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Friday, September 7, 2018

Will Elon Musk's bullet train to O'Hare go up in smoke?

Posted By on 09.07.18 at 06:54 PM

Elon Musk says his Boring Company is a "hobby company" that started as a joke.
  • Elon Musk says his Boring Company is a "hobby company" that started as a joke.

Is Elon Musk's electric rollerskate tunnel to O'Hare just an elaborate prank on Chicago?

The Tesla and Space X CEO's bizarre, pot smoke-filled performance on Joe Rogan's podcast Thursday night makes it an open question. Near the beginning of the rambling two-and-a-half hour conversation on The Joe Rogan Experience — and before the two shared a joint — Musk described The Boring Company as a "hobby company" that started as a joke.

"And we decided to make it real, and dig a tunnel under L.A.," he said. "And then other people asked us to build tunnels so we said yes in a few cases."

Those "other people" includes the city of Chicago, which in June gave the Boring Company the green light to build a high-speed electric pod-based underground mass transit system in Chicago to O'Hare. Since the announcement, details of the Boring Company's deal with the city of Chicago have remained maddeningly scarce. The Better Government Association sued the city last month for failing to provide public documents relating to the project. 
Musk bragged that the whole project would cost less than a $1 billion and be operational within three years. Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised it as "the fast lane to the city's future" and pooh-poohed critics who said the numbers for the "Tesla-in-a-tunnel" didn't seem to add up.

"Look, there were doubters about putting a man on the moon," Emanuel told CBS News in June while on a mini-media tour with Musk. Even after he announced he wouldn't run for re-election earlier this week, the mayor said he still wants to move forward with the plan.

But one of those doubters now appears to be Musk himself. He casually admitted that his plan to build a high-tech underground transportation network in Los Angeles—one that he described as "like an underground snake"—may not work.

"I'm not asserting that it's going to be successful," Musk told Rogan. " ... I've lived in L.A. for 16 years. And the traffic has always been terrible. I don't see any other ideas for improving the traffic. So in desperation, we're going to dig a tunnel. And maybe that tunnel will be successful, and maybe it won't. I'm not trying to convince you it's going to work."

Rogan seemed dumbfounded by the statement. "This is a project you've started though, right?" he asked.

"We've dug about a mile. It's quite long," Musk said matter-of-factly. "It would take a long time to walk it."

This far, the Boring Company's biggest accomplishment—beyond digging a mile-long hole in the ground in Los Angeles—is convincing the public to buy 50,000 baseball caps bearing the company's logo and 20,000 devices dubbed "not-a-flamethrowers." The flamethrowers, Musk says, were based on a gag from Mel Brooks's Star Wars spoof.

"In Spaceballs the Movie, (the Yoda parody character) Yogurt goes through the merchandising section, and they have a flamethrower in the merchandising section...the kids love that one," Musk said. "And it's like, 'We should do a flamethrower.'"

"Does anyone tell you no?" Rogan wondered. Isn't selling a $500 flamethrower online a dumb idea?

"Yeah, it's a terrible idea. Terrible, you shouldn't buy one. I said don't buy this flamethrower. Don't buy it. Still, people bought it," Musk replied. "To be totally frank it's just a roofing torch with an air-rifle cover. It's not a real flamethrower. We were very clear, this is not actually a flamethrower."

In other words, Musk duped a bunch of suckers into buying his fake flamethrowers.

Did he pull off the same feat with several municipalities buying into his unproven underground "electric skates" transit systems? Time will tell.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

‘Guaclandia’ made about as much sense as a guacamole-themed Instagram trap can make

Posted By on 08.21.18 at 06:16 AM

  • Courtesy Wholly Guacamole

Last Friday I stopped by the Evanston Art & Big Fork Festival to check out Guaclandia, a small portion of the festival being spun as a "fun and immersive avocado experience."

That was a bit of an oversell. The entirety of Guaclandia was a school bus emblazoned with letters advertising Wholly Guacamole—a company specializing in flavored guacamole dips—and an avocado-green ball pit (see what they did there) that spilled out the back. The themes and entertainment felt lifted straight from a kindergartener's birthday party, and I imagine the pit was about as sanitary.

