with everyone, whether you live in Chicago or not. I have never lived in Chicago. I’ve never even traveled there except to change planes at O’Hare, but I did live in NY City for a few years and the same mentality exists there. I could not believe how upset people in the office would get if they found out they had to call on a client or go to a conference in the Midwest. They seemed to be able to handle LA, but ask them to spend two days in Omaha and you would have thought the earth had stopped. I don’t think that New Yorkers know how to act with white people who speak English at the McDonald’s drive-thru or actually say thank you when you give the waitress a tip.

    We should all be better about expanding our horizons beyond our comfort zone. Great post.

  2. Kay, I agree with Maggie. This piece has broad appeal and is very well written. I related to it from years ago when I grew up in a “city” and went to the “city school”. So fortunate was I that I did not live in the country and go to the “country school”. It wasn't until I left that cocoon and lived in a real city with friends from cities all over the country that I realized, (okay they forced me through constant teasing and humiliation) that I could not have been more “country” if I had grown up barefoot in a berry patch. The first of many shattered illusions of grandeur that have taught me reality really does suck.

  3. OK, this really appealed to me because I'm from Chicago myself. Well, not really. I'm from "The Land Beyond O'Hare," born in Harvey and raised for a time in Niles. But my grandparents lived in Chicago--a long block from Lake Shore Drive--and I have amazing memories of the city.

    As an adult, and perhaps because I've lived in the LA suburbs for 46 years, neither navigating the Chicago streets or driving to the outlands fazes me, but I understand the mindset. My grandma, bless her heart, never learned to drive at all. She just hopped on the bus or waited for my uncle to pick her up--and off she'd go to "The Land Beyond."!

    Great piece, Kay.

  4. Kay, you are depriving yourself of a lot of interesting food by only eating what Norman Rockwell painted. Try a Thai restaurant sometime, or Tex-Mex on a Saturday night. That’s some good eatin’

    Did Norman paint any Italian or Chinese food? Take your tongue for a trip “beyond O’Hare” sometime. I’d hate to think that you were stuck with thanksgiving turkey 7 days a week.

    You are always a fun read,
    Bob in Atlanta

  5. Bob:

    I'll have you know that Norman Rockwell painted lots of Italian food. His "American Rigatoni" is a classic and is part of the historic "Pastas on Parade" series. And, of course, I eat Chinese but that's because I am Jewish and as Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan pointed out in her confirmation hearing, it's a religious rite (as opposed to the religious right, which is another thing entirely....don't get me started).

    True story -- my close friends, the Littmans, were in Rome last year and had dinner with Norman Rockwell's son, Peter Barstow Rockwell. They told him of their crazy friend in Hawaii who only ate food that Norman Rockwell painted, and they asked him if he could paint up a little array of Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, Peter is a sculptor and didn't have time to bang out a bust of Mahatma Gandhi snacking on Tandoori Chicken and Kulcha. Too bad. :)

    Thanks always to everyone who takes the time to comment!

    Kay (aka Biz Bitch)

  6. Brilliant, as always.

    Harrise Davidson
    Chicago, Illinois

  7. I loved this! and get it completely. I used to have an office in Northbrook and worked a week a month out of there. I wanted to be downtown sooooo badly but the folks in that office loved that the suburbs were so stratified. Everyone who was a Protestant Republican lived in one area just as there weren't many Christmas lights in Highland Park. So much more interesting to mix it up!

  8. I feel sorry for your son who has stopped dating. I assume that he has been burned badly. There is so much hopelessness around right now. I have friends who have been jobless for so long they have given up. They have turned into bitter, sad people who are angry at the world. Everyone seems to feel alone these days. Please tell your son not to give up. I didn't find the right person until I was over 40 but it was worth the wait. Don't sit in your cave in the land beyond O'hare waiting for something to happen. Sometimes you have to make something happen. Is that what this article is really about? That's what I got.

  9. Kay, this is exactly what I run into regularly in my interior redesign and staging business. Most people like the idea of change but the reality scares them. The known is easier to live with only because it is familiar. New=strange=possibly difficult to get used to=bad. This is a great subject for discussion and reflection.

  10. Jen:

    You are absolutely right about my son having been badly burned by a girl he loved. Thanks for your good wishes that he not give up. From your mouth to G-d's ears!!! But he'll have to get out there and try.

    I keep telling him that old Chinese proverb: A hungry man will starve to death waiting for a chicken to fly into his mouth.

    Kay (aka Biz Bitch)

  11. I'm so glad I found this blog. The comments are as much fun to read as the blog itself.

    I have never heard of the phrase - A hungry man will starve to death waiting for a chicken to fly into his mouth - but you can bet that I will use it in the future. Very entertaining! And yet also very true.

  12. Kay, I like your witty style! It is so true what you say about how people define themselves by their geography. I am a british ex-pat living temporarily in a snooty suburb of Boston. Here you tend to get pigeon-holed by how many children you have. My shocking answer is "none", so I am instantly rejected by the 'elite' of this suburb. Oh yes, and Boston driving is terrifying.

  13. I am so delighted to read your wonderful blog; it is food for thought. It was a pleasure meeting you and your husband last weekend, and I hope that we can hang out again soon. Aloha.

  14. What some people call comfort zone, other people call the land beyond O'Hare.
    Or, I shall say - discomfort zone:-)

    Stay Delicious!

  15. No matter how old we are it's good to do new things. Sometimes things that scare us or make our hearts beat faster provide growth. I say jumping into your discomfort zone is good for the sole. What new brave thing are you thinking of doing?
    Sandra Krantz
    Imaginar Gifts

  16. Kay,

    The Internet becomes a wonderful place when a person sends me links leads me to precious gems like your blog. I will bookmark it, publicize it on Twitter, Facebook and spray paint the web address everywhere.

    Thanks for your great humor from a guy that was born and raised way beyond the "The land beyond O'Hare" but still somewhere in the State of Illinois.

    Keep up the good work!!!