The Chicago Auto Show is, according to its press, the largest car show in the United States. I’m not super interested in cars, but I decided to go just to see what it’s like. These days all the major auto makers put out cars that look like the front end of the Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile to me. Here’s what I saw.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Frank Lloyd Wright and the three-legged chair he designed. I couldn’t get a picture of the pitch-you-face-first-into-the-edge-of-the-desk version because photos weren’t allowed, but it turns out the Art Institute of Chicago has one on display. Here it is.
Also at the Art Institute, here’s a picture of what may be my favorite Monet. The colors are really stunning in person.
Here’s a sneaker I spotted on the subway. I can’t tell whose signature that is supposed to be, nor can I guess how much these silly designer shoes must have cost.
And finally, here’s another local sushi business that hasn’t heard about how litigious Toho can be.
I take it that the Mariano’s grocery chain doesn’t know how litigious Toho can be.
Here’s my Facebook posts documenting my day on jury duty.
On the first bus I need to get to Rolling Meadows, whatever that is. I looked it up on my phone, and the only result I got was “Here be monsters.” Goddamn Apple Maps.
Best part: it’s cold today. Really cold. To Build a Fire cold. People here are huddled around the rats for warmth. (Hey-o, stereotypical Chicago joke based on circumstances I’ve never observed since moving to Chicago!)
White Hell. Apparently they don’t remove snow in the suburbs. The sidewalks from the train to the courthouse were basically a single, unbroken sheet of ice. Glad I wore boots despite it being a couple days since it last snowed, but skates would have been more efficient.
I am on panel 3. This was assigned randomly to me, by me picking a slip of paper from a brass container. So at least as random as kindergarteners picking teams. Interestingly, electronic devices aren’t allowed in the courthouse, unless you’re a juror. Like drinks on public transportation, I guess it’s an exception they needed to make to forestall armed insurrection.
So far my civic duty has consisted of watching a video explaining the jury system, but really they could have shown an episode of Perry Mason to the same effect. Besides that I’m waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Wait. Wait. Nothing happens. No panels have been called. Just sitting here, reading a Star Wars novel.
And I’m done. No panels were called, no courtrooms needed juries. Now to get home from this frozen hellscape.
So yeah, nothing particularly interesting happened. Civic duty discharged. I got a little certificate that exempts me from having to perform jury duty for a year.
As part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial my wife and I took a bus tour of properties associated with the S.C. Johnson company in Racine, Wisconsin. Most of the building were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was friends with H.F. Johnson, CEO of the S.C. Johnson Wax Company in the 1930s.
One theme that gets stated and restated constantly on the building tours we were on is how Wright was arrogant to the extreme. Wright, in these stories, seems to have valued aesthetics and his own somewhat incoherent philosophy of design over most functionality. I have never read any biography of Wright, so I have no idea if any of the specific stories are true. Some sounded a little too pat to be real. However, there was sometimes indisputable physical evidence.
Take for example this fireplace in Wingspread, the house Wright designed for Johnson’s family.
The story is that it was only used once. It was designed for the logs to be burning in an upright position as seen here, but when they tried it one of the logs tipped out of the fireplace onto the floor as it burned.
At the S.C. Johnson administration building we were shown a kind of chair that Wright had designed for the use of secretaries. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in that building, but they had a identical chair at Wingspread. Here it is.
The thing about the chair they showed us at the administration building is that it existed in two versions — the later version seen above and an earlier version that only had three legs. So instead of the two legs up front, imagine only one in the center, kind of a tricycle arrangement. Wright’s thinking was three legs on the chair, two legs on the person, that’s five legs, plenty of stability, right? Well, no. As the tour guide was able to easily demonstrate, if you’re sitting in the chair and you lean a moderate amount to the left or right you’ll have both your legs on the opposite side of the front leg from the direction you’re leaning and that front leg will become a pivot point, dumping you out of the chair.
We were told a story about how H.F. Johnson tricked Wright into sitting in one of the tricycle chairs and getting him to fall out of it by reaching for a dropped pencil. That seemed a little too good to be true. But the core of the story must be true, because both three- and four-legged versions of the chair exist. Wright must have designed the chair without testing it or thinking too deeply about how people use chairs.
It’s tough to live in Chicago without hearing all about Wright’s architecture, and I’ve seen some wonderful examples, but I think now I want to read more about him personally.
Where do urban legends come from? I suspect most of them are caused by simple confusion. Someone makes an unwarranted assumption or misremembers a simple fact, and that person passes on the misinformation as authoritative truth. Last year I came across an interesting urban legend, one which I’m guessing is new.
Every year the Chicago Architecture Foundation puts on Open House Chicago, an event where around 150 significant buildings in the city allow visitors to see areas that may not usually be available to the public. This last year my wife and I went to Union Station, the grand train station most people would be familiar with from movies like The Silver Streak and The Untouchables. The Great Hall looks like this.
Off to the right in this picture is the concourse that leads to all the trains and the food court and such. What I didn’t know is that behind the wall to the left is an enormous area, maybe as large as the Great Hall, that’s been unused for nearly 35 years!
Here’s a couple pictures from that area.
You’ll notice the barbed wire. That’s around construction, apparently a restaurant will be moving into the space. The door in the back leads back to the Great Hall.
There’s also an enormous room that used to be the ladies’ lounge. Now they use it to store props from Tim Burton movies.
So why was all this essentially abandoned? The volunteer who was there to tell us about the building explained that there had been a fire in 1980, and the area had been disused ever since.
Moreover, the fire had been started by people filming a movie starring Gary Coleman!
Now that’s an interesting factoid. My wife knew that there was a movie where Gary Coleman was playing a homeless kid living in a train station locker, and sure enough that must be the movie the volunteer was talking about. On the Right Track came out in 1981, so the timing was exactly right.
Except it’s not true at all. The fire, which happened on July 26, 1980 had nothing to do with any movie being filmed in the station. At least nothing like that is mentioned in news stories about the fire, and let’s face it, if Gary Coleman was involved in something that happened in 1980, it got mentioned.
So where did the volunteer get the idea that the filming of On the Right Track had started the fire? I have no idea. I dove pretty deep into Google, and I couldn’t find any previous association between the fire and the movie. So I’m guessing we saw the start of a new urban legend, one which currently only exists as an oral tradition (and this web page).
While I was researching the fire/movie connection, I came up with another great example of the fallibility of memory, even among people directly involved with the events being remembered. On bulletin boards devoted to train travel I found a couple of discussions by a user who goes by “Gilbert B Norman” or “GBNorman” who said he worked in Union Station when the fire occurred, and though he wasn’t there the day of the fire he had to move his office several times. He also said, with no equivocation, that the only person who died in the fire was “a vagrant.” In another thread Mr. Norman repeated the assertion that the only casualty was a vagrant (he magnanimously admits that this still counts as “a human life”) and the rest of the thread devolves into people theorizing, and then flat-out deciding that the vagrant caused the fire.
Did a vagrant die in the fire, let alone start it? Nope. According the Chicago Tribune the only fatality in the fire was a budget analyst for the Conrail freight agency, and they gave his home address as a building in what’s a pretty swanky neighborhood today, Lake Shore Drive and Diversey. It may not have been so expensive in 1980, but I’m going to assume that even back then no one who lived in a tower on Lake Shore Drive would be considered a vagrant.
Spotted in Milwaukee.