Reaching new heights—adaptive rock climbing comes to Maggie Daley Park

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Published July 4, 2018

At first glance, the Maggie Daley Climbing Wall might seem daunting.

The mere thought of ascending 40 feet by gripping tiny rocks would give anyone pause, let alone someone in a wheelchair.

But, through a partnership between Adaptive Adventures and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, anyone who wants to climb can.

Al Schiewe, one of the adaptive climbing lead volunteers, secures climber Suzen Riley in the ARC (adaptive ropes course) harness in preparation for her ascent. Photo by Angela Gagnon

For the third year, the Maggie Daley’s Climbing Wall hosts climbing opportunities every second and fourth Monday of the month for people with physical disabilities. Instruction, adaptive gear, support and encouragement are all provided.

Chris Werhane, the adaptive sports lead
in Chicago, says the Intro to Climbing
program welcomes about 40 climbers and
volunteers.

“We focus on what’s most comfortable
for the person climbing, what’s needed for
them to be successful,” Werhane said.
The adaptive equipment options can be
customized to fit the climber’s needs.

Oak Park resident and climber Suzen Riley uses an adaptive ropes course (ARC) harness along with the pulley system and handle-bar style “ascender” to experience the thrill of the climb. When she climbs, volunteer belays assist with the pulley system, and Riley grips the ascender to ratchet herself up.

“When you get up there, it’s so beautiful,” Riley said. “It’s good exercise and you feel this exhilaration that you’ve actually done it.”

The trained volunteers who assist with the climbs are just as vital to the process as the equipment.

Some climbers use side support wherein a volunteer climbs next to them as they ascend the wall. The side climber might help place a weaker limb on the rock or provide verbal assistance for visually impaired climbers. There is no limit to the styles and customized assistance climbers can use.

Adaptive Adventures was founded in 1999 by two individuals with physical disabilities who saw a need for sporting opportunities. Adaptive Adventures provides programs, camps and clinics for cycling, climbing, kayaking, skiing, sailing, scuba and more.

Greg Zbrezezny, the Chicago Program Director of Adaptive Adventures, added that they provide scholarships, too.

“The goal is to make it accessible to everyone,” said Chicago volunteer and belayer Megan Snowder.

The outdoor program will run through October, weather permitting. To learn more or to register, visit www.adaptiveadventures.org

Go like a pro to Millennium Park’s summer events

By Julie Whitehair | Community Contributor

Published July 4, 2018

Millennium Park is a hub of summer entertainment for tourists and Chicago- ans alike. From free movies to ticketed concerts, Millennium—and its Jay Pritzker Pavilion—often draws a crowd. Here’s how to enjoy the park’s performances like a pro.

Get there early

Make sure to get to Millennium Park well before the performance starts—the general admission lawn fills up fast for the park’s most hyped shows. Definitely don’t arrive
late, or you might end up sitting on the hard concrete ground for the rest of the night. Keep an eye on the park’s Twitter account @Millennium_Park for updates, incase the crowd reaches capacity.

Bring refreshments—but check if alcohol is allowed at your event

Food and non-alcoholic beverages are always allowed at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, but a few events prohibit any outdoor alcohol. You can check which days alcohol is prohibited at the City of Chicago’s website and expect officials to check bags at the entrance—the city’s placing a new security perimeter and bag check for all events at the pavilion this summer.

As for food, some visitors pick up sandwiches for a snack, while others bring a full-on spread—tiny tables, gourmet cheese platters and all. Just make sure any coolers are smaller than 26 inches long, 15 inches wide and 15 inches in height and avoid bringing metal knives or cutlery in order to adhere to the park’s guidelines listed on
their website.

Pick a spot to meet ahead of
time

Meeting up with friends can be difficult when they’re giving vague directions to where they’re sitting. Avoid this by meeting outside the park or designating a spot near a notable location ahead of time—don’t be the person obnoxiously standing and waving in the crowd right before a show begins.