It took about two minutes to walk through Guaclandia. Featured was a Warhol-style wall of avocado illustrations, a claw-machine arcade game with small avocado-themed prizes, and a nearly blank wall on which guests were prompted to write in chalk what they liked about avocados.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Black Caucus members eject protesters from fund-raiser, call themselves ‘gangsters’

Posted By on 07.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser. - @NOCOPACADEMY
  • @NoCopAcademy
  • Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser.

"Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don’t really care
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Always backs the mayor
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don't vote with us
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!"

So chanted a cluster of young people gathered outside the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser at a Loop cocktail lounge Wednesday evening. Just an hour before, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released body camera footage of the June 6 police shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Granton Jr. Inside the lounge, more activists from Black Lives Matter, BYP100, and other groups confronted black City Council members about their support of the Chicago Police Department. Ardamis Sims of GoodKidsMadCity and Assata's Daughters interrupted remarks by 34th Ward alderman Carrie Austin shouting "No cop academy! No cop academy!" in protest of the city's plan to build a $95 million, state of the art police training facility on the west side.

"Shut up," Austin bellowed in response. The fund-raiser attendees erupted in cheers of approval. "Goodbye!," she shouted as Sims was pushed out of the lounge by security. "We're here to have a good time; if you want to protest take it outside."

"They must not know we got gangsters in here," 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran chimed in, egging on the crowd. Last year Cochran—a retired police officer who's been indicted on fraud, bribery, and extortion charges—announced he wouldn't be running for reelection.

"If anybody else wanna protest you better take it outside," Austin said, laughing. "'Cause I guarantee you ain't seen no gangsters like this city's aldermen."

All of this was caught on video by other protesters inside the lounge. Watching in the crowd outside were also the sisters of Granton Jr.

Joanna Varnado, Granton Jr's 31-year-old sister, said she'd come to the protest that night in the hopes of hearing a response from aldermen about the killing of her brother. Since the incident, she said her family hadn't heard from any elected officials. "I just wanted some answers," she said. "Everybody knows my brother was murdered, and I wanna know how [the aldermen] feel."

Her impression, she said, was that "they didn't care. Some of them were drunk. They was in there partying, eating, dancing, laughing." It stung especially hard, she said, because these were black officials. "These are our people. When you see stuff like that it's like, Is there gonna be justice?"

Varnado said she appreciated the support of the youth protesting the event. "They showed us love and respect for my brother—it felt good," she said.

Sims, a 21-year-old from Washington Park, said he wanted to interrupt the gathering of aldermen because "they were talking about stuff that didn't relate to us, our people, our community." Sims remained at the protest, chanting, and helping with the die-in outside after being ejected. Watching the video of Austin and Cochran's comments later, he said he was hurt. For the aldermen to call themselves gangsters seemed particularly crude to him given the violence in the city. He says it was a reminder that young people need to be registered to vote and to be self-reliant: "Use your head, think, 'cause we all we got."

Austin didn't return calls for comment. Cochran, reached at his ward office Thursday, laughed when asked what he meant when he referred to the aldermen as "gangsters."

"It was a joke," he explained.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

'Spinning Singles' search for love atop a Ferris wheel—in 12 minutes or less

Posted By on 03.09.18 at 04:00 AM

Navy Pier's Centennial Wheel decked out for Spinning Singles
  • Navy Pier's Centennial Wheel decked out for Spinning Singles
The TV news reporter kept asking everyone the same stupid question: “So, what are you doing here?”

A man dressed in a casual blazer and jeans whose name was probably, but not certainly, Doug (I was going by the handwritten name tag pinned to his lapel) smirked into a camera, leaned into a microphone, and said: "I'm on a Ferris wheel in the world's greatest city. What could go wrong?"

Doug's answer was meaningless but perfectly reasonable. The intention of Navy Pier's second annual "Spinning Singles" speed dating event last month was more clear than Lake Michigan on a sunny summer day. All of us had journeyed here to mingle with attractive people while soaring on an amusement park ride, then drinking on a yacht docked in the lake. What more did you need to know, TV lady?

