When I was in college my goal was to have a job that would let me live in a big city so I didn’t have to own a car, could rely on public transportation, and enjoy all a big city had to offer. But I ended up in journalism, then corporate PR, then magazine editing, none of which paid enough for big city living.

So I lived for many years in a Chicago suburb about 40 miles from downtown. I had a car, but seldom drove it into Chicago; instead relying on a commuter train for periodic trips into the city. Empty nesting and downsizing caused a move a few years ago to a much smaller metro area about 80 miles from downtown Chicago. Now trips to Chicago are rare, mainly for trade shows and industry media events. I use a regional bus service that makes nine trips a day to and from Chicago. Each trip is promoted as about two hours in non-rush hour times and about two and a half hours plus in rush hours. Typically, it takes less.

But coming back from the recent National Restaurant Association Show, the trip ended up being more than three hours thanks to it taking more than 30 minutes to go less than a mile from the downtown departure point to the entrance to an expressway, which itself crawled slowly. All this didn’t bother me. I read a paperback, napped, and listed to a baseball game on ear buds attached to a small radio.

But having lived in more open spaces for several years now, I did wonder what the appeal was to big city living back in my college days.