Then a couple of years ago my friend Michael decided (or couldn't refuse) to host an Independence Day pig roast (AKA the Patriotic Independence Gathering) at his home and invite all the homies. Unlike its miserable and suffocating winter days, Chicago in the summer is a haven of sun, festivals, patio dining and general outdoor fun-time. The fine citizens of my birthplace, who have been hibernating all winter in front of TVs with beer and sausage (or deep dish pizza or -- insert favorite Chicago food here) take to the streets, parks and restaurant patios to--- well, drink beer and eat sausage. The point is that everyone is outside all the time-- and they truly do drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of sausage in Chicago.
And the other point is, I now make at least one of my annual visits to the Chi on the 4th of July. U-S-A!
A normal 4th of July tradition is to go to the Taste of Chicago on July 3rd, stuff my face with mediocre food at unusually high prices and then sit on a blanket to watch fireworks blasted off over the lake to the "da-dum-dum" of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Recession-fueled budget cuts have, however, eliminated the fireworks part, so now it is simply a million people crammed into Grant Park to sample the usual suspects of the over-hyped Taste of Chicago.
Nevertheless, a combination of vague nostalgia and poor long-term memory brought me back. This year was no different: it was hot and humid, there were far too many people and the food ranged from horrible to good. On the horrible spectrum was a Puerto Rican pork-filled banana empanada and on the good end were the famous Harry Carry potato chips. And roasted corn. "Really," I asked myself, "I came here for corn and potato chips?"
This picture sums up the good of the Taste of Chicago
But of course I didn't. I came to Chicago for the Patriotic Independence Gathering. Really, of course, the P.I.G. Roast is just a bunch of cats (that's "dudes" in Chicago-ese) sitting in my friend Michael's backyard watching a pig turn on a spit for nine hours under the hot sun while drinking beer. In other words, it is blissfully fun and a truly beautiful experience.
Here is the lucky pig that made the party. All 250 pounds of him. Lovely.
Once during the day my wife and I were left alone to tend the pig, which involved spraying it with a salty beer solution every once in a while. I also burdened myself with the ever-important duty of making sure none of the hanging pieces of skin dropped into the fire and were thus wasted. It was toiling and heroic work, but it had its obvious upsides: look at this perfectly crisp skin.
After it was all cooked there was order and structure as several more responsible-types spent at least an hour or two butchering and slicing meat. On the other hand, a few of us hovered around the head, tearing out chunks of cheek with our hands and generally going-to-town in a most ravenous manner. It was heavenly.
Ever since partaking in this tradition, my patriotism has easily doubled. I love America now more than ever and hope to go back to Chicago in 2011 for my third annual Patriotic Independence Gathering.