This wasn't one of those anti-singles parties that defiantly celebrate their resistance to Valentine's Day's Dracula-like suck on America's attention. This was the opposite. This was V-Day on steroids, primed to shock and awe its participants into romance. The evidence was everywhere: Rose-colored tissue paper littered the place. Servers freely handed out glasses of red wine. And my god, the Ferris wheel! The pink lights affixed to the  Centennial Wheel (including a LED-lit cartoon heart the size of a SUV on the central hub) shone so brightly that everything around it looked dipped in Pepto-Bismol.

Crass, perhaps, but so is our culture's obsession with performative courtship, the kind in which two parties bludgeon each other with cloying romantic gestures like, well, riding a 200-foot-tall pink-hued ode to true love. That thought didn't occur to me until later, because when you're busy chatting up a bunch of randoms on a Ferris wheel in hopes of finding the One, it impairs everything beyond a conversation-heart level of thinking. Or discussion, for that matter.

Spinning Singles was a speed-dating mixer that could have easily been advertised as the world's most dizzying (and pink) group job interview. Here's how it worked: The 90 participants—45 women, 45 men—were assigned a number, then packed six at a time into each of the wheel's 41 gondolas to engage in fun and flirty conversations while ascending into the night sky. Meet someone that piqued your interest and you were encouraged to slip him or her a contact card from a small deck distributed during an earlier orientation session. Each had the words "Let's Connect!" printed on the front along with a space to write in your name and contact information.

Exchanging business cards may not be the most sentimental of gestures, but brutal efficiency is essential when you've got 12 minutes before being shuttled off into the next car. Every time the wheel rotated the full 360 degrees, we'd part ways with our bite-size group dates, move to the next car, rinse, and repeat. It wasn't just the Ferris wheel that constantly spun, in other words, it was also a sense of social equilibrium. Wait, who is this I'm looking at again?

Each speed date lasted a full revolution of the Ferris wheel (about 12 minutes)
  • Each speed date lasted a full revolution of the Ferris wheel (about 12 minutes)
I was stuck staring at the same pair of guys for much of the night. The rules called for the "spinning singles" to swap gondolas after each successive spin in order to meet with three new members of the opposite sex, but oddly enough, we remained with our same-sex "competition" (let's face it, this event was heteronormative AF) for the entire time. I got to know my dude datemates pretty well over the course of the night as a result. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. John and Michael, a pair of preppyish roommates in their early 20s were charming wingmen (wheelmen?), and telegenic enough that I began to suspect that Spinning Singles was simply serving as a warm-up for a reality-TV dating show they'd appear on in the future.

It helped matters that we were surprisingly comfortable riding a Ferris wheel on a harsh Chicago winter night. When the Dutch-designed Centennial Wheel was installed in May 2016 as part of the pier's larger renovation project, most of the attention focused on its size—at 196 feet, it was nearly 50 foot taller than its predecessor. I'd argue that the addition of the bigger, flashier navy-blue-colored gondolas was the more significant change. Each car's climate-controlled interior was outfitted with padded seats, TV screens, and speakers, and it made the experience of the ride feel more like being in the back of a limousine, except that it traveled vertically instead of horizontally.

Had we been served booze (it didn't flow freely until later on the boat) or provided with the right soundtrack, we might have also believed we were in a tiny gyrating VIP room at a nightclub. Instead we talked to strangers in sober silence—a stark reminder that modern urban dating is bizarre and alienating.

During my first "speed date" experience, we interacted almost solely through icebreakers. It felt surprisingly old-fashioned, like a secular church social. Three men were sequestered on one side of the gondola and three women on the other side, and they had polite conversations like this:
"So what do you do?"

"I'm a first-grade teacher. Live in the west suburbs."

"Cool, I'm in merchandising. I live in the Loop."

"Oh? I'm in Old Town, work in logistics. You know—supply chain."

This wasn't exactly patter to make your heart go flutter (or beat at all for that matter). I felt the need to shake things up on my second go-around on the big wheel of love.

"Sorry, Devon, I couldn't hear you," I said to the woman lounging on the padded blue seats on the opposite side of the gondola. "Did you say you were a meth dealer?"

