“strange town” – the jam (1979)


I’m a few months shy of my fifth anniversary since moving to Chicago. Just a few months fresh out of college, I made the decision to move to the Windy City really on a whim. I had never been (except for one time when I was really young and layovers at O’Hare), didn’t have a job, and did not know a single person. This was to be the first big move I made as an adult, and all of the factors that would contribute to my success in getting settled were set entirely against me. Nearly five years later, it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I was living in Alaska before my move to Chicago. I spent months researching the city. I studied everything I needed to know to make my move; the CTA, neighborhoods, and most importantly, job prospects. I could locate a good apartment with the help of a rental agency, and public transit is fairly intuitive, but the job issue worried me. I would be an outsider. Not only that, but an outside who was absolutely unestablished. My ability to find work would mean the difference between becoming a resident or an extended visitor. If I couldn’t make ends meet, I would have to retreat back to the familiar and feel like a failure.

Spoiler alert! Everything worked out fine. However, I want to focus on my first few months in Chicago. I drove my U-Haul into the city at the end of February 2011. Unknown to me at the time, I wouldn’t be gainfully employed until June. So, the goal was to get settled, make friends, and find a job using every lead and resource I could get my hands on.

Being truly on my own for the first time was incredibly exhilarating on many levels, but it did get lonely at times. That comes with the territory of moving to a new city with no structured entities that are designed to socialize you amongst the people. Sure, there are college students who move to Chicago to go to school. However, not meeting people in college is incredibly difficult. You exist within an institution that guarantees you have every resource available to hold your hand as you start to figure out the people around you. College is a great method in enhancing your personal and social networks. For me, that wasn’t an option.

I relied on the internet to help me find the fun, hip spots in Chicago. Meetup, Brokehipster, and the Chicago Reader were my portals to the fun scenes of Chicago. A lot of the events and shows I went to were fun and I have great stories. I even made a few long-term friends in the process. When you start things on your own, it can be an incredibly slow process. It can take a few years to become truly established in the sense you have all your needs met and you have a decently-sized network of friends and colleagues.

However, between those golden moments, there also some bleak uncertainty. It was easy to be disappointed. I needed a job and that stress affected me somewhat. Unfruitful recruiter meetings, bad temp assignments, and people who just didn’t give a shit about your well-being all stood in my way. I had always lived in small communities or cities. Nothing like Chicago. I learned very quickly that it was easy to be invisible despite being in a large metropolis. For the most part, people don’t care about you. They have their own lives and problems. Oftentimes, you’re nothing but an inconvenience to them. I was even mugged that June in broad daylight on the street, and no one helped. That was an awful experience, but I learned from it. I was no longer in a small town. I was in a large city. The struggle to get by and make my own way strengthened my resolve and ability to be independent. I know we all have times we have to rely on someone, but knowing that you have to be strong for yourself is an important asset.

Penned by the Modfather himself, Paul Weller’s iconic band, the Jam, released “Strange Town” in 1979. In this cool mod track, Weller is lost in a strange town and has difficulty finding his away around and the locals are incredibly unhelpful. The people don’t know and don’t care. Plus, they’re on their way someplace. Any place away from you. Weller learns that if you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to change and fit in. Wear the right clothes. Say the right things. Go to the right places. All of these are things the locals do and you’ve got play the game if you want to win. With a great post-punk energy and a killer bassline, this song perfectly embodies my feelings as a fresh transplant in the Second City.

Now that I’m established, older friends and acquaintances will sometimes message me asking me for advice. They too are graduating and want advice on moving to Chicago or another city in general. I talk to them about what they need and the expectations they need to set for themselves. Relocating to someplace entirely new where you know no one at all is not easy. It is doable, but you have to be resourceful. Though, when you do get to that point, try not to make your town a strange town. Remember, it was you who was there before lost on the street with blisters on your feet.