Why I Ultimately Left Chicago (But Will Always Love It)

While I regularly complained about the hassles of living downtown (creeps on the El, terrible drivers, the lingering stench of pee), leaving Chicago was by no means an easy decision. Sure, you make choices that steer your direction in life like where to go to school or what to major in that all impact you in different ways, but uprooting yourself as an adult is different. You’ve already forged a path and “settled down” to some degree, however unstable you feel on the inside.

And more than just a city, Chicago was my comfort zone. My home, where I grew up, my family, friends old and new. I never thought I’d be able to live somewhere without the culture, expansive restaurant scene, and lakefront, but as time went on, I got more and more antsy thinking that I was settling. Staying just because it was comfortable. Eventually, the negatives outweighed the positives.

It took me 6 years of wondering “what if” to get up the courage to risk it all on somewhere new. I’d lived in Colorado, but never the city. I knew a few people there, but they’d mostly settled down since college. While Denver seemed shiny and promising, I was essentially walking away from my dream job (at the pay scale of a big city, no less) and my safety net. Here are just a few of the reasons I finally left.

dangerous chicago

It Got Really, Really Unsafe

Chi-raq has a serious image problem as of late and one that’s unfortunately mostly deserved. Believed by many to be the most unsafe city in the entire country, it’s draining to turn on the news and hear nothing but negatives and violence – the number of people gunned down each weekend. And it’s not just the Southside. I was regularly getting “neighborhood alerts” on my own street warning of everything from break-ins to stabbings and rapes. It makes me really, really sad to think about because I see no end in sight to the rise in crime until the people in charge take a good hard look at what’s happening and make a serious commitment (of both time and money) to fix it.

While I never had any specific incidents around my apartment, my wallet was stolen from a 4-star restaurant. Without my knowing, a guy off the street ducked in, grabbed it out of my bag on the back of the bar chair, and ran out. Thankfully, the five-foot nothing manager of MK was a badass bitch, saw the entire thing and tackled the guy before I even noticed. But if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. I lived in Wicker Park for 6 years and by the end, I didn’t even feel safe cutting through my own alley for fear of who I may run into after dark. What kind of community is that?

can't pay my rent

It Got Really, Really Expensive

Not only was it getting less safe, but my rent was raised on average $200 a year– how does that make any sense? Besides just rent, parking downtown was a nightmare, costing anywhere from $25-30 an hour (compare that to $1.50/hr in Denver and free on Sundays), plus the other bullshit the city was doing to try to dig themselves out of bankruptcy. Between the red light cameras and speeding cameras, I felt like I was being screwed by my own city to make a quick buck. That’s really what it came down to – corrupt police run-ins, nonsense parking tickets, all nuisances and headaches that add up and wear you down. A $250 tint ticket on private property based on a technicality? Tints are legal in Illinois (but not Chicago) just in the hopes that I’ll suck it up and pay it? No thank you. Contrast that with Denver, who legalized weed and made millions in the first month with virtually no fallout (and crime rates that have gone down), and you have to seriously question the decisions of who is running that city.

Chiberia is insane

Photo by Scott Olson: Getty Images

Those Winter Blahs

While I’m fully accustomed to cold weather having grown up with it, there is absolutely no reason people should live in a place nicknamed Chi-beria by choice. In high school, we had more cold days than we had snow days, days it was literally unsafe to be outside because your hands would turn purple. Below 30 wind chills? Yeah, that’s not normal. While Colorado gets its fair share of snow, it’s nowhere near as brutally cold. Also, there’s that whole mountain sports thing. Even when it does snow, you can actually do things to enjoy the season, instead of moping and waiting for it to melt into black mush. Seasonal affect disorder is real, and hibernating for 6+ months a year was not my idea of fun. Similarly, there’s that whole lack of common courtesy when cold weather hits. Saving parking spots with lawn chairs and yard sale decorations is not a good look.

colorado the beautiful

Photo by carstensenphoto, flickr

Get Me Outside

I’m much too active to be cooped up inside and the more time I spend in Colorado, the more I’ve become a true outdoor lover. I can’t imagine living anywhere without wide-open spaces and being able to hike, fish, and explore on a moment’s notice. You don’t have to go far for an adventure when you have the mountains right in your backyard. The concrete jungle is constricting, and while there’s something to be said for having variety and convenience at your doorstep, I’d much prefer diverse landscapes over 24-hour fast food. Every weekend feels like a mini-vacation with so many quirky towns to explore.

So long story short, you never know what else is out there or if the risk is worth the reward. Hopefully this inspires you to evaluate if you’re really happy and if you’re not, have the courage to do something about it.

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