Greetings, fellow roadies! Have you got Seasonal Affective Disorder or cabin fever yet? Mother Nature has been jerking us around this winter, at least in Chicagoland – teasing us with unseasonal above-freezing days that melt what little snow we’ve had so far (not enough long-lasting snow cover: very bad for farmers and for your precious perennials), then slapping us upside our parkas with single-digit temps and subzero wind chills and giving us an intermittent reality check (yeah, the super-cold is the way real winter used to be up here; y’all are spoiled these days). Makes you want distraction, preferably with something warm … or at least something that reminds you of warmth. Well, thank heavens Mardi Gras season officially began back on January 7 and Chinese New Year is just around the corner; I don’t know about you, but thinking about great food always makes me feel warmer.
Oh, but there’s an excellent distraction coming up soon, especially for those of you who are automotively minded: the annual Chicago Auto Show is coming back to McCormick Place! And it’s warm and sexy inside!! Now some of you may be asking yourselves: Hey, wait – what does McCormick Place have to do with Route 66? Fret not, there is a legitimate connection: the massive convention center is located at the eastern end of Cermak Road/22nd Street, right where Lake Shore Drive meets the start of Interstate 55. The final alignment of U.S. Route 66 in Illinois during the early 1970s had the eastern terminus set back to Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive, then the route went south to I-55 where the interstate and Route 66 mostly ran together on the same superhighway between Chicago and Joliet for a few years, before Route 66 was finally decommissioned in Illinois during the 1970s. This last iteration of the route took it right past McCormick Place.
So: do we really need more reason than that to come stare at muscle cars, sports cars and high-tech prototypes? Naaaah – like you should even ask.
As in previous years, the 2015 car show is expected to be its usual extravagant display of trendy new automobilia and cars to drool for, plus sensible new models for the family to check out. Any way you slice it, this is a Don’t Miss for anyone who loves cars. More to the point, unlike other major new-car shows across the country, the Chicago show is so well loved and well attended because it’s geared toward consumers rather than the automotive press or the industry itself – i.e., it’s meant to be interesting and fun for People Like You and has the appropriate amenities for window-shopping consumers (and, as you know if you read our recent post about Marshall Field’s Christmas windows, window shopping was born here in Chicago). Wheeeee! Moreover, it’s the oldest auto show of its kind, having started in 1901 at the Chicago Coliseum at 15th and Wabash Avenue; the show celebrated its 100th iteration in 2008 (there were some war years when the show didn’t happen).
This year’s auto show officially runs from Saturday, February 14 through Sunday, February 22, 2015, but there’s a charity event opening the 10-day exhibit on Friday night the 13th: the annual First Look for Charity fundraiser, which raised $2.36 million for local philanthropic causes in 2014. This year’s event will benefit 18 different Chicago-area charities.
You might think opening on Valentine’s Eve would be a bad thing (Valentine’s Day coming in the middle of the show’s run last year caused a significant drop in attendees and money, but that was even more true of some really awful snowstorms on both opening day and the last day). However, the auto show is attracting more women than ever. Surprise! During 2014’s show, 54 percent of attendees were women, according to an outside vendor hired to track attendance demographics (in previous years, the average was about 40 percent). In any case, car dealers realize by now that women have a huge influence on the decisionmaking behind car purchases, so the auto show has been actively trying to attract more women – and, apparently, succeeding. About time, you think?
So maybe taking your sweetie to the car show on Valentine’s Day isn’t such a bad idea – as long as you ask her before ordering the tickets (say, I’ll go if someone wants to treat me – I wanna see those hot Porsches, flashy Ferraris, race cars, and sexy concept cars and prototypes, baby!). BTW, among the hot premieres and race cars this year will be a racing version of the Nissan GT-R production car, i.e., street legal car (which debuted last year at the show), the new Nissan GT-R LM Nismo. Yes! And among the concept cars debuting this year at the show will be the 2016 Mazda Global MX-5 Cup, named after the race sponsored by Mazda.
Show hours will also be longer this year, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except for closing day when the show shuts down at 8 p.m. Admission will be the same as last year: $12 for adults, $6 for seniors and children age 7 to 12, free for children aged 6 and under. Parking, of course, will cost you extra, as will anything you buy to eat over there (expect it to be overpriced; auto shows everywhere do that). Do think twice, however, about bringing infants or toddlers who need to nap periodically, unless you absolutely can’t get a babysitter at home: squalling kids do not a fun auto show make. Older kids (tweens and teens), however, might very well enjoy the show, especially if the family is looking around for a new car this year.