"No, event planner!" she replied with a laugh.

"Actually, I know how to make meth," said her seatmate, a woman whose name tag pinned to her black top identified her as Elliott. Was she serious? Devon and Elliott were both in their late 20s, tallish and blonde, with easy smiles and rat-a-tat-tat banter. They struck me at first as sisters or an improv comedy duo, but they told me later they were just close friends. Regardless, they seemed ready to break out of this stiff format. 

The Spinning Singles orientation inside the Navy Pier Crystal Gardens
  • The Spinning Singles orientation inside the Navy Pier Crystal Gardens

"So, what about you?" John asked the shy college-aged woman sitting side-by-side with Devon and Elliott. "Who are you, and how did you find about this?"

"I'm Brandi," she said. I can't recall what she said next because, well, have you ever tried to remember how a dozen people you met at a party answered the same innocuous question?

That's why John was a goddamn hero. His everyman charisma and Good Will Hunting-era Matt Damon looks convinced me he'd one day survive a crash on the surface of Mars by becoming a makeshift potato farmer. On this night, John bravely guided the nervous crew of a more modest kind of vessel by prompting new questions and intervening almost every time there was a hint of an awkward pause in the conversation.

Still, Brandi only spoke a handful of words. The conversation largely ping-ponged between the two pairs of friends and me, our breath fogging up the safety glass keeping the cold air out. I learned that Elliott was a scientist who wasn't bullshitting about knowing how to make homemade meth, though she warned that she'd never put that knowledge into practice.

At some point, I let it slip that I was recently single after a breakup. "Dude, are you like OK to be here?" Elliott asked me. We all laughed. We'd earned a small achievement as a group: we'd created a modicum of intimacy in 12 minutes together.

"It was a fun group to talk to," John admitted as we strolled to the yacht from the Ferris wheel. "Everyone puts up a front. Sometimes it felt like we were on a job interview where you're thinking a lot about what you're going to say. But that second group was so relaxed—it was cool."

John also confessed two additional facts:

  • His brave facilitating skills were alcohol assisted. He and his roommates had slurped down three drinks beforehand to temper their nervousness.
  • He had a thing for Brandi.

"My end goal is to get her number by the end of the night," he said. 

That seemed eminently achievable after we arrived at the landlocked boat docked to the pier. The yacht promised everything that the Ferris wheel lacked: alcohol, thumping bass lines, dim lighting. These elements exist in almost every place singles mingle for a reason: our senses need to be tricked into believing that looking for love by making small talk with a room of random strangers is a perfectly natural thing to do.

For an hour and a half, we the singles-who-no-longer-spun sipped boozy drinks, nodded our heads to the DJ's dancey tunes, and chatted in the hull of the ship. Now all 90 of us were trudging the length of the pier through the snow to our separate ways. Elliott, Devon, and I were laughing at the ridiculous antics we'd witnessed. The drunk woman who kept chain-eating shrimp! The guy who faked a southern accent to test-market it with the ladies! (Spoiler alert: it did not go well.) And what was up with that dude who kept approaching small bands of women with the line "Hey! Where are we all going after this?" (That did not go well, either.)

Before they jumped into a cab, Elliott handed me her "Let's Connect" card—her number scrawled on it in blue ink. "That was hilarious. Let's hang out again sometime," she said.

Moments later, while biking on Grand Avenue, I caught up to John and Michael and asked John what had happened to his quest to ask Brandi out.

"She said yes," he said with that big, dumb Matt Damon grin. "We're going out next week."

At the beginning of this blustery night, I couldn't help but look up at the Ferris wheel and see a depressing supersize metaphor: Love comes with a steep admission fee, spins you in the air, and then ends abruptly.

But that cynical thought had melted down, replaced with a pearl of wisdom I'd heard earlier from possibly some great philosopher: "I'm on a Ferris wheel in the world's greatest city, what could go wrong?"

What was his name again?

