A flood of fun events hit Chicago in May

bikethedriveFrom the Saturday, April 30, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

If April showers really do bring May flowers, then after this wet week we should get enough to fill the Chicago Botanical Garden twice over.

Maybe three times.

Now, I can’t actually speak with any certainty on impending flora, but I can confirm that the city will be blooming with street art in May thanks to the Wabash Arts Corridor Big Walls, a new festival from Columbia College. The event, which kicks off on Sunday and runs through May 13, brings 18 artists from around the world (including Chicago) to transform the look and feel the South Loop through huge permanent murals along Wabash Street.

Once completed, the area reportedly will have one of the densest concentrations of public art in the world. To learn more about the festival and its public conference on May 5, visit wabashartscorridor.org/bigwalls.

And to learn more about some of the other great events taking place in Chicago next month, simply read on.

Chicago Improv Festival
May 2-8

There may be cities with more famous comedy clubs (hello, New York and L.A.), but there’s no better improv scene than Chicago. And there’s no better month for improv in town than May when it celebrates the art of “yes, and …” during the Improv Festival at venues across the city.

For more information, visit chicagoimprovfestival.org.

Chicago Beer Classic
May 7

If you’ve ever attended a Chicago Bears game, you may have had a beer at Soldier Field. But have you ever had a beer on Soldier Field?

On May 7, you can when the venerable stadium hosts the Chicago Beer Classic on its turf. This lively event includes two sessions (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3 to 6:30), and as Chicago’s largest beer fest it features a fantastic lineup of brewers, including Bourbonnais’ own Brickstone.

For tickets and more information, visit chicagobeerclassic.com.

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The NFL Draft is running back to Chicago next week

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


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s back.

After spending more than five decades in New York City, the NFL Draft migrated west to Chicago last spring and was such a hit – drawing upwards of 200,000 people to its Draft Town extravaganza across from Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre in the Loop – that the league decided that it had to have a Windy City encore this year.

They’ve now made it even bigger and better than before, and if you’re considering a trip to Chicago to revel in all things NFL during the 2016 Draft this Thursday through Saturday (April 28-30), then here’s the playbook you need.

Where to go

With 4,000 seats, Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Parkway) has a limited capacity (and its tickets are already spoken for anyway). But across the way in adjacent Grant Park, Draft Town is open to the public and has plenty of room for everyone.

Covering 900,0000 square feet – equal to 15 football fields – the footprint for Draft Town isn’t larger than 2015, but the festival’s free slate of family-friendly activities and interactive exhibits is expected to be. This year, the focus shifts farther away from Michigan Avenue towards the lakefront with “Selection Square,” where representatives from all 32 teams will be seated to call in their picks, now encircling Buckingham Fountain.

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Fun facts about taxes (No, really)

SamFrom the Saturday, April 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)


By Dave Wischnowsky

The folks at the Internal Revenue Service may not give us any breaks, but it was nice of them to at least give us an extension this year.

Even if it’s only because the IRS gave itself a holiday.

Most years, of course, Tax Day falls on April 15. But this year, it’s been pushed back until the 18th (that’s today, folks) because the IRS called off work on Friday to observe Emancipation Day.

Generally only recognized in Washington, D.C., Emancipation Day is a legal holiday in honor of Abe Lincoln signing the law that ended slavery.  It usually takes place on April 16, but since that date was a Saturday this year, the IRS instead celebrated it on Friday.

And that’s a double boon for taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts, as it pushes their deadline to April 19 since Monday is Patriots’ Day, a legal holiday observed in those states on the third Monday in April.

Got all that? Taxes sure can be confusing.

But today I thought I’d try to make them entertaining as well with some fun facts and figures about taxes that you may not have known.

A taxing sentence

Perhaps the only thing in Chicago higher than the skyscrapers are the taxes, which are so lofty that even Al Capone couldn’t get around them. The authorities never could bring Capone down on any of his alleged crimes as a gangster, but in 1931 the feds did finally nail him on tax evasion.

That conviction ultimately landed Capone in Alcatraz, where a woman once sent him a cryptic letter along with a check for sixteen octillion dollars ($16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00), signed “Holy Moses.” Prison officials feared the correspondence might be some type of code, and asked the IRS to investigate but it determined the letter and check were nothing more than “the products of a person lacking proper mental balance.”

But I wonder if they still tried to tax it.

Intoxication taxation

At least 23 states have a tax on illegal drugs (usually applied after a bust). But in Tennessee, when you buy an illicit drug, such as marijuana or even moonshine, the law states that you have 48 hours to report it to the Department of Revenue to pay your tax and get a stamp for the substance.

