Street Smart Chicago

Spinning Wheels? Chicago’s bike-share program might not get a fair trial without public funding

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Denver’s B-cycle bike-sharing program—500 bikes, fifty kiosks—received a million dollars in city and state funding. Minneapolis’ not-for-profit Nice Ride program—1,000 bikes, sixty kiosks—received $350,000 in funding from its city. Almost $7 million in federal, state and local funding will expand the DC/Arlington SmartBike program to 500 bikes, fifty kiosks. Boston will start their program with $3 million in federal funding, likely with 2,500 bikes and 290 kiosks.

Chicago? Chicago’s new B-cycle program (chicago.bcycle.com), operated by bike-rental company Bike and Roll, receives zero dollars in public funding. It launched July 30 with 100 bikes at six kiosks, mostly downtown along the lakefront. Memberships are $35, with the first hour free and every half-hour after that $2.50, up to $40 a day, encouraging shorter trips. Getting a widespread, affordable bike-sharing program in our flat city is still an uphill battle. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Power Tea

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An iPad and a handful of iPhone 4s sit on the table at the Argo Tea at Dearborn and Adams at 8:30 in the morning. Their owners are gathered around the table, and even while they talk to each other, their devices are hard at work. Pek Pongpaet’s iPad shows off an app he created, a database of inspirational business quotes. Bruno Pieroni’s iPhone snaps a picture of a bar code on a pack of gum and instantaneously he knows what store will give him the best price. I take a photo of Erin Borreson’s business card with my iPhone and, suddenly, I’m directed to her website. It’s not an Apple gathering, it’s likemind, a monthly meetup on the third Friday of the month for people interested in creativity and technology. You don’t actually have to be an Apple devotee to attend, but be prepared to defend your smartphone of choice. Some people come to trade business cards, while others just want to hear what new innovations creative techies are excited about. “There’s no set rules. There’s no set agenda,” says Mike Maddaloni, who helps coordinate the events. Allison Hosack, a leadership development consultant who also does personal training, laughs as she looks at her phone. “He’s a quick little sucker, ain’t he. I already got a LinkedIn request from Pek.” She looks at the QR code on Erin’s business card that sent me to Erin’s website. “You want to barter personal training for cards?” (Ella Christoph)

Oil’s Not Well: Taking in the BP Black Friday Flash Mob

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“At 12:11, casually converge on the BP pedestrian bridge. Wear all black and bring a black umbrella. Wait for the first whistle at 12:20, sit down close to those around you and open your umbrella. Wait for the second whistle at 12:35 and disperse. Do not linger.”

These were the simple yet precise instructions for the BP Black Friday Flash Mob. The essence of a flash mob is in its secrecy. And so the protestors, all alerted via Facebook and word-of-mouth, were relatively unaware of who actually invited them to participate. The Facebook event, entitled “Oil over the Bridge,” was created by Oliver Bridge, presumably a pseudonym. In addition to those precise instructions, an auxiliary message requested: “Anyone who wants to be a secret agent, wear a white hat.” This is where Lott Hill steps in. In donning his white fedora, Lott has no idea what he will be getting himself into, given the vagueness of the instructions. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »