As Richard moves west to Missouri to begin a new chapter, we’ll also be saying so long to Chicago as a regular destination point.
For years now, while Richard attended Northwestern and worked as a tutor in local public schools, we’ve been visiting Chicago periodically. It is a great world city, and the jewel of the American Midwest. We’ve enjoyed its impressive skyline, fine restaurants, and grand parks and public spaces. I’ve also been impressed by Chicago’s focus on preserving and celebrating the proud ethnicity of its people; like New York City, it is one of the places where the concept of the American “melting pot” — in which people of different ethnic backgrounds are tossed into the cauldron, and something new and different and interesting is produced — really seems to have occurred. Chicago has its problems, like lots of murders and a political culture with a history of corruption, but for us it will always be a place with many fine memories.
The only thing I won’t miss about Chicago is the ridiculous traffic. No matter when we’ve come here, and what odd hour has marked our arrival, we’ve always been snarled in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on the Dan Ryan Expressway. If I were Dan Ryan, I’d ask that my name be removed from that godforsaken stretch of highway.
Today the footprint of the Webner family gets a bit broader. For the first time, one of the members of my immediate family crosses over the mighty Mississippi to establish a toehold in the traditional west.
Richard will move to Columbia, Missouri, to begin work at the graduate school of journalism at the University of Missouri. He’ll be relocating to the land of prairie and prairie dogs, where herds of buffalo thundered across the open plain and huge flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the skies, where grass grew waist-high and rippled in the wind like the waves of the sea, where the Dakota, Kickapoo, and Shawnee once roamed, trappers plied their trade, settlers built cabins and broke the sod.
The residents of Webner House have lived and worked and gone to school at various locations in the eastern half of the country but have never lived in the western states. I’ve always had a romantic notion of the American West, where so many of the themes running through American culture — the fearless and hardy pioneer, the rugged cowboy on the lonesome prairie, the self-made individuals looking for opportunity and success in new towns — were first written. I’m looking forward to visits to Missouri to see whether those deep chords of Americana still are sounded where the West began.