Rub-a-dub-dub, your drink’s in a tub

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Published July 4, 2018

Rubber ducks in a cocktail—need we say more? When we heard about the adorable, bubbly cocktail at The Bassment, 353 W. Hubbard St., we had to see—and taste—it for ourselves.

At Bassment, an underground live music venue below The Hampton Social Club, they serve their speciality cocktail not in a glass but in a bathtub. That’s right, The Bathtub arrives exactly how it sounds, in a miniature ceramic tub with tiny golden faucet taps—
but instead of water and bubbles, it’s filled with a tasty beverage.

This Instagram sensation is made with cucumber-infused vodka, jalapeño and a foamy layer of bubble bath made of lemon meringue. To complete the look, it’s topped off with an adorable rubber ducky.

At Three Dots and a Dash, 435 N. Clark St., make sure you’ve got your camera out and ready, because at the tiki-themed River North bar, you’ve got to get the perfect shot before you take the first sip. At Three Dots and a Dash glasses are designed to
look like tiki totems, skeletons and fish and the drinks themselves are vibrant hues of coral, teal and purple. Each is garnished with something different, from rubber toy sharks and skull-topped toothpicks to fresh tropical flowers and mermaid swizzle sticks.

The Caribbean punch is served in a heavy stone vessel, carved to look like a coral reef fish with big eyes and crooked, jagged fangs. It’s topped off with a tiny colorful skull, a lime slice and a bright pink flower.

The fish is filled with aged Jamaican and Panamanian rums, lime, pineapple, sarsaparilla, falernum and fassionola for a unique, flavorful summer refreshment.

Streeterville mural adds a touch of green to area

By Stephanie Racine | Staff Writer

Published July 4, 2018

In mid-June, after six weeks of work, the Nancy Pochis Art Studio unveiled the new art piece, “Urbs in Horto,” Latin for Chicago’s motto, City in a Garden.

“Our goal was to depict botanic places in Chicago,” said Nancy Pochis Bank, the owner of Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio. “We really wanted to brighten up that entryway.”

“This permanent, painted mural will be nine feet tall and a full city-block long (nearly 200 feet),” according to an emailed release from Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio. The mural depicts Chicago covered in greenery, including flowers, butterflies and cornucopia. “It starts with the Logan Square Farmers Market, from south to north,” said Pochis Bank. The mural then depicts herbs as a transitional element—as Embassy Suites grows their own herbs.

It also includes the tulips from Michigan Ave., the Illinois state flower, the violet, mums which are Chicago’s flower and the Illinois insect, monarch butterflies.

The mural is located at the Embassy Suites’ valet drop-off, east of Columbus between Illinois and Grand, next to AMC River East.

According to NPB’s website, “NPB Studio Artists work as a team to create original large scale artwork that has maximum creative impact.” Their process includes a brainstorming session with the client, a thumbnail sketch, a finalized sketch and the execution of artwork, according to the NPB website. A team of two to six artists ultimately works on the design and implementation. Four female artists from Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio worked on the Streeterville mural, including Pochis Bank herself, Shayne Taylor, Brandin Hurley, and Brittney Leeanne Williams.

NPB Studio has several projects featured around Chicago, including a chalkboard world map at Wicker Park’s Wixter Fish Market and lettering on the entrance to the press box in Wrigleyville.

The studio also does live mural or chalkboard paintings, including a Hungry Caterpillar chalk design at the Lakeview Chamber of Congress’s Sunday Spot event. NPB also created a live mural at Vitromex’s 2016 Tradeshow at McCormick Place. For more information on NPB Studio, visit nancypochisbank.com

Jumping at the Bean: Local photographer captures unique moments at Cloud Gate

By Angela Gagnon
Staff Writer

Locals and visitors alike flock to Cloud Gate, affectionately known as the Chicago Bean to get up close and personal with the spectacular piece of art that is practically synonymous with the city of Chicago. The sculpture, created by British artist Anish Kapoor, has become an immensely popular backdrop for photographs since its installment in 2006.

For one local woman, The Bean has become much more than just a place to hone her photography skills. Five years ago, native Chicagoan Susan May Romano began taking walks from her Loop office where she works as a legal assistant, to Millennium Park during her lunch break.