The car show, of course, is a great opportunity to see the new models and sit in them, check out the legroom, headroom, dashboards and trunk space, etc., without pushy salespeople hovering over your shoulder. Just be prepared for the fact that the Y-chromosome members of the family may be more interested in Things That Go Really Fast than in highly safe models that include integral infant seats in back, get great mileage per gallon, and so on. Me? I like fast and safe. And red! Or black. I could go with black, depending on the car. Or silver, with discreet gold trim … (sigh). And manual transmission, and high performance that doesn’t sacrifice great mileage … but I digress.
Some people (isolated critics) have griped in years past about the fact that the Chicago Auto Show occurs during our lousiest season of the year and during the most inclement month, but attendees don’t seem to mind once they get there. Many consider it a blessing: it sure breaks up the winter doldrums and gives you reasons to look forward to spring. Moreover, the sponsors – the various dealerships in the area, via the Chicago Automobile Trade Association – profit well during the months following the car show. For example: new car sales in Chicagoland for March 2014 (immediately following the auto show, in other words) were up 22.6 percent over the previous year, whereas the national average for the same period was only 14 percent (any regional gap narrows or is eliminated during other seasons). That means local dealers here sell more new cars in the spring because of the auto show than do other dealers elsewhere in the country during the same period, because they’re not lucky enough to have a similar auto show of their own during the winter. Ha!
2015 Route 66 car shows in Illinois
Meanwhile, you can mark your calendars already for this year’s big classic car shows on Route 66 in Illinois. First up are the car shows associated with the Red Carpet Corridor on May 2–3; the corridor runs from Joliet to Towanda. Downstate in late spring, the very first annual Blue Carpet Corridor Festival will run June 13–14 between Chatham and Collinsville; check their website for details on car-related events. The longstanding Berwyn Route 66 Car Show is traditionally held on the first Saturday after Labor Day in September and this year will be on September 5th; like last year, there’ll be a meet-and-greet party the night before. Closing out the summer car-show season will be the annual Mother Road Festival in Springfield, always held on the last weekend of September; this year, that’s September 25–27.
Tootsie Roll mogul dies
Since we’ve been discussing classic Chicago food and beverages lately (here, here and here), we thought we should mention some news we heard two weeks ago on the radio: the elderly Melvin Gordon of Tootsie Roll Industries died at age 95 after 53 years of running the company. His widow Ellen Gordon, COO, will take over as chairman and CEO of the firm and keep management in the family (if the name seems familiar, it should be: their daughter Karen Gordon Mills was, until two years ago, head of the Small Business Administration for five years with the Obama Administration). That news brought a long moment of reflection. Tootsie Rolls aren’t commonly thought of as Chicago-specific treats – they have too much national recognition; what would Halloween trick-or-treating be without them? Still, Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops were born in Chicago and have been made here for decades in a factory that’s still there at 74th Street and Cicero Avenue in the Scottsdale neighborhood, on the far southwest edge of the city near the Ford City shopping mall.
Tootsie Rolls bring back sweet memories for lots of folks. I myself was partial to the full-sized 5-inch version in college for a quick, sugar-loaded energy infusion between classes, on mornings after long, sleep-deprived nights of hitting the books (yes, kiddies, that was back in the day before Red Bull and Starbucks, when awful coffee in the dorm cafeteria was your only alternative and there was no takeout there, not that you’d have wanted it – yuck). An offer of a Tootsie Roll, on the other hand, usually made people smile. How could these tasty, cocoa-flavored chewies not be popular? They’ve been around since 1896 for a reason! And to prove it, here’s a sweet statistic: the factory makes 64 million Tootsie Rolls a day. That’s the little ones, of course.
But why mention Tootsie Roll if the factory’s nowhere near Route 66 in Chicago, you ask? For one thing, Tootsie Rolls are on the list of famous things we eat here that you might not have known are also made here. They’re synonymous with Chicago, like Garrett’s Popcorn or Dove Bars. Second, 74th and Cicero may not be close enough to Route 66 for some folks’ taste, but hey, neither is Navy Pier (it’s about two miles away from the route) – and there are plenty of Route 66 travelers who insist on seeing that when they start in Chicago. At the expense of seeing other things that are on the route and are of greater historical importance but may not be as famous as Navy Pier (or, on the bright side, such expensive tourist traps, either). That’s an individual choice by people who may not return to Chicago any time soon and want to see the Big Sights while they’re here; sure, we get that. But we’re here to tell you about all those things that are on the route that you overlooked (or never knew about) and give you reasons to check out those as well.
Just saying: if you’re starting at the eastern terminus, you may as well see what else is on the route that’s relevant – don’t be so quick to get out of town, or you’ll miss a lot. This way, you have more choices. We like that, and you probably will, too. And that’s it for today’s update. See you soon on the route!
Your own Route 66 news gal/speed demon,