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Happy anniversary, Chicago <3

The Wrigley Building and Trump Tower in the fog
Mr. Wrigley and Mr. Trump stand across Michigan Avenue from Tribune Tower. They were part of my first exposure to the incredible architecture of Chicago.
On Sept. 11, 2011, Mom and I took a redeye to Chicago. I started work Sept. 12.

Today, I felt the fall chill in the air for the first time this season. I stood out, waiting for the bus, nearly too cold in my fleece jacket. The man in the T-shirt in front of me was unimpressed.

I remembered arriving at O’Hare a year ago at some ungodly hour of the morning. Mom and I sat, freezing, in the terminal for an hour because we had nowhere else to go with all our luggage and we had some time to kill before we taxied out to meet the lovely girlfriend of one of my new coworkers. Jenni had offered me last-minute housing when my hotel fell through. She and Joe met us at her apartment building. Just the impression I wanted to make on my new coworker: bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, and at a complete loss for words. (Joe, the gentleman that he is, never judged me for a second.)

A year later, I’ve lost coworkers and gained new ones. The team has fluctuated in ways I never expected. They’ve seen me at my utter worst and absolute best; my hotheadedness and my slow logic. And they have shown me patience and support through it all.

And finally, finally, I feel like maybe I’m starting to pull some of my own weight. Explaining something to me a couple of weeks ago, my boss Ryan, a man of few words, looked at me and just said, “You’ve really come a long way in a year.”

I couldn’t stop grinning. I have come a long way in a year. I’ve gotten to work on some great projects: a beautiful, responsive redesign of the Tribune’s Spanish-language newspaper, a redesign of the Chicago Tribune itself (the design of which Edward Tufte is allegedly a fan — which makes me giddy though I had little to do with the design), and Crime in Chicago, which seeks to be the definitive site about police-reported crime in the city. (The last was the first real editorial project I’ve gotten to sink my teeth into. It felt so good to flex the journalism muscles again.)

When I first started here, I remember struggling desperately not to let people know just how tentative my grasp on some of this technology was. It took me days — literally — to figure out how to write a model in our WordPress hack, despite multiple attempts at explanation by the patient Mr. Mark. I hadn’t the first clue about how caching worked, or how to query an API, or how to create a responsive website. Yet, though I can’t believe how much more I know now, I also can’t believe how far I still have to go. Ryans Mark and Nagle have spent the last couple of days helping me get my addled brain around unit testing in Python. It is such a simple concept, yet I struggle with implementing it.

Work isn’t the only thing that’s flourished in the last year. I’ve found the little neighborhood coffee shops that I like (Senem’s, especially), the comfy local bars where I can watch the Giants when they come to town, a sailboat to crew on, friends to laugh with, farmers’ markets to go to, a church where I’ve gotten plugged in and feel like part of the team. And, yes, even a very sweet guy whose idea of a good time is coding over homemade pizza.

I’ve started to know my way around without looking at Google Maps every time I walk out the front door. I have routines for the first time in two years. I’m beginning to understand layering, as Chicagoans mean it.

Today, waiting at the bus stop, I zipped my fleece jacket up to my chin and thought to myself that I’d better get my overcoat dry cleaned in the next month. I smiled: last September I didn’t even know I needed a coat like that. God has been so incredibly good at providing me with people who steer me right when I haven’t got a clue. I’ve never doubted since I took this job that He wanted me right here in Chicago. It’s been hard — I still hate public transit — but when you have that deep sense of peace that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, it’s difficult to be discontent even if the circumstances are not what you ever would have described as ideal.

Thanks to all of you who read this blog and who have been so supportive of my adventures over the last few years. I fully expect to still be in Chicago next September, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less of a wild ride.

Published in My Life in Boystown