Reportedly, no identification is needed, although I’m guessing that you may be fingerprinted shortly afterward.

Sore losers

Professional athletes who earn an income competing in a particular city or state are subject to something called the “Jock Tax.” In 1991, California became the first state to levy this tax on athletes from Chicago – after the Bulls beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

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The Cubs’ business? It’s back to baseball

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago CubsFrom the Saturday, April 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

A funny thing happened on the way to 2016.

The Chicago Cubs became a baseball team again.

Now, yes, the club technically played that sport at Wrigley Field from 2010 to 2014 – the first five seasons of the Ricketts era, which resulted in a 346-464 record – but during that stretch the Cubs’ business wasn’t really baseball. Or even bad baseball, something it’s always been about.

Rather, the Cubs’ business was, well, business.

During those dark, dull days for Cubdom, the face of the franchise wasn’t any player on the field, any manager in the dugout or even the club’s biggest name Theo Epstein, who as president of baseball operations worked more in the shadows than the spotlight until late 2014 when the club’s checkbook finally cracked open for the blockbuster acquisitions of manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Jon Lester.

Rather, the most prominent face representing the Cubs from 2010-2014 was that of Crane Kenney, the team’s president of business operations. And for fans of baseball, that really wasn’t a great face.

Season after losing season, it seemed as if every Cubs story of note was about Kenney battling the rooftop owners over a deal he had originally brokered, or Kenney wrangling with the city over the Wrigley renovation, or Kenney working to determining what TV networks the Cubs would call home in a given year. It got to the point where it seemed as if everything involving the franchise was about anything but baseball, and that Kenney – not Epstein – was the key power player in the entire organization.

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The best ‘Chicago’ pranks – No foolin’

april-fools_2868232bFrom the Saturday, April 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


When it comes to April, people have been fooling each other for at least six centuries. So don’t be embarrassed if you fell for one on Friday.

Well, you know, unless you should be.

As it turns out, the first recorded association between April 1 and foolishness dates all the way back to 1392 when Geoffrey Chaucer penned The Canterbury Tales. In one story, set “Syn March bigan tritty dayes and two” the vain rooster Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.

Readers interpreted that line to mean “March 32nd,” i.e., April 1. But modern scholars believe there was a copying error from Chaucer’s original manuscripts and that he actually wrote “Syn March was gon,” meaning that the passage originally meant 32 days after March – i.e., May 2.

April Fools!

In honor of the pseudo-holiday just passed (it’s not a public one in any country), I wanted to share four of my favorite Chicago-related pranks over the years. Three of them took place on April 1, while the fourth simply came when time was ripe.

Welcome to Chicago!

On April 1, 1992, airline passengers descending into Los Angeles International Airport were in for a shock if they peered out the window to see an 85-foot-long yellow banner on the ground featuring 20-foot-high red letters that read: “Welcome to Chicago.”

The sign, which was raised above the Hollywood Park race track about three miles from the airport, remained up for two day with track spokesman Brock Sheridan explaining, “It was something we always wanted to do. We thought it would be kind of funny.”

I’m sure it was, until the passengers realized they had to settle for L.A. hot dogs.

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For springtime events in Chicago, April reigns

From the Saturday, March 26, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

BFC_SQUARE_400x400By Dave Wischnowsky


By Illinois standards, this winter was a mild one.

In Chicago, there were only four days below zero and just 17 with even a trace of snow. Over the two previous winters, I’m not sure that the city spent four days above zero or went even 17 hours without a snowfall.

But all that’s in the past. (Until next winter, at least.) And spring has sprung – or will, soon enough. And beginning next week, April will reign in the city with events ranging from Opening Day for the White Sox and Cubs to the NFL Draft to plenty more in between.

Here are a few ways you can enjoy the end of wintertime.

Macy’s Flower Show
Through April 3

March showers bring April flowers? That may not be the way the saying goes, but it does fit in Chicago right now as Macy’s Flower Show continues through April 3.

The free exhibition held inside the iconic retail store at 111 N. State St. (it’s still Marshall Field’s to me) features 2 million flowers and exotic topiaries along with special events.
For more information, visit social.macys.com/flowershow.

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Wisch List on the Air

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 9.00.43 AMWith the hiring of a big-name football coach (good)), the arrests of two more basketball players (bad) and a lot of buzz about the fate of the school’s embattled basketball coach (ugly), it’s been a busy few weeks for the University of Illinois.

And it’s been a busy few weeks for me talking about the University of Illinois.

Recently, I was on the Three4 Podcast out of Indianapolis, then the Tay & Jay Show on ESPN Radio Champaign-Urbana last Friday and, on Sunday night, CLTV SportsFeed in Chicago.

