Saturday, November 21, 2009

So...what's your style?

In August, two good friends from California flew out to visit me - my first real opportunity to play Chicago host since moving back here six years ago. I did the best I could, but as is often the case with Jason and Mike, my antics became a running joke among us. To briefly summarize:

(1) Because my natural sense of direction falls somewhere between "unacceptable" and "deeply retarded", we spent an inordinate amount of time wandering aimlessly through unknown neighborhoods. I tried valiantly to take a positive spin on our meanderings ("Hey guys, it's all about the journey, not the destination, right? Right? Guys?"). They were unimpressed...and occasionally hostile, I might add.

(2) Although I have been living in the city for several years, I normally spend the vast majority of my time either at work or in my apartment. This returns us to the main problem addressed in (1) - I had no fucking idea what I was doing.

Hence, I had to quickly abandon any hope of providing useful, informative, or otherwise appealing guidance, and instead settled comfortably into the role of Meta Host. Rather than clinging to sad delusions of even middling competency, I decided to use my position as a vehicle for delivering ironic commentary on the very idea of being a host. This led to the two main catchphrases of the week: (1) "We are doing it Chicago style!", and (2) "That's just the Chicago way."

These catchphrases could be used in an astounding array of circumstances, no matter what their shape or form. When riding the El, for example, I would often (and for no discernible reason) gesture at Mike and Jason with monumental grandiosity and bellow, "Boys, I'm telling you - we are doing it Chicago style right now!" However, on the frustrating occasions when we barely missed a train (and there were many), I would instead shake my head sympathetically, pat one of them on the back, and say (with a touch of sadness), "Don't take it personally, my friend. That's just the Chicago way." Regardless of the situation, I managed to find a reason why it was perfectly and unequivocally Chicago, even for actions as mundane as methodically trudging down Irving Park Road, or entering the public restroom in Grant Park. Although my insistence on repeating these catchphrases ad nauseam lead to periodic threats of violence, they were, for the most part, received with good cheer, and served as an effective smoke and mirrors job to cover up my deep inadequacies as host. Also, I bought them a lot of booze. That helped, too.

At some point, it occurred to us that some cities absorb the monikers "style" or "way" exceedingly well (Chicago appears to stand head and shoulders above the rest, one of many reasons why we live in such a kick-ass city); others, though, seem to fare rather poorly. We could often pin-point specific reasons for this, but not always. Consider the following examples:

"Boston style" works reasonably well, although it's hard for me not to think of a rotisserie chicken when I say it. "The Boston way", though? Pretty damn cool, I have to say...pretty damn cool. "Philadelphia style" (Or "Philly style", for those in the know) brings to mind a steak sandwich with cheese whiz (not necessarily a bad thing), but "The Philadelphia way?" Come on - that sounds like a bad cop buddy film from the 80's. "Seattle style" is pleasingly alliterative, while "Sacramento style" is not. ("The Sacramento way", though? Intriguing!) "Vegas style" is inherently and unassailably cool; the very phrase implies an exciting, illicit, and quite possibly insane journey to the wild side. "New York style" and "The New York way" summon an intense rage that I didn't even know existed, exceeded only by the infuriatingly vacuous pomposity of "L.A. style" or "The L.A. way." If anyone ever said the latter two phrases within earshot, I would have no choice but to punch them in the face.

For brevity's sake, let us momentarily abandon "way". "Cleveland style" is weirdly appealing, as are "Memphis style", "San Antonio style", and "Denver style". By adding one word, these cities instantly become more fascinating to me, whether deserved or not. If somebody said, "Buffalo style", I would immediately demand a plate of chicken wings drenched in hot sauce. "Milwaukee style" trumps any of the food-themed cities by recalling the holy trinity of bratwurst, cheese, and beer. "Montgomery style" and "Jackson style", on the other hand, somehow conjure the image of Ned Beatty being viciously sodomized as an inbred banjo player strums vacantly in the distance. Is this a blatantly unfair characterization of the Deep South, based entirely on a long-outdated Hollywood film? Yes, it is. Next!

Many other cities inevitably set themselves up for ridicule or self-parody in this fashion. "Bismark style?" Gloriously insipid. How about "Tulsa style" or "Dover style?" Now there's a good one. "Orlando style?" You have got to be fucking kidding me. I long for the day, though, when I hear the following words: "Boys, get ready for a very special evening, because we are doing it Montpelier style tonight!"

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