Big sister filter: Tips for little sister moving to Chicago??
October 5, 2007 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Sister moving to Chicago next week... Tips for her to take with her??

My sister is moving to Chicago next week. She is 24, single and working in marketing although she does not have a job yet in Chicago. She will be living in the downtown area with friends. She is moving from Jacksonville, FL (snooze) and I am really excited for her. Any tips I can pass along to her to make her transition smooth and stress-free? Also, bonus points for a nice going away gift I can give her?

Thanks in advance!
posted by workinprogress to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Learn the grid system of Chicago. You'll never get lost if you know it. It even works (mostly) in the surrounding suburbs of Chicago.
posted by crios at 1:22 PM on October 5, 2007

Make sure she has all the appropriate winter gear. That's a huge weather transition!
posted by sweetkid at 1:23 PM on October 5, 2007

Make sure she has all the appropriate winter gear. That's a huge weather transition!

And how! I went to Northwestern, and as a freshman I briefly went with a girl from Southern California, who was already "freezing to death" in October. She was utterly unprepared for the winter weather.
posted by briank at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2007

Also, bonus points for a nice going away gift I can give her?

Membership at the Art Institute or Field Museum?
posted by occhiblu at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2007

I moved Houston to Chicago about 5 years ago, having never lived in the north before. Some observations:
  • The air gets very dry in the winter. Lotion and humidifiers (or --- tip! --- pans of water set on top of radiators) are necessary. I've heard of a lot of people from the South thinking they have some strange skin disease when really it's just a bad case of dry skin.
  • If she has a car, she should buy one of those windshield ice-scraper things before the first snowfall. You can get them at any drug store. Don't wait.
  • Speaking of cars, in the South sometimes the windshield-cleaning fluid they put in you car doesn't have any kind of antifreeze properties. This was true of my car, and it meant that I couldn't use my windshield washer all winter because that liquid froze solid. (I'm told that there are lots of car fluids that ought to be changed when you go from south to north, so it's probably a good idea just to take the car in when she first shows up.)
  • There are tons and tons of shows to see in Chicago, and the quality varies much more widely than the price. I am a fan of Second City and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
  • There is a lot of outdoors-ey stuff to do in Chicago, although it won't be too popular until the Spring. For instance, there's a bike trail right by Lake Michigan that runs all the way up and down the city, and there are tons of walking and boat tours. The Chicago Architecture Society Boat Tour is definitely worth going on even though it's touristy.
As for going away gifts: a warm, nice-looking coat is a must in Chicago, and coming from Jacksonville she may not have one. (One thing I didn't really internalize before moving is that in Chicago, you wear your heavy winter stuff so often that you really need to treat it like your everyday clothes instead of some strange thing you've got in the back of your closet that you wear once every couple years.)
posted by jacobm at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2007

I can't stress the need for winter wear enough. She's going to need to deal with the fact that there are some days during the winter where looking cute is just not going to happen. She needs a ridiculously warm coat that covers her butt for those days when she's stuck high up on an L platform. A cute little wool thing is not going to cut it.

She may also want to invest in some good winter boots. Not something flimsy like Uggs. She'll need some boots that won't let water in for when it's extra slushy and gross (everyone just changes into their regular shoes at work).

I grew up in Chicago and lived in DC/VA for my early 20s until I came back home to Chicago. The hardest adjustment is that somewhere around early March she's going to want some spring weather. There is no spring. We don't have consistently warm temps in Chicago until late May. Sometimes it snows in April. She needs to make sure she schedules a warm-weather trip somewhere around Feb/March or she might go crazy -- especially if she's coming from FL.

I know I sound really negative about it, but she needs to be prepared. Chicago's an amazing town and I missed it so much that I had to come back. The summers are what make the winters bearable, so she needs to keep that in mind. I like on the North Side, so if she has any specific questions, my email is in my profile.
posted by awegz at 1:39 PM on October 5, 2007

Grrrr...I live on the north side.
posted by awegz at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2007

I definitely agree that she'll need a coat and boots and other winter things, but it might make sense for her to wait and buy them there. I moved from Atlanta to Boston, and trying to find heavy-duty winter gear in the South was spectacularly frustrating.
posted by occhiblu at 1:59 PM on October 5, 2007

If she is looking for a parking space in the middle of winter, and she sees a perfectly-shoveled-out parking spot for the taking with a chair or other object in it -- DON'T PARK THERE.

It's a really strange thing for people that didn't grow up there to understand, but there's a longstanding gentleman's agreement that if you shovel it, you get to keep it.