You can listen to any of my segments by clicking the links above.

New AD dazzles in dizzying week for Illini Nation

whitmanFrom the Saturday, March 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

New AD dazzles in dizzying week for Illini  Lovie Smith is the head football coach of not a pro team, but the University of Illinois. The thrifty school has ponied up $21 million for Smith’s six-year contract and committed another whopping $24 million for his assistants, who he’s stealing from NCAA powers and the NFL. And Illini football has gone from irrelevancy to the lips of talking heads nationwide.

Up is down. Down is up. Cats and dogs are living together.

Just a week ago, no one could have imagined that former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would be taking the reins of the Illini football program.Yes, it’s been quite the dizzying week for the long-downtrodden denizens of Illini Nation, with a Twitter follower telling me on Monday, “I feel like I went to bed in Champaign, and I woke up in the SEC.”

With statements like that, it’s clear that this is not your father’s Illinois. No, this week’s turn of events is the sign of something completely different and incredibly exciting for Fighting Illini fans stunned to the see their major-conference school finally acting like a big-time program.

And all of that’s because Josh Whitman is not your father’s Illinois athletic director. Rather, the 37-year-old former Illini football player and Academic All-American is looking like an AD built for the 21st century.

Heck, maybe even the 22nd one.

Whitman admittedly wasn’t my first choice to take over Illinois’ messy athletic department, but he’s looking like he’s exactly what I did want — the right choice, as for years I’ve argued that the only thing keeping Illinois so far down in the dumps was having the wrong man overseeing its sports programs.

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Diary of an Illini Fan


It’s been a great week to be an Illinois fan, but it’s taken a wild year to get there

What a year it’s been.

Last March, after another frustrating Illini basketball season ended not with an NCAA bang, but an NIT whimper, I wrote a column for CBS Chicago in which I dumped at the feet of Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas the blame for the university’s myriad sports woes — which then became only more myriad and woeful with a stunning flood of accusations about player abuse and racism, personnel dismissals and even more lopsided losses.

Twelve months later, however, Illini Nation is now enjoying its best week in ages thanks to the university’s dynamic new athletic director Josh Whitman pulling former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith to Champaign like a rabbit from a hat and Illini hoops pulling off surprising upset of 5th-seeded Iowa to reach the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

So, how exactly did we get from down there to up here?

Well, I intend to tell you through the series of four columns that I wrote during the past year which basically serve as the Diary of an Illini Fan in which I share the twisting saga of where Illinois was, where fans have wanted Illinois to be and how I’ve strongly urged Illinois to get there.

As it’s turned out, the map that the university administration has ended up following to find its new celebrated AD and new celebrity football coach is basically the exact one that I’ve been demonstratively waving about and pointing to for a long time.

Instead of saying I told you so, let’s take a walk down the last 12 months of Illinois’ Memory Lane.

I’ll lead the way if you mind the potholes.

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Dressing Downton: The Crawleys come to Chicago

IMG_8210From the Saturday, March 5, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

If you’re a Chicagoland fan of Downton Abbey and want to visit the fictional Yorkshire estate of your Edwardian dreams, you’ll need to hop a 7½-hour flight to London Heathrow, followed by a 60-minute drive west to the real-life Highclere Castle, followed by, well, a time warp of 90 years.

Or, instead, you could simply visit Chicago’s Driehaus Museum in River North and experience the next best thing by gaining entrance into the opulent world of Lord Grantham, Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess and the rest of the aristocratic Crawley clan.

As Downton Abbey, the wildly popular British period drama from PBS Masterpiece, winds down with its series finale on Sunday night (8 p.m., WTTW), a new exhibit celebrating the show – and, in particular, its celebrated fashions – is just gearing up in the heart of the Windy City.

And it’s a must-visit for die-hard fans of the series.

Running through May 8, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” features 35 of the period-perfect costumes from the early 20th century worn by the Crawley family and their servants. Designed by London costume house Cosprop Ltd., some of the clothes are made from original fabrics and embellishments, while others were recreated from photographs, patterns and magazine pictures.

As fans know, the show’s costumes could often be more intricate than even the show’s twisting plotlines and in Chicago there’s no better place for them to take up temporary residence than the magnificent Driehaus Museum (40 E. Erie St.), located just a block off the Mag Mile.

With lavishly appointed galleries that once were the drawing rooms, living rooms, libraries and bedrooms of the Gilded Age mansion commissioned in 1879 by wealthy Chicago banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson, the home today is a museum devoted to the craftsmanship of the past. And it’s filled with enough breathtaking artwork, furnishings and décor to make even the Dowager Countess feel right at home.

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