Here’s something you might not know about me: I’m a townie.
Four years ago, I walked the stage at Welsh-Ryan Arena as a member of Evanston Township High School’s Class of 2012. Four months later, I rode my bike to Bobb-McCulloch Hall while my parents lugged all of my shit in their station wagon.
I was ready to get out of Evanston after living here most of my life, so I didn’t always want to go to Northwestern. I looked at universities all over the country and wasted plenty of time and money visiting all of them. But Northwestern was the best school that I got into, so I said “fuck it” and decided to ride out the next four years in the place I spent my previous 11.
For the most part, I knew what I was getting into. I knew about the academics, since the nerdiest percentile of ETHS seniors (myself now included) went to Northwestern every year. I knew about the athletic futility, since I had been freezing my ass off watching Ohio State’s football team blow Northwestern out of the water since I was 7. I knew about the party scene. My friends and I spent our senior year of high school trying to sneak into frat houses on Friday nights (our batting average was .000). My biggest misconception going into freshman year was probably that Bobb was “the #1 party dorm in the country,” as the Huffington Post so naively claimed. When I went to visit a friend at a state school, they set up a Slip ‘N Slide in their dorm hallway. Now that was a party.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see Evanston as both a college town and my hometown, and it functions more appropriately as the latter. Evanston is a suburban residential community, and a pretty bougie one at that. There are literally two Whole Foods within a mile of each other, and a third not much farther. Quite simply, Evanston is no Bloomington, Indiana, or Ann Arbor, Michigan, where students bar-hop nightly.
Some think that Evanston is an anti-fun vacuum, which may be perpetuated by a number of myths and bizarre city ordinances. For example, if you want to trick-or-treat on Halloween, it is actually not illegal. It is, however, strictly regulated to the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ring the doorbell at 7:05 p.m.? Sorry kid – you’re not getting your Butterfinger.
There’s also a myth that whistling is illegal, which is only partially true. Evanston’s website says that yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing is unlawful, “particularly between the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.” So if you have a desire to “hoot” on the public streets of Evanston, make sure you do it while the sun is still out.
But regardless of all the quirks, weirdness and questionable administrative policy this town has to offer, they do call this place “Heavenston” for a reason. (Okay, it’s actually because of its heavy Methodist influence, but we can alter history for the purpose of this piece.) We have beaches, more than 80 parks and some of the friendliest people in America, when they’re not calling the cops on your off-campus frat party. President Barack Obama even gave us a shout out during his speech at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, calling Evanston a “great town,” right after thanking Joe Biden for not shooting anyone in the face during his term as vice president.
My love for Evanston has made it hard for me to shake the “townie” label. My freshman year, I was the guy who knew all of the restaurants, campus buildings and streets where upperclassmen were hosting off-campus parties. And every year people with whom I haven’t spoken since elementary school ask me to get them Dillo Day wristbands.
So, instead of trying to fight my townie label, I’ve come to embrace it. I’ve happily doled out restaurant recommendations to dozens of my friends, borrowed my parents’ car to drive people all around the North Shore and even let my parents come to one of our football game tailgates.
Either way, within the next few months, I likely will move away from Evanston for the first time in 15 years, probably to New York. No matter where I end up, when people ask me where I’m from, I will always say, “Evanston.” And when the New Yorker that I’m talking to inevitably doesn’t know where Evanston is, I’ll say something about deep dish pizza and probably get punched in the face.