General

These three guys give Chicago its character

walking_dude_titleFrom the Saturday, Aug. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Unlike Los Angeles and New York, where the streets teem with famous faces, Chicago doesn’t have celebrities strolling down every block.

But it does have its characters.

Just this past Monday afternoon, while walking across the Wabash Avenue Bridge downtown, I enjoyed the rare treat of happening upon two such Windy City characters standing within just feet of each other.

Nicknamed “The Walking Dude” and “Fashion Man,” this pair – along with Wrigleyville’s omnipresent Ronnie “Woo Woo” – form a triumvirate of eccentric local legends familiar to many Chicagoans. Now, the next time you’re in the city, they can be familiar to you too.

‘The Walking Dude’

WalkingDudeHis name is unknown, and so is his background, his age or his purpose. But “The Walking Dude” – or “The Walking Guy,” as he’s also known – has been silently roaming the streets of the Loop and River North for decades. Once recognizable for his dark flowing locks, thick mustache and ever-present sport coat, “The Walking Guy” has now gone gray – and on Monday was without a jacket. But Chicago’s ambling enigma still walks and walks and walks, same as ever.

In 2006, a brief mockmuentary entitled, “The Walking Dude, A Dudementary,” was posted on YouTube. In 2010, a Facebook page was established in his honor. And around 2011, I actually once heard him speak to a convenient store clerk.

It was as if I’d heard the voice of a Yeti.

‘Fashion Man’

FashionManBorn Vincent P. Falk, he’s been called Vince the Suit Guy, or Vinny the Coat Freak. But most commonly, he’s known as “Fashion Man.”

A retired computer programmer for Cook County, the 64-year-old Falk has been legally blind since birth but has managed to open countless eyes downtown thanks to an endless array of neon-colored outfits.

On most days, Falk dons a different bright suit inside his Marina Towers apartment and – weather permitting – stands on a downtown bridge here he waves and twirls for the passing tour boats below. Looking like a “Liberace of the river” boat operators have dubbed him “Riverace.”

In 2008, an acclaimed documentary – “Vincent: A Life in Color” – was produced about Falk, who’s also known to often pop up at various street-level TV news studios around town. Most commonly, he can be spotted at 10:30 p.m. in all his Technicolor glory during the final scene of the WLS-Ch. 7 news broadcast as he spins about along the State Street sidewalk.

Ronnie ‘Woo Woo’

woowooAnyone who has attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field during the past 40 years or so likely is familiar with Ronald Wickers, better known as Ronnie “Woo Woo.”

Always clad in a full Cubs uniform – and I mean always, even in the dead of winter – with “WOO-WOO” stitched on the back, Wickers has become a legend by yelling “Cubs, woo!” and other “woo” variations since the mid-1960s. Thanks to his polarizing voice, the late Chicago baseball owner and promoter Bill Veeck once said about Wickers, “The best way to appreciate Ronnie is when he’s about 100 feet away and not in your ear.”

Over the years, I’ve spotted “Woo Woo” on the “L,” seated in a Dairy Queen, shaking hands at Cubs Convention, cheering during spring training in Arizona and even down in Champaign for a Chicago Bears game.

These days, the 72-year-old Woo Woo is an almost silent presence at Wrigley, thanks to age, a coronary artery stent and vocal chords worn out from decades of screaming his head off. But he’s still very much a presence – and always a very friendly once, I’ve found.

A documentary, “WooLife,” was once made about Ronnie too, since you apparently can’t be a Chicago legend without one.