Last week, a magazine assignment took me into downtown Chicago to interview an authority on dental implants. When I mentioned my travel plans to friends and acquaintances, I was surprised by the responses I heard regarding our metropolitan neighbor to the east.
First there were the usual cautions: “Don’t take a cab—they’ll rip you off every time” and “Watch your purse—there’s thieves everywhere downtown."
Then there were those who wanted to share a special memory linked to Chicago, whether it was petting the stone lions guarding the Art Institute, seeing themselves in the Bean sculpture or just shopping at Marshall Field's back when it was still Marshall Field's.
That made me wonder if any Chicago residents are walking around with memories, impressions or prejudices of our town. After all, Geneva is a tourist mecca in its own right, with busloads of people coming from all over the Midwest to shop in our quaint 19th-century downtown, dine in our upscale restaurants and relax by the river rapids near the dam.
So, while I drank in Chicago’s sights and sounds on my five-mile walk between my interview and the Metra station, I asked the Chicagoans I ran into if they’d ever heard of Geneva.
“Sure, I’ve heard of it,” said Dr. Kerry Voit, the dentist I’d come to talk to. “I’ve never been there, but I hear a lot of nice little things about it, like the .”
“I’ve been out there to the a few times to see the vintage baseball games where the players dress in old-fashioned uniforms and play by the original rules,” noted Gene, a volunteer at the Newberry Library’s annual used book sale. (I am physically incapable of passing up a used book sale). “It’s nice. You can still see cornfields around there.”
“My girlfriend is bugging me to go to Geneva with her,” said Michael, the cashier who rang up my all-natural, fruit-juice-sweetened gourmet sorbet on a stick at Treasure Island. “Sometimes she goes on the train with her friends and shops there. I guess I’ll have to go with her someday. I hope they have some good bars.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to the they have there in the fall,” admitted Donna, who was walking her dog in Washington Square Park—also known as Bughouse Square, where radical activists used to orate between the 1890s and the 1960s. “I read about it in a magazine. It would be fun because I’d take the train so I could drink as much as I wanted. Maybe I’ll do that this year."
“You’re from Geneva? I grew up there!” exclaimed Drew, a teller at the U.S. Bank branch on Clark Street. “I go back sometimes to visit because my parents still live there, but I haven’t been to since I was in high school. It would make me feel too much like a kid again.”
The most unexpected answer came from Drew’s colleague, Penny. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Geneva,” she commented as she counted out my withdrawal. “How much do they charge for vehicle permit stickers there?”
When Drew and I managed to convince her that Geneva doesn’t even have vehicle permit stickers, Penny replied, “Then I think Geneva is awesome, and I want to live there!”