by J.D. Rhoades

I just got back from the big city of Chicago, where I had the honor of helping two dear friends celebrate their wedding. When not participating in wedding merriment, I got a chance to see some more of one of my favorite towns.

There are quite a few downsides to being, as I put it, between publishers, but one of the ones that really gets me down is that I don’t get to travel as much to conferences and book festivals. Not only do I love seeing old friends, making new ones, and finally getting to know people I only know from online, I love seeing America’s cities. This may surprise some of you, since I’m pretty vocal about being  a small town boy. What can I say? Like Walt Whitman, I am large. I contain multitudes.

There’s just something about going walkabout in a city I’ve never been before, especially if it’s a place I’ve connected to through books. Or going back to one I’ve been to before to find that the taste I got the second or third time is different from the first.

Here are some of my favorites (by no means an exhaustive list):

Chicago: I love the  architecture. I know it makes me sound geeky as hell but I’m fascinated by those old buildings, especially the big ones like the Chicago Tribune building. Some of them are as ornate and filigreed as cathedrals.


Then there are the parks. For a big city, Chicago seems to be very much into green space and places to play outdoors.  Next time I go back, I’m going to take some time to just hang out there.

And the food, good lord, the food.


New York: I’ve often said I’d probably expire quickly if I lived in New York. Not from pining away for the South,  but  from lack of sleep.  No matter how late it might be, I look out into the street and I feel it pulling at me. I  just have to get out there and see what’s going on. And there’s always something going on. The people were very nice, too, which I didn’t expect after years of hearing how uptight and unfriendly New Yorkers were. (Except the bartenders in the Grand Hyatt. Those guys acted like they were doing me a favor selling me a 14 dollar cocktail.).

Which reminds me:  there are some cities I’ve been surprised by, because frankly, my pre-conceived image of them was so unfair. Like:

Boise: “Boise?” someone once asked when I told them I was going there for the Murder in the Grove conference. “Why the hell would anyone want to go to BOISE?” To be sure, I wondered that myself. I expected to be surrounded by potato-chomping whack job survivalists. Boise, I apologize. It’s really a very hip city, with great restaurants, coffeehouses, and one of the coolest guitar shops I’ve eve been in. And I got to actually wave hello to the new Governor in his office.


Omaha: I had the same prejudice against Omaha. I thought it was going to be a hick town writ large. But again, I apologize. No, corn does not actually grow in the streets there. No, cows do not roam free. The people do not all dress in overalls (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In fact, it was a very nice place,with great food, cool record shops, Irish pubs, blues bars, and some great steaks.

Some cities, alas, it’s hard to love. Like, for instance, Dallas. I hated Dallas. Hated it,  hated it, hated it. That may, however. have been because I was only there for a meeting that was part of a particularly  ugly and contentious lawsuit and my main view of the city was from the windows of a corporate boardroom full of assholes. 



  But even that dry brown city had its upside. It was there I first sang karaoke with a group of Japanese executives who were very appreciative of my sake-fueled rendition of “Travelin’ Band.”

Houston,  on the other hand, rocks, thanks to friends like David Thompson and the lovely  McKenna Jordan (both of Murder By the Book) as well as my old friend Celine (aka Lee Billings).  I’ll always remember Houston as the place where Ken Bruen read to a room full of late night partiers from a book that had just come out called THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND.  

One city I’d love to go back to: Baltimore. I’d read Laura Lippman. I’d seen every episode of THE WIRE. So I’m not sure what I expected from Baltimore. That may be why I never really felt like I got a handle on the place. But lunch at the Inner Harbor was nice.

Other places I’ve loved and would love to revisit: Boston. Miami. Madison.

Some cities where I’ve never been, but want very much to see: L.A. Seattle. Austin. New Orleans.

So, on to the discussion questions:  What’s your favorite city? What must I be sure to catch when I’m there?


24 thoughts on “THIS IS THE CITY

  1. Spencer Seidel

    Portland, ME is my favorite city, hands down, particularly in the summer, when the views of Casco Bay from the Eastern Promenade are spectacular. I lived there for a year trying to get a freelancing business off the ground and loved walking (and biking) the streets every day. I get up there as often as I can and hope to buy a place one day to run away to when life gets too hectic.

  2. JD Rhoades

    Portland, eh? *checks wikipedia* Hmmm…looks beautiful. Cold in the winter, but not unbearably so. But…gulp…67 INCHES OF SNOW A YEAR? Still, that harbor….

  3. Louise Ure

    My recent exposure to Seattle has put that city at the top of my list of favorites, too. It’s no longer a sleepy little burg. Nor is it just a one-trick Microsoft pony. It’s a great, young, green and lively place with extraordinary views everywhere you look.

