Street Smart Chicago

Unplug and Recharge: Arianna Huffington addresses Columbia College

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Nearly two hours before the night’s speaker is scheduled to go on and yet people are already buzzing around shaking off the weather inside the Conaway Center at Chicago’s Columbia College. A woman directs people to the registration line. A man jokes to his friend about her hair, but she chalks it up to the wind. A trio of adults weigh their chances of getting into tonight’s event. It feels not unlike lining up for dodgeball. No one wants to get picked last.

Two student ushers direct people to the overflow room and tell the lucky ones—those who registered early enough for tonight’s event—that the Film Row Cinema will open shortly. A few men try to flirt their way out of the room and into the theater. “I’ve got overflow tickets,” a man in a ball cap says, smirking. “How likely is it we’ll get in?”

A woman appears in a headset, “You know it’s really hit or miss. I don’t want to promise anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Crazy for Coco: Supporters rally for Conan O’Brien at NBC

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On a Monday afternoon, diehard fans of a late-night legend huddle in the cold outside NBC headquarters in Pioneer Court. More than a hundred people stand in the picket line, waving colorful signs displaying admiration for the redheaded funny man who has been making people laugh for his entire adult life.

A mother and her two young daughters stand clad in orange attire, the theme for this evening’s march along Michigan Avenue. “My daughter is the biggest Conan fan,” says the proud mom. Fans in Conan wigs and orange wool caps pace in front of the tower as security guards keep them just beyond the NBC property. “This is actually a Trump wig,” says Qais of his hair garb. “This feud is worse then Leno vs. Letterman.” Read the rest of this entry »

Light Up, Light Up: As if you had a choice at Daley Plaza

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Picasso-and-Christkindlmarektnight-image for webThis time-honored tradition, which nips at your nose the day before Thanksgiving, is spent in the freezing rain. Swarms of people are bundled in winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves as they stand and wait for the massive tree in the middle of Daley Plaza to illuminate and inform that the holidays are upon us.

Families and couples from all over the Chicago area, spanning from Algonquin to Zion, flock to this historical event that has been a city staple for years, bringing back the Christmas spirit before a dreaded month of crowded malls and retail nightmares consume their lives. Tourists stuff their faces with authentic German-style pastries and bratwurst as they peruse the Christkindlmarket. The aisles are filled with trinkets, artwork and countless other overpriced souvenirs to commemorate the trek downtown during the start of the most wonderful time of year.

Helping to celebrate the occasion is local movie star and daytime talk-show host Bonnie Hunt, always proud to call Chicago her hometown, saying this city makes her feel pretty when compared to Los Angeles, but we can let that slide. Read the rest of this entry »

A Climb So High: Summiting Willis Tower for a cause

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sears-tower-exterior3The awaiting crowd erupts with joyous congratulatory support as each racer reaches the top of Willis Tower. Drenched in sweat and smiles, the participants in this year’s Sky Rise Chicago couldn’t be happier to finish the 103-flight climb, if only to glimpse one of the best views in the world. Racers catch their breath and converse with fellow climbers, gazing out the windows of the Sky Deck, able to not only see their houses from up here, but miles beyond.

This is the first year the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago organized this event, which raises money to continue awareness for their cause. Founded in 1954, RIC has been named the “#1 Rehabilitation hospital in America” by U.S News and World Report every year for the last eighteen years. Their standards of care and innovative research are commended, especially in the field of bionic medicine, robotics and neural regeneration. But you don’t have to be a Harvard graduate to understand the immensely positive affects the RIC has on its patients.

The more-than-1,800 participants include current and former RIC patients and employees, local firefighters, high-school track teams, elite climbers and Paralympics athletes, who have a hand-cycle event that allows them to peddle the distance and resistance of the massive 103-floor climb.

Read the rest of this entry »

Food for Thought: Critical Massers do lunch with the Holocaust Memorial Museum

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IMG_5749A gorgeous Indian summer morning and I’m frantically zipping around the Loop on my bicycle. A guy I know from Critical Mass, a member of the powerful Pritzer family, scored me a seat at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s fourteenth annual Chicago luncheon, but I can’t remember which hotel is hosting the event.

It’s the largest fundraiser for the D.C. museum, which educates millions worldwide about the WWII tragedy and raises awareness of modern-day issues of intolerance and genocide, like the crisis in Darfur. While I certainly support the cause, I’ll admit that what I remember most from my museum visit a few years ago was thinking the Nazis had excellent graphic design.

Now late, I hammer south on Michigan from the Hyatt to the Hilton, then check email at a Kinko’s. Argh, the luncheon is north across the river at the Sheraton.

