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San Diego Versus Chicago

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

It has been two years and half years since moving to Chicago and I think I’ve finally got enough experience to be able to compare my previous hometown of San Diego to my new one.


Climate
Chicago has four distinct seasons. San Diego seasons deviate very little from each other. Being born and raised in San Diego and only traveling during the summer, I’ve never seen trees lose their leaves or even change colors. The first time (while in Chicago) I saw snow I thought it was construction debris falling from a nearby skyscraper.

Winter
The winters in Chicago are ridiculous, especially in January and February. The wind blows hard enough to knock you down, the temperature can be below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks at a time and wind chill can reach –29 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, the snow is beautiful when it is falling. Freshly fallen snow gives the entire city a magical glow to it. Going outside and walking around, when the snow falls never gets old. The temperature during snowfall is comparatively moderate and is never really colder than 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is very comfortable when you are bundled up. Any colder than that and snow has a harder time condensing. Because of this phenomenon the coldest days in a Chicago winter are when the sky is clear and it is bright and sunny. A day after the snow has fallen is when it gets messy.

The city does a remarkable job at snow clearing through a combination of salting and plowing of the streets. As soon as any snow is forecast you will see dozens of city plow and salt trucks lining the major arteries of the city waiting to get to work. As soon as the first snow falls they begin clearing the streets immediately and progressively move down to the smaller and less frequented streets. As a result of the salting and various automobile traffic, within hours the snow on the streets turn into a black slushy mess.

Lake effect snow is a term I’ve never heard of until coming to Chicago.

“Lake-effect snow is produced in the winter when cold, Arctic winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water, providing energy and picking up water vapor which freezes and is deposited on the lee shores.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_effect_snow

Lake effect snow coming from Lake Michigan has occurred several times during each of the winters I’ve been here. Each time it dumps several feet of snow on the city and is generally really annoying.

Chicagoans are extremely resilient to the weather. Whatever the weather conditions, Chicago never slows down. People continue going about their business and traffic barely slows down even during blizzards. In contrast, San Diego, at the first sign of light drizzle there will be 200 accidents and traffic slows down to a crawl.

The weather during a San Diegan winter is amazing. The weather can hit the low 70s during the daytime, but drops dramatically through the evenings and mornings. The mild San Diegan winters are the reason I plan the majority of my trips back to visit friends and family during the winter to get a break from Chicago’s harsh weather.

Spring and Fall
As winter ends, weather becomes increasingly sporadic. The 70-degree day that seemingly ushers in the spring is often a cruel trick to soften you up for a blizzard a few days later. A spring day in Chicago is can be very unpredictable and a 12-hour period can have extreme weather changes. There may be days here where the weather starts out a balmy 70 degrees and by the end of the day it is 30 degrees. I never leave the house without first checking the weather. Something else that happens in Chicago that you can never witness in San Diego are buds forming on leafless trees that eventually sprout leaves that marks the spring.

The fall in Chicago is quite nice and September and October are most residents’ favorite months. During the fall in Chicago, all the trees turn beautiful shades of orange and lose their leaves.

Summer
In contrast to the winters, the summers in Chicago are amazing. The nights are warm so people are out late into the evenings. The numerous fireflies lighting up the night lend magic to the air. There is almost too much to do in Chicago in the summer. After being cooped up for so long Chicagoans make up for lost time during the summer. Every weekend the city of Chicago closes down portions of the city for annual street festivals, block parties and parades. On any given day, there could be up to eight separate events going on that are all difficult to choose from.

San Diego summers are cooler than Chicago’s. In San Diego the daytimes are warm, but temperatures continue to drop dramatically in the evenings. This means that you should dress in layers and bring a jacket for the evenings. In terms of special events in San Diego the only one I really miss is the Mecca of comic nerdom, the San Diego Comic Convention.

Speaking with another former San Diegan, he remarked that “the changing seasons in Chicago make the passing of time seem slower. When the seasons are all the same, the time goes by without you noticing as much.”

The People
Speaking in generalizations: San Diegans are known for their chill attitude and Chicagoans are a bit faster paced. Midwesterners are not shy and have a strange tendency to try to be helpful and talkative to strangers. First arriving in Chicago, it was weird having random people come up to you to start friendly conversations. Californians (myself included) like to keep to themselves and stay in their own world.

Females
The girls in Lakeview East are at least as good if not better than the quality you would find in San Diego’s Pacific Beach neighborhood. I’ll just leave it at that. There is also a gross population difference between the number of men to the number of women in Chicago. According to wikipedia there are only 91 males for every 100 females. This goes a long way in describing the “what is she doing with that guy” syndrome everywhere you look.

