The Second City is the famous improvisational theater in Chicago.
When The Second City opened in Chicago in 1959, Chicago was our nation’s second largest city. Today, our second city is Los Angeles.
I live in a second city – Spokane, second to Seattle in Washington state.
I’ve lived both in Spokane and in Seattle, as have my parents, and as have my children. Both Spokane and Seattle have positive qualities.
Seattle is one of the world’s most stunningly beautiful urban areas. In Spokane, it is easier to park. Seattle hosts an economic engine of brain power and creativity. Spokane has a four-season climate. Seattle has world-renown, locally-sourced cuisine. In Spokane, straws are legal.
Most eighth graders can identify the largest city in each state. (Delaware? New Hampshire? Montana?) More assuredly, most residents of the second largest city in any state know they reside in their state’s second largest city. Second city pride.
Second cities evolve. Notable second cities have been replaced. Dallas is no longer a second city, despite the hats and hairdos. San Francisco is no longer a second city, despite the long gloves and hypodermic needles. Santa Fe is no longer a second city, despite the art galleries and Texans. Reno is no longer a second city, despite being the biggest little city in the world.
Second cities are feisty. Spokane and Seattle have a rivalry. Although, if you ask Seattle, Seattle will tell you its rival is Portland. St. Louis and Kansas City are rivals. Salt Lake and Ogden are rivals. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are rivals.
Do you know all the second cities? Most population nerds cannot accurately tell you the second city in each state.
Unless your population nerd is a Paraguayan professor.
I am at an international conference of academics. Today is committee meetings with a luncheon buffet.
I drop my briefcase at an empty table and get lunch. As I sit, “Hello my friend. I am Eduardo, and I am new to this Committee.” Eduardo sets his plate across from me at the round table for eight.
We exchange pleasantries. Eduardo is a partner in a Paraguay law firm and an adjunct professor at a Paraguay law school. He hands me two different business cards, each featuring his photo. The photos differ, but in each Eduardo is wearing the same shirt, coat and tie. Sure enough, today Eduardo is wearing the same shirt, coat and tie. I slide him my card.
“Spokane,” Eduardo says. “Spokane is the second largest city in Washington state, is that not the case?”
“Yes, that is the case, Eduardo. I know of Asuncion, but I am afraid I am not aware of Paraguay’s second city.”
“Ciudad del Este,” he says proudly, as if I am having lunch with Antonio Banderas. “Ciudad del Este, Christopher. This is where I am from. Ciudad del Este – the second city of Paraguay.”
From opposite sides of the equator, Eduardo and I have commonality. We’re second city people.
Second city people see themselves as first city people who are making a choice.
“I could live in Denver, but I choose Colorado Springs for easier access to the Incline Trail.”
“I could live in Phoenix, but I prefer the climate in Tucson.”
“Fort Wayne has just as many amenities as Indianapolis, as far as I remember.”
First city people see themselves as never living in the second city under any circumstances.
“Buffalo? Don’t be fatuous.”
“My therapist’s receptionist has to live in San Diego. My esthetician’s receptionist also has to live in San Diego. It sounds fine, but I don’t know.”
“Juneau? Too isolated.”
As Eduardo discusses Ciudad del Este, I realize this Paraguayan bon vivant is eating like the Tasmanian devil. Arms akimbo, fireworks of crumbs, multiple plates. Relatively quiet, though – like a silent forest masticator.
I am impolite to publicize another’s table manners. Starched hanky for certain. I've changed his name, but Ciudad del Este is only a second city – people could figure it out. If you dropped some of my characteristics to a few Spokane denizens, you’d hit on my name pretty quickly.
Eduardo is eating from both hands. A knife in his right hand stabs and downs slices of beef the size of playing cards. Simultaneously, Eduardo maintains the continental left-handed fork technique for his potatoes.
Eduardo discusses similarities of Paraguay’s Parana River and the Columbia River – “These are both the second most important navigable rivers on our continents.” Before I could offer that maybe the St. Lawrence River is North America’s second most important river, Eduardo politely excuses himself, loads another plate, and reverts to full-tilt Tasmanian devil.
It seemed wrong to watch, so I kept my head down. But the conversation remained fascinating.
I have not been to Paraguay, but I have been to Uruguay, where politicians are advertised by number, not name. Latin American corruption, Swiss bank account style.
I ask Eduardo the political differences of Paraguay and Uruguay. Food bits orbit his head like electrons. Eduardo reacts with his rich, landlocked voice. “Well, you see, Christopher, Uruguay and Paraguay both have free and regular presidential elections. In both countries, our elected leaders are educated and well informed. You have been to Uruguay, and it has wealth and magnificent beaches. Paraguay is uncomfortably hot and humid.”
I could see light reflecting from Eduardo’s plate. Round three must be coming. Eduardo rises and takes his plate. His zone has a circle of virgin white, surrounded by a two-layered rainbow of debris - organic, like a weed whacker has attacked a box of gerbils and baguettes.
I walk with him for the dessert. Eduardo sets his plate on the hallway cart and faces me, “Buen amigo, adios”, and he is gone without a sound. Rubber soled shoes. Real Paraguayan gum, I assume.
I return to the be-crumbed table with my lonely dessert. As the meetings began, none of the other academics sit with me – first city people for certain. That's fine. I’ve got a second city friend in Ciudad del Este.