Monday, May 5, 2014

People will believe anything they see on TV

Great blue heron, Chicago Botanical Garden, 5/4/14
     Half of the 12.8 million people living in the state of Illinois would move away, if they only could find a way to break their chains. And about a fifth — 19 percent — say they plan to do so in the next year. Just load up the old Model T and head, well, anywhere. That happy place that isn’t Illinois; 17 percent believe Illinois is the worst state in the United States.
     While the temptation is to deflect that with a quip — something like, “And after this past winter, who can blame them?”— it does seem a moment that calls for, if not soul-searching, then at least critical thought. We live in a hellhole, apparently, and didn’t even know it.
     My first instinct was to see if the poll was commissioned by Bruce Rauner. He’s staking his political future on convincing the electorate that our home state is a lousy place to live. Maybe he’s behind this.
Great blue heron
     Nope, Gallup poll. Fairly reliable. Illinois, dead last, with twice as many residents yearning for elsewhere than top-rated Hawaii. There, only 23 percent would like to move, though Gallup doesn’t record where. Where do you go to improve your lot if you’re already in Hawaii? Heaven, I suppose. 
     What’s going on here? 
     The Gallup folks wonder if it’s not due to the corruption that is uncovered here (oh sure, blame the media...) I don’t buy that. While we do miss the money siphoned into the pockets of these crooks, is it a reason to move? Blagojevich was  embarrassing but did he really make you want to leave? I mean, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California and being shamed in the media for fathering a child out of wedlock with his maid, did people start fleeing California? And we in Illinois have to be tougher than Californians, annealed as we are by our annual five-month plunge into the subzero icy blast furnace that is winter. 
     Illinois isn’t the poorest state, by far. It’s flat, yes, but has a nice lake adjacent to the part where most of the people live, plus several significant rivers. I don’t want to start slagging other states, but the number of people “extremely likely to move” is 10 percentage points lower in Indiana than in Illinois: 19 percent here, 10 percent there. Really? Almost half? Have you ever been to Indiana? From the post-apocalyptic moonscape of Gary, where tearing down a single eyesore high-rise shell downtown is hailed as an elephant step toward renewal, to the anodyne nowhere of Indianapolis and everywhere in between. Start listing the cities in Indiana: Fort Wayne, South Bend, Muncie, Evansville. . . .  How far do you get before you rush outside and kiss the ground?   
     Maybe it isn’t that Illinois is so bad, but people here are simply ambitious. Part of ambition is dissatisfaction, yearning for something better, and that often involves vague desire to go somewhere else. We’re like the heroes in a Bruce Springsteen song — one from 30 years ago, I mean, when he was still good. Restless, with our tricked-out ’51 Mercury in the driveway, some babe draped over the bench seat, tapping our feet, sick of home, wanting to go . . . anywhere. I’d rather live hungry in Illinois and be restless, dreaming of a better life, than grow fat with contentment in Indiana.
     My theory? Two things at work. I still blame Rauner, no matter who did the poll. If you turn on a television during the past three months, you see what? Commercials from Bruce Rauner telling us how lousy Illinois is. That has to have some effect — people drive Kias and drink cotton candy-flavored vodka. They believe TV ads, no matter how dumb. Call it the Rauner Effect.
     Second is the Mountain Effect. The most popular states in the poll—Wyoming, Alaska, Colorado—have mountains, which Illinois certainly does not, and egos inflate at elevation. Maybe it’s the thin air. My folks live in Colorado, and I could be living in Colorado, too, but the people there are so filled with self-satisfaction it’s like they’re ready to pop. They sit at their outdoor cafes guzzling chai and adjusting their ragwool socks, talking about their last colonic cleanse and how great it was to do yoga at dawn at Burning Man. They give happiness a bad name. I would rather be miserably trudging through the killing wind of Chicago on the worst day of last winter, eyes cast down on my steel-toe Red Wing boots, than some sandal-clad Boulder barista blissed out and playing the pan flute on the Pearl Street Mall.
     Just 1,000 feet difference between the highest and lowest spot in Illinois. Four of our last eight governors went to jail; one is still there. Our next governor might be a sneering half-billionaire who believes complete lack of experience qualifies a man for a difficult job. So what? We’re a tough state for tough people. Those who count love it.