With camera in hand, she snaps photos along the way and posted them to her Facebook page. One day she stopped at The Bean and casually asked a group of people if they would “jump” for her. Since then, May Romano has taken thousands of photos and collected just as many stories from the people she has met on this unique artistic journey.


“As a photographer, I love shadows and
reflections and wanted to see how it would
look if I shot from a crouched position on
the sunny side of the Bean,” May Romano
said. The photos are uploaded to Facebook
and Twitter so people can view them, save
them or share them at no cost.
The collection of stunning “jumping at the Bean” photos is only part of what makes May Romano’s photography so appealing. The stories behind the people in her photos have not only enhanced the extraordinary visuals, but also personally connected May Romano to the people she photographs.

In 2015 May Romano met U.S. Border Patrol Agent Michael Barrow from New Mexico who was in Chicago for a stem cell transplant at Northwestern Hospital in an effort to cure his Multiple Sclerosis. May Romano recalls getting chills when she heard this, because she herself had been a stem cell transplant patient. It seemed fate had connected the two.

“It’s great running into such positive people who genuinely care about how you’re doing and that want to see you overcome the odds and beat a disease. It gives me hope in humanity,” said Barrow, who came back to jump for May Romano a second time after being released from the hospital. The two continue to stay in touch and May Romano said Barrow is doing well, working full time and enjoying time with his family.

On a sunny day in May, May Romano was out shooting when she met some recent graduates of Penn State, who were on a road trip to Colorado. “We were approached by this lady in a flower dress,” said Derek Barnett, originally from Texas.

When asked if they wanted to jump, Barnett replied, “We’re adventurous, so yes!”

After capturing a perfect synchronized photo of the four in midair, May Romano proceeded to offer the group helpful advice about what they might do next in Chica- go. They were all ears, smiling and nodding at her heartfelt and knowledgeable suggestions.

Yet another example is Marcia Brink from Kingston, Illinois, who came to Chicago in September of 2014 to spend time with high school friends, one of whom had recently been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. The group met May Romano while visiting the Bean and jumped for her. Upon returning home, Brink realized how precious those photos were, since it would probably be the last time she saw her friend, who lost her battle to cancer less than four months later. “Her survival story, zest for life, whimsical rhymes, passion for photography and cookie baking too, just made me want to get to know this woman,” Brink said of May Romano.

“I have always believed people enter our lives for a reason, and Susan May Romano has entered mine to remind me to capture the little moments and cherish them forever.”

May Romano describes her “Jumping at The Bean” photography as a healing hobby. “It’s my passion and l love my city.” She has met people from all over the world, whose jumping styles are as unique as their stories. “This is part of what fills me up in life,” she said. “This is all gravy.”

On sunny days, you can find May Romano shooting her famous jumping shots on the south side of The Bean during her lunch hour. For more information on her work and to see her photos, visit her Facebook Page “Jumping at The Bean” or follow her on Twitter @jumpingatthebean.

Published June 5, 2018

Markets and food halls– a veggie friendly guide

Chicago French Market, Revival & Latinicity

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Vegans, vegetarians, plant-based eaters and veggie enthusiasts across the city celebrated when Chicago started 2018 as the third friendliest city in the world for vegans and vegetarians. In an international ranking by Meetup, the ChicagoVeg Meet- up group earned the city the third highest spot worldwide, coming in only behind
New York and London.

ChicagoVeg, also called Chicagoland Vegetarian, Vegan, & Raw Foodist Community, has close to 6,000 members and hosts more than 30 events every year. Each event helps members explore new dining options, learn new recipes and connect with like-minded eaters.

On April 21, the group converged on the Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton. Located in the West Loop, the indoor market is a quaint, charming food hall with an eclectic mix of dishes, desserts and drinks. On the Saturday afternoon, the group hosted a “food tour” of the market, offering discounts and suggestions for the variety of vegan and vegetarian options the market features.

Attendee and co-host Denice Shuty shared her discovery. “I came upon the French Market one day in the Loop doing my typical Google search for ‘vegetarian restaurants near me,’” she said.

