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Poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago the "city of big shoulders." It's an apt description for this city, which at one time was best known for its slaughterhouses and gangster wars. A certain working man sensibility pervades Chicago today despite the city's place at the center of commerce, culture and class for the middle United States.
Chicago still prides itself on its toughness (Below zero wind chill temperatures? No problem, we'll put on heavier mittens) as well as its world class museums, soaring skyscrapers, Broadway-quality theater, high-end shopping, gorgeous lakefront and friendly ways.
It wasn't always a friendly city. Chicago was settled by white immigrants from northern and Eastern Europe who brought with them their strong work ethic and racial prejudices. As African-Americans moved to Chicago, seeking opportunity they couldn't find in the southern United States in the early 1900s, they met angry mobs who didn't want to share their neighborhoods. Today, the city is one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic and the races have reached a political truce, if not always an interpersonal one.
Chicagoans may not have always been welcoming to one another, but they pride themselves on being nicer than New Yorkers. Need help finding your way? Stand on the corner looking lost and chances are good someone will stop and offer assistance.
Just don't root against the home team. Chicagoans are crazy for their sports teams--North Side baseball fans root for those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, while South Siders root for the Chicago White Sox, but the divided city unites to cheer on the Chicago Bears football team and Chicago Bulls basketball team.
There is also plenty of classy entertainment in this town. The venerable Goodman Theater and the cutting-edge Steppenwolf Theater (founding members include Gary Sinise and John Malkovich) are the best known among Chicago's vibrant theater scene, which includes ornate downtown theaters and dozens of experimental off-Loop theaters. Chicago also is home to the world famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Second City improvisational comedy club that spawned Tina Fey, Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert.
For music lovers, there are jazz clubs and blues clubs as well as Lollapalooza and tons of free summer music festivals. For families, there is the fabulous Millennium Park with its inviting fountain and summer concerts, the invigorating Navy Pier, home to the Children Children's Museum, one of the best children's museum in the country, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the last free zoos in the country.
And no one should go home before tasting the local favorites: deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago style hot dogs (hot dog purveyors will jokingly tell you it is illegal for anyone over 18 years of age to put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog).