There were three PhDs in the crowd in front of me and, I would later be told, a homeless man touching himself inappropriately behind me.
“… announcing a massive expedition to South America in a ship called ‘The Big Bill’ to capture footage of a fish that could climb trees, but then he just hung around in New Orleans for a month, I thought ‘That’s it! We’ve got it! That is the greatest fact ever.’”
Operation Scalded Armadillo, the top-secret writing project that I’ve alluded to over the last few weeks, is in reality The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour, which I researched, wrote and plan to debut this summer.
No deep dish, Cubs or romanticized mobsters, just 2.25 miles and a couple centuries of bribes, graft, kickback and corruption, from the land scam that gave us the city to the statistical jiggery-pokery officials use to dummy the murder stats today.
It’s a tour telling the vanished stories people in power tried very hard to make sure we never learned.
I’ll be setting up online registration over the next few weeks, so if you want to get on the mailing list for that, type “Corruption” in the first box and your email in the second. I’ll update when I have specifics.
On Sunday, I took a dry run of the tour with a group of academics, journalists, tourism folks and other sundries. The consensus was very positive, and I’ll be doing some tweaks and rewrites based on their feedback.
But self-congratulation isn’t a fun read for you. Here is a list of everything that went wrong during the tour and where it happened.
When you set the date of a dry run walking tour taking a group of about 10 people on a meandering path through Chicago’s downtown, don’t forget the Shamrock Shuffle.
It wasn’t bad. Just a lot more foot traffic in green spandex than I expected.
Although I think “Office Christmas Party” is a terrible name for a movie and it’s actually a secret code name for the next big-budget superhero flick (“Batman v Superman v Every Movie Critic on Earth”), the cast and crew of the upcoming Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman rom-com had turned Federal Plaza into a Christmassy wonderland, complete with baubles, lights, trees, snow and several security guards keeping me from the spot where I was going to talk about how one prosecutor took down two corrupt Illinois governors.
I knew the movie would be there because I scouted the route the day before, so we just went across the street. Easy peasy. Effing golden.
When I dipped back to the plaza’s north end to talk gerrymandering, there was a pleasant but wary young woman on the crew who kept warning us to stay on the sidewalk because they booked the plaza. She was nice about it, though.
On one corner of Daley Plaza, the Institute of Christopher Leaders was prepping for a giant Catholicy, massy, concerty thing complete with giant posters of Jesus, balloon animals shaped like crosses and massive speakers blasting liturgical music over my discussion of Operation Greylord and the secret train station under Block 37.
Again, I knew this was coming from scouting the route. The guy I talked to that morning was very nice and gave me the group’s card. I wished him success in keeping low-income women from having reproductive and medical freedom.
OK, I didn’t. But I should have.
The bathrooms haven’t opened for the season; at one point I took the wrong stairway up and walked the tour into a large homeless encampment on Lower Wacker Drive (we have 21st-century shantytowns, Chicago – the system isn’t working!); and, of course, there was the homeless man enjoying his own company while I was trying to talk about 1920s Mayor Big Bill Thompson.
Chicago’s a weird city and any moment can bring you fun-runners, balloon crosses, Jennifer Aniston’s fake Christmas or a locked bathroom.
It’s also a city where a wrong turn can take you from wealth and leisure into poverty so ingrained we let them make a little town beneath the business district.
The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour will be a good thing, I think, to cast some light on the system behind these symptoms. Half of all gratuities will support City Bureau training young journalists on the city’s South and West sides to tell their communities’ stories.
I plan to get started later this spring. Care to join me?