• Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images
  • The marquee for Roger Ebert’s memorial celebration

When I was starting out as a journalist in Saint Louis, a friend there whose career had already clicked into high gear said to me one night, “If I wanted to I could own this town.” But since he could, he didn’t want to. He was soon in Chicago, and then in New York. The point of being young and ambitious is to find the place you can’t own and then throw yourself at it, fattening on its juices until it finally tires of you and chews you up.

Chicago isn’t Saint Louis, but it isn’t New York either. Its poets celebrate its greed and indifference, but when it wants to it can act proud as punch of the local kid and tuck him under its wing forever. (Local pols who come home from prison and find a yellow ribbon tied around the old oak tree and the light left on know what I mean.) Roger Ebert owned Chicago, and the memorial celebration last Thursday night at the grandiose Chicago Theatre was a little ridiculous in that regard. Tickets. Reserved seats. Ushers. Programs—it was like opening night at the opera. And when, after a few words from Chaz Ebert, the show got under way with the galvanic exuberance of Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, I sat in my balcony seat giddy and dumbfounded. They’ve got to be taping this, I thought. (They were.) This could be the first tearful farewell I’ve ever experienced that winds up as a WTTW pledge-week premium.