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John Eby: Chicago the backdrop for best Father’s Day ever

Published 8:22pm Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My family went to Chicago June 25 for a belated Father’s Day. Sunday, June 19, I had to work, so it was decided to catch a South Shore commuter train from the South Bend airport the following Saturday, which just happened to be the second anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death as well as the second day of Taste of Chicago.

ebyTo have all six of us together in one place that wasn’t a funeral was pretty amazing, making the Second City setting just gravy.

Sue, Jordan and Ian, Savannah from Cleveland and Logan, all at one Giordano’s table for deep-dish pizza.

With grandparents who lived in Hammond and a grandpa who was a dentist in Chicago, I’ve been to the Windy City numerous times over the years, though this was my first time in amazing Millennium Park and on Navy Pier, where the four of us men “went a little overboard” on the Ferris wheel to gape at the scenic vista spread before us like a banquet on an ideal, 73-degree day. We strolled past Taste of Chicago, the lakefront food festival that runs through July 3, on our way to Navy Pier.

Big-name concert draws, like the year Elvis Costello played, have been supplanted by lesser-known bands and food and family fare. Chicago Park District changed it up for a more relaxed feel for its first foray with the 10-day event taken over from the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

While Richard Daley’s name remains chiseled into some things, Rahm Emanuel’s appears on summer banners fluttering in the breeze. There seemed to be lots of cops, and it wasn’t my imagination.

I read later in the Tribune that “anxieties about safety downtown” from a series of Near North Side beatings and robberies led city officials to make that move.

It was hard to look at the idyllic scenes we saw and equate them to Taste events ending with street violence erupting.

The most violence we saw was heavy foot traffic — pedestrians, bicyclists and runners — jostling for position on clogged paths.

So, the festival launched in 1980 has returned to its roots, away from large-scale entertainment events in favor of family-oriented activities. Entertainment acts are being merged from four smaller city festivals, though to my wandering eye, it seemed like the buskers on corners and in the subway had it covered, from drumming on plastic buckets to saxophone and all manner of guitars.

Millennium Park, seven years old in July, is the most amazing urban terrain I’ve ever encountered, though I’m not as crazy for the “cocoa bean” as my wife.

Cloud Gate is its actual name.

It struck me that every resident of Dowagiac could be seated on the Great Lawn with room to spare. Planning began the year Logan was born. At $475 million, it’s Chicago’s most important project since the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The centerpiece is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Hyatt Hotel family), a Frank Gehry bandshell where Tori Amos performed the first rock concert on Aug. 31, 2005.

Sitting atop the train station, Millennium Park is considered the world’s largest rooftop garden. From the walkway to the Art Institute, you can see Lake Michigan down the street. It’s in the Loop and encompasses some old Illinois Central railyards. It covers 24.5 acres of northwest Grant Park, which sprawls a whopping 319 acres.

I saw a couple of women wearing Michael Jackson T-shirts in Millennium Park. It was a bit bizarre being in his boyhood hometown, Gary, Ind., on the anniversary, although we didn’t join fans standing vigil.

A group led by the singer’s dad, Joe, hasn’t abandoned hope of delivering a promised $300 million tourist attraction to the struggling steel town, moving the 1,000-square-foot Jackson home to south of I-80-94 to become part of a complex with a museum, performing arts center and, perhaps, a casino. Gary’s decline glide has been going on pretty much since the Jackson Five exploded on the charts with “I’ll Be There” in 1969.

At Navy Pier at lunchtime I bought an American sub at Carnelli’s Deli. It reminded me of the sandwich I used to order at Scotty’s — though not quite as good. I had no idea Navy Pier was so much like Disney World.

Even the street theater reminded me of my honeymoon in Orlando because there were a half dozen pirates and wenches sword fighting and dancing.

Buccaneer costumes give whole new meaning to “Shake Your Booty.” From the train window I glimpsed Soldier Field, where U2 performs July 5.

We spent about an hour on Armitage at Cat and Mouse, a game grotto.

Seeing so many board games made me pause and wonder whatever became of former city manager Dale Martin.

I don’t care about tennis, but I like the idea of populist — not snobby — Wimbledon keeping corporate cash at bay: “So much of Wimbledon’s real appeal stems not from what you see, but from what you don’t see,” L. Jon Wertheim writes in Sports Illustrated June 27. “There are no corporate logos splayed on the playing surface. There are zero courtside billboards or rotating signs. No luxury suites with flat screens, stocked bars and carving boards to make the actual sporting event feel like so much background hum. During breaks in the action, note that there is no music, no sponsored dot races on the scoreboard, no unnaturally peppy cheerleaders or mascots air-cannoning T-shirts provided by still another sponsor.” SI figures the tournament recorded a $50 million “surplus” last year. The moral: “You can make money from selling your soul. But there’s also value in hanging on to it.”

Did you know? Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, MVP of the NHL playoffs, is from Michigan.

He attended Davison High School in Flint, then majored in English at Vermont. He wanted to be a net minder since watching Jim Craig lead Team USA to its Miracle on Ice win over the Soviet Union enroute to Olympic gold. In 1980. When he was 5!

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