“So long, Crawford, Texas.
Even before President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January, effectively crowning Chicago as the site of the western White House, the city is basking in a moment of triumph that is spilling well beyond the confines of politics.
For the first time in U.S. history, an American president will call this city home. And as he moves to Washington, a dose of the Chicago mood is sure to follow.
“We’re not Little Rock, and we’re not Texas,” said Rick Bayless, a friend of the Obama family who owns Frontera Grill and is one of the local celebrity chefs. “It’s easy to put on your cowboy boots and eat all that barbecue. You can’t do that from Chicago. We’ve got a lot of muscle, and it’s far too complex of a place for that.”
The complexity of Chicago, a city that is multiplying in its new diversity even as it clings to a segregated past, is rooted in the 200 neighborhoods that make up the third-largest U.S. city. America and much of the world may well know Oprah Winfrey, who became a billion-dollar name through her rise to fame here, but the city holds a far broader identity.
One sign that the Obama brand is replacing the Oprah brand? The talk show tycoon is not mentioned in the city’s new tourism campaign, which invites visitors to “Experience the city the Obamas enjoy.” Winfrey’s studio is not mentioned along the list of stops, which range from Bayless’s restaurants to a bookstore in the Obamas’ Hyde Park neighborhood to Promontory Point along Lake Michigan. And souvenirs are on sale across town, with Obama shirts, hats and knickknacks arriving just in time for Christmas shopping.
“It seems like there are eight million people walking around here congratulating each other,” said Scott Turow, a best-selling novelist who was born in the city. “Chicagoans are unbelievably proud of Barack and feel of course that he’s ours, because he is.”
Catching himself, he added: “I guess I should get out of the habit of calling him Barack.””