Selecting accommodations for the 57th St. Fair in Chicago was a real challenge. We decided to go with the fair’s recommended option of staying at the International House, right on the University’s campus. After a relatively boring ride across lower Michigan and a brief jaunt through the tip of Indiana, we made it to Chicago’s “Skyway”. It is elevated in places, but this supposedly preferred route to access the downtown – though expensive in tolls – was as bad as some of the worst streets in Ypsilanti. We had to slow down frequently so that the trailer would not bump wildly behind us. No matter, our trusty Mapquest directions took us to the correct exit. As usual, it was downhill from there.
Although we pretty much stayed on the task of determining what was a “slight right” and what was an outright turn, by the time we got close to our destination we were pretty confused. Failing to turn where we were supposed to according to Mapquest, we were off on an adventure of our own. This part of Chicago is full of one-ways and narrow streets. Luckily, I had the trusty University of Chicago parking map. We located the street upon which the International House was supposedly located and promptly passed right by it. Damn! The street was practically completely blocked off by parked cars idling in the southbound lane. I figured it must be a one-way, and told Wayne to just go around them all in the left lane. He said, “No way!” but I prevailed because we were both pretty anxious to stop and park somewhere, ANYWHERE. As it turns out, he was right and we could have created a head-on incident except for the happy circumstance of coming to a stop sign at a street that would allow us to turn right. After circling the neighborhood several times behind the I. House, we elected to park the whole 9 yards in a very long, open space in a nebulous public/University parking lot and get out on foot to find our place. This turned out to be a great idea, as the line of cars blocking the street (54th) consisted of various parents and grandparents waiting to pick up their little darlings from the University’s experimental school. We found the house, checked in, and lugged what we had up to the room.
These were not luxury accommodations. For the same price, we could have probably scored a 3-star on Priceline. But, it was very close to the venue and neither of us being very proficient at driving in huge cities like Chicago, it was worth it. There was a queen-sized bed which took up most of the room, a TV, and an overhead fan. No climate control other than old-fashioned. The bathrooms were “down the hall”. The ladies room had one pee/poop stall and one shower stall. Ditto the men’s. Old school, but what the heck. Didn’t really want to spend that much time in the bathroom anyway.
We went back to recover the car/trailer combo which we learned we had parked illegally, but there was no ticket on it and TL2OW was in good flow (The Legendary Luck Of Wayne). Now that there were no longer anxious parents and bored, silver-haired, elegant grannies leaning out to smoke cigs while waiting for the little darlings, there was plenty of on-street parking for our car and trailer. Sweet! Being that it was a Friday, the parking would hold for the duration (no school Saturday or Sunday).
Our daughter Cate had spent a summer right in this very area. She mentioned vaguely something about restaurants in the area allowing you to BYOB, but it didn’t really register. We went out to look for a beer and discovered that BYOB was the only option. Hmmmm, no liquor stores in sight either. Finally, we found a little Mexican restaurant which proudly proclaimed it served beer and we were all set for a great dinner and a cold one. (As Strongbad would say, “A One is not a One unless it is cold…”)
No Friday setups so we got to bed real early thinking we are going to be the first ones there around 7am. Wake up time 6:30am. No coffee. Barbarian. Saturday at 6:45 am, we moved like manatees toward the school where we thought we had scoped out our space the night before, only to find the streets already super congested with trucks and trailers of all sizes. We just had to stop and park as the spot in the “playground” we thought was ours actually turned out to be someone else’s and we wandered around until we found our spot. Worst of the worst: the alley. Pecking order: 1 – a spot on 57th St., 2 – a spot on Kimbark, 3 – the playground, 4 – the alley. The alley behind the school and the playground. The photos demonstrate the difference. The first and last shots are the alley. In between photos are the busy, lovely, tree-lined, shady streets. Enough said.
We pulled in the alley to start to set up and noticed there was a little space, just at the fence, where we could probably stash our trailer. TL2OW in full swing. We drop the trailer, I grab an actual parking space for the car (very close by) and our unloading and set-up of the Mighty Light Dome (MLD) commenced. We were up for the most part in about 2 hours, then finally got a bit of breakfast in the school building, kindly provided by the fair organizers. There we saw our new friends Wendy Hill and Xavier Nuez. Cool! After a chat we returned to finish setting up.
10:00 arrived, along with rain showers. Luckily we were all set up. Unluckily, we were in the swamp area. All the rain was running from the high spots on the other side of the alley to the low spots on our side. The lovely Karen of Apexspire jewelry did have it a bit worse than we did – our river ran into her pond – but all of Wayne’s pedestals were getting wet. The water crept up higher, seeping into the wood. Same thing happening on the walls of the booth. Watching the water saturate everything used to display the art, a knot of bad coffee coupled with anxiety began to form in the pit of my stomach. When the rain stopped, we were still standing in wet shoes but the MLD kept the artwork dry and safe from the top and the water never managed to creep up the wooden sides more than about 6 inches. Safe for now.
Wayne had put The Cool Dudes out in front of his booth once the rain stopped. They got a lot of attention, some folks stopping just to have their photo taken with The Dudes. I ran off to take a little jog and by the time I got back, The Dudes were gone. First sale of the day, a couple bought both of them and dragged them off. A good sale and a nice way to start out Day One, Chicago. The usual parade came through, and any number of true art buyers. Wayne sold moderately well, had a lot of interest and compliments, and we closed up contentedly at 6pm. The weather forecast was not good, so I insisted we put all the artwork back into the little trailer, now parked not more than 40 feet from our booth. Wayne grumbled but we had it done within 20 minutes or so. Knowing the scene, we drove to the supermarket to obtain a bottle of wine and brought it back to a really great pizza place right on 57th. Ate half the pizza, brought the rest back for the next day’s lunch, another early night.
Saturday night, howling winds struck. The alley is like a wind tunnel, and arriving back at the site Sunday morning we were immediately struck by a howling, keening sound coming from one of our fellow alley artists. This young lady is a talented glass artist. She had left her work in her booth overnight (was this smart?) and returned to find about half of it smashed on the pavement. The gal next to us had an Easy-Up that resembled our ELAF Easy-Down. She was a painter and this was her first 57th St. Fair. Entering the mess of her tent, she discovered her work was gone! This is because of the neighborhood rescue brigade who worked tirelessly through the night to save whatever artwork they could from the wind tunnel. The poor glass lady's stuff was already toast, but these folks who just lived in the building in the front of the alley realized that a lot of art was being destroyed. They brought as much art as they could into their apartments Saturday night, and took 2 hours out of their Sunday morning to return it to the artists. Wow!
The MLD was perfectly intact, and Wayne’s art safe in the trailer. We re-hung the booth and were ready to go. Day two went well, and by the end we discovered we had made enough to pay for our hotel, dinners and The MLD. Success! It was a great show and one where we again learned important lessons. These are:
#1. Get the best tent possible. Spare no expense. You will not regret it.
#2. Learn from your fellow artists. They have somehow made a living doing this.
#3. Being an Art Carny is like being a sailor: respect the weather above all.
So on we voyage in the land boat, seeing new sights and meeting new people, true to the quest of making art a viable career choice. Next show: Grand Haven, Michigan – in just a few days. Beaches, sailboats…Hey! We will feel right at home!