After getting dumped by his childhood sweetheart, Charlie Park finds himself at rock bottom. Despite all efforts by his best friend; RJ, a female firecracker who may or may not be contributing to his woes, Charlie cannot break free from this rut. His new status quo is filled with incessant cleaning, obsessing over his favorite daytime talk show host, and crafting the definitive list that will help him find the perfect woman. That’s when Charlie’s apartment burns to the ground, proving that life can always get worse.

But thanks to a chance encounter with a waitress from his favorite restaurant, Charlie musters the courage to move from Los Angeles to Chicago in search of a fresh start. Given a clean slate, Charlie trades in his 401K for a minimum wage job, finds a group of friends who teach him the significance of being a Chicagoan, and bunks up with an unexpected roommate. Along the way, he fumbles through a whole new series of romances… and a few old ones, too! Regardless of these missteps, if Charlie can play his cards right, he just might end up with everything he’s always wanted. Or so he thinks.

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Excerpt from Deep Dish © Copyright 2023 Michael Choi

“Detroit Rock City” – Kiss
“Sweet Home Chicago” – Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows “New York, New York” – Frank Sinatra
“Viva Las Vegas” – Elvis Presley “Chicago” – Tony Bennett
“I Love L.A.” – Randy Newman
“Walking in Memphis” – Marc Cohn
“My Kind of Town” – Frank Sinatra
“New York State of Mind” – by Billy Joel
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” – Tony Bennett


THESE ARE THE TEN QUINTESSENTIAL SONGS ABOUT AMERICAN CITIES. So I considered it a good omen that three of them pertained to Chicago. I was on the final stretch of my pilgrimage, driving along interstate 90, when the city finally came into view. Its scope was immense. The skyline sprawled across the horizon, book-ended by the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center, competing black obelisks soaring into the heavens. The sight of it left me humbled, and I found myself wanting to pee in my pants. This is what Dorothy must’ve felt like on the threshold of Emerald City.

The city swallowed me into its paunches upon exiting the highway. I was surrounded by a jungle of skyscrapers that blotted out the sun, creating an artificial dusk. Chicago devoured the meek on a regular basis. It was built by frontiersmen who battled Indians and wrestled bears. Gangsters who settled their arguments with Tommy guns were kings here. And its sports legends went by names like Jordan, Butkus, and Payton. I drank cafe lattes and wore a jacket whenever the temperature dipped below seventy. I was not worthy of this town.

I started to hyperventilate. Thankfully, the floor of my car was littered with McDonald’s bags that I had been too lazy to throw out. I grabbed one and covered my face, the smell of Chicken McNuggets still heavy on the paper. It crunched in and out with each breath, but this didn’t help relieve my condition. That’s when I noticed the bus next to me. It bore an advertisement for The Umara Humphrey Show across the length of its side. Both Umara and her show called Chicago home, and the idea that she could be just around the corner at any given moment put me back at ease. That’s when I knew everything would be okay.

I continued down Jackson Street until I couldn’t drive any further, greeted by the sight of Lake Michigan. I parked at a meter that was ridiculously overpriced and walked towards the water. To call this a lake was a great misnomer. A lake is something you can walk around on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This one stretched for miles with no end in sight. It took a while to convince myself that I hadn’t traveled in one gigantic circle, accidentally returning to the shores of the Pacific.

I wandered aimlessly, trying to gain my bearings, but couldn’t stop feeling like a freshman in college trying to find his way around campus on the first day of school. I almost killed myself crossing over Lake Shore Drive, narrowly dodging a wave of cars that honked their displeasure as I scampered into Grant Park. Again, this was not your typical neighborhood playground, housing a rusted swing set and a decrepit slide. Grant Park was a massive swath of greenery that could’ve been a city all on its own. Chicago did nothing small, apparently.

It was a scorching July afternoon. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, I was acclimated to this heat, but the humidity was something I would need to get used to. It felt like I was breathing in tomato soup and it left my clothes wilted with perspiration. My energy depleted, I  sat down  on  a bench  in front of  Buckingham Fountain; an  opulent oasis that seemed more at home in front of a European castle. After a brief performance of synchronized waterworks, the fountain climaxed into the sky like a cracked fire hydrant, gently spraying my face with mist. That’s when I noticed the shadow of someone standing behind me. It belonged to an older black gentleman holding a guitar case.

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