One Dipped Beef to Go

Jake Breunig Headshot

There’s a dry-erase calendar hanging up behind me as I begin to write this. It mostly displays my work schedule and reminders of an occasional virtual D&D session. I bought it a couple years ago because I thought having a physical calendar would give me one less thing to rely on my phone for, as if my eyes being constantly glued to a screen would be a calendar’s fault and not the dark, endless ocean of internet garbage. Right now, however, as I write these very words, there’s something different written at the bottom of the calendar: “Days Left: 26”.

I chuckled to myself this morning at how vague it would look to an onlooker, and I laughed even harder knowing that a realtor would be showing my apartment to potential new tenants this afternoon. I considered planting ominous objects near the calendar to further the mystery. Mostly, I contemplated the large dive knife in a shoebox on my closet shelf, as purchasing a spool of rope would perhaps be a bit extravagant and in poor taste. All sight gags aside, the event the countdown represents is not even close to sinister, but it represents one of the most significant events I’ll ever experience; I’m leaving the only area I’ve ever known my whole life to move across the country.

30-ish years in any place is a really long time. For (obscure) reference, that’s about as long as a maximum sentence for an arson conviction in the state of Florida, which, to me, seems excessive, considering that that entire hellscape of a state needs to be immolated for a full reset. When you’ve been in one place for that long, its effects took hold long ago. Suppress them as I might, my Midwestern mannerisms and customs aren’t going anywhere. I’ve already been told my cherished soup recipes will have little use in the City of Angels, which I consider a very significant sacrifice on my end. At this point, however, my Chicagoland roots run far deeper than whatever is in my slow cooker. I’ll have to remember that outside of this small spec of land, arguing about what it’s okay to put ketchup on is not normal behavior. I’ll have to remember that an out-of-place lawn chair is most likely not staking claim to a parking spot. I’ll carry these customs and more, whether I like it or not, to my grave, which I’ll be transported to in a hearse with “Ope, sorry, just gonna squeeze past ya” spray-painted on the side.

I’ll have plenty of “farewells” to bid later on in this discourse, but I think the “farewells” mean a lot more if I get the “good riddances” out of the way first. You know what happens when you’ve lived in the same small region your entire life? It becomes tied to every ounce of disappointment, frustration, and heartache you’ve ever felt, and 30 years is plenty of time to rack up a plethora of all of the above. As a writer, putting these to paper seems the most fitting way to offer these concepts and experiences a parting middle finger as I watch them shrink into the horizon from my rear view mirror. As my scenery shifts from the soulless, abyssal oceans of corn stalks and soybeans to mystifying deserts, then hazy valleys, laden with imported palms, I’ll think nothing of empty horizons, February blizzards, and every mouth-breather above the Mason-Dixon line sporting Confederate Flag memorabilia (I mean, fuck anyone who displays that symbol, but for fuck sake, Illinois was in the Union, you chuds). Mainly, however, most of my good riddances are aimed within, and with each state line I cross, the monolith of three decades of built-up disappointments and dead ends will chip away to dust.

For as much as I’m looking forward to leaving certain things behind, the list of things I’ll miss stretches from Evanston to Channahon. So much so, that I think a straight-up list is the best way to go about this. Therefore, farewell and see you again to; drinking with friends in the garage, front rooms, games at Wrigley, Sox Park, United Center, and Solider Field, Vienna Beef hot dogs, Metro, punk shows in someone’s basement, winters that feel like winter, springs that feel like spring, autumns that feel like autumn, the Chicago accent (my second favorite accent in the world, after Philly. Don’t believe me? Listen to someone from Philadelphia say literally any sentence and prepare to be entertained), the Music Box, Hamm’s, getting my ass kicked in cribbage by my grandmother, frozen waterfalls at state parks in January, tavern cut thin crust, the tamale guy, Gallery Cabaret, being shown the same ten photo albums every time I visit my grandfather and looking at them with the same enthusiasm as the first view each time, every closed-down diner I ever loved in college, The Hideout, bonfires on a chilly night in October, the floorplan that almost every Chicago apartment follows, Malort, conversations in the smoking circle outside of a house show, an abundance of Polish cuisine, the architecture along the river in the Loop, smuggling in fireworks from Indiana, Chinatown, the frisbee golf courses of the southwest suburbs, pissing in alleyways when you’re drunk and nowhere near home yet, Jibaritos, getting my ass kicked in bocce ball by my grandmother, Mr. Submarine, Brood X, mixing cheese and caramel popcorn together, museums I loved as a kid, things being in walking distance of your apartment, my favorite graffiti murals, Lake Shore Drive in the middle of the night when you’re the only one driving on it, Superdawg, G-Man Tavern, and everyone here I’m lucky enough to call a friend. 

For my editor’s sake, there’s plenty more that I didn’t get to list, but basically, if you can think of something you love about living here, it’s something I’ll miss. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Al’s Beef delivery just arrived and I need to change the “Days Left: 26” to a 25.

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