I begin today’s venture by assuming that many of you are already familiar with the public aspect of my working life, being the original host of Wild Chicago on WTTW, Channel 11, the major PBS station in Chicago. You know me as the high energy, semi-frantic urban adventurer gallivanting about the city and suburbs in my signature safari suit and pith helmet, bringing to your TV screen amazing and surprising people, places and things you had had no knowledge of previous to watching. I was your tour guide to a place I called “Wild Chicago,” off the beaten track, away from the press releases churned out by PR firms, away from the already tried and true establishments of the Loop, Lincoln Park and Gold Coast, off Michigan Avenue, way off Michigan Avenue, and into the “natural habitats” where most Chicagoans live and work.
Through me and my crew, you visited The Institute of Lie Detection, The Pink Palace Fantasy Suites, and Elmo’s Tombstones – Made While You Wait. I introduced you to a man who gives tours under the bridges of Chicago. Through me you’ve met a woman named Samantha who trains rats to answer the telephone, and a South Side Guy named Vlad with very sharp teeth and an appetite for blood. One guy even sat on a pound of dynamite in a South Side forest preserve, absorbed the explosion, then staggered to meet me amidst the smoke and debris for his interview.
But it wasn’t always the sensational I wanted you to see. In fact, I would sometimes get annoyed when some of you would say things like, “What a bunch of weirdos on your show!” Or “How’d you keep a straight face listening to that nut go on and on with that one-thousand-page poem that made absolutely no sense?” For you, I suppose, watching the show was like going to a freak show.
Or maybe, just maybe, you saw something else going on there. Maybe you noticed something surprising in my interactions with my guests, however unconventional they were. You saw that I actually seemed to like these folks.
Remember performance artist Brendan DeVallance, with the half mustache, who duct-taped a chainsaw to his head and ranted about Oprah being too pudgy, while his two bald, stick thin assistants in the black shades and hot pants gestured in his direction as if they were on Wheel of Fortune? I liked that guy. In my mind he had courage to do stuff like that. Then I learned that the young woman skirting about the scene, avoiding the camera, was his wife. This guy was married! And when I asked Mrs. DeVallance what she thought of her husband’s act, what wacky, weird, oddball thing did she say?
‘I get scared whenever he puts on the chainsaw hat.” Goodness. A wife concerned for her hubby’s safety. How normal can you get? Bless ‘em both.
And bless you too, who watched me over the years, not only on Wild Chicago, but on Ben Loves Chicago, Ben Around Town, 190 North and Wild Chicago’s Illinois Road Trip. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me on those adventures. Today I invite you to join me on what I expect to be more great adventures, in this blog. Space does not permit me to lay everything out here for you now, but let me just say this: All these days roaming the wilds of Chicago and environs have ultimately shown me a great big full length mirror, bringing me face to face with…what? I’ll tell you. The Wild Within. Whoa! Very scary. (Thank you, Count Floyd of SCTV.)
So what the heck am I talking about with this Wild Within?
What I mean is I want to take you deeper into the brain what showed you the city in a way you’d never seen it before. For example…
I want to invite you to take in the imagery on display in the big windows of Victoria’s Secret and consider the message being projected into the atmosphere.
I want to encourage you to fully embrace your own brilliance even as you deal with the pain of being a Cub fan. Or a Sox fan. Or a Bears fan. Or a Bulls fan. (Blackhawk fan? Enjoy the ride while you can).
I want to share with you the horrors of being addicted to coke. Not the kind that goes up your nose but the kind that goes down your throat, the sweet, fizzy, fructose corn syrup laden kind.
And I want to make the argument that “dating” is one the worst things you can do for yourself, even if you’re single.
See what I mean? The uncharted wilderness of this brain can still conjure up some pretty outre ideas that just have to come out.
Curious? God, I hope so.
To wind up today’s visit, let me ask you a question: You know that blue, low-down, washed-up, “Is- that-all-there-is?” kind of thinking that can practically swallow you whole, especially in these wildly bleaker-than-bleak Chicago winter days?
Dear friend, consider this salve from my pal, Henry David Thoreau, the guy who wrote Walden: “In wildness is the preservation of all things.”
Maybe these days are here for the expressed purpose of getting us to slow down, reflect, and discover our own life-saving wildness within. I’ll show you mine if you show me you yours. Deal?