Chicago Detours had a field trip this past week with the Chicago Film Tour (got the Groupon). Since film tours do not comprise our repertoire, Detours’ tour guide Nick and I jumped on this, especially since it gives us the rare opportunity to actually be tour-ees rather than tour-ers. On my way to the tour meeting point, which is in front of the Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s, I grabbed an iced chocolate drink with fresh peppermint from Rick Bayless’s Xoco, a good alternative for a morning jolt. Normally I would have groaned at having to go to that amusement park pocket of the city, where just looking at the gaudy Rainforest Cafe’ makes me feel embarrassed for its existence (I give it two more years before that smiling plastic frog crumbles with the wrecking ball). However in this case, I was happy to have a thoughtful look at the massive McDonald’s since I had been recently reading about it in Blair Kamin’s Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.
John Brinkman, the owner of the company, greeted us and I introduced myself as the owner of Chicago Detours. His offered me the option of paying them for their guides if we ever need it, and made no response to my suggestion of cross-promotion. I’m really into collaborative business, and I know it might be a flaw that I’m willing to do favors and donate my services (thanks, Dad, for instilling that anti-hardball gene in me). But I’d much rather do business like this than the old school way. This past spring I went to the Illinois Governors Conference on Tourism, and a speaker mentioned how the new trend is to partner, rather than compete. I had no idea that a communal approach to business was trendy. Isn’t it natural that everyone has so much to benefit out of working together versus holding some sort of muscle-flexing contest, especially when our companies have such distinctive niches? That’s why I feel comfortable writing openly about this – I don’t see my company and his as competitive in any way at all. In fact, I’m promoting them! A few of his guests probably would have been interested in our style of travel, and a few of my guests might be film enthusiasts. Trades are awesome.
So the tour started. I’ll admit I have a real hard time staying quiet during other people’s tours (and I remind myself of this on the rare moments my tour guests talk while I’m speaking). I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all – I just get excited. Or I like to murmur to my friend about other facts, etc.
Tour guide Patrick McDonald gets an “A” for enthusiasm, and this guy knows his stuff. Some cool film history facts I learned:
- The MGM lion came from early film producer William Selig (Chicagoan), who knew these creatures provided guaranteed entertainment on the silver screen. He had an entire zoo in LA.
- The Oscar trophies are manufactured in Chicago by a company called R.S. Owens & Company.
- During the film heyday, 90% of Chicagoans went to the film theaters at least once a week.
- An original White Castle building from 1930 is on Cermak, just West of Michigan Ave. It’s classier with terracotta bricks and smaller crenellations than the current White Castle across the street.
- Oz Park by Depaul has the tin man statue because Chicagoan L. Frank Baum authored Wizard of Oz and also created its first film adaption of 1910.
The nostalgia factor is where this tour stands out. What fun it is to see clips of films you haven’t watched in a decade or more. And everyone gets happy seeing the ultimate embodiment of ’80s cheese with Ferris Bueller getting down with “Twist and Shout,” right? I would have loved to hear a bit about current Chicago film production outside of Hollywood, like fixtures of local film culture like Columbia College, Kartemquin, or Facets, but that’s just my personal interest and certainly not one that appeals to the masses.
Look close in the beginning for a peak at what Block 37 used look like (you’ll see theater lights):
As someone who loves visual stimulation I got a little bored by feeling like I was supposed to be watching a video screen more than engaging with the fantastic visuals of the city passing by. On the other hand, kudos to Chicago Film Tour for keeping a bus tour at a $30 price. Our Jazz, Blues & Beyond tour is about double this, and of course includes lots of extras like a live musician, archival footage, treats, and gifts. The overhead of the bus is torture and obviously something Mr. Brinkman has figured out. Chicago Film Tour offers a 1 hour and 45-minute excursion of relaxed entertainment, and Chicago has such incredible stories to tell, there’s plenty of room for all tour companies, and many more to come.
— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director