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Friday, September 8, 2017

A comedian's goodbye-to-Chicago rant goes viral for all the wrong reasons

Posted By on 09.08.17 at 05:20 PM

Eric Barry's last Chicago selfie - HUFFINGTON POST
  • Huffington Post
  • Eric Barry's last Chicago selfie
These are trying times: Trump is president, hurricanes batter our coasts, Illinois is dead broke, and we're staring down the barrel of a cold, bitter winter.

That's why I want to personally thank self-proclaimed "writer-comedian-podcaster" Eric Barry for providing us all with a small miracle. His screed about leaving Chicago for New York City, published this week on HuffPost, was so breathtakingly bad that it managed to go viral locally and bring together Chicagoans of all stripes to sing in one loud, unified voice: "Wow, what a pile of shit."

Discussion of the post was everywhere on social media on Thursday and Friday. "Reading all of Chicago Twitter's continued dragging of that HuffPo dude was the greatest way to start my Friday. Bless u all," read one tweet. "Two sources say Jared and Ivanka urged the HuffPo 'I hate Chicago' guy not to publish the article," said another. The social media blowback was hard enough that as of Friday afternoon, Barry has apparently deleted his Twitter account.

I'm not typically a fan of the hate-read or hate-watch. They're a kind of currency on social media used to fuel the constant cycle of outrage that defines much of online discourse. But "Goodbye Chicago: What It's Like to Live in a City You Tried to But Couldn't Love" is a special case. It's the Moby-Dick of cluelessly self-indulgent blog posts.

Perhaps more accurately, it's a volume in A Series of Unfortunate Events of posts, because this is actually the second time Barry has roasted a city on his way out. He gave San Francisco a similar treatment in 2014; decrying it as a haven of clueless techies who ruined local culture—which by Barry's definition equals lots of drug-filled warehouse parties and people cool enough to understand what the term polyamory means. He noted that he was ready to flee the City by the Bay for the greener lakeside pastures of Chicago—though he's also so worried he'd be too edgy for us ("Will I be too 'gay'? Will sex-positivity there just [be] perceived as moral depravity?" he wonders) that he scrubs off his multicolored nail polish.

Three and a half years later, Barry's sequel begins by blaming Chicago for the 40 pounds of weight he's gained since moving from San Francisco ("It's one of many ways my body has felt ravaged by this city," he writes), for the biking accidents he's suffered, and for his inability to make friends or get laid by random women he hits on at bars.
With regard to the latter, he tells an anecdote that begins by observing that he's impressed that a Chicago bar carries a "quirky indie-leaning Bay Area" beer—that'd be Lagunitas, which in fact opened a brewery and tap room in Chicago the same year Barry moved here—but complains that it's $3 more expensive than in the typical San Francisco bar. Then he saunters over to a table of four women who are presumably not there to listen to a random stranger ramble about his move from San Francisco. That's why one of the foursome finally interrupts the chat to say, "Just so you know: we're all taken." It's a clear cue: dude, we're not interested. But Barry does not take this casual rejection well. He lashes out at the group while somehow blaming it on Chicago's—get this—"solidified gender dynamics":

What did that even mean? We had hardly been talking for 60 seconds, and suddenly our relationship status had become central to my attempt to meet people. It felt like in that instant I was being told that solidified gender dynamics were alive and well in Chicago, and I wondered if Steve Harvey and Men Are From Mars were still things here.

I could’ve walked away. I would indeed later learn that meeting people in bars was not done the same way it was back home. But I like using my words.

“Just so you know, I don’t want to fuck ANY OF YOU,” I snapped back.

I downed my beer and left my glass on their table. Truth is, I would’ve fucked all of them. But that wasn’t the point.

He doesn't stop there, either, going on to discuss Chicago's public transportation, food (it's either too pricey or "lacks nuance"), and family-friendliness.

Buying a home and getting married are much more in the sights of Chicagoans. And that makes dating hard. It seems like Chicago is a city of serial monogamy, which means any culture centered around being single can feel lacking.
By the end of what's basically a 1,500-plus-word diary entry, you get the sense that Barry (whose Full Disclosure was named Best Sex-Positive Podcast in the Reader's 2015 Best of Chicago issue) sees cities not as living, breathing communities to invest in, but as a consumer good—an adult playground meant to revolve around him and host his nonstop eating, drinking, and fucking escapades. That's why the essay has rightly earned so much ire from readers—well, beyond the fact that he manages to come off as spectacularly elitist, entitled, creepy, and wrong about Chicago in one fell swoop.

