Home Work Career Confessions Reality and the City

“Dear Carrie Bradshaw, You are a [swear word] liar.”

This is the first line of Jen Lancaster‘s book, “Bright Lights, Big Ass.”  Ms. Lancaster has a point.

Ever since my aunt was in law school downtown Chicago (I was a whole 10 years old complete with a perm, poofy bangs and a size 9 shoe) I knew I wanted to grow up and live in the city.  I have felt the same allure for Chicago ever since: the energy, the hustle and bustle, the business people everywhere, the big companies, the fashion, the buildings, the lake…

So here I am, almost 26, a resident of Chicago.  I am living out my own dream, yet at the same time, all that glitters is NOT gold. 

I know a lot of you college seniors and recent grads are thinking about making the move to the big city, whether it is New York, Chicago, LA, San Fran, or anywhere else in the world.  Definitely do it.  The people you meet, the opportunities you get and the culture you experience are priceless.  BUT, you MUST be cut out for it.  

So today I’ll take a break from dry resume and job search talk and inject a bit of entertainment into your day. 

True Stories About MY Life in the City

My first apartment was an interesting one.  Everything seemed OK at first (other than the fact that my bed barely fit in my room) until a pungent scent of mold started infiltrating our 800 square foot 2 bedroom apartment. I’m talking a freshman year boys dorm + mold smell.  My own mother wouldn’t even come in when she visited.

After the smell, came the bugs.  After several rounds of exterminators, the bugs were still there.  I didn’t realize African safaris existed in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, but I was wrong.  Oh, and there are also typhoons here.  Such as the one that came from my neighbor above who left his kitchen sink on before going out of town for a week.  One night I walked into my room to find a huge rush of water coming out of the ceiling.   It ruined my bed and put me out of a room for 2 weeks until the ceiling was repaired.  I guess that’s what you get for paying $700 each in rent in Chicago.

I could write a whole post about the shanningans that went on in that apartment thanks to my roommate.  I had a ton of fun with her and she was a good friend, but things came to an end when I was called after I moved out and was repeatedly accused of stealing a bottle of $6 Yellowtail wine.   After several attempts at trying to replace my own bottle of $6 wine, I haven’t seen her since.  Except a few weeks ago when her mugshot was on the morning news- apparently my concerns about her lifestlye weren’t so crazy after all.

I was super excited to head to work that first Monday morning in the city.  I walked to my car feeling awesome and then stopped in my tracks only to see all of my car windows were bashed out.  A short time later someone threw a beer bottle at my windsheild and broke it.  Unfortunately, another time,  someone decide to bless my car with human feces.  There are many more examples of car vadalism, but you get the idea. At this point I knew I had to get a parking spot which I definitely couldn’t afford. 

So I started working as a brand ambassador for liquor companies after my day job.  I got paid to go to bars, socialize with people and have them taste our drinks.  Nothing was racy about it, except the one promotion event which required me to shine shoes.  Hmm.  Overall, this side job was a good experience and paid well, but was a bit odd compared to my nylons and suit type of day job. 

So I got my parking spot, but parking spots aren’t such a good idea for those who don’t pay attention. 

One morning on my way to work, I pulled out of my parking garage only to hit a man in a wheelchair.  He fell out of his chair.  I thought I killed him.  

I happened to be really decked out that day for an event I was attending after work, which for some reason only made me feel and look that much dumber.  How stereotypical that a done up blonde girl in a cute skirt suit, huge Chanel sunglasses and a flash red luxury car would hit a man in a wheelchair. Ugh. 

I obviously wasn’t strong enough to pull him back up into his chair in my heels, so luckly two men came by and got him back into it- all the while scowling and cursing under their breath at me. 

I appologized and gave the victim my hot pink Ms. Career Girl card.  I figured a law suit was on it’s way to my inbox.

Instead, the guy called my phone that night to let me know he was ok and asked if I’d like to go out sometime.

REALLY?! 

Now I question if that man was really disabled in the first place.  If this was some kind of sick pick up line, he really took it too far.

As you can tell, having a car in the city has been a source of stress over the past few years.  It took me 2.5 years and a new job in the Loop to take public tran to work.  Talk about glamour. There’s nothing I love more than 2 full busses that pass me by when I’m running late only to be squished into bus #3 like a sardine early in the morning.

But now I “need” my car thanks to my dog Giada, whose favorite game as a baby was jumping out of the car window while the car was moving.  And as you can guess, raising a puppy in a high rise presents its own challenges.  Try potty training a dog from the 25th floor!  There comes a point when your doorman just looks at your face, shakes his head and knows your puppy peed in the lobby or elevator again.  