  4. B.E. Sanderson

    I’ve been to a lot of cities, but my favorite is probably Ann Arbor, MI. Of course, I’m prejudiced because I’m a Wolverines fan, but beyond that, it has great shopping, great food and friendly people. Plus, the whole area is pretty (or at least it was when I was visiting there regularly ten years ago). I can’t think of one specific place to send you if you go – unless you’re into football, then you can’t skip seeing the stadium.

    Another city I enjoyed visiting was St. Louis. The arch, of course, is the big draw, but they have some awesome restaurants, too. =o)

  5. Dana King

    I’m a rural boy with a general distaste for cities, but I love Chicago. Maybe it’s because it resembles a huge Pittsburgh (I grew up 20 miles from The Point) with its many ethnic neighborhoods and te key, functional presence of water. (Lake Michigan and the Chicago River vs. Pittsburgh’s three rivers and hundreds of bridges.)

    Boston is also a favorite, as is St. Louis. (I’m in love with the Arch.) Pittsburgh if definitely an underrated city, and worth some time if you get a chance.

    I’ve been to New York a few times now, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but I still have no desire to go back.

  6. Stephen D. Rogers

    Hey JD,

    I hear you. I used to take the train into Boston and just walk the streets, hang anywhere that sold coffee, and write.

    That "get out and soak up the environment" is still my favorite part of any trip.


  7. Cathy

    I’ve loved Chicago since I ran the marathon and found people and bands (some scheduled and some just showed up) along the entire 26 miles (lot of time to check out the architecture). Of course the coolest part was the finish – running through the tunnel at Soldier Field.

    I’ve received the same response to Boise visits – you’re going where? Why? Add running the river (in a boat/inner tube/inflatable of your choice) to your next trip then celebrate with a microbrew from one of the pubs.

    On the other coast, try Savannah for the buildings and squares but Charleston for the food.


  8. Karen in Ohio

    Omaha also has one of the best zoos in the country, the Henry Doorling Zoo. They were one of the first to build a tunnel tank, where the sharks seems to be swimming right for, and then over top of, you.

    Now that I’ve been to 49 states (as of last week, when I visited New Orleans for the first time), I feel qualified to say that Cincinnati, where I live, is still one of the all-time best cities in the US. It has four-season weather, rolling hills, a fine river, first-class symphony/ballet/opera/playhouse, and stellar parks and public art. And we have wonderful restaurants (did you know that, up until three years ago, Cincinnati had a five-star restaurant for more than three decades?), and one of the most literate populations in the country. Our library system is exemplary, plus we still have several great independent bookstores as well as all the chains, and multiples of each of the chain stores.

    Boulder, CO is also a fabulous city, with great weather, and lots of things to do all the time.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Man, you’ve got me with a post on America’s cities. I love ’em. And I understand your love for Boise, too. I’ve been to just about every state in the US, and many, many cities, large and small. You’ve got to hit Annapolis when you get the chance. And Tulsa. I love the architecture of Chicago, too. Then there’s Kalispel, Montana. Taos, New Mexico. Boulder, CO. Kansas City. Austin, TX. Vancouver. NYC, of-fucking-course. And my favorite of the bunch, San Francisco.
    I can’t wait to begin traveling Europe. I’ve only been to London, and I was so broke I had to sleep at Heathrow.

  10. JD Rhoades

    Louise: of course Seattle’s green. IT RAINS ALL THE FREAKIN’ TIME! Still, I’ve heard so many good things about it, I’ll pack my galoshes.

    B.E. Pretty much every place I’ve been n the Midwest has been awesome. I’ll definitely have to get up to Ann Arbor (hometown of Bob Seger) sometime.

    Dana: my only contact with Pittsburgh is when I did a deposition there. Flew up, spent two hours in a law firm conference room, flew back. But what I saw made me want to see more.

  11. becky hutchison

    I agree with Stephen. You HAVE to see Annapolis. It’s a gorgeous small town with beautiful architecture and the largest number of colonial buildings still standing in the country. It’s reminescent of New England port towns, and vies with Newport RI as one of the sailing capitals of the world. Oh, and it’s where I live.

    But you can’t take the mountains out of this East TN girl. I love Crested Butte CO, Pittsfield MA and Frederick MD, all historic and very different. But forget Gatlinburg TN…too crowded and too touristy.

    I also love Savannah GA with its old buildings and 22 of the original 24 squares. There’s a bar along the river with big turning bins along one wall containing all kinds of frozen drinks, one of which you’re going to need if you go during the hot, humid summers.

  12. JD Rhoades

    Cornelia: Oh, my. That burger sounds amazing. My stomach just growled in agreement.

    Stephen: I do love Boston. Want to get back there ASAP. You can just hear the whispers of history everywhere.

    Cathy: you don’t have to sell me on Charleston food. Or drinks 🙂

  13. JD Rhoades

    Karen, I didn’t know all that about Cincinnati. I guess watching every episode of WKRP doesn’t really give one the whole flavor, eh?