“When I got there, I couldn’t believe how many artisan food stalls there were—and
so many vegan/vegetarian choices.”

For those looking to start off with some fresh fruits and veggies, The Loop Juice
was a great first stop. This juicery’s menu features more than a dozen juice combinations, blended right before your eyes, and a mouthwatering menu of “smoothie bowls”—a blend of chilled fruit served in a bowl, topped with everything from agave nectar and shaved coconut to seasonal fruit and granola.

As the group ventured further into the market, David Costello, who started a vegan diet just one month ago, said he was enjoying the opportunity to explore some new dining options downtown.

Costello came from Evanston with his friend, Matthew Johnson, who recently switched to veganism as well. Both converted to veganism after watching the documentary “What The Health” on Netflix and becoming concerned about their health and the environment.

Raw at the Chicago French Market. Photo by Taylor Hartz

David said he was happy to find restaurants in the French Market that fit his new lifestyle and especially enjoyed eating at Raw, where he got a sampler of dishes including vegan ravioli and burgers.

At Raw, every item is plant-based and vegan. The “grab and go” style eatery has more
than 100 menu items “on a spectrum from really dense green juice to tiramisu,” said
co-owner Carol Jones.

Jones and her partner opened Raw eight years ago with the idea to sell easy-to-find vegan options. “Basically everything we make has a convenience factor,” Jones said, encouraging customers to buy in bulk as their entree selections stay fresh for up to five days.

At the Revival Food Hall, 125 S. Clark St., New Eastsiders can find a similar dining destination closer to home, with a modern market-style spot that features more than a dozen vendors.

The food hall garnered praise from Donna Lee, owner of Brown Bag Seafood Co.,340 E. Randolph St. “It’s a super lively, fun place that’s very fast paced, and there are options at every single shop for vegans and vegetarians,” she said.

Brown Bag Seafood Co., which originated in New Eastside, has a new location in the Revival Food Hall that specializes in Veggiebox and Powerbox—vegetable grain blends of brown rice, quinoa or wheat berry as well as salads that can all be served vegetarian or have a choice of fish added.

Black Dog Gelato at Revival. Photo by Taylor Hartz

Lee’s recommendations include the salads at Union Pizza and of course the Veggiebox at Brown Bag, but her favorite is Farmer’s Fridge. “When I’m eating vegetarian I really like their avocado toast,” Lee said.

If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, check out Black Dog Gelato for flavors like goat cheese cashew caramel, fresh strawberry or vegan blood orange or raspberry sorbets.

Latinicity, 108 N. State St., has a similar feel to the French Market, with a latin spin. The Latinicity food hall and lounge features eight innovative kitchens, a Mexican restaurant, a cafe and a full bar.

For a sweet vegan dish, try the plantains from Saladero Latin Grill, while vegetarians can opt for the corn empanada served with fresh, delicious guacamole. Ensalata offers a full make-your-own salad bar with a variety of ingredients, while Machefe Taqueria gives customers the option to design-your-own taco, although the veggie blend has a bit of a kick and is not for those who don’t like spice. To incorporate more flavor, try adding fresh avocado or sliced pineapple to your taco.

Fried plantains, sweet potato tacos and a corn empanada at Latinicity. Photo by Taylor Hartz

For a final stop, Pueblo Mexican restaurant offers the best dessert at this hall with their red kuri pumpkin flan.

If you’re considering a lifestyle change to vegetarian or veganism, or are already abiding by a veggie-based diet, there are plenty of choices for dining out in Chicago’s food halls. To explore more options, check out one of the ChicagoVeg group’s monthly “dine-out” MeetUps, where members meet to try out a new restaurant. The group’s next event will take place on May 6 at Soul Vegetarian East on East 75th Street.

A brief history of New Eastside

By Nicole VandeBoom | Staff Writer

Lakeshore East Park gives residents the escape of a serene oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Residents walk these sidewalks and stroll through the park daily—but do they know the history of the cement their sneakers tread?

