March 18, 2018

Fiona McGier of Illinois, the Rodney Dangerfield of States-No Respect


No respect? Yup. We seem to be the laughing stock of the country. We have our useless governor who blows with the wind, and who forced us to live without a budget for two years, leading to a backlog of bills we might never get out from under. Then we have our entrenched state representatives, who gerrymandered every section of the state to preserve their power. Between those two things, nothing ever gets done. "Vote the bums out," you suggest? Nah. In Illinois, we send our ex-governors to jail.

Downstate is the capital, but our economic powerhouse, Chicago, is on the northwest end of the state. Whenever we get mentioned in the news, it's for the ridiculous rate of gun violence on the South side. See, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. So while not every "hood" has daily shootings, the ones that do are overwhelmed by poverty and violence. Unfortunately, those who live in hoods where this isn't a problem, pay no attention unless it creeps into their neighborhoods. So, yes, Chicago does have a gun violence problem. But after the recent school shootings, I think we can all agree that the country as a whole has the same problem.

The Chicagoland area has restaurants and grocery stores that cater to almost every ethnic group. In the city proper, you can find neighborhoods like Greektown, Chinatown, Boystown (just what you think it is), and many others. Skokie is north of the city, with a huge population of devout Hasidic Jews. Many of the streets are crowded on certain days of the week, with men with long black hair and beards, wearing long black coats and tall hats, accompanying their families to the temples. This is where, years ago, the Skokie Council reluctantly agreed to give a permit to Nazi-wannabes, to march through their streets. The march never happened...maybe the Nazis were afraid of the streets being lined with the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. 
Go a little bit south, into Chicago proper, and you can find many ethnic neighborhoods, like along Devon Avenue on the near north, where you'll find many Indian and Middle-Eastern immigrants, eager to share their culture and their foods with their new American neighbors. Here you find many women wearing hijabs, celebrating Ramadan, and others who celebrate Divali, the Hindu Celebration of Light.

The near west neighborhood where my Polish mom was raised, gradually changed to Hispanic, and now is gentrifying. This means that young professionals who work downtown are buying up the old two-flats, renovating them, living in one of the flats, and charging exorbitant rent for the other. I wonder what my Busia's place goes for today!

Illinois also gets no respect for the many fine areas surrounding Chicago, in which to live and raise a family. I'm most familiar with the collar communities and suburbs west of Chicago. I was raised in Bensenville, which used to be a small farming community on the northwest side of the city. When my parents bought in B'ville, there was a small army base on the eastern edge of the town, where a small number of military planes were stored. Then the first Mayor Daley decided to make it a world-class airport, and he annexed the land, though none of it abutted Chicago-proper, and he renamed it O'Hare International Airport, or ORD. I liked B'ville well enough, though as a teen I found it boring. So I'd hop the train for the 40-minute ride into downtown, and hang out on the streets of Chicago, pretending to be a city kid. I'm sure it was obvious that I wasn't...but I didn't care.

The collar communities are Rockford, Elgin, Aurora, Joliet, and Kankakee. All of these are cities in their own rights, and all are about two hours from downtown Chi-town. They all have downtowns, and due to ridiculously typical Illinois laws, the ones that have water access have floating casinos. The law says casinos aren't allowed on land. But Rockford, Elgin, Aurora, and Joliet are along the Fox River, so they all have permanently anchored casinos conveniently located in their downtowns. We may have outlived Al Capone and his devious ways, but we still manage to work around laws we don't like.

Naperville has grown from being a small farming community, to being a huge, rambling suburb, home to many white collar companies, with a wide variety of price points in housing. The joke is that it's called IBM town, because no one lives there for more than a few years, until their companies move them again...hence, "I Been Moved."

