Standing just inside the Dearborn Street entrance of Chase Tower, Amanda Scotese welcomes her Friday Chicago Detours group to “Explore the Loop without Freezing.” This morning brings only four curious people together, but Scotese caps the number of tickets at twenty anyway, creating what she characterizes as a unique, personal and immersive urban experience. The attendees give their names and hometowns before Scotese pulls out the multimedia component, an iPad, starting with a nineteenth-century clip of a Chicago intersection and a Studs Terkel snippet.
“It’s not just facts. This is about stories and a theme that binds them together,” says Scotese.
Her digital collection of archival footage, ephemera and images “you can’t piece together on the Internet” complement her mental reserve of “forgotten stories,” as she calls the fascinating history she shares at each stop. She encourages questions and conversation, fostering a collaborative educational environment unlike the talking head on run-of-the-mill tours.
“People love to learn!” she exclaims. “I don’t pretend to know everything, and I’m not into making up answers.” Anything she doesn’t know, she researches and posts answers to on the Chicago Detours blog.
Founded in July 2010 with the inaugural “Good Times on the Mag,” an exploration of entertainment on Michigan Avenue, Chicago Detours is the brainchild of Scotese, who worked as a tour guide and researcher with travel guru Rick Steves for seven years. She studied architecture, urbanism and Chicago history at the University of Chicago and brings that educationally driven dynamic to her tours.
“I really want to create a whole experience,” she explains, “bring a wide variety of people together with questions and different perspectives. It’s more interactive and personal.”
Peering out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chase Plaza (one of only three plazas downtown, we learn), Scotese asks the group to comment on the myriad architecture. “The Italian Village stands out,” the only male offers, to which Scotese responds with the restaurant’s family history.
Before leaving the postmodern skyscraper, she forewarns of a few seconds in the cold and leads the group around the corner and inside First United Methodist Church, “Mother of the Methodists.” At 568 feet, the steeple reaches the highest of any in the world, and the church offers free tours of its Sky Chapel at 2pm on weekdays (information courtesy of Scotese’s detailed research and her research assistants).
A few quick minutes outside with the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza, then across the street to the Marshall Field Building, Scotese recounts the entrepreneur’s pioneering of modern department-store shopping. “It was like a Sharper Image catalog of the 1800s,” she says of the store’s artisanal European goods and their browsable displays. Downstairs to the food court, and then to the… El?
This tour is all about the Loop, including transportation and underground passageways. “I want you to feel the pace of downtown and get this real interior look at what people are actually doing inside these buildings,” explains Scotese. Where better than the Pedway? Businessmen and women, Loop employees and shoppers zigzag through the underground pedestrian walkway. Scotese takes her four followers to Block 37, an airy shopping center hardly a year old. (The fourth and fifth floors are still storeless.) She shows a clip of the Dearborn and State intersection in the late 1800s and guides the group out of the Pedway, landing right next to the Cultural Center.
The last stop of the tour connects the old with the new, a view of Millennium Park and Pritzker Pavilion. Scotese concludes with a Chicago poem and asks for suggestions and favorites, “what was most unexpected.” Believe it or not, she says, “We only walked half a mile!” Her guests, which included two new Chicagoans and one veteran, discuss her ability to “revive old values that make Chicago what it is today.” (Kristine Sherred)
(312)350-1131, chicagodetours.com. $20.