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The Liminal Life: A Letter from a Chicago Expat

Memoirs & Miscellany Add comments

By Kate Bernot

A pleasantly liminal state is what I remember about all my Chicago summers. I lived in the city for four years, but the summers are melted together in a loose block like the popsicles that inevitably defrosted between the store and my freezer.

I attribute this in-betweenness to Chicago’s mandate that I walk or bike almost everywhere during warm weather. I live in Phoenix now, a city whose summers’ heat is a mockery of humans’ choice to settle there—don’t give me that line about dry heat; when it’s 115 and asphalt turns to molasses, the dew point is irrelevant.

During my final years in Chicago, I was RedEye’s cocktail and beer reporter. It was a fun gig that was even more fun during the summer, when street festivals and Sheffield’s beer garden and the zeitgeisty frozen Negroni made me and my friends feel like we were in on the same secret: That our little corner of the world was the best place to live, and why would we ever leave? (Turns out, a frustrating media jobs landscape, increasing rents and breaking points in personal relationships are all valid answers to that question.)

But this liminality. It’s at its peak when the bars are nearing close, and I’m a few daiquiris or High Lifes down, and I’m probably sun-tired and ready to call it a night… in thirty minutes. Living in Ukrainian Village, an even mile from three Blue Line stops, meant getting home from anywhere farther than Tuman’s required a walk or bike ride. These walks and whirring bike meanderings were my favorite, quiet part of the summer.

If I was solo, they were a chance to digest the night, to isolate, evaluate and let back into orbit all that was said and seen. Or, if I found myself walking home with someone, they were reasons to let that person in on my crepuscular knowledge: that the sculptor who lived below me had rambling phone-call debates about sex while smoking on our back stairs; that the horses who draw the carriages in plodding squares around Michigan Avenue shuffle home wearily to a nondescript warehouse on the West Side; that no matter how many times I walk it, I can never quite remember which fading beige building on Artesian Avenue belongs to my friend Carly.

In Phoenix, I work for a beer magazine. I still have to get home at night, but now it’s an Uber ride, or a vigilant trip on the light rail. It robs me of the reflection time, the settling-down time, the not-quite-end of the night. And oh, this heat, which seeps in through my ears and nostrils and eyes and smothers—like a wool blanket—the sparks of introspection.

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