For many years I've lived in Wheaton, which is home to Wheaton College, founded by Billy Graham. They train missionaries to go all over the world to proselytize. This means that they funnel refugees into the country whenever there is a "hotspot" anywhere, and those families are given housing very close to my house. The schools my kids went to had 15% of the children living in houses where English was not spoken at home. I liked the multi-cultural exposure for my kids, despite us living 30-miles west of the city.

Two towns west of Wheaton is West Chicago. That's where I set my Reyes Family Romances. West Chicago has a large population of Hispanic people, since it's close to Aurora, the bigger city that has lots of employment opportunities. There are currently six books in this series about a large Hispanic family, and the romances experienced by the various family members, over a couple of generations. The heroes and heroines of past books make guest appearances in subsequent books, so you can enjoy finding out how their HEAs are working out.

This excerpt is from Love Therapy, the sixth book in the series.
Set-up: Miguel Reyes fell in love in high school, with the woman he wanted to marry. She had other ideas, and left town. Now it's twenty years later, and he still lives locally. He reluctantly accepts the invitation to his 20th reunion. He is not consciously hoping she'll be there, but still...

The twentieth reunion for the West Chicago High School class of 1988 was on a Saturday night in mid-September.  The weather was pleasant enough, with a chill to the air at night, after a moderate day that had started out rainy, but ended with warm golden sunshine that made everyone glad that the heat of the summer had finally ended.

Since the invitation had said Business casual as the dress code, Miguel decided that the clothes he wore to work when he had to meet with clients, were what was called for.  As a computer engineer, he usually wore jeans with polo shirts, or flannel shirts, depending on the weather.  But when he had to meet with clients, he had to dress more professionally.  So for the reunion, he chose a pair of khakis, a light brown short-sleeved shirt, and a tie that tied the colors together.  He also threw a dark brown jacket on over the shirt, in case the night got chilly during his drive home. 
 Miguel looked at himself in the mirror as he applied gel, to make his short black hair stand up straight, instead of curl on his forehead, the way it did when he was sweating…in fact, the way it had looked all summer.
He made a face at himself, saying ruefully, “Not bad for a thirty-eight year old man.  Let’s see how the rest of the class looks, after twenty years of living after high school.”
     Then he got into his car, and drove to the same banquet hall that their prom had been held at.  As he got out of the car in the parking lot, he lit a cigarette, and stood leaning against his car for a long moment.  Memories began to flood his mind, and since the woman he had taken to prom was a memory he did not want to revisit, he had to force himself to think about other things, in order to get his mind ready to go in and make small talk with the rest of the people who were arriving and entering the place.  He shook his head to physically clear his mind, then he resolutely walked up to the front door, stubbed out his cigarette in the convenient ashtray there, and entered the building.
     Immediately, the sound of music from twenty years ago, blasted its way into his consciousness.  He smiled briefly, having not missed most of it in the ensuing years.  Yes, there were some songs that he still would listen to, once in a great while…but most of it was the kind of pablum popular on the hit radio stations, and most of it deserved to be forgotten.  He heard his name called, and was pulled into conversation with people he had not thought about in at least ten years, since their last reunion. 
*                                        *                        *                          *                             *
Of course, his prom date appears, so he has to deal with memories. This is a romance,
after all, but with the baggage she carries, it's not easy for them to get to their HEA.

If you want to read one of the Reyes novels, leave a comment here, and on Sunday, March 25th, I'll choose someone who comments, to win a free eBook of their choice of the Reyes Family Romances.
Head over to my website, http://www.fionamcgier.com, and check out all of the titles. If you wish, you can leave your preferred title in the comment you submit. Make sure to also leave a form of contact.

And since one of the titles, Prescription For Love, the fifth book, is a free eBook on Smashwords, you'll be able to enjoy getting to know my Reyes people.
(Info Provided by Author)

7 comments:

Renaissance Women said...

Ah yes, Illinois. We love to love our state, but...

Chicago and suburbs are endlessly fascinating, as it the rest of the state, including the area of 'Forgotonia'. If you don't like something, hang on, for someone will attempt to make the exception, like the casinos.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane and all the best on those stories. Doris

Fiona McGier said...

