On a local talk-show recently, a New York actress, Elizabeth Ashley, said of Chicago: "This is a real town." Chicago gets many friendly pats on the head like this. A fnend ut mine, a Churagoan transplanted from the East like me, growls: 'Don t you hate il when they come out here and say. Oh, what a little srtTci this city is'?"
Chicago wasn't always a lost city. Startmg around 1893 with the Columbian Exposition and lasting through Al Capone, it was the aty that most captured America s imagination In those years, Chicago was an enchanted place, with Its history of political riots, gangland wars, and overnight busintrss empires, a history as surrealistic as a Latin Amencan novel. Then, mysteriously, it went out of style. And that raises a crucial, maddening question: Is this place reallv any different from St. Louis, Detroit, or lndianapt>lis?
The Eluabeth Ashley problem is that in parts of Chicago, you can pretend you are in New York, ChKago is still the onlv city in America where such pretending can go on. It has an elegant, Mies van der Rohc skyhnc. Michigan Avenue is a kind of !fun-t>gate Madison Avenue. The Sears Tower, which looks like the black obelisk that descended on the ape-lmgs in 2lXH A Space OdvsMy. is still the world s tallest building. Caller on Chicago radio: Is the Sears Tower the tallest in Chicago? Announcer: The Sears Tower IS the tallest building in the world. Caller: Yeah, but is it the tallest in Chicago?
By Thomas Geoghegan