Of course, this only applies to spaces in front of homes, and the space will be used by the person(s) living there. You can't get away with this in crowded parking areas in front of apartment buildings.
posted by davejay at 2:06 PM on October 5, 2007

Also don't forget the gloves and scarf. I moved from TX to CT and and good pair of gloves really makes the difference.
posted by doorsfan at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2007

- Cubs or Sox. Pick one. Stick with it.

- Ketchup on a hot dog? No.

- Flat screen TVs in a bar are directly proportional to the number of douche baggy guys that go there.

- Nothing is more silly than watching uninitiated business types slip-sliding around during the winter in their business shoes. Invest in some good winter footwear and don't be shy about wearing them.

- A neighborhood with "good nightlife" does not a good home make. Especially when you have to step over frozen puddles of puke on your way to the bus stop.

- You can park your car on the street here. Your car can also be ticketed, booted, towed, broken into, and you can be shot for taking a shoveled space in the winter. Pay attention to the signage!

- Chicago is the most bike friendly city in the country and only loosers don't ride. If she isn't too prissy, she can easily commute to work by bike from one part of the city to any other. Even in the winter. Yes, even in the winter.

- Don't be afraid of the public transit. Yeah, the CTA is going through a rough time right now but it will get better. Your sis will need a transit card and a map. Also the CTA web site features an awesome trip planer which tells you exactly (er... usually) what busses or subway to take to get where you're going.

- MeFi meetups are a great place to me two, three, sometimes even four other people.

Tell your sis I said welcome to Chicago - I'm sure she will love it here!
posted by wfrgms at 2:50 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid of Chicago pizza. Just be afraid of bad Chicago pizza. Ask some locals if you don't know.

She may enjoy life in the Bucktown / Wicker Park area. Good times.
posted by rachelpapers at 2:51 PM on October 5, 2007

She needs a Chicago Card, clothes that she can layer, and as many moisturizing products as she can fit in her suitcase.

Once she has those three things, it's easy to figure out the rest. She's going to love it!
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 3:09 PM on October 5, 2007

Local fauna
posted by billtron at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2007

oops. fauna website expired. Here's the web archive.
posted by billtron at 3:39 PM on October 5, 2007

She can get a handle on what's going on at Chicago Reader, Gapers Block, Daily Candy, Time Out Chicago, and Roger Ebert (sorry, movie nerd here).

Though there's a lot going on downtown, things get a different sort of interesting once one gets farther out in the neighborhoods, so there's no need to be shy about exploring.

It's also one of the best live music cities in the United States, restaurants are fantastic, and there are some pretty ok clubs. If you want me to go on and on on these, email's in the profile.

Make sure you visit, in the summer or fall if you can swing it!
posted by asuprenant at 3:57 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds funny, but you really have to remember the windshield fluid thing. I thought that I was going to die in a wreck my first year. After a few months, the gas stations seemed to have given up on having fluid out for cleaning my salt-crusted windshield.

I also had horribly burned skin because I had no idea that "wind chill" is a real thing. Walk a half mile in the amazing chicago bursting-frozen wind without looking like a jawa and you'll regret it. Ski-masks are awesome.

Scout out the neighborhood around you. There are 80 million neighborhood fairs and activities. Especially in the summer, they give us untold circuses then to keep us from killing ourselves.

Know the limits of CTA and where you really oughtn't go using it.

Don't pay for the museums! Yes, they're very nice and give you something to do in the winter, but you can get free passes at the local library (1 week checkout)! They also have free days dispersed around the calendar. I view the museums as nice things that tourists and rich people pay for to educate the plebeians like me. There are also many smaller museums with cool stuff. Go to first fridays!

Distance and travel time are no longer connected by the laws of reality to which you may have grown accustomed.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:59 PM on October 5, 2007

do not move into presidential towers. seriously.
posted by krautland at 4:01 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

do not move into presidential towers. seriously.

Not to derail, but I lol'd at that. I've never lived there but it has came poorly recommended to me several times. Funny that such an outwardly ritzy place has such a bad rap.

posted by wfrgms at 4:18 PM on October 5, 2007

Ketchup on a hot dog? No.

Mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt on a poppy-seed bun. Yes.

Regarding the wiper fluid, a lot of quick change oil places advertise "winterizing" your car this time of the year. They will take care of that for you. It's more expensive than doing it yourself but it's certainly easier.

Others have mentioned boots (warm and waterproof), coat, gloves and hat. I'll just add in warm socks. Also for everything but the boots and coat you might want to look into alpaca wool.

Coming from Florida the Winters will affect her more than most people so don't take it lightly.