Transit
Since the city of Chicago is so dense, most of what you’d want is within easy walking distance. Just outside my door I’ve got hundreds of restaurants covering every ethnic background you can imagine. Every part of the city is easily accessible through the public transit system in Chicago. Around the clock trains and buses make getting around very convenient. There is a bus right outside my door that takes me directly to work that arrives every five minutes during peek hours. There is a train station one and half blocks away that gets me to the rest of the city. You can even track the locations of the buses through your mobile Internet device to see what the wait will be on the next bus. Since moving to Chicago I have sold my car and don’t miss it at all. Just the other day I was reflecting on how light my key chain is these days without my car keys (I now have a total of three keys). Taxis are always around. You just have to raise your hand up and one will arrive shortly (just like in the movies). Although a convenience, taxis are by far the worst and most reckless drivers on the road.

As most San Diegans, I drove exclusively there. The furthest I would ever walk is when I parked in front of a store and had to walk to go in.

Cuisine
My girlfriend and I eat out a lot and we’ve been trying new restaurants every chance that we get. We’ve experienced many different new foods that you have very little access to in San Diego, like Ethiopian, Peruvian, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, and Scandinavian food. Chicago is a very ethnically segregated city. There are Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Polish, Greek, et cetera communities and you go into these areas to get the most authentic versions of their dishes. It is more difficult to find really good authentic Mexican food in Chicago, but it does exist, just not nearly in the quantity that it does in San Diego. Most Chicagoans cannot discern good Mexican from bad Mexican food. We’ve tried out numerous recommended places only to be disappointed. San Diego, being so close to the Mexican border is teeming with excellent Mexican food. Not surprisingly, in San Diego the Mexican food gets better the closer you are to the border, but you never want to cross the border unless you want to risk getting ill from Mexico’s more lax restrictions on food safety.

Almost every restaurant delivers in Chicago. This is really necessary during the winters. So you have an incredible number of choices when ordering in. One thing that I ran into that I never connected is how important restaurant delivery boundaries are. Do you remember in that episode of Seinfeld “The Pothole” where Elaine pretends to live in a janitor’s closet in a different apartment so that she can live inside the delivery zone of a Chinese restaurant? It is something I just could not relate to until I moved to Chicago.

I do miss Rubios, random taco shops and In-N-Out Burger that you can only get in San Diego.

Culture
Architecture, museums, Al Capone, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, shows, musicals it’s really hard to match Chicago in this respect.

Ocean
No ocean and all that goes with it. While I am within walking distance of the beaches of Lake Michigan, it really does not compare to San Diego beaches. Lake Michigan may look like an ocean, but it does not have any waves and the water is generally too cold to enter. I miss body boarding and listening to the waves lap the shore and the beach communities in San Diego are laid back and nice.

Nightlife
Nightlife is really crazy in Chicago. Bars are open until 4AM and there are a few that never close. San Diego’s nightlife is more subdued and relaxed. Bars close at 2AM in San Diego.

Sports
Let’s face it; San Diego’s sports teams as well as fans leave a lot to be desired. Having never won a single title and being unable to keep a basketball team (the Clippers) reflects on this. Chicago doubles my chances of finally living in or even being associated with a city with a team that can win it all. Nonetheless I’m still a San Diego sports fan first and a Chicago fan second. I’m just glad Chicago and San Diego aren’t in the same division otherwise I could never support any of Chicago’s teams.

Cost of living
Monetarily I’m in a much better spot than I was in San Diego. Since I don’t own a car I do not pay for gas, insurance, or the maintenance of it. I just recently bought a Condo here and the real estate cost is about the same if not a little higher in the city than in desirable neighborhoods in San Diego. As you move further west in Chicago, out to the suburbs, housing is very comparable to San Diego’s.

Utilities are quite a bit less than San Diego. Chicago has plentiful electricity provided by nuclear power and tons of water. San Diego receives very little rain and relies on the Colorado River for water.

Sales tax is the worst in the country in Chicago at a staggering 10.25%. For this money we do get lots of clean streets (trash cans every 20 feet), new flowers planted throughout the city and maintained during spring, summer and fall (waste of money).

Conclusion
All in all the two cities are very different from each other. I think there is no better place than Chicago in the summer. Were it entirely up to me I would split my time between the two cities with winter and spring spent in San Diego and summer and fall spent in Chicago. Since I own a condo in each location, this may very well come true in the future. I miss my family and friends in San Diego and that plays a huge factor into the decision. Feel free to ask me questions about either city and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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