Doing normal things like grocery shopping in the city is not as fun as it looks either.  In the movies people have one brown grocery bag with a french loaf and bouqet of flowers sticking out. 

In my world, grocery shopping includes carrying 4 heavy and over stuffed bags of groceries only for the bags to rip and break all over the street while I am on a business call on my headset.  I now have a cart- you know, the ugly ones grandmas use- and I am proud of if it!

After all of this, I wouldn’t trade living in the city for anything.  I’ve grown accustomed to $10 drinks and 10.5% sales tax.  I know that wherever I go I will meet interesting people.  I’m convinced that my career and outlook wouldn’t be the same had I stayed in the suburbs.  I also know that there is always an adventure and another hilarious story just around the corner!

19 replies to this post
  1. Hi Nicole, thanks for sharing your stories. Car-culture is something I’ve written about pretty extensively over at my blog. One thing I hope that people who want to move to big cities consider is car-sharing. In a city like Chicago, for a reasonable price you can have access to a car for buying groceries and those other ‘emergency’ trips without the need to deal with the hassles of actually buying, paying for, registering, insuring, fueling, parking, maintaining and cleaning your own vehicle. If/when I find an entry-level job in a big city, I plan on cancelling my car insurance and signing up for Zip Car right away.

    P.S. if enough stylish 20-something blondes start pulling those grandma carts around, maybe they will be the next big thing?

    • The car thing is quite a debate. I have considered giving my car up 1,000 times. I don’t because my parents live about an hour away in the suburbs and my boyfriend’s family lives in Michigan, so we like to go visit the two whenever we want on a whim (and take our dog too!).

      Zip cars are definitely plentiful around here- they even had a few in the parking garage of my old building. If my family lived far away I probably wouldn’t have a car here either. Now that I’ve finally learned how to use public tran- I love it. It is SO easy.

      I’m now learning that there are other neighborhoods that are much more car friendly then the ones I’ve been living in!

  2. Alright I lied. I said yesterday’s post was my favorite one. This trumped it. I really hope you start writing more stuff like this. This is hilarious. Not that I’m laughing at all your ups and downs, but the way you told the story is hysterical. When I spoke with Matt yesterday, naturally your name came up and we were just talking about how you were really starting to find your voice.

    When I first got out of college, I wrote a weekly newsletter to my friends called “Srinivas in the City”. It was the angry ramblings of a frustrated 20 something. I was bitter as hell, but it was fun to write. This kind of took me back to that and made me realize I should write an updated version of it without the bitterness part. I didn’t realize you need a car to manage in chicago. IN LA you’d have to be out your mind to attempt life without a car.

    Next, we need to see a video of you dressed to the 9′s rocking the shopping cart ;)

    • hahaha you are making me lol right now!

      The funniest part of my journey has been the whole money aspect of it. Living on a tight budget as a woman who wants it all, in a city where you can have it all can be pretty hilarious. Somehow you always justify how to pay for things you don’t *need* by cutting out something (like grocieries) to make it work. Or you use plastic, or you die your hair brown bc you can’t afford highlights, you get the idea…

      My true stories will slowly start coming out I’m sure- some of the stories may be a bit much for the blog!

      Well, I currently live alone so video taping my grocery store experiences may be tough. I need to get a flip cam and start doing things like this. I’ll even tape what my morning commute looks like on the sardine can.

      Nicole

      • Yeah, a video tape of your commute in the sardine can would be good. People post videos of Traffic in India. That stuff is insane. Anytime I would attempt to cross the street I would like for the oldest person I could find crossing the street. My logic was “If they are that old, they’ve made it across many times. I’ll follow their lead”

  3. I love posts like these that lets the reader really get to know the blogger. My only question after reading this post is if your dog Giada was named after Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network fame? Now, I have no clue as to why my mind associates a cute little pup with a human, but it does, and so I have to ask. Hee-hee! Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Andrea!

      I plan on doing more of these “get to know Nicole” posts because, honestly, my life can be pretty entertaining sometimes.

      And yes, my little Giada Marie was named after Giada De Laurentiis. Could a human be any cuter than Giada di Laurentiis!? My grandparents are from Italy so I really wanted an Italian name. Italian names typically wayyy too many syllables for a dog to comprehend at the dog park. So after sending out poles to all of my friends and family for weeks asking for them to vote on names, Giada (human) was on TV the morning I went to pick up Giada (dog) and my quest was complete.