OOps! I just got home from visiting family in Michigan for the weekend, to notice that I said "NorthWEST" corner of Illinois, when anyone with half a brain knows that Chicago is in the NorthEAST corner of Illinois. Sigh...must have been a brain glitch from working too much! As my Reyes people would say, lo siento! (sorry.)

I haven't forgotten the rest of the state, I'm just not as familiar with it, so I don't set my stories there. I went to college at Northern (NIU) in DeKalb, and loved living far, far away from the noise and pollution of the jets of O'Hare. I had a friend from college who was from the Quad cities, and a roommate from Caledonia, which is a small farming community near Belvidere, which is near Rockford. Now I have a brother-in-law and his family living in Belvidere. I have a sister-in-law who lives in Sandwich, another farming community that has the great Sandwich county fair in the summer, as does Belvidere, with its Boone County Fair. At least there is actually farming going on nearby, as opposed to the DuPage fair near my house, which is a sham, since there haven't been any farms in the suburbs for years!

My daughter went to college at Eastern(EIU), in Charleston, and she worked at the YMCA in Mattoon. When I was in sales years ago, I traveled all over the state, including Bloomington/Normal (where some of my former girl scouts went to college) and Springfield. One of my ex-students from many years ago lives in Campaign, though her mom is still up here in St. Charles, where I used to teach. And another sister-in-law is from the Quincy area originally. During my college years, I drove a few times down to Southern (SIU) in Carbondale for the, ahem, hellacious parties they used to have...especially for Halloween. But that was in the old days.

I know there is more to Illinois than Chicago, and the downstaters (or anyone NOT in the Chicagoland-area) feel left out often. But we do need each other, and we usually co-exist well. What irks me is when politicians try to play us against each other. I know and love many areas of the state. But as I said, I'm just not familiar enough with the other areas to set my stories there, though I do have my vampires in my vampire books having a place on the western edge of Illinois, near the Mississippi.

Thanks for leaving a comment. Like I said in the post, I'll be choosing a winner next week Saturday (3/25), who can pick which one of my books they'd like to read. And if you would like a button for your jacket that says, "Reading is Sexy," the winner can give me her/his snail mail and I'll send that right out to you.

Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Fiona! :)

Pat Racklyeft said...

Hey Fiona! You know I love your books. I enjoyed your narration of the "parts" of Illinois. As you know I'm not from Illinois so I don't know nearly as much as you do. I have to say though that I am glad to be out of Illinois because of the horrible government and the huge tax burden. Sigh. Anyway love you and can't wait to see you next week!!

Mary Deal said...

Nice info packed in here and in your Comments. I have never been to Illinois, except to circle O'Hare for two hours in a place trying to avoid landing in a snow storm. I have always understood Chicago, especially, is a place of ever changing cultures and people. Have always been curious about visiting there but never had a chance, as with many places. Thanks for the info.

Fiona McGier said...

@Tina--Thanks. The Midwest isn't everyone's cuppa, but it's home.

@Pat--Aw...see you soon, bestie!

@Mary--If you like big cities, you'll love Chicago. The downtown is fabulous, especially in the summer, when it comes alive around the lakefront. Music festivals, art festivals, and just tons of people walking all around, speaking so many languages, but all smiling at each other.

If you don't like big cities, the rest of the state has something to offer to you, from the welcoming homes in the suburbs, to the even more friendly folks who live in more rural areas. We have great natural places to hike/camp/stay in, like Starved Rock, the Palasades, and the hills down south by Carbondale. There is Galena, way up in the northwest corner, with its emphasis on the olde days, and its wine festivals, and there are the many college towns that provide culture in the middle of corn fields.

Hope you get to visit soon.

traveler said...

A most informative and interesting post. I have been to Chicago and burbs. Your books look captivating and special. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com