Monday, July 03, 2006

If you need proof that there's an obesity epidemic in this country...

... go to the Taste of Chicago.

All the fried food and deep dish pizza you can handle!

My friend (who lives out-of-state) and I have a long-standing tradition of going to the Taste of Chicago each summer. Is it typically pretty disgusting? Yes. It is always unbearably hot? Yes. Do we see more mullets than ever thought possible? Yes.

So why do we still go?

We still go because 1) while the atmosphere and crowd may be hard to bear, by and large the food is good, 2) it's a "tradition," and 3) it's a spectacle and we always come away with a few good stories.

This time, we started collecting stories before we even went to the festival. My friend had taken the train into Chicago and spent several hours talking with some women who were coming into the city to go to the Taste of Chicago for a full FOUR DAYS. They asked my friend, "Could you spend four days there?" and she was thinking, "Uh... I guess you could... if you want to guarantee yourself a heart attack." They also had no concept of what a normal city was like. They asked her questions such as:
"Is Chicago like the Vegas strip?"
"Where is the mall in Chicago?"
"How can we get from the hotel to the Taste?"
"Why is this train going underground?" (the train station is inside a building)

Anyway, we were REALLY hoping to run into them on Saturday, but alas, we did not.

Since the food vendors (nor their booth placements) do not change significantly year after year, my friend and I pretty much have our route down to a science. I will ALWAYS get the "taste portion" (which is smaller and costs less tickets) of the spinach deep dish pizza and the cheesy garlic bread, and I will also always get a huge chocolate-covered strawberry. This year I tried a few new things as well - toasted ravioli and a blackened shrimp skewer and side salad (that was from the upscale tent... and it was really good). Absolutely miraculously, both my friend and I used ALL our tickets - this has never happened. We always have a random one or two tickets left over that you can do nothing with, so we would give them to other people on our way out. But this time, it worked out perfectly and for some reason I felt a major sense of accomplishment over that.

Hey, you're stepping on my mullet!!!As always, we witnessed a lot of idiots. Now remember, this event attracts literally millions of people. They are all crammed down a few streets moving in a slow shuffle from booth to booth. It was also probably 100 degrees with the humidity. Knowing all these things, I must ask WHY would anyone choose to: 1) walk their dog amongst the crowd, 2) bring a baby in a baby stroller, 3) come in a motorized wheelchair and ride right up on the heels of other people and/or 4) wear jeans and long sleeve coats. I never cease to be amazed at people who do these things, and there are always many.

Therefore, in order to not completely lose it, my friend and I have some rules when we go to the event. We basically just agree that we are going to completely "embrace the Taste" in all of its glory. You cannot go to this festival and expect that everyone's going to be polite. You cannot go and expect that you're not going to get all hot, sweaty and nasty. You cannot go and not expect to get your feet stepped on at least 5 times. You cannot go and expect no one to cut infront of you in line. You cannot go and not expect to be bumped into, pushed, jabbed or separated from your friend(s) in the crowd and experience several seconds of pure panic. But if you can set your expectations appropriately, than you can take the whole experience in stride and have a good time, and that is what we do. Mostly, everyone there is enjoying themselves and every once in a while they have some really good bands come and play for free (hello, Kenny Loggins in 2000! I'm alRIGHT! Don't nobody worry 'bout me.).

There were some problems this year, though. It was definitely the hottest year I remember, and I'm pretty sure I experienced heat stroke as my face puffed up like a red balloon and I felt like I was going to faint and I passed out for two hours after I got home and took a cool shower. Also, every once in a while a HUGE gust of wind would whip up and knock over all the trash cans and even some of the dining pavillion umbrellas. But overall, we persevered and have another year under our belts.

And no, I haven't stepped on the scale since!

- e

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