      My Giada is like my daughter- she’s filling in my Mom gene for now. It’s even better though because I can put her in a cage. :)

      Nicole

  4. Nic-
    I LOVE this post. Like Srinivas pointed out, you really are starting to find your voice as a witty, engaging, can’t-wait-to-read-the-next-sentence type of writer. I already know/lived all of these stories with you, yet, can’t wait to see how you put them in your own voice. I hope you write more posts like this, because everyone should have more “Nicolina” in their life. xoxo

    • Hi Kate!

      I can only imagine the posts I will write once we live together- I can’t wait! You may have to tell me when things are off the record otherwise our lives may be published online. Thanks for the feedback, I’m trying to find the right balance between Nicole the professional and Nicole the person and these types of comments help!

      See you this weekend!

      Nicole

  5. Thank God for ZipCar. Not sure if they have it in Chicago but I know in Boston some of my friends use it and love it. Boston isn’t too big so you can ‘cab-it’ most of the time if you don’t want to use the T system. But overall ZipCar’s the way to go! (P.S.- I worked in Boston for 3 years and lived outside of the city about 20 minutes and took the commuter rail for an hour and a half…yuck!)

    I’m glad you’re sharing your experience with those recent grads who could use advice in these areas. Not just the stories but the detail and agony you experienced ;)

    • Hey Quisha,

      I’ve never been to Boston but always wanted to go. It seems like a GREAT city. And yes, thank the LORD for zip cars! Whoever thought of that was a genious.

      And for the record, I’m still experiencing all of these “joys” of city life. It’s part of the price you pay for living so close to all the action! And yes, these little details are the real things that most people forget to talk about when it comes to moving to the city as a twentysomething.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

      Nicole

      • ZipCar is the brainchild of Robin Chase and Antje Danielson – definitely two noteworthy women in the world of business/entrepreneurship.

  6. They really make it a pain in the neck to own a car in the city, don’t they? A paid parking spot sounds like a dream, except where in the world do you find them? :) And if you find one, how do you afford it?

    And it’s funny, my little Accent gets victimized so much. There are WAY better cars to get stuff from/do stuff to. UGH.

  7. You are a good one, part of the reason I haven’t left my smaller car-dependent city is that I want to pay off my beloved Betsy(2002 Honda Accord) before I have to sell her again. Also, I wrecked her thanks to windy roads in my surburban office park, so needless to say, I can’t wait until I can pitch her or at least only drive her on the weekends. Also, telling the horror stories is good, hopefully no one expects to move to a large city with a high cost of living and live large out right on a entry-level salary if they are readers of this blog. However, I do want to plug the small and medium sized ones, you can get a lot of the nightlife, interesting cultural events and even random neighbors that are fun here too, especially if you live in the downtown core. One wish I had is that we’d get a full service grocery downtown, but it’s in the works.

  8. I love your stories!

    I live in Fremantle in Australia. Fremantle itself is technically a city but it is part of the Perth Metropolitan area (Perth being the state capital of Western Australia). Fremantle used to be the port and docks section of Perth when it was first founded. The port is still here, shipping still goes on but Fremantle is now the indie end of town, the arts district. AC/DC’s Bon Scott and the John Butler Trio came/come from Fremantle. It has a university here in the old heritage section of town where I live in a building from the 1800′s with the original wooden floorboards and high ceilings. Freo (our pet name for Fremantle) has a Mediterranean/Parisian feel to it. There are tons of cafes here, lots of art galleries, dress shops and so on. It’s historical, cultural, the beach is nearby and I love it. Chinatown is elsewhere in Perth and Perth has another indie/arts area in Mount Lawley and I love that about Perth (the fact that there isn’t only one such off kilter place as you would find in other cities).

    I love living in Freo so much so that I hate the idea of living in Melbourne and Sydney where most people flock to with the idea that this is where Paris is in the southern hemisphere. If I move elsewhere, I’ll go to Paris itself. It’s definitely a great match for the kind of person I am. :-D

  9. Oh my lord! This was the most hilarious post I’ve ever read. The best part, is that its all 100% true!! As your sister I can attest to this. I have to say, I’m proud I taught you how to use public transportation and gave you that attractive cart. Don’t sell your car, cause I need to to visit me in the burbs once I graduate!! I can’t wait to embark on a crazy journey in the city of my own. Thanks for all the continued guidance, laughs and encouragement. :-)

  10. Hi Nicole –
    Today i lost my job , my dignity and i got totally played by a soon to be employer.
    So here iam at the library surfing the web and trying to find amazing inspirational stories and i find you .
    Thank you so much for making me feel less scared of tomorrow – Thank you for giving me hope that their is a light at the end of the tunnel .
    Iam so lost and dont even know where to begin but thank you for making today less awful .

    Xoxo

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