All that having been said don't freak her out about it. There are some bad days in the Winter and you have to be ready but most of the time it's not that bad. You'll find more sunny -jacket open-hat and gloves in the pocket days than anything else.
posted by Bonzai at 5:14 PM on October 5, 2007

I moved to Chicago from Texas, and humidifiers, lotion, and layering are all good ideas. I think a lot of southerners don't think about the winter accessories -- mittens, hats, and scarves will all be necessary. Typically, in the winter, I'll wear a camisole, shirt, sweater, and a wool coat (with thinsulate). If it's reeeally cold, I'll get out the big down puffer. It always seems to be freezing outdoors but stiflingly hot indoors.

Gapers Block is definitely the my favorite Chicago blog. As for a present, a gift certificate to 1154 Lill would be girly, sisterly, and Chicago-specific.
posted by snafu at 5:44 PM on October 5, 2007

Nthing warm winter clothes--get boots with plenty of traction! The Betsy-Tacy books--set in Minnesota-- mentioned slipper bags when the girls went to winter dances, do they still make those things? I went to grad school in Iowa--anything in the 20'sF and below I'd wear wool tights under the long underwear. In single digit temps I would use a balaclava. I grew up in LA but went to undergrad mostly in or near Boston; one can breathe in 20F temps.
posted by brujita at 9:36 PM on October 5, 2007

The best thing somebody told me before my winter in Chicago was this: when it's freezing and dry and icy, you will feel like a NEW WOMAN if you go visit the orchid and fern rooms in the greenhouse at the botanical garden inside Lincoln Park. That is the most magical, warm, humid, amazing-smelling place. No winter doldrums can survive a visit there.
posted by sparrows at 9:40 PM on October 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

The greenhouse is also free (much like the Zoo right next to it, which is a large excellent zoo you would never expect to be free).

And for groceries, there is a Whole Foods branch a few blocks north of the river that's excellent. If by living downtown you mean she's living right in the loop or in River North, that will probably be the closest quality grocery store to her place.
posted by sparrows at 9:45 PM on October 5, 2007

Until the CTA Blue Line slow zone elimination project is done (December of next year, supposedly), don't use on the trains to get you to & from O'Hare; taking a cab up there is a little pricey, yes, but it's better than missing a flight. And fly out of Midway as much as you can; it's approximately 50% less hellish on a normal day, and 80–90% less hellish during one of our all-too-frequent weather delays.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:55 PM on October 5, 2007

I moved from Naples, FL to Chicago a couple of years ago. I definitely had to adjust to the cold, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, honestly. I think the fact that I biked through the first winter actually helped. Kind of like jumping head first into a cold pool. All of the suggestions for warmer clothing are dead-on though. I nth the suggestion for a Chicago Card. Aside from making you feel like a local, it can save you the embarrassment of figuring out how to insert the paper cards. They're not playing right now, but TJ & Dave is the best improv show that you'll see in the city. They're usually at IO on Wednesdays at 11 for $5. If she's into film, the Music Box is the place for her. Tell her to check out the Winter Garden on the top floor of the library downtown. It isn't a garden, more like a room with windows for a ceiling, but it's a nice place to read a good book nonetheless. If she wants to learn an instrument, Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square is the place. Check out Gaper's Block for upcoming events. The Cultural Center puts on a lot of free programs. My biggest tip would be to make sure that she stays busy outside of work and regularly meets new people. Despite being surrounded by millions of people, the city can still seem a lonely place, especially when you're a long way from home. If she likes music, a good mixtape might be a good going away gift. My e-mail is in my profile if you want more specifics.
posted by Dalton at 1:50 AM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Chicago winters are totally fine and manageable with the right clothes. My experience has been that people who have trouble with the weather are too vain to get a proper winter coat. A proper Chicago coat should be puffy, down, ankle length or close to it, and must must must have a faux fur ruff (?) on the hood. I never understood the ruff thing until I got one, but it really does shield your face from the cold - it's amazing.

This is the coat I have and it's served me very well.

Chicago is a fantastic town and I wouldn't live anywhere else in the US. Tell your sister to enjoy it!
posted by walla at 7:35 AM on October 6, 2007

For a going away gift, why not get her a coat? :-)
posted by walla at 7:36 AM on October 6, 2007

Long underwear. Layered under jeans or slacks this really transforms your entire day. And just to echo everyone else, quality winter wear. Thick wool hiking socks as well..

Learn the CTA and use it -- get a Chicago card, they're free until Oct. 31st, so order one ASAP. Be polite on the el...don't talk on your phone loudly, and walk on the left side of the escalators. Seriously.

Get a bike. Get a bike. Ride this bike. It's one of the best things to do in the city -- check out the lake path as well, it's nicer when it's not as crowded. Come ride Critical Mass!

Explore the neighborhoods - this is one of my favorite parts of the city. I particularly love Lincoln Square, Chinatown, Andersonville, Pilson, and some parts of Edgewater/Uptown.
posted by gleea at 8:03 AM on October 6, 2007

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