  1. Hawaii has mountains too.
    The state just doesn't advertise it.

    And it sounds like Rauner is going to need to double the number of TV spots if he's to break through the noise and booster-ism of bought and sold working class Illinois.

  2. The only ads wanting to make me flee are the ones paid for by the State of Illinois.
    Whether it's the old Magnificent Miles campaign, which was a joke, to the current Tiny Abe one, which is beyond pathetic, every time one of them runs, I run from the room, screaming "Make it stop, make it stop!"
    Compare the advertising atrocities Illinois inflicts on its own citizens to the delightful & welcoming ads Wisconsin & especially Michigan run on Chicago TV.
    The Pure Michigan ads, with Tim Allen doing the voiceovers are pleasant, soothing & relaxing. They make you want to visit Michigan.
    But the Illinois ads are grating disasters & Tiny Abe is just flat out idiotic!

  3. You may get a little outrage from Indianians (is that right?) - so I'll jump in now. Having grown up in Michigan and lived in Illinois most of my adult life, Indiana signals "almost home" heading both directions. It's a quick trip that takes me to the wonderful "Welcome Michigan!" sign or, on the return, it's the final bit of stress-free driving before the madness and ugliness of I80/94/294. And who can pass Gary, Indiana without singing the silly song from The Music Man?

    I've only been to Indianapolis a couple times, but you'll see lovely farm country and an amazing windmill farm along I-65. The town itself is rather fun.

    I do not want to leave Illinois...yet but when I do, Maui feels most like home.

  4. My theory is that Chicago accounts for most of the yearning to flee. It's such a magnet for young people from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and beyond... They come here for school, or shortly after, looking for a big city career and lifestyle, maybe something in the arts, and when the cost of living and the anomie catches up with them, they pack up the U-Haul and head back to the regional suburbs from whence they came.

  5. Hi Neil. Longtime reader, former Chicago suburbanite who moved to Indianapolis in 2008. No, I'm not going to get angry that you pummeled Indiana. I understand why many prefer Chicago (but not the rest of Illinois - Illinois minus Chicago is completely indistinguishable from Indiana minus Indianapolis). It would be a great place to live if you're wealthy and can afford to take advantage of all the great things to do and insulate yourself from the rough edges, like getting stabbed or having to ride the CTA. Or if you can get a job as a newspaper columnist, move to the 'burbs, and still get comped a lot of expensive event tickets and restaurant meals, I hear that's pretty nice too... :-)

    But I work from home and spend most of my time at home, and my very nice house on nearly an acre of land inside the Indy city limits cost what I would have paid for a two bedroom condo in Roselle, 30 miles from the Loop. Indy only has about a dozen great restaurants I haven't tried yet instead of 50. Two pro sports teams I don't buy tickets to instead of six. The orchestra I never saw in Chicago is better than the one I never see in Indy. And so on.

    I do miss some of the good things about Chicago, and I always enjoy my visits there, but I don't regret moving away.

  6. a lot of good points in the blog, but I would agree transplants probably account for some of it, as well as the last winter.

  7. I think it’s ‘The grass is always greener on the other side.’ syndrome. And familiarity breeds contempt. But absence makes the heart grow fonder and I’m sure there are many who strive to return to this area. Maybe they can do a poll about that.

  8. A mind once expanded cannot return to its original form. -- some famous guy.

    Most who see elsewhere places find it hard to stomach the *Chicago* winters and the lack of whatever they've newly experienced. Is it at all possible the grass is greener, and maybe the ideas that make that grass green can be implemented to make *Chicago* a better place.

    And isn't there a value in these *Chicago* colonists heading into the world. It speaks to the strength of Chicago, especially when the colonists report back to HQ.

    --Art Gold


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.