I arrive sweaty and winded to find a huge ballroom packed with more than 2,000 attendees, a sea of black suits and skirts. My table’s full of sharply dressed Critical Massers, mostly members of the “Tribe,” as we Jews like to call ourselves. The food’s terrific—a Japanese-inspired plate of teriyaki salmon, soba with edamame and sunomono salad—and it’s kosher. This stuff could give kosher Chinese a run for its money. Read the rest of this entry »

Yeah Brother! Being at Borders with The Hulkster

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hulk-hogan-ripping-shirtWhen Hulk Hogan is slated to appear at the Michigan Avenue Borders to sign his new hardcover, “My Life Outside The Ring,” fans line up outside as early as 6:30am to catch a glimpse of their god. Chris, the first in line, has not only already purchased fifteen copies of the memoir, but flew all the way down from Edmonton to stand in The Hulkster’s presence. “He’s The Hulk and nothing is going to break him,” he says of the wrestler’s recent reality-show-beamed travails. Will, a fan since 1983, is wearing a sleeveless shirt, displaying his Hulk tattoo surrounded by inked signatures of all his wrestling idols.

By Hulk’s side stands the Don King of wrestling, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, clad in a sport coat, Chuck Taylors and dark shades to complement his jet-black mullet. When The Real American walks out, the only sound in the room is the thunderous chant of “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk,” with fists in the air as the wrestling rock star enters. A fan near the front of the line who comes dressed as his hero, calls at him to tear off his shirt in the fashion that made him famous. The Hulk can’t resist the photo op as his huge sun-drenched hands rip the cotton material from the fan’s chest. Yeah brother! (Jonathan Kaplan)

Games Over: A wake at Daley Plaza

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853755_47726595Barely a foot outside the office on my way to Daley Plaza to hear the final Olympics announcement, and Chicago is shockingly eliminated in the first round of voting. There will be no Games on the Lake.

This is what dashed dreams look like. The Olympic supporters still mingle and sway in the Loop, either in disbelief of Chicago’s quick dismissal or simply weary of returning back to work. Orange everywhere—the Chicago Olympic ad campaign, the 2016 logo, on banners, t-shirts, signs and pamphlets. Some optimistic sign-sporters have altered theirs to Chicago 2020, a “there’s always next year” glow of disappointment and acceptance on their drizzle-pecked faces. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Answer Us

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October 7 marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. As such, an antiwar protest will be held at 5pm by the Chicago division of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition at the Chicago Water Tower. Formed at a very poignant time in U.S. history, September 14, 2001, the coalition is a national grassroots organization that has been holding demonstrations to end war for eight years now. “A majority of people in the country are against the war. The point is that the money we’re spending on this war should be going to people that really need it,” says John Beacham, coordinator of the protest. “No one understood the reason we went to Iraq. Now it seems Afghanistan is a similar situation. Our message is that it’s the people that are going to stop the war.”

Race Review: Elvis is Alive 5K (August 6, 2009)

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With the surging popularity of the sport of running, it’s inevitable that events will fill in every niche imaginable. Ergo, a run for the inner (or outer) Elvis in all of us. With an evening start, do-it-yourself timing, a low entry fee and a substantial number of participants in some variant of costume, runners came out for a party and made one. Sure, the 2,000 or so of us crammed the lakefront path at times, but whenever you got cranky about getting cut off, here comes another Elvis, in her sideburns and jumpsuit, to make you laugh. Even the boats in the lake got in the spirit, serenading runners with acoustic renditions of the King’s tunes. At the finish line, the usual assortment of runners’ replenishments, plus Mr. Presley’s favorite, peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. Then beer and a stellar impersonator, Joe Elvis, putting on a concert in the twilight, with the city gleaming behind him. Before long, everybody was dancin to the jailhouse rock. (Brian Hieggelke)

The Fleet Feet Sports Elvis is Alive 5K takes place each August.

Fowl Play: Rubber duckies race for the prize

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Just-DuckyThirty thousand rubber duckies are dumped off the Columbus Street bridge. No, it’s not a garbage spill, although somebody does have to clean them up and take them to Cincinnati.

The dump truck’s deposit begins the Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Illinois. With a five-dollar donation, people have adopted the ducks now “racing” with the help of a police-boat hose pushing them along. The ducks show no sense of urgency, seeming to go in every direction except the finish line, and the pace is more agonizing than exciting, but about forty minutes later the winning ducks are fished out of the water, only a quarter of the way to the Michigan Avenue bridge. Read the rest of this entry »