I still can not understand why people flock to the Taste of Chicago on July 3rd every year. And every year the crowds seem to get larger. Oh sure I understand that there is a fantastic fireworks display there every year. In fact I used to enjoy it myself for quite a few years when I lived in the city. But maybe it’s as I get older I call in to question people’s sanity when I see the crowds of people heading to the lakefront every July 3rd.
I’ll relate a little story of my own. About 10 years ago a friend and I went to the Taste of Chicago both for the food and for the fireworks. We were hanging out in the area around Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park waiting for the fireworks to start. It seemed like a good area to watch the display. Unlike most of the areas right down by the lakefront there was actually some room to move around. On the 3rd people are generally packed in like sardines in a can, there is absolutely no room to move.
A little while into the fireworks we heard a big roar behind us. I turned around and got a quick glimpse of a mass of people rushing toward us. I didn’t get much more than a quick look because at that point the crowd had reached us and I was jammed into a moving wall of people. I was actually physically picked up off my feet and moved about 30 feet as the people kept stampeding forward trying to get away from whatever it was that had caused the stampede in the first place. I had heard about situations like this. I had just never been in one and never want to be in one again.
After it was all over people’s belongs were scattered all over the place and I saw several very small children who were separated from their families screaming and crying. I can’t say that I felt any better than those kids did. My nerves were jangled (in fact for a few days) and my friend and I got out of there as quickly as we could. Unfortunately for me I was so nervous and walking so quickly that on the way out I stepped on a flattened aluminum can that was sitting in a pool of slick goo that is always on the streets and sidewalks during the Taste. I fell flat on my back to the chorus of laughs coming from some group of drunk fools that witnessed my fall. I didn’t care too much though…I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Turns out that members of two rival gangs decided to mix it up close to the area where my friend and I were standing. Guns and knives were brought out and people started panicking. Apparently the years haven’t changed much. I heard a woman call in to the John Williams Show on WGN radio this morning talking about a similar situation.
According to the story she and her boyfriend chose this past July 3rd to make their first visit to the Taste of Chicago and brought some friends that were in town from Sacramento, CA. She pointed out the crowds, the being packed in so tight you could barely move, the claustrophobia from being in that situation, all of these things being familiar to anyone who has been to this festival on that particular day. She then talked about how some gang-bangers decided to start mixing it up and caused another stampede. She and her companions were caught in a bad situation and she said she never wanted to go there again.
I’m not sure what they can do about it. It isn’t as if you can count people coming in to that area and then just block it off. I certainly will never go there again on July 3rd. It took years for me to go back even on another day but I will refuse to ever go again on a day when it is that packed full of people. It isn’t fun. It most certainly is dangerous. The caller to the radio show suggested that they just cancel it. Fat chance since it’s such a huge money maker.
The best bet is just to avoid it and go during lunch during the week. It certainly is more accessible then. But it still sucks.