by Jennon Hoffman
On the northwest corner of Racine and Newport, there is a stoop that leads to a classic three flat courtyard apartment building, the kind with six units flanking a central stairwell and the microcosm of new arrivals revolve with regularity. I rotated into the top floor south unit for a few short, formative, important years and fell in love—with someone, with myself, with the city.
The flirtation with city-living began years before I knew what love was, and what it meant to leave. The day I signed the lease to my first Chicago apartment, I toured the empty studio, keys jangling in my hands, before walking down three flights to get something to fill my belly and new pantry. New neighborhood, blank canvas, unknown dining options awaited me just beyond that stoop. But before I stepped off in any direction, the golden hour sun was just starting its glittering show, and I sat on the stoop to take it in.
The marigold beams seeped through the green leaves of the parkway, bounced off the sleek mirrored surfaces of the nearby new construction. The brown line rumbled a benevolent groan in the backdrop of a Chicago summer day. A couple walking a tiny dog nodded as they passed. An elderly gentleman in a full suit and felt hat tipped his chin to say “Lovely evening, isn’t it?” as he ambled by. A small gaggle of friends crowded the sidewalk as they headed toward Wrigley Field.
I’ve sat on that stoop to lace optimism into my sneakers for an ambitious run to the lake. I’ve sat on that stoop to scroll through my phone while waiting for my ride to show up. I’ve huddled in the tiny vestibule, juggling my work bag and Jewel bags as I try to jimmy open the tiny brass-plated mailbox. I stood on that stoop and yelled at a drunk Cubs fan to piss somewhere else. I jumped onto that stoop when I saw a rat dart out from under a discarded Bacci pizza box. It was on that stoop that I had my last first kiss. And where we shared drippy tacos while listening to concerts float from the ballpark. The stoop witnessed countless kisses shared before heading to work and clipped bickering before the real argument upstairs. Then, a few years later, I hoisted the last of my belongings into the idling truck, and said goodbye to that stoop.
On the corner of Racine and Newport, the gears clicked into place and started what I know to be the beginning of the rest of my life. The promise, the optimism, the convivial ease of being part of the neighborhood—it’s a feeling I can always go back to, just by sitting on a friendly neighborhood stoop, watching a Chicago summer night unfold.