Chicago has about as many nicknames as Professor Xavier‘s Institute for Gifted Children – otherwise known as ‘The X-Men Mansion”. I personally call it “Chitown” (pronounced ‘shy-town’), but others have refered to it as: “sweet home”, “Paris by the prairie”, “New Gotham”, “The Chill”, “Second City”, “The Big Onion”, “Beirut by the Lake”, “Miami of Canada” (By Mr. Burns on the Simpsons), and of course: “The Windy City”. You can look up more if you’re so inclined. One I left off that list is “City of Broad (or Big) Shoulders”. After 25 years of her influence on my life, I have my own reason to call her that.
I know I already said it in the title but I Love Chicago! I consider it my hometown. “Consider” – because I wasn’t born in Chicago and I’ve only had addresses in the suburbs, but I think I’ve spent more hours inside it’s boarders than in some of those homes. Arguably I have worked in every neighborhood in the great city and almost every one of it’s suburban surroundings. I have been a part of Chicago in ways many people will never have a chance to be, even if they were born and raised here, and I count that a great honor.
I cleaned floors in the Merchandise Mart which contains the Chicago World Trade Center and worked at a Wendy’s fast food and Fanny May Candies at the foot of the famed Sears Tower (No, I will not call it the Willis Building.) I worked near both Wrigley Field and Comisky Park. I worked as the supervisor over all the crews of Skyline Building Maintenance Inc. for many years. We worked round the clock making Chicago’s buildings sparkle. During the day crews were cleaning windows on skyscrapers and chains like Hollywood Video, Fannie May Candies, Blockbuster Video, Wendy’s Fast Food Restaurants, etc. and at night our crews cleaned carpets, stripped and waxed tile flooring, buffed, emptied trash and cleaned toilets on a myriad of businesses all over the northern part of Illinois. At one time we even ventured into Indiana and Wisconsin. We were in the richest and poorest areas including the wealthiest suburbs on the North Shore, such as Kenilworth, Glencoe, Winnetka, Highland Park, and Lake Forest. These suburbs have a tremendous amount of prestige associated with them and the cost of land is astounding.We cleaned windows and chandeliers in some of the largest houses in the Suburbs which can be found in areas away from the lake in cities like South Barrington and Inverness. Then at night, (graveyard shift) we were in the worst neighborhoods like Englewood, North Lawndale, and West Garfield Park, Cabrini Greene and the Taylor Projects. (I loved this, by the way because it kept us grounded in reality and the people were usually nice, fun and loving once you got to know them. I only call them “worst” because they were economically opposite of the other neighborhoods listed, and because most people I knew tried to avoid these areas in the day much less at 3am.)
The people I met during this time were some of the most interesting characters: Workers down on their luck working a night job cleaning toilets in order to get off the streets, homeless men and women looking to hustle anything they could to get their next fix, CEO’s trying to cut corners in order o turn a profit in the next quarter, Gang bangers who hated me for the color of my skin…yet somehow grew to respect me, and all the average joe’s who worked day in and day out that make Chicago great. I think the person I grew to know best through Chicago was me. Every day I entered new unknown areas of the city or outlying areas and with each new day came new tests and fears I had to overcome. I failed many times at completing the tasks assigned to me by my superiors and often failed at overcoming my own internal battles against the unexpected and challenging emotions that came with that job. In the end, I prevailed and Chicago became symbolic to me of my struggles. I grew bigger in many ways while on that job. Chicago taught me to be diverse and stand my ground. They call it the City of Big Shoulders, and now I have my own definition of what that means.
– Shaun Hays
P.S. – I am in love with the idea of the new Chicago Spire and can’t wait to see it completed! IF you don’t know much about it check out this video and website. http://www.thechicagospire.com/location/documentary/