Auntie Beff's Chicago: what's the matter with these kids?

Beth is all complaining about geographical references in The Time Traveler’s Wife (an excellent excellent novel, which I have said before and will say again). But as Beth doesn’t allow comments I have to challenge her on my own turf. Here goes.

Opening remarks: Cut the author some slack, will ya? You admit up front that she knows the city well. Maybe she used those verbal short cuts you mention in her original, but the editor was worried about confusing readers. Maybe she was trying for a different tone. And depending on the character you’re talking about — Claire isn’t a native.

1. Beth says: Nobody refers to it as “Lake Michigan”. It’s the lake.

I say: Nit nit nit pick pick pick. So yes, mostly people just call it the lake. Would somebody in Fairbanks Alaska be tuned into that? So they erred on the side of the non natives.

2. Beth says: The elevated trains throughout the city are rarely referred to as “the el”.

I say: Not true. This may be a generational thing, but I still call it the el, and so do my friends. In fact, I just called a friend and in a round about way brought up the subject, and she called it the el. Okay, so she’s my age, but she’s always lived in the city. And that Brown Line stuff? That’s relatively new. Old timers don’t use that. The Ravenswood line, the Evanston line. Sheesh. You kids with your innovations.

My versions: “Get off the el at Damen, and Sweet Occassions is right there and they have the best ice cream in the city.”

“I used to take the el to work everyday.”

Somebody who takes the train to work every day is somebody who is coming in from the suburbs.

The one point I’ll give Beth on this is that when they expanded the el service out to the airport, there was some confusion. Was it still the el, or was it now a train? My vote: outside the city, it’s a train. Inside, it’s the el.

3. Beth says: It’s the Aragon. And the Vic. Not the Aragon Ballroom and the Vic Theatre – unless you’re a news announcer or a poster for a concert or something. I mean sure, call it by its full name in the narrative the first time to let your reader know what it is – but never in dialog. Especially dialog among native Chicagoan music-lovers.

Okay, I’ll give her this point about dialog.

4. Beth says: Quit frikken giving me directions constantly. It’s very true that all people in this city are downright obsessed with giving directions –

Yes, we are. We are obsessed, and that’s why I loved this about the novel. Maybe it’s something they inject into kids born in the city limits, but I wanna know where I am and how I’m getting there. Don’t rain on my parade, okay?

One other point Beth raises, not in connection with the novel: Lake Shore Drive. Auntie Beff claims everybody drops the “drive” part. As in “I took Lake Shore up to Sheridan.” or “I had to get off Lake Shore at Irving Park because of some accident.” Mostly, Auntie Beff is right about this, but at one time people called it “the drive” as in “I took the drive up to Sheridan.” But even when I was a kid you heard that less.

One last thing, where Beth gets no argument from me: if you’re ever in Chicago and the weather is nice, the drive south on Lake Shore toward the Loop is pricelessly gorgeous.