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The town runs blotchy gray if you look at it fast. Along the expressways it blurs into neon and weary factories, a heavy-boned, hard-breathing place, all sinew, with muscles even in its head. No one ever will mistake it for San Francisco or Savannah. A spacious town, to be sure; but gracious rarely. There has been no time for that.

One day, perhaps, the whole sweating place heaved out of the earth and socked in it for good. Over the years it swelled like mad, but something happened and hunks of it barley hang on. Weedy lots, wrinkled buildings, acres of billboards, miles of train tracks - the town is no Miss America, although maybe it's Mister America, still pumping iron even after losing the title. A town as tough as they come and as tough as they go, too.

There's a river but it's no Seine: a working-stiff stream, green where it should be blue, flowing backwards and emptying on St. Louis. On the land, a million-legged iron treadmill screeches over the streets and circles back on itself, groaning by night. It's the Elevated, nearly a century old in some of it's pinned and bolted bones and a reminder that the town has years on it now but that it keeps going and that it still connects.

The town, of course, is Chicago. Along the money-green lakefront it's one city and back of the skyline it's another. It has had a long run as a city of neighborhoods, although some of them are lost now, vanished in the memory gap that divides the have and have-nots. Anyone willing to explore, though, will find surprises: surviving neighborhoods, reviving neighborhoods, and even abiding ones. The town is no lost city although it surely has strayed and has sacrificed living pieces of itself.

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