Before rosy-cheeked children squealed through the grass, New Eastside was home to railroad steel and stone. In the mid-1800s, Chicago was faced with a shoreline flooding problem. Upscale homes built on Michigan Avenue, harboring a lakefront view, were prone to water damage. 

Chicago needed an improved harbor and seawall, but could not afford to tackle the task by itself. Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) was in a position to provide aid, but its price was a portion of the coveted shoreline property. In exchange for constructing a break wall from Randolph St. to 22nd St., the Federal Government allotted ICRR just under two acres of land from the old Fort Dearborn. This is where Lake Shore East Park now flourishes.

In 1955, One Prudential Plaza, 130 E. Randolph St., had its grand opening. Not
only was it the first of many buildings to create the hub that is currently New Eastside, it was also the first Chicago office built after a 21-year drought. Eight years later, a residential building, 400 E. Randolph St., was built. These buildings set the stage for transforming an industrial-centered area to the beginnings of the community we know today.

In the 1980s, the term “New Eastside” came about, giving the neighborhood a name. Metropolitan Structures also constructed 14 buildings in New Eastside during the 1980s and ‘90s. From 1994 to 2001, the area now known as Lake Shore East Park was a nine-hole golf course.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Magellan Development Group stepped in with its vision and started further developing the area. Eight highrise buildings to date, along with the Village Market and Lake Shore East Park.

In 2014, GEMS World Academy Chicago opened its doors, giving the neighborhood its first K–12 school. The remaining vacant site in the northeast corner of the park is reserved for a future Chicago public school.

Looking forward, even more growth is projected for our neighborhood. Vista Tower is expected to open its doors in 2019, GEMS Upper-Middle school is in the works and plans for three to four additional residential buildings were presented to the community. These projects will continue to foster the spirit of development New Eastside has embodied throughout its history.

Information for this story was collected from the the Archives of New Eastside News, the New Eastside Association of Residents and the Magellan Development websites.

Published April 4, 2018

Chicago on screen

By Taylor Hartz and Stephanie Racine | Staff Writers

04/04/2018

Over the past few years, Chicago has become a film and TV star in its own right, with the city serving as the set for shows like Chicago Fire, Empire and Shameless. Last year was the biggest yet for the Chicago film industry, and glimpses of our city can be spotted in episodes airing throughout 2018, including some shots of New Eastside.

A total of 580 film projects were shot in Chicago in 2017, including eight full-season television series and three upcoming feature films starring the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Goodman and Viola Davis.

Film production rates in 2017 spiked about 27 percent from 2016, with crews clocking 2404 full “production days” on city streets in the calendar year, according to the Chicago Film Office.

The office, located at 78 E. Washington St. regulates filming rights in the city, and last year issued 2200 filming permits, aver aging about 25 to 40 film permits a week.

And New Eastside hasn’t been left out of the spotlight.

Chicago Fire, the NBC drama that follows the work and life of firefighters, rescue squad members and paramedics, filmed at the III Forks restaurant near Lakeshore East more than a few times. The patio can be spotted in a rescue scene that aired last November, and other parts of the local restaurant were featured in the show’s most recent episode on March 29.

Resident Elizabeth Johnston caught sight of some celebrities at III Forks last October, capturing shots of Chicago Fire stars Jesse Spencer, David Eigenberg, Miranda Rae Mayo and Yuri Sardarov in action right in our own neighborhood. Last month, Johnston spotted the cast of Chicago Med during a shoot at local gym, Lakeshore Sport and Fitness. Chicago Med, a spinoff of Chicago Fire, also filmed on Lake Street at the beginning of March.

Richard Moskal, the Director of the Chicago Film Office, said New Eastside has a certain appeal.“Skyline vistas and its abundance of cinematic architecture is what makes the
New Eastside so compelling to producers and directors,” Moskal said.

The director said New Eastside looks especially compelling on screen, with our great vantage point of the city.

