The two weeks surrounding Independence Day is the time for two major competing Lake Michigan eat/drink/music extravaganzas. We have our Taste of Chicago, and our chubbier cousins to the north have their Milwaukee Summerfest.
This is my 10th summer living in Chicago and since I grew up just 90 miles away, I’ve been to the Taste a bajillion times. Regardless of your moral fiber or drinking ability, the Taste is a madhouse. Think six thousand degrees, three million sweaty people milling around you, and everyone is covered in barbecue sauce from head to toe.
At 15, a license-less friend of mine took her mom’s Taurus, picked up me and another friend, and the three of us headed to Chicago for stuff on a stick, and a trip up the Sears Tower elevator.
At 19, I was back with two pals and one of their boyfriends. A freak storm (so bad trees were uprooted in Grant Park) cut our Taste visit short and sent us wet and muddy into Miller’s Pub on Wabash. The dirt probably made us look legal as we had no problem getting served there—and consequently way overserved. I remember sitting next to this guy—in his mid-30s—and insisting to him that he looked like a Kennedy. He was dressed in a suit and I remarked at how uncomfortable he must be.
“Why don’t you come back to my hotel room with me so I can change?” He asked. At 19 I was scandalized.
“No way!” I said and sauntered away to sit down next to another stranger and started eating his food. Some time passed while I was visiting with my new friend when I realized I was missing my single pal.
I searched the bar and found her with the Kennedy lookalike, who was now sporting shorts and a polo shirt. She returned to college knowing what the inside of a Palmer House room looked like.
In the mid 90s, we were a bit more mature so we drank our weights in Mai Tais (more ladylike) instead of beer. Yet there was nothing ladylike about us fighting over the last drink tickets and someone ending up with Mai Tai in the eye. And we were filthy from sitting in the trampled grass near Petrillo. Nothing more attractive than a bunch of dirty, drunk girls.
As for Summerfest--if I had an ounce of government cheese for every time I was told to go to Milwaukee instead of the Taste (It’s soooooo clean!!!! The bands are awesome!!!!!!!) , I’d have like a pound of government cheese.
So this weekend I went to the glorious and heavenly Summerfest. On Friday I was talking to a potential vendor about my impending trip when she began to go on and on about this thing. “Oh, it’s so great! I’m so jealous that you’re going! There’s like no bums. No one eating out of the garbage! It’s so clean!”
Clean. There’s a lot of this clean thing you’ll hear in regards to Summerfest. After going I realized by clean, I think many people mean white. See here’s the kicker—they charge $15 to get in, while the Taste is free. $15 dollars is a lot for a family to pay per head to enjoy something like this—it keeps a lot of people away, I’m sure. That’s all this Communist is saying.
Anyway on Saturday, I was expecting a veritable Utopia. But what I found was something like Navy Pier on steroids. Like Coney Island maybe, except I’ve never been to Coney Island so I can't say that conclusively.
Did I have a good time? Of course, with enough beer and my crazy friends, it’s a sure thing regardless of where we go. We had a conversation that was the furthest thing from clean ever. We saw the Go-Go’s up close and personal, and I ate a mighty tasty bratwurst. When I accidentally dropped the cup that contained my sauerkraut, I quickly picked it up.
“I want to leave Wisconsin exactly how I found it.” I said.