I can't wait until 2020, when we'll get to read his newest HuffPost piece: "Goodbye, New York City, I Guess I'll Try Portland, Maine?"


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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump Tower now looks like a middle finger to Chicago

Posted By on 11.09.16 at 04:32 PM

Trump Tower—not so mockable anymore - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Trump Tower—not so mockable anymore

In the run-up to Election Day, Donald Trump's eponymous tower on Wabash Avenue had been widely viewed as a 98-story joke. Thousands of people had RSVP'd on Facebook for a "Point and Laugh at Trump Tower" event scheduled for the evening following the election, the presumption being that he would lose to Hillary Clinton. On the sidewalk along Wacker Drive directly across the river from the skyscraper, someone had set up a makeshift photo studio—a framing device that passersby could use to complete what had become the selfie du jour: a middle finger directed at Trump's obnoxiously monogrammed building. Just last week the City Council voted to remove an honorary "Trump Plaza" sign outside the tower as a response to comments he made about violence in Chicago. The move came after a second ceremonial Trump street sign in the shadow of the building had been stolen.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cook County has become an 80s movie villain in its attempt to tax small music venues to death

Posted By on 08.25.16 at 10:13 AM

The town preacher in the movie Footloose tried to ban rock music and dancing—sound familiar? - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • The town preacher in the movie Footloose tried to ban rock music and dancing—sound familiar?

Pop quiz: Who uttered the following line—a Cook County official commenting on the legalities of a tax on small music venues booking rock, rap, and DJ shows, or Reverend Shaw from Footloose preaching about a ban on loud music and dancing? 

"Even if this was not a law—which it is, I'm afraid—I would have a lot of difficulty endorsing an enterprise which is as fraught with genuine peril as I believe this one to be."

You had to think about it for a second, didn't you?

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Bring it on ohm: Getting the Led out at a Zeppelin-themed yoga class

Posted By on 05.16.16 at 03:00 PM

Led Zeppelin in 1976, with Robert Plant in the middle of a very nonyoga pose - SUN-TIMES MEDIA ARCHIVE
  • Sun-Times Media Archive
  • Led Zeppelin in 1976, with Robert Plant in the middle of a very nonyoga pose

When there's background music at a yoga class in Chicago, it's usually a Ravi Shankar raga, hotel-lobby-style acid jazz, or New Age crap from Windham Hill Records. But Sara Strother, an instructor at Bucktown yoga studio Yogaview, does things a little differently. For "Living Loving Yoga," a class that was held on Thursday, May 5, she set her instruction to the music of Led Zeppelin, giving students an opportunity to rock out while doing asanas (poses and stretches).

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fans celebrated Star Wars Day with a faux lightsaber battle in the South Loop

Posted By on 05.05.16 at 03:37 PM

Is that you, Anakin? - CHRIS RIHA
  • Chris Riha
  • Is that you, Anakin?

Rest assured, Wednesday's lightsaber battle wasn't between Friends of the Park and the Chicago city council over the fate of the Lucas Museum.

Dozens of costumed fans of the space opera gathered in the South Loop on to celebrate Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) with a "Lightsaber Freeze Mob." Members of the Chicago Jedi teamed up with EDGE Theater—whose recent adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth (MacSith) was set in the Star Wars universe—for a series of posed battles between good and evil.

Reader photo intern Chris Riha was there to document the faux wars. 

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Monday, April 4, 2016

One nation under pizza: Andrew W.K. brings the political 'Party' to the Pizza Summit

Posted By on 04.04.16 at 05:07 PM

Andrew W.K. delivers a pizza-focused keynote address at the Pizza Summit. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Andrew W.K. delivers a pizza-focused keynote address at the Pizza Summit.

Like bacon and cats, pizza has been elevated by the Internet into a symbol that transcends its own physical properties. In cyberspace, pizza isn't just a food item but an ideology—online shorthand for instant gratification and a party-hearty attitude.

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