While New Eastside has certainly gotten its share of the fame, the building used as the main firehouse in Chicago Fire is a bit further south, in the University Village
neighborhood. And if it looks like a real, working fire station on TV, that’s because it is—
station scenes for the show are shot in a fully functioning Chicago Fire Department firehouse. When it isn’t packed with actors and camera crews, the firehouse, located at 1360 S. Blue Island Ave. at Maxwell St. between 13th and Racine Ave., serves as the headquarters of Engine 18.

The fire department has estimated the show films there about 22 times per year, drawing crowds of tourists year-round to check out the fictional firefighters’ home base.

While we probably all enjoy pointing at our screens excitedly when we spot a familiar setting in shows like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med, some use
these series as a way to show their city, and New Eastside, to far away family members.

Shelley Stunard, who runs a New Eastside real estate office at 400 E. Randolph St, said the show has fostered a special bond between her and her father, connecting the two between Chicago and Dallas.

Stunard’s father, 88-year-old Charles Schneider, may live in Texas, but he wears
his Chicago Fire t-shirt with pride. “He wears it as proud as his Navy hat,” Stunard said.

Stunard’s parents, and many of her friends, live in her home city of Dallas, and her parents are not well enough to make the trip to Chicago for a visit. But thanks to Chicago-based shows, they’re able to connect with their daughter by spotting her neighborhood on TV.

“My dad always comments on scenes on Chicago Fire filmed in the New Eastside
neighborhood or where our buildings are in the background,” said Stunard, “It keeps
us a little more connected.”

As for the rest of Chicago, viewers can spot other city sights in three films that will come out this year. Rampage, which features The Rock and a King Kong-esque gorilla character, hits theaters on April 13.

On August 14th, movie-goers will get a glimpse of the city that they may not be too fond of—Goodman’s new film, Captive State, is set in a Chicago neighborhood a decade after it has been occupied by an extraterrestrial force.

Oscar-winner Viola Davis will star inWidows this November, following the lives
of four Chicago widows coping with their late husbands’ criminal debts. Chicago streets can also be spotted in FOX’s ongoing hit, Empire, and Showtime’s dysfunctional—yet lovable—South Side family, the Gallaghers, will return for a seventh season of Shameless.

Tune in online for Seasons 1 and 2 of a Netflix original series called Easy that focuses on modern romance in our city, or for Amazon’s release of a 10-episode standalone sci-fi series called Electric Dreams.

A few new shows will also be debuting this year set on the South Side. Showtime
is following their Shameless success with the launch of a new series called The Chi, set in the area, and Comedy Central is set to launch the pilot for a show called
South Side.

Chicago Fire, Chicago MED and Chicago PD are all currently filming new episodes.
Beyond visible film and television productions, the Chicago Film Office also works with student filmmakers, television commercial producers, and independent filmmakers.

According to a Jan. 25 statement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Film Office at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the film and television industry in Chicago is definitely on an upward climb.

Chicago has seen steady year over year increases in media production since 2011, the mayor said in a statement, resulting in an estimated $423 million in job creation
and expenditures.

The Illinois Film Office—which awards a 30 percent tax credit to film makers–said television and advertising productions in 2017 employed 13,797 job hires, earning $251 million in wages.

“Chicago’s film and media community is diverse and growing, producing a wide variety of entertainment and commercial content,” Moskal said.

Puppies perform improv for PAWS Chicago benefit show

By Matthew Reiss
Community Contributor

I have performed sketch and improvisational comedy for over 25 years, but one show last August was a first for me. In front of a large crowd at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox Theater, 1608 N. Wells St., I performed a comedy scene with a puppy.

My comedy group, The Stuntmen, put on a benefit show to support PAWS Chicago, but rather than simply raising money, we wanted to use the show to encourage pet adoptions. What better way than to bring the puppies on stage?

PAWS selected a trio of puppies for the event—Malcolm, Luca and Jodie—each with a backstage handler. All three of the puppies, along with a number of their peers, were adopted the very next day.

During our improv scene, Malcom felt so comfortable on stage that he decided to take a nap on my feet. It became a fun element for the audience because, in my efforts not to disturb Malcolm’s slumber, I was forced to limit my movements and speak with a soft voice. It changed the direction of the scene in a very sweet and unexpected way.

