Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Diva and the Secret Truth Behind Flash Mobs

I am loathe to do this, but I fear it is my responsibility to finally advise one of my best friends that people are starting to not like her.  It's all the talk at the water coolers lately. Nary a kind word has been said about her in ages.

Her name is Chicago and her reputation is nearing ruin.

Most of it is in fact her own doing.  She's a high-maintenance diva who costs everyone around her a mad fortune. She neither nurtures or protects her children and mocks her allies' trusting nature.

An example:

Say you're a man returning home from a long 24 hour shift at the firehouse and in need of a little family time.  You suggest an outing to visit your friend "Downtown Chicago" via the Shedd Aquarium.  But first you got to pay $19 to park (cash only). Chicago and her cohorts chuckle when you try to put away your wallet. You might want to keep that handy. 

You head over to the stairs to purchase admission tickets. If you want to see anything beyond goldfish at the aquarium, it's going to cost you. The "Total Experience Pass?" Why that's $34.95 per adult and $25.95 per child aged 3 and older.  Chicago laughs at you again when you try to pass off all your kids as "under 3."  Daniel is taller than the attendant and the guy isn't buying it.  Better luck next time, sucker.

But perhaps you're not that concerned about the expenditures.  After all, this is Chicago.  You're close. You practically grew up together.  A day out with your family in her beautiful downtown area is worth every hard-earned penny.

After a fishy few hours at the Shedd, you head over to your favorite pizza joint, Pizano's. The pizzas are pretty reasonable ($20). If Chicago does anything right, it's her pizza.  You remember why you're friends with this city again.  None of your other friends are capable of such culinary splendor.  So you order an additional pizza to bring home because it's just that good. 

You lean forward to whisper something to your waiter. All the old-school Chicago waitresses knew how to accommodate those special requests of regular patrons.  For instance, Pizano's pizza dries out something fierce in the fridge and a little extra sauce sent home in a Styrofoam container does just the trick.  Back in the day, Gertrude-the-waitress would take care of you:  

Oh sweetheart, it's on the house. Gratis. Thank you for coming and God bless those beautiful children of yours.

Not today.  In an age of city surcharges and extra restaurant taxes, "executive management" now mandates a pretty substantial fee for a little extra sauce. You have some strong opinions on this new policy and express them rather colorfully to your young hipster waiter who basically tells you to lump it. He storms off in a huff and sends someone else over with your bill.

Where is Gertrude when you need her? Oh. She moved to Alaska 5 years ago?  No state income tax you say? No state sales tax, either? Gertrude liked the Iditarod?  Who knew.

So you stomp out of Pizano's even lighter in the wallet because you forgot that they do not accept Discover card.  You've only got $5 left  due to the cash-only Shedd parking lot and the Discover-shunning Pizano's. No worries. Look at that skyline. Look at that lakefront. Your friend is just as breathtaking as always. You sally forth to your next stop: Michigan Avenue. The wife wants to look at shoes.  Again.

Before she can say "size 10 in a strappy sandal, please," a gang of thugs knocks you to the ground, pummels you ruthlessly for 5 minutes, takes your last five dollars, and runs away. Final score:

City of Chicago:  $200 and a cracked rib
You: A solemn vow to never visit this Godforsaken downtown area ever again.

In a period where families are struggling financially and personal safety is a legitimate concern, the lure of downtown is diminishing (Daley's flower pots notwithstanding). Even the city's premier food festival, The Taste of Chicago, drew fewer crowds and faced a significant downturn in business (see SunTimes article). 

A recent mob attack in Boy's Town (see Trib article) has led to a community meeting to address the issue as well as a Facebook group called, "Take Back Boystown."  As I am a big fan of the neighborhood from my years spent living near there (safest place in the world for a single 20-some girl to walk home alone at night), I was sad for the plight of this tight-knit community. I checked out the Facebook group to see what the residents were suggesting.

I got to tell you, there were pages and pages of thoughts on the matter. Everything from re-forming The Pink Panthers' Patrol to demanding an upsurge in police presence were batted around. Some people were angry, some people were hopeful, and some people were just trolling for a fight. The divergence in opinions was obvious.

One perhaps slightly naive poster felt that the thugs were basically bored kids angry about not being admitted into area bars because they were underage. Her solution: juice bars. Because behind every felonious, knife-wielding teen is a kid who just wants to hang out and drink apple ciders. Perhaps low blood sugar is the true dark catalyst behind all of this recent madness. Juice bars.  Of course.

Forget Pepper Spray - Offer your Attacker a CapriSun instead.

My boys have been dying to take a ride on "The El" this summer like they have every year since they were born. Heck, I used to ride the Red Line every day with Daniel clutching my hand and Jack bopping around in my stomach. I'm just not as comfortable as I used to be with that idea.

Some will say that I am perpetuating a myth of urban violence that is being exaggerated by the press and those easily agitated.  My recent car ride through several neighborhoods on the northwest side suggests otherwise. Good people are waking up every day on blocks were there is no order or likely assurances that daylight will shine on them or their families again.

I love you, Chicago.  But you can do better.


  1. Juice bars!!! (hahaha). If only Jamba Juice stayed open late night!!! I would think you made that up but I have had my own experiences with peppy, naive folk. I know they are out there. What a twisted sense of reality.

    How ridiculous that Chicago has become so least for the peaceful, fare-paying crowd. Lots of shadiness surrounded that parking scam, I mean system.

    Thanks for the tip, I will be sure to bring some capri sun with me the next time I go downtown...just in case.

  2. Oh, by the way, why is it that the fest that needs an admission fee the most (The Taste) is free?

    I wonder if this year was any better since they didn't have the fireworks over the lake. That was a problem, those fireworks just made me want to get up and start a fight.

  3. No, Marianne!
    Do not speak of my mistress like that!

    I threaten to run to her open arms every time I get into a fight with the husband, screaming, "That's it! I am getting a tummy tuck and leaving all of you for Chicago! I will relive my youth and party like it is 1995!"

    We are actually planning on heading down with the boys the last weeked of July and will most likely part with much of our money in parking, food, Navy Pier activities. I also plan on taking Xander on the "L" and will now bring extra juice for all of the Hooligans!

  4. Oh, Mar - there were actually several people suggesting juice bars and Medusa-like clubs. From the posts I read on the Chicago Tribune, people said the Taste was much more manageable as far as crowds this year because people more or less just stayed away. I'm not sure if the thugs stayed away because of increased police, or if the foodies stayed away because they didn't want to be clubbed. Either way, be sure to carry those Caprisuns wherever you go! We'll be heading to Milwaukee for the fests going forward - very clean, respectful crowds, and hardly a flash mob to be found.

  5. Rada - you crack me up. Milwaukee is my bitch now.

  6. Day at the Milwaukee art museum, $70 membership from last visit, food $0, carried in, parking $10, iPod touch art programs to occupy the kids during exhibits less interesting to them FREE, spending the day doing something slightly more adult without children whining, priceless!

  7. Damn. I'm moving to Milwaukee.