Thursday, January 20, 2005


Life in America

America gets a bad press. Look at the President. He's not a charismatic leader. When he appears at press conferences and squints into the camera he looks like a mole who has just emerged from his burrow at the wrong time of day. People think America is all about guns, violence, porn and drugs.

I live here, and I can tell them, they're wrong.

Chicago is the best city I've ever visited. My suburban house is the best I've ever owned. Were I to earn triple in London what I earn here, I could not even approach the standard of living I enjoy today.

What's so great about Chicago?

- It's very safe. There are no aggressive beggars or groups of feral kids harrassing passers by. It's spotlessly clean. There are wide sidewalks with no broken paving slabs or potholes. I've never seen a garbage bag on the sidewalk outside a restaurant.

- A bus ride is $2. The bus drivers don't need to hide behind armoured shields.

- I can park all day in the middle of downtown for $17.

- The CTA (underground) is cheap, frequent and safe. Fares haven't risen since 1991.

- Cabs are plentiful and cheap.

- METRA, the local rail system, is cheap (monthly season ticket from the suburbs is $120 for a 45 minute ride). Delays and cancellations are so rare that when they happen they make the morning traffic bulletin on the radio. METRA operates during periods of rain, snow and heatwaves exactly the same way.

- The traffic volume downtown in the rush hour is reminiscent of that in London in the 1970s - on a Sunday. They don't carry out endless, pointless roadworks, close roads, and change traffic signals to stay on red for inordinate periods of time, just to create congestion to justify a 'congestion charge'.

Those are the practical benefits. Then you have the stunning architecture. Drive North on Lake Shore drive just as the sun is starting to come up. Try not to be so distracted by the awesome vista of downtown that you plough into the back of the car in front. A lot of the buildings are just stunning - like out of a science fiction movie. This is truly the "first world".

Chicago is a city run by "the machine". "Machine" politics is when a strong, autocratic leader uses patronage to build up a powerbase by rewarding those who help him. Our leader is Mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the famous Mayor Richard J Daley who ruled uninterrupted from 1955
to his death in 1976. Daley takes a lot of flak for the corruption which goes on here. There's a columnist in the Chicago Tribune, an excellent writer, John Kass, who has a crusade going against Daley and his cronies.

My view? I think Daley's a great mayor. He's been in power since 1989. I hope he stays in power another sixteen years. I don't like politicians, but Mayor Daley - you're doing a great job. You'd have my vote, if I were allowed to vote!

You can't run a city like Chicago unless you're an autocrat. You have to be tough and know how to knock heads together and make things happen.

As far as I'm concerned I'm happy if people make a little money on the side. Better than the situation in London with thousands of useless bureaucrats writing mission statements while the place slides down the toilet.

Thank You! As a U.S. citizen by birth I have grown weary from all the anti-American comments thrown at us from every corner of the world. If not currently, then at some point in my more than 45 years as a U.S. taxpayer, my hard earned wages have gone to help the people of those nations. One tires of the "bite the hand that feeds you" attitude. Yes we have our faults. We're a nation of people, and people are imperfect, but I dare say the critics are no more perfect at the least.
I've only been in Chicago a handfull of times over the years, but it's a delightful city, different but so truly American. I'm glad you've found it so and again thank you for kind comments about my homeland.
fish - thank you for your kind comments. I plan to highlight further differences between the US and the UK as they occur to me.
I have bookmarked your site and will check in regularly. I like your writing.
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