#355: The Sideshow

August 4th, 2014

She sits alone, leaning against a streetlight. She’s covered in balloons.

She has a balloon hat she made, twisted and formed to wrap around her scalp. She’s covered in balloons, with flowers, animals, stars and shapes pinned to her like military medals.

She’s the older end of middle aged, heavyset, with sandy reddish hair under the balloon hat.

There are no takers for the balloons.

She’s one of the many cottage industrialists who pulled up alongside the cordoned Grant Park to sell to the Lollapalooza crowd.

There are pamphleteers for the upcoming Riot Fest. There’s a street violinist with an open case for change next to the skateboard he rode there on. There’s a drum bucket troupe, pounding and waling in military precision on the pails.

Here’s a street preacher with sign and bullhorn, yelling to the world about how the bible is the only good news one will ever hear. The chess tables are out, challenging all comers. A man walks by wearing all the flashing light sticks and glow in the dark necklaces he’s hoping to sell.

And along Michigan Avenue, past Art Institute, park and Bean, there are walkers from the music fest, young and trendy, young women in micro-micro shorts and men in various printed Ts. A few older strollers, tired from a night of shows and acting like they’re still young and trendy.

A young man tries to clear a bush in one leap, making it just barely. His friends are impressed.

A gutter punk with hat and tattoos and worn-down clothing deliberately picked to advertise his chosen homelessness walks by with a brown and white kitten perched on his backpack. The kitten slips, but finds a spot to cling midway on the pack. A leash around its neck would have caught it painfully if it had slipped all the way.

Inside the park, there are bands and tents and booths and shows. 130 acts, you hear. 300,000 people. Giant screens, merch tents, a food vendor area called “Chow Town.” Celebrities, pyrotechnics and live streams to watch it all from home.

But outside along Michigan Avenue, among the gutter punks, failing balloon vendors and drum bucketers, there’s a separate, less-planned show. It’s not an orchestrated extravaganza of light and sound, but simpler. Smaller. More human. It’s just people, just folks trying to use the spectacle to scrape by for another night.

And at least this summer evening, this is the show you want to see.

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Not the first story about balloon animals

Not the first story about chess players, either

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