Headed out for a brief road trip, and there’s a story to be told from every adventure. Here are a few things I learned behind the lens on my recent trip to the Chicago suburbs.
I’m a product of the suburbs. Many of you probably are as well. My life has been bordered by four lane streets every mile, geometrically perfect, with an almost militaristic social norming going on as well. You keep your yard clean because otherwise you’ll be, you know, THAT house. You are known by what school you attend, and you sit in every so slightly quivering fear of that larger city center somewhere near to you.
For me, that was life in Chicago. Not so much in Portland, though, which tends to ignore the rules of geometry. Still, there was that kind of halfway living, with some of the bastardized concept of nature and some of the city life. Neither are quite adequate.
My new home is really much wilder. We’re out there. A lot. Ask someone who knows where Houghton/Hancock is. Today, I went and skipped stones on Lake Superior, walked through the site of a forest fire two decades ago (it’s quite the meadow/proto-forest now), ate at an old highway-side diner, visited a few industrial ruins (think mining era, late nineteenth/early twentieth century), and then went grocery shopping. I live exactly where I want to live.
But sometimes we all go home, you know? I returned to the southwest suburbs of Chicago last month, and here’s some of what I saw.
There is quite a bit of land set aside as forest preserves in Chicago’s suburbs, and I just happen to have commuted through one to work every day for about three years. Granted, this was much harder in the winter, but I still did it. Yet, with asphalt pavement throughout, it’s a kind of sanitized nature. It’s nature having to live by city rules. Most of our walk through this area on this day was punctuated by the sound of lawnmowers, weedwhackers, and other similar implements. It was noisy.
We were there for a wedding, and it was the first time I’ve been there during the summer in some time. It felt hot. Heavy. I’m not used to this kind of humidity in the air. Blah. Of course, we’re only talking about temperatures in the mid-80s F, but I’m not even used to that anymore.
But the evenings are still a welcome respite.
My parents live essentially in the air traffic pattern for Midway Airport, so a few planes per hour come by quite low on approach. They’re fun to watch. I love airports, just like train stations, as they show so many possibilities, so many people going so many different places. And for so many reasons, too.
I also used to love listening to the trains at night in this suburb (Tinley Park, if you’re wondering). But they put in an ordinance that trains can’t blow their horns through town anymore, and it really kind of killed on of the things I liked. Weird things, I know, but there was something about them in the ambience.
Ultimately, looking at the not-so-blue skies and the traffic and the people who don’t say hello, I just don’t quite fit here. It seems like you have to find the little things to enjoy, because it’s hard to put together one completely beautiful picture in the suburbs. The suburbs are all about functionality and consumption. I don’t say that as good or bad, just as they are. And I’m not. That’s okay.
Still, with all of the attention paid to the lawns here, at least the bunny was happy.
Words and photos by Kevin Hodur. Previously calling suburban Chicago and Portland home, Kevin now lives and works as a writer on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Catch more editions of The Road Rarely Traveled throughout the summer as he celebrates finally having a job with vacation time.