Monthly Archives: September 2010

Chicago’s Eternal Walking Guy

 Chicago has no shortage of mythology and folk legends: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, Resurrection Mary,  a northside pennant championship.

But most anyone who has worked in downtown Chicago within the past quarter century or so has seen the modern equivalent.

Gaunt,  a world-weary look in his eyes, the sweeping pompadour, grayer now but still unmistakable. He’s known by several names: The Walking Guy, The Walking Dude, The French Guy. He’s been captured on a couple of online videos, both old and new. Yes, he’s lost a step or two through the years, but still he walks incessantly, destination unknown.

He never speaks and from all accounts, any attempts to communicate with him are met with silence. If he ever did speak, I imagine him sounding like Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven” rasping out “I’m not LIKE that anymore, kid” as he turns away, minding his own business, whatever that may be.

The closest I ever came to actually speaking with him personally was about two years ago, when I saw him, in an uncharacteristic moment, stop for a few moments to chat up a panhandler on the Michigan Ave. bridge. By the time I caught up to him, he was gone, and, feeling a little like Starsky hitting up Huggy Bear for some information, I gave the guy a couple of bucks to tell me anything he could about the gentleman he was just talking to.

“Oh, you mean Cool?”

“Cool?

Yeah, me and Cool go way back”, he said as he showed me a stack of beer cans hidden behind the bridge embankment.

I asked him if either of them was aware of “Cool”‘s cult celebrity status. He laughed and said no, he was fairly certain that Cool was pretty oblivious to that and would find it amusing.

All of that may just be the sort of “truth” you get for two dollars, but it just added to the mystique in my mind.

Maybe it’s the IDEA of the Walking Guy that is more significant than any one individual: that amid all the changes of the city and the passage of time, there is this one constant, like the Water Tower after the Great Chicago Fire.

Maybe the title is bigger than any one person after all. Could one person really do all that walking for all those years? Could it be that The Walking Guy is like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride? When one bearer of the title decided it was time to retire, he groomed a replacement who than took over the role, thereby continuing the line of succession.

Maybe, Then, The Walking Guy is the latest in a long line of walkers. Hey, I enjoy strolling along the streets of Chicago. When the time comes, maybe The Walking Guy will hand over his loafers, mustache, and pompadour and I’ll be… “THE WALKING GUY”!

Update: Since this story was originally posted, The Walking Guy, whose real name, we now know, is Joseph Kromelis, was brutally and senselessly beaten on Lower Wacker Drive 0n May 24th , 2016 while (what else?) apparently walking and minding his own business. He suffered numerous severe injuries and a GoFundMe page has been established to defray medical costs. Please give what you can. We  wish Joe a swift recovery!

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Small dad/daughter collaboration

This image is a small collaboration between my daughter, Karen, who’s a third year graphic design major, online and myself. Karen did most of the work, creating the umbrella and cloud sculptures. The umbrella is made entirely of corrugated cardboard and cardboard tubing. The cloud was two pieces of  wood which she cut out with a jigsaw and fit together. I added the background elements digitally.


Does Chicago have “self-image” issues?

It doesn’t seem that long ago. The night Barak Obama was elected President, Chicago enjoyed perhaps it’s finest hour when all eyes were on Grant Park with the majestic skyline of the city in the background. Chicago was dazzling, and it seemed like the city was on an upward trajectory that saw no limits.

Now a couple of years later, some of that glow has worn off the Obama administration and for many, the memory of that night has faded along with it. Shortly after the election, the corruption trial of Gov. Blagojevich made headline news and wouldn’t go away. At least then, all of illinois, and not just Chicago could share in the embarrassment.

Then there was the 2016 Summer Olympics host city bid. Even before the verdict, there was a divide between those who wanted to see Chicago once again put on the world stage and those who wanted to avoid the hassle and costs involved. But even its harshest critics’ jaws dropped when Chicago was the first to be eliminated. Whatever the reasons, political of economic, many Chicagoans took it personally. Maybe they didn’t really want it, but they sure didn’t want to come in LAST.

And lastly, for a city that loves its sports, the Cubs, a team best known for its history as a jinxed and hapless ball club, is a bigger draw than other, better local teams, except during the occasional post-season play of the Sox, Bulls or Blackhawks. Sure, Wrigley Field is charming with those vines and all, but it’s antiquated and you have to dodge the occasional falling brick. They even have a bar/cafe area behind the home plate stands, so you can drink and avoid actually watching the game.

So with all this, it’s hard not to feel sometimes that Chicago may not even hold “Second City” status anymore.
Does it really matter what perception the rest of the country, the world, or Chicagoans themselves hold of the city? Maybe. It rankles a bit when politicians or journalists use the term “Chicago politics as usual” as shorthand for corruption and sleaziness. Or when nation sportscasters refer to the Cubs as “lovable losers”. I know that Chicago is truly a world class city, but sometimes I need to be remind myself of that and see the city from another perspective.

Chicago remains one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. The museums and restaurants and theater are second to none. Millennium Park and the new modern wing of the Art Institute are just a couple recent examples of Chicago’s vibrancy and culture.Then there’s Lake Michigan. This summer, I took part in my first “Bike the Drive”, the annual event when Lake Shore Drive is closed to auto traffic for a morning and bicyclists can ride the entire length of the city from northside to southside and back. It was a perfect day and the skyline and the lake looked magnificent. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I know the winters can be harsh and the summers unbearably hot at times, but I also know that view along the lakefront is as beautiful a sight as you’ll see anywhere.

When all is said and done, under “heir apparent” mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city probably won’t shake it’s political reputation anytime soon, and “manager apparent” Ryne Sandberg may not turn the Cub’s World Series chances around. But maybe it’s time to celebrate the outstanding things Chicago does have to offer and spread the word.

I’d be interested to hear what perceptions others have of Chicago; from native Chicagoans, those who have visited, and those who have never been.

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