Isaiah and I grew up a couple of streets away from each other. He was a bit older than I, but I remember the first time he showed me a photo of him as a kid I knew I had ridden bikes with him once upon our younger years. While we are die-hard Chicagoans at heart, we grew up in Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois.
Outsiders might say that Aurora is not a good place to raise a family. Our East-side is comparable in “scary-ness” to the Bronx, only a slight bit more depraved. The West-side is full of teenage gangs, but is typically known to be a little more affluent.
The train from Chicago through the ‘burbs dead ends at Aurora’s station, which is adjoined to The Roundhouse (formerly Walter Payton’s Roundhouse – and will forever be known). Once used as a station to turn the trains around for their return trips to Chicago, The Roundhouse is now a micro-brewery that makes a mean Summer Chocolate Blonde. Nowadays, The Roundhouse can be considered a hub of culture, where almost every Aurora-an has had a chunk of memorable experiences.
Isaiah’s prom was held there. My best friend and I were moderately harassed by a group of homeless men there. I got busted buying a pack of cigarettes at 12:40 in the afternoon on a school day on my 18th birthday. This may not sound like an incredible memory…but when you go to a conservative Christian school and are caught, simultaneously buying cigarettes from a bum cigarette machine, having fun, and skipping school in the back of the abandoned portion of The Roundhouse…it tends to be one you remember as one of your more badass moments. My friend with me at the time screamed “Rapture!” and snatched the cigarettes from my hand before the principal could take them from me directly. That’s friendship.
Also – what the hell was the principal of said Christian school doing in the back of The Roundhouse in the middle of a school day too? Questions for another life, I suppose.
Living in Aurora, we experienced your everyday Chicago fare – pizza, gyros, Italian beefs and hot dogs. Can’t you get pizza, gyros and hot dogs everywhere else? you might ask. I say yes, but they suck. If I have another mixed-what-is-this-meat-hot-dog or a “deep dish” pizza that claims to be “Chicago-style” or a gyro with a fucking pickle on it…I’ll croak. Where the hell are all of the poppy seeds? Do they just evaporate south of the Mason-Dixon? Is that what’s happening? I have had bare-naked hot dog buns, buns with sesame seeds…SESAME SEEDS. SESAME SEEDS. And none of them have celery salt…even available as an extra condiment.
One thing you cannot get anywhere but Illinois is the sweet, salty and juicy heaven of an Italian beef sandwich. You don’t think you’ll ever wake up in a world that doesn’t have Italian beefs…until you do. And it’s horrible.
While Denton is growing on us, and Texas in general a bit, we miss the stinky-toxic-river, the walking, the snow. A lot of my adolescent years were spent at Denny’s and IHOPs across Aurora with friends and too many packs of cigarettes. But it was home. This is me circa 2004 or 2005 at IHOP…with short, red hair, oh my!
Another favorite of mine is, technically, in Geneva, Illinois (nearby). My mom and I would take my dog, Wishbone, for long walks through Fabyan’s and the Windmill Park and once I grew up, it became my favorite spot to be with friends to get into…ahem…mischief.
Every Friday in the summer, the streets of Aurora close down completely for Downtown Alive – a concert/festival downtown with food and goods vendors. If not that, there is always some festival going on. Aurora has had a bit of a yo-yo flux over its lifetime. Once a thriving downtown area, Aurora looks a tad barren these days – more spread out, more cookie-cutter-Walgreens-type-stores cluttering the once beautiful cornfields.
We’re proud to see our hometown making a cultural comeback and adding new bars and local hotspots around town. Isaiah and I met in (what used to be) Ernie’s Pub, which held karaoke on Tuesdays and Thursdays…We lived together for the first time in the studio apartment above his mom’s salon, where he proposed for the first time without the ring…We ordered East China Inn every day and enjoyed the view of downtown from his bedroom window…
Chicago lays thick on our voices, decided our food preferences and sports affiliations early on…But Aurora is home.
Photo One: Found via talented Flickr user JMazich Photo Two: Found via Paddleway Photos Four, Five and Six: Jan Crites via Flickr