Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Personal Aside: Tell Me, Why…Why…Would Anyone Want to Go to the Taste of Chicago?



A good number of years ago when I was a regular panelist on the Bruce DuMont radio show, the show would go one night to the Taste of Chicago and broadcast from the WBEZ booth. The first year we were there, I was sickened as we talked of public affairs on the mike, watching the army of vandals chewing, spitting and mulching, here a gross woman in gingham chomping her jaws on something, the juice trickling down her chin; there an oaf pulling on a chicken leg shouting to his fellows with a monotonous, unintelligible chant, now a child being tugged along by a mother unaware that her charge has just emptied her bladder. Following the show, I took a walk around the grounds. It was about 90 degrees with nary a breath of air stirring. What I saw was enough to cause my stomach to recoil. First there was the sight of an overweight chef in a grey undershirt preparing meals supposed to be exotic, bare tattooed arms with huge tufts of sweaty black hairy underarms, perspiration rolling down from his underarms and dripping onto the skillet, while he rubbed his nose to brush away beads of sweat that plopped onto the plate he was holding…the crowd waiting patiently to be served by this performer; a woman, tired and angry at her small child, giving it a demoniacal smack; a central casting rube with a W. Clement Stone mustache carrying a latte with five expresso shots. I asked myself: why? Why?

Long lines, moving very slowly, were lined up before the booths where tiny portions were ladled out by unshaven servers (and these were the women) is desultory fashion, the recipients having to nibble from their fragile, half cardboard half paper plates which fold up in the heat, all the while standing. That was enough for me and so I decided to leave. Leaving itself was a torment, fighting echelons of sweaty people who all seemed intent on going in the opposite direction I was struggling to get. I admit I have a tendency to grow panicky in crowds and for a half hour I could hardly breathe as I battered my way through the suffocating armies marching toward me.

In all of entertainment…even with things I am not interested in, like the ballet…I have never uttered a complaint when forced to go. But I am extraordinarily fortunate to have married a woman 49 years ago who without any importuning by me has come to the same happy conclusion about Taste of Chicago. If I were to name one thing that eludes me about contemporary Chicago it is the strange success of Taste of Chicago…a sad trampling of civility which reduces the finest event of western civilization—a savory dining experience—to ashes and banal barbarism.


  1. "a sad trampling of civility which reduces the finest...of western civilization...to ashes and banal barbarism."

    One could say the same about that annual June parade through a mid-north community of Chicago--so endearered to our media--and with Catholic politicians pandering to a new level of Satyricon depravity.

  2. Tom,

    I can't say that I was ever a big fan of Taste of Chicago, but a lot of people I knew enjoyed it because it gave them the opportunity to try new dishes. Plus, it was fun just being out with friends.

  3. "a sad trampling of civility which reduces the finest...of western civilization...to ashes and banal barbarism."

    Oh my gosh, it's just a public picnic. Jesus never showed such disdain for the common people and he was even known to supply the wine.