The official user's manual for sunshine

Snapshots of a State Fair: An Account of Carnies and Pig Shows

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Photo: Jenny Yoon

By Jenny Yoon

Saturday, August 18. Day One.

The Fair
The day is impossibly nice: a boundless blue sky, warm in that skin-shivering way, and a breeze with a cool bite to waft the smell of fried dough blows through the air.

It’s Park District Conservation Day at the Illinois State Fair, and my friends and I have yet to see a tent dedicated to the cause. We’re greeted, instead, by a massive wooden statue of a young Abe Lincoln brandishing an axe, flanked by a bed of flowers. From somewhere in the distance, we hear the buzz of racecar drivers circling in front of a rapt audience in the grandstand.

We wander, bug-eyed and slack-jawed at the sight: hordes of people (some of whom are airborne on a ski lift), food carts that line the pavement, the tram led by a John Deere tractor that parts the crowd as it makes its sputtering way through the fairgrounds. A man dressed as Honest Abe saunters past. We stop in shrill indignation at a gate emblazoned with the label “Ethnic Village.” In the village, one can find authentic fare such as “Dracula’s Feast” in Romania, gummy falafel from Persia and turkey legs from “Cajun.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ferris Fear: Overcoming a Carnival of Irrationality

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By Desiree Cole

I watched a Ferris wheel get stuck at an amusement park when I was younger, when the park was nearly closing and it was dark. I remember the screaming, even though nothing especially bad was happening. I thought about those folks on the front of the ride who were just hanging in mid-air. If they had to climb out to escape, they would have nowhere to fall except to the ground. At least if you were at the top, you had rails and cars to climb down. Ever since, I’ve had an irrational fear of this most seemingly benign of rides.

“I’m going to ride the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel today, guys,” I told some coworkers on the morning I decided it was time to get over this. Read the rest of this entry »

In Service of Summer: A Brief Guide on Where to Splash

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The Scorpions Tail at Noah's Ark

It’s that time of the year when even adults can get away with acting like kids, when children can enjoy their summer vacation, and when everyone needs to—and can—cool off. The water parks are officially open! Let’s dive into some of the best in the area.

A summer visit to Wisconsin Dells should include a visit to Noah’s Ark. Take the drive early and spend the day in the park lounging in the lazy river or ascending the stairs to the Point of No Return (a giant drop ten stories straight down). Or try their newest attraction, the Scorpion’s Tail, a 400-foot-long enclosed tube slide. noahsarkwaterpark.com

For Spalsh-tastic fun, drive into northwest Indiana’s Deep River Waterpark. Located in Crown Point, Indiana, the drive is less than an hour from Chicago. There’s a wave pool, numerous slides and a kid’s play zone. Specials include Tubin’ Tuesday. deepriverwaterpark.com

If you want a taste of the Outback, try Raging Waves, touted as Illinois’ largest water park. Located in Yorkville, the drive is only forty-five minutes from downtown. Aussie-themed attractions include slides named Tasmanian Twisters and Crocodile Mile. Daily specials include a reduced rate from 3pm to closing. ragingwaves.com Read the rest of this entry »

Summertime, and the Scamming’s Easy

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I would never say that pulling a scam on an amusement park is a good or honorable pursuit, but if any place is ripe for scamming, it’s Six Flags. It is a place awash in Coed Naked, Big Johnson and Insane Clown Posse T-shirts and every few feet there is an advertisement, or something for sale at 300 percent market value. Mind you, it’s not just the corporation trying to sell you things, it’s all of your favorite Time-Warner-licensed characters, from Batman and Tweety Bird to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, should they ever find a use for him.

My favorite was always The Wheelchair Scam. It’s not really so much a scam as paying fifteen bucks extra for what I call a “super ticket” for yourself and three friends. What you do is you pay for a normal ticket and then go to the Guest Services building (limp there, if you think you can fake it) and tell them you need to rent a wheelchair. Explain why, fill out the forms and give them the money.

It’s a personal preference, but I always made it a point not to portray myself in a positive light, or as seriously infirmed. Example: “I got really drunk last night and jumped off my friend’s roof. I think I sprained my ankle or something.”
They don’t like you, but they give you the wheelchair. Voila! Now, instead of waiting in line, you and your friends can climb up the back way. You’ll be amazed to see how quickly you can exhaust the park.

There are two downsides. One is that someone will get stuck sitting down through an entire hot day of fun. If this sounds relaxing, it isn’t. After a couple hours you will be desperate to get up and move. The second is that, at some point in the day, you will feel like a horrible person. Truth is, you are a horrible person, and you won’t realize it until someone who is bound to the wheelchair year round says, “Don’t worry, you can go ahead of me. I’ll catch the next one.”
Asshole. (Eric Strom)

Hyper-Twisted: Taking a ride on the Raging Bull

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By Elaine Richardson

Never, ever, send anyone to an amusement park and expect them to come back in a prompt manner.

Amusement parks are in the blood. They’re that little bit of childhood fancy that we remember with joy—and pain. They captivate the mind and hearken back to that sunny day when mom and dad stuck us on the Zipper, alone, just minutes after finishing that hot dog, cotton-candy spool and the entire box of Cracker Jacks. Somehow, even past the stomachache, what we’ve remembered is the inexplicable fun of being jerked around the local field, or fairgrounds, or parking lot on a contraption that looks like an insurance nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Summer

Amusement Parks, Baseball, Food & Drink, Living Arrangements, Outdoor Concerts, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Road Trips, Summer Romance, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

Before you can say “cold front” it’ll be September and you’ll be wishing you hadn’t spent all summer watching reruns on TV. There’s a whole world around Chicago, and for three months, it’s not as icy, bitter and unforgiving as a jilted lover. The sun glistens of the concrete, steel and glass menagerie we call home. But since it’s such a pain to find out what’s going on, and to plan things, NewCity did the work. From hot air balloons to Binti the ape who save lives, we tell you where to go to make you want to sing like Brian Adams about the Summer of ’97. Read the rest of this entry »

Disorder in the Courtyard: These apartments seemed made for summer, but….

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By Rennie Sparks

The courtyard—that’s what sold me on the first apartment I rented in Chicago. It was May, and my future landlord led me across the beginnings of green grass to show me the place. I imagined barbecues and building parties, idle Sundays spent playing checkers out in sun-splashed greenery. Heck, maybe I’d even grow tomatoes.

Of course, I didn’t know that only a month earlier there’d been a body bag left leaking blood on the grass of this same courtyard, while the firemen who’d been called to the scene of the suicide were puking in the bushes. I didn’t know that in this same courtyard skinheads had once emptied an entire apartment through a front window, and that every summer at least one person went insane in that courtyard. Read the rest of this entry »