Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big Town, Small Town, In Between Town

It's a dismal afternoon in Streeterville. it's 35 degrees and snowing lightly as per the National Weather Service and as per the view from the 14th floor windows. Thank God for red wine. Babs is gone on a business excursion to sunny Southern California while I feed the cats and give one a pill. What did I say the other day about routines? Well, forget it for now. I'm on to something else, and with Babs gone my normal routines are out the door. Hey let's eat dinner at 5 PM and pretend we're 80 year olds at IHOP in Ocala, Florida.

Babs and I had visitors over the 3 day weekend. Once long ago we existed in a land far away, known as Minneapolis. Then we migrated one December day in the middle of a snowstorm and somehow became rooted in Chicago. We still have some friends there and stay in contact, for the most part. In many years that means a card at Christmas and maybe a phone call. Some years we stop in for dinner while in Minneapolis. Some years they stop in for dinner when they are in Chicago. My how the kids have grown! There's, not ours. We have cats. Much easier to deal with, and no college tuition to worry about.

Well to make a short story long, these Minneapolitan, Scandinavian friends of ours, hmmmm....we'll call them, no not Sven and Lena, how about Candace and Ron, arrived in Chicago for a three day weekend with 2 sets of friends and all of said friends' children. They did the Munch exhibit. (Remember that Munch painting, "The Scream?") The teenaged kids said Mr. Munch was a wee bit depressing in his art. They did an obligatory Second City show. Generally regarded as witty and entertaining. Then they all came to the 14th floor for cocktails and obligatory oohs and ahhs, while viewing Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, etc., and a brief explanation of who exactly Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was.

After cocktails, oohing and ahhing and catching up on details of life that had escaped friends new and old over the last 20 some odd years, it was time to take care of that time honored tradition, going out for genuine Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Out of towners are often partial to Geno's East Pizzeria. Chicagoans have a deep-seated disdain for places that draw too many tourists and herd you through as do such places. Babs suggested that we try Pizzeria Uno since it was the actual birthplace of deep dish pizza. Now that's a slice of history. (so to speak) Uno said there would be a 30-45 minute wait after arriving. Forget that stuff.

We went to Lou Malnati's. The out of towners were wowed that we never actually go to Lou Malnati's for pizza. We have it delivered. Some folks are easily amused. We had a good meal. Everyone was pleased and oohed and ahhed at the signed jerseys of various sports illuminati on the walls. That's not what I really intended to talk about though. I've somehow managed to go on and on for 4 or 5 paragraphs and I'm just now getting to the point. Babs thinks I could be a bit more succinct. Well, maybe.

Anyway, being the education professional, and everyone else in the room but Babs and I being parents, or children, the topic somehow turned to education. Go figure. We talked about current trends in education sweeping the nation, small schools concepts, IB and AP programs in every high school. Don't get me started. I did my diplomatic best, and then one of the Minneapolitans asked me where I worked.

I explained that I worked in a career academy on the Southside in a neighborhood best known for poverty and gang shootings. Said Minneapolitan then told me that she had a friend who worked for a high school in Chicago and had told her absolutely awful stories about the goings on in that school. I was intrigued. "Oh really," I said, "Where does your friend work?" Then she said, "Walter Payton High School." I had to work diligently to avoid bursting into laughter. I told her, "Walter Payton is a selective enrollment, college preparatory high school. None of the students who go there test at less than the 90th percentile." Was I exaggerating? Maybe a little. Not much.

The Minneapolitan grew defensive. I had to be conciliatory. I said, "Well sometimes even the best students can be a problem. They're teenagers after all." She went off on a tangent about how children of poverty aren't socialized as we are, blah, blah, blah. The woman had no clue. A great many teachers in CPS would give an arm and a leg to get a job in a sweet school like Walter Payton. I found myself wondering if it were a case of the woman from the Great White North had never worked with African-American students in large numbers before and was having a bit of a crisis as a result.

I grew up in a town of about 20,000 people that was basically a suburban area, located on a freeway. I have lived in cities of 150,000-250,000. I have lived in cities of the medium range of 500,000-700,000. I have lived for 20 years in the 3rd largest city in the United States and I have spent enough time in the largest city in the United States to know what it is about, more or less. People have very different perceptions of reality, based on the size of their city, based on the ethnic makeup of that city, based on personal experience. I hate to be an urban snob, but for goodness sakes people, there are restaurant experiences you pay for and those that are good. There are experiences that are genuinely scary and those that are just different from what you are accustomed to.

Babs and I have been around the planet, literally. We have seen the best and the worst that the world, not just the U.S. or a particular state has to offer. It is my considered opinion, however, that a great deal of the world, and not just Minneapolitans, could stand to be exposed to life outside their special little bubble. It eliminates a lot of prejudice. Not everyone is just like us and that's okay. It frankly makes life a lot more interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment