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May 16, 2016
I first heard it as a child, watching on television or hearing it on the radio. “Chicagoland.” It was used in commercials: “Your Chicagoland Ford Dealer!” or “Chicagoland jewel stores!” They said it on the news: “Chicagoland was stunned by striking union workers today.” The word made it sound like a mystical, magical, fantastical place just out of reach for me with my old green AM/FM radio on a shelf in a tiny bedroom on the second floor in our suburban Clarendon Hills home.
The term was coined by Robert “Colonel” McCormick, owner of The Chicago Tribune, in the first half of the 1900s. When he started using “Chicagoland,” it was to describe the city and its grain, timber and livestock fiefdoms that spread across Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. As the city grew, and agri-business consolidated, “Chicagoland” came to mean the city-state it is today – a giant sprawl from just south of Milwaukee, west to Dekalb, south past Joliet and into northwest Indiana.
Chicagoland still has a hold on me, a romantic appeal I can’t shake. My roots run deep. My father worked at WGN radio and television, created by Mr. McCormick (WGN = “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” meaning his beloved Tribune). McCormick had purchased “the Trib” (do people still call it by that nickname?) from Joseph Medill, the first owner and, like McCormick, a Chicago mayor. I have a degree from The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, named for the Tribune’s first publisher and originally financed by McCormick.
Chicagoland is so diverse, so widespread, so inclusive and varied, culturally and professionally, that it’s impossible to put it in a box and define it for you. Chicagoland is the Blackhawk’s winning NHL championships and the current Cubs team that’s so exciting. Chicagoland is The Blues Brothers; The Miracle Mile; Chess Recording Studio; Argonne Labs. It’s DePaul and The University of Chicago and Northwestern and all the little colleges that dot the kingdom. Of course it’s the Bears and the Bulls and the White Sox. It’s the beautiful suburbs of broad lawns and narrow minds and the never-ending violence on the South Side.
Al Capone and The Second City and House Music and SCHAUMBURG and O’Hare Airport and The Mercantile Exchange and Oak Street Beach and Old Town and Hyde Park and Lake Shore Drive. And those great names of freeways – The Eisenhower, the Edens, the Dan Ryan, and The Tri-State.
It’s that radio DJ I listened to on the FM band as a little boy, a black man named “Pervis” who played soul and R&B records and did his own commercials: “Come on down to South Side Chevrolet and we’re gonna get you into a brand new car this Saturday!” It’s all the Mexican restaurants on the near North Side and the rough-and-tumble southwest suburbs with ancient names like “Berwyn” and “Cicero.”
It’s high school football and piano recitals at Mrs. Randall’s house by the park and Walker School and Ernie Banks telling me “you can do whatever you want to son!” And it’s hearing my dad’s voice booming over the airwaves his signature “Hello. I’m Bill Mason and you’re listening to The Noon Show!” coming from the speakers of the PA in Mrs. Feather’s third-grade class when she let me talk about what he did for a job on “bring your father to work day.”
I’m coming back to that fantastic place this weekend. I know Chicagoland has major societal and political issues. I don’t care. For one weekend I’m coming home. There is real magic, hope and community there, and I’m gonna celebrate it. Hope you can join me.
I’m at the Leela Arts Center in Des Plaines, IL. TIX HERE