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The city of Chicago lays claim to many things – the highest number of Big Ten graduates who go on to become bandwagon Cubs/Blackhawks fans, the hot dog sans ketchup, and of course the Ferris Wheel. But as of a few years ago, Chicago has also been vying to become the number one city in America for street festivals, and last weekend marked the beginning of all of it here on the west side of the city.
A street festival if you’re not familiar, is really no different from a county fair except instead of being held on a large expanse of land, a mile or so of street is blocked off and used. There is live music, food everywhere, overpriced alcoholic beverages, and vendors selling art and trinkets that your mom and grandma will absolutely love.
In theory all of this sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It’s a wonderful excuse to get out of the house for a few hours and maybe catch a live show from some up and coming band that is sure to get one of their songs on an Apple commercial in a few short months. And there isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t love a good food truck. Plus there’s that whole open container thing that cops waive. Nothing like walking around in the street with a beer in hand.
Over the next four months, Chicago is going to be having a street festival every single weekend. I don’t have the data to back that particular statistic up and it’s probably a slight exaggeration, but it sure as hell feels like there’s one going on every Friday/Saturday/Sunday.
The food trucks and musical acts will be different depending on the festival, but I can assure you the vibe will be the same. In a way, the street festival is really just one continuous line.
Have to pee? I hope you’re prepared to wait 20 minutes for a port-a-potty while the two drunk girls behind you talk about how all of their friends are getting engaged and arguing over whether or not the twelve dollar Tito’s and lemonade they just bought taste a little weak in the liquor department.
If you want a beer or one of those aforementioned Tito’s drinks, have no fear because there’s a nice, long line for that as well. Every step you take inside the barricaded confines of the street fest are ones that need to be carefully considered. You look down to check your phone for even a few seconds and you could wind up spilling your eight dollar IPA all over someone’s shirt.
And let us not forget about all of the awkward run-ins you’re going to have. Just last weekend, a friend of mine and I were making our way through the teeming masses and had not one, not two, but three very awkward exchanges with people whom we did not really want to talk to. I can guarantee you of two things at a street festival – one is overpriced drinks. Two is that you will absolutely, without a doubt run into someone who you really do not want to talk to. I hope you like stop and chats!
By the time the musical acts really start to kick into high gear around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., the congestion is so bad that it’s hard to justify sticking around to watch. There isn’t a whole lot of room to move around, and by the time you’ve finished your first beer you and your friends are ready to get the hell out of there.
Leaving presents a whole new set of issues, though. It’s not as if you can just walk into a bar next to the street festival and snag a table. Oh, no. Any place within a mile walk of the festival itself is going to be just as bad or worse as standing in the street. Wall to wall people feeling like you’re a fucking sardine in a can. You could try and get a Uber out of there, but because the cops have blocked off such a large portion of the street for this thing, traffic has come to a standstill and the surge is going to have you considering taking a bus home.
In theory, the street festival sounds like a fantastic way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday evening, but the only way that’s actually true is if you’re a huge fan of lines and people breathing on you. You’re better off just staying in your living room or going to a bar that is on the other side of the city from where the street fest is taking place. I’m sure that the city of Chicago makes a shit load of money from allowing these fests to happen every other weekend, but you won’t catch me at one unless you can promise me a real, live bathroom and a place to sit down..
Image via Unsplash