The three puppies did remarkably well in the moment. Luca was a little nervous, but then, who isn’t when in front of the lights?

The show was such a success, that a second benefit show has been scheduled for April 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the same location.

In addition to encouraging the adoption of a new cast of puppy performers, PAWS hopes to use the proceeds to purchase a treadmill for the dogs at the shelter. There is an unofficial rule in live theater that states, “Never work with animals,” but this partnership of PAWS and the Stuntmen is proving that rules were made to be broken.

Hidden charm, extended hours and a Pedway queen

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

A nonplussed pair rounded the corner of the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park lobby and approached concierge Sheryl Novak to ask a question she’s answered countless time —“how do we find the Pedway?”

Though Novak pointed them in the right direction, they missed the grand tour. Had they come through the lobby a little later that day, they could have found their way with the help of Margaret Hicks, who offers Pedway tours through her tour company, Chicago Elevated. Hicks, wearing a red Chicago Elevated ball cap and an enthusiasm for the Pedway that could not be feigned, meets her tour group—a pretty rambunctious 10—for this Saturday morning sojourn a few feet away from Novak, and already has them in stitches.

Recognizing a power vacuum when she sees it, Hicks explains to the group that there is no overarching Pedway authority; no city vice president of the Pedway, no governing
body, no “Friends of …” organization.

“I consider myself the mayor,” Hicks laughs, but her tour group quickly dubs her the Queen.

It may not be a royal charter, but when the BBC did an article on Chicago’s Pedway, it was Hicks who guided them.

A Chicagoland native, Hicks has lived in the city for 20 years, working as an admin in the Loop before founding Chicago Elevated in 2010. She was 35 when she finally learned about the Pedway, and has adored it ever since.

“I love it so much,” Hicks said. She considers the Pedway a neighborhood like any other, filled with amenities, history, odd charm, cultural and commercial spaces and its own denizens. She’s made friends through her regular travels of the underground pathway, people who will stop, say hello, banter. The oddity of the Pedway—what makes it most vexing and intimidating for visitors—is her favorite part.

“That’s what I think is so neat and weird about it,” Hicks said. “It’s not this consistent, sterile, spotless floor and white walls. Each section is different from the section that you passed through, different from the section that’s coming up next. How much  fun is that?”

The Pedway, Hicks pointed out, is not really made for tourists; it is a glimpse into the inner workings of the city. “This is Chicago moving and working and living, without any pretensions,” Hicks said.

Hicks’ Saturday morning tour wound through the Pedway, over Lower Wacker traffic and faux cobblestones, up stairs and down elevators. Weekend accessibility to the Pedway has been spotty as of late, but the “Closed on Sunday” sign has since been removed.

Observant residents now notice that the Pedway under the Aqua building is accessible Sundays as well.

Beginning in the Fairmont lobby, she leads her wards under Aqua, through the multiple mini malls of the Illinois Center and past the Spa di la Fronza, where the proprietor comes out to pantomime kissing the Queen’s hand. “She’s the best” he tells the tour.

From there, it is across the Metra platform to Millennium Station, where she tells the group how proud she was of the Pedway for its screen presence in the Batman movie The Dark Knight. From there she takes them into Macy’s, past glistening candy and the luxurious lighting of the makeup department to end with the Louis Comfort Tiffany mosaic and the
airy atrium.

Hicks’ tour left the group with pictures, a bar recommendation and roundly satisfied with their unusual tour offering. “No one comes away saying anything but ‘wow, I’m glad I went,’” said Novak, the Fairmont concierge.

The Pedway is many things. Confusing and convenient, aesthetically unhinged, filled with grime, Dunkin’ Donuts locations and art. Its inscrutable map and lack of landmarks makes going into the warren the best way to understand it, and Hicks loves nothing more than sharing the Pedway’s charms. To her, it deserves to be explored, considered and appreciated as one of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

“Say goodbye to the sunlight and fresh air,” Hicks told her tour. “Let’s go into the Pedway!”

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