Harlem in Chicago?

September 26, 2010

“There’s a Harlem in Chicago, too?”  — The words of an observant reader last week. Yes, indeed, there is a Harlem in Chicago…Harlem Avenue…also known as Harlem.

I think it is time I introduce you to the streets of Chicago.

Harlem in Chicago is not a neighborhood but a street that runs through the city. It is known as Harlem because Chicago does not believe in streets vs. avenues (or any other identifier for that matter). Streets are simply known by their names.

Chicago is a grid with Madison and State as its axis. Madison runs east to west. State runs north to south. They intersect, not at the center of the city, but in the heart of downtown. Everything north of Madison has a North address. Everything south of Madison has a South address. Similarly, everything east of State has an East address, and everything west of State has a West address.

With this in mind, you might think Chicago is a rather simple place to learn. Giving directions or finding your way around should be easy. On the contrary, my friends. The city built this grid system over old Native American trails that run on the diagonal.

If you are suddenly picturing an intersection the shape of an asterisk, welcome to my world! Now, you see why learning the language of a new place can be so difficult, but being the eternal optimist (ha!), I like to think of it as an adventure…an adventure that just might take me to a place in Chicago called Harlem.

Word of the Week: Intersection

Word to the Wise:  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Psalm 119:105

Disclaimer: The author of this blog makes no claims that the Harlem in Chicago is similar to Harlem in New York. In fact, she didn’t even mention New York. Unless, of course, you count this disclaimer, in which she has mentioned New York 2, er, 3 times now.

References:  My street-smart husband


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost*

Frost took the road less traveled. I, on the other hand, join 1.66 million** Chicagoland residents using public transportation. If the path traveled makes all the difference, what does that say about those of us who find ourselves fighting for a seat on the “L” each and every day? 

I am new to the public transportation scene, and I often find myself giving directions to people when I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I’m directionally challenged to say the least. A recent effort: “I think if you take the red line (which runs from Northwestern), transfer to the yellow line (don’t know the exact stop yet), and stop at Skokie Swift, I will be able to pick you up with no problem (although I still have to figure out where Skokie Swift is)….”

 Why is it that learning the language of a new place even affects the way you give directions? Two years ago, I would have said, “a red what?” Now, someone could mention a line matching any color in the rainbow, and I would know they mean their public transportation route.

 Though the learning curve can be sharp, and at times, slow, I am learning how to navigate the city using public transportation, so maybe the paths you take do make a difference after all. And what can be said about those of us fighting for a seat on the “L”? Well, I will have to get back to you on that…I have a train to catch.


Word of the Week: Direction

Word to the Wise: “This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.'”  Isaiah 48:17


Disclaimer: The directions in this blog will not actually get you from Northwestern to Skokie Swift. I have since corrected my recommendations on public transportation…like I said, it can be a slow learning curve sometimes.


*Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Poetry Foundation. Web. 4 Sep. 2010. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=173536&gt;.
**“CTA Facts at a Glance.” Chicago Transit Authority, March 2010. Web. 4 Sep. 2010. <http://www.transitchicago.com/about/facts.aspx&gt;.