    Stephen Jay: I see that this could get expensive. But your mention of "America’s cities" reminds me that perhaps I’m being a bit chauvinistic. How about it, international "Rati? Any furrin cities I need to see?

    becky: I’ve always had a hankering to see Annapolis.

  14. Debby J

    Nothing beats New Orleans. Not for food, music, atmosphere, or just plan fun. Best of all are the people who live there.

  15. toni mcgee causey

    My sister-in-law took me on a sight-seeing tour of Pittsburgh, and it was beautiful. I wish I’d had more time to spend there.

    We loved Chicago, when we vacationed there one year. Keep wishing we could get back up there for a couple of weeks, just to see everything we’d meant to see the first time. They have some amazing galleries and museums and we love the architecture, too.

    We also loved New York–I’ve been three (? four?) times now, and I have a dear friend who’s shown me around quite a bit.

    I loved Seattle. I wish I had had more time there, as well as in San Francisco. I was in SF for a conference and hardly got out of the hotel, which, frankly, is a tragedy.

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Just had to say that the architecture cruise in Chicago is one of the best tours I’ve ever been on, fascinating!

    Cities – I love London the best, and in the US – San Francisco and New Orleans are the most magic for me. But I keep writing about Boston, too!

  17. pari noskin taichert

    I have a very fond feeling for Boise too. Wonder why <g>?

    And I loved living in DC. Not for the politics, mind you, but for the food and all the free museums. There was always something fascinating going on and it usually didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

    I also have happy memories of living in Ann Arbor — for many of the same reasons that I liked DC. But it’s changed and I’m not sure I’d recognize it now that it has so much less funkiness.

    Didn’t like Hong Kong much.

  18. JT Ellison

    Oh, this is going to take too much time to list properly…

    New York
    This tiny little beach I go to in Florida which shall not be named because if too many people find out about it…
    Anchorage – because I saw the Northern Lights…
    Taos & Santa Fe



    I’m with you, son. The travel is by far one of the biggest perks of publishing.

  19. Allison Davis

    Dusty, share your love of Chicago, big brauny bluesy…love it. You are welcome to stay in the New Orleans house anytime — there are other loves of New Orleans among the murderati I know (Toni?).

    I just returned from Taipei — a city that I thought would be very foreign to me. Turned out, folks is folks — really nice people, great food, and while bustling and the air a little gray, still easy to get around, with great urban landscapes. DinTaiFung for dim sum…amazing.

    I am from the Seattle area so highly recommend that and what about San Francisco??? We have cool foggy summers for those of you who don’t like the heat and we got the food…I always have extra room in SF. Come on down!

  20. Karen in Ohio

    Actually, Dusty, it doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle. And when it does rain, it is rarely more than a mist, similar to London’s famous drizzle. The Pike Place Market is worth going across three time zones, especially if you have lunch next to the water on a sunny day, when the "mountains are out", as the locals say. The city sits between two spectacular mountain ranges, and when they appear out of the clouds they are worth the wait.

    No one has mentioned Chattanooga, but after visiting there early this year I’m here to tell you that it’s a spectacular place. The Tennessee River flows right through it, with an island in the middle (very picturesque), and rocky cliffs on one side. Atop the cliffs are museums galore, and lovely, lovely architecture. I sat in a riverside park on the other side of the river, and enjoyed the view, plus wandered along the neighborhood (something Shore, can’t recall), where there are quaint shops, wonderful restaurants, and charming brass plaques in the sidewalk with dance steps set out. Including my favorite: The Kiss, which has a pair of men’s brass shoes and a pair of women’s high heels, the left one of which says "Lift".

    I later found out that a dear friend and his former company designed the whole area.

  21. Dudley Forster

    I have to echo Seattle as a great place to visit. Pike Place Market is not to be missed if just for the fish throwing. Also, you can check out the original Starbucks. For a touristy, but fun adventure you can take a tour of the Underground City. Which is just the old first floors of buildings after the city fathers ordered the all the streets be raised to get property above the Sound so the toilets didn’t flush backwards. Back then you had to climb ladders from the sidewalks to cross the streets; there are even a few causes of death listed as “fell off street”. Of course the founding fathers were also famous for creating the Seattle Sewing Circle which did little sewing.

    Another beautiful city is Vancouver, with Stanley Park and it cosmopolitan flair is a great place to just wonder around. It also has a great aquarium; I’m such a sucker for the Belugas.

    Now for the best, Coeur d’Alene, ID. Admittedly it is a destination/resort town with Lake Coeur d’Alene having been voted one of the ten most beautiful alpine lakes in the world. If you like golf you can try the Coeur d’Alene Resort golf course. It was awarded five stars by Golf Digest and has the world’s only floating green. In the winter there is great powder skiing at Silver Mt. Finally, if you are truly insane there is the Coeur d’Alene Ironman triathlon.

    Pari, Bosie?! I live in N. Idaho and most of us would not describe the feelings we have for Boise as fond. 🙂


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