Surviving Chicago’s Market Days festival

This Saturday and Sunday, Chicago welcomes the largest street festival in the Midwest, Northalsted Market Days. It’s a two-day free-for-all of over 400 vendors, 40 concerts and drag shows, street food, booze . . . and lots and lots of half-naked men.

You see, Market Days takes place in Boystown, a stretch of Halsted Street in the Lakeview neighborhood that is home to the majority of the city’s gay bars and adult shops (plus plenty of trendy restaurants and unique boutiques for any orientation) and many of its gay residents. While the festival isn’t adults-only, you’ll definitely see some things you might have a hard time explaining to your kids (“Mommy, what’s a speculum?”).

While Market Days is predominantly a party – you’ll see more champagne-slushy stands and margarita vendors than anything else – it’s also a chance to support the local community. The money raised from the voluntary $7 donation goes to support the Northalsted Merchants Association that represents the local business owners. They also profit greatly from the event in the form of extra business during Market Days, both at their restaurants and at booths they operate at the fest. Need a new “special toy”, some knock-off designer sunglasses, a hammock for your backyard, a set of “pitcher” and “catcher” t-shirts, or maybe just an arm full of used books? Market Days has you covered with it’s eclectic collection of vendors. You’ll also find giveaways and contests; last year a friend of mine won two sets of round-trip tickets from Travelocity’s “cash-grab” booth.

If you get tired of sipping frozen cocktails, sampling from food stalls, checking out the merchandise and just taking in some of the more outlandish outfits (or lack thereof) worn by the crowd, you can head over to the concert stage where performers like En Vogue and Jody Watley will entertain, along with some local Chicago bands. For that you’ll have to pony up a bit more though. Wristbands to see the stage run from $30-$50 each.

Given the huge crowds and sensory overload you’ll experience at Market Days, the first time can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips for survival.

Bring cash. In addition to the $7 donation fee, you’ll need it for any purchase you make from a vendor. There are ATM machines located around the route, but they often run out of money over the weekend.

Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer. A few hundred thousand drunk people can really take their toll on the porta-potties. Come prepared. Most establishments along the route will not let you use their facilities unless you buy something.

Bring snacks and water. You aren’t supposed to bring booze into the fest (though it’s easy enough to sneak in) but you can bring in some water to stay hydrated and some healthy snacks to keep your strength up.

Wear closed-toe shoes. Especially as the night wears on, your chances of getting stepped on (or worse, stepping in something unsavory) increase.

Bring your cell phone if you plan to meet up with friends and make a plan to meet just inside or outside one of the entrances. Make a plan for if you get separated too. It’s easy to get distracted and wander off from your group.

Bring a camera. You’ll want to document this. Trust me.

Dress to impress. If you’re looking for a hook up, bring your A-game. You’ll have lots of competition. From skinny young guys in nothing but a pair of speedos and some feathery angel wings to older “bears” in full-on leather, you’ll see it all and if you want to stand out, you’ll need to make an effort.

Take public transportation. If you plan on drinking, and even if you don’t, taking the El (Belmont Red Line) or bus is the way to go. Cops are out in full force looking for drunk drivers, and parking around the fest is nearly impossible anyways.

Come with an open mind. Market Days is a party for sure. But it’s also a celebration, of love and acceptance. Everyone is happy and friendly. Whether you are gay or straight, male or female, you’ll be approached or maybe even propositioned, but either way you’ll have a great time.

Autopalooza August is part of Michigan’s Year of the Car

As pointed out in this article in the Detroit Free Press, this summer marks the 100th birthday of the Model T AND the beginnings of General Motors Corporation.

Just think what a difference 100 years have made in car travel. Even though gas prices have jumped tremendously, Detroit would be a fun place to celebrate the car. Detroit could use some tourist dollars besides and Autopalooza August, the multi-location festival series looks like it could be a winner.

There are five major happenings going on each week from the end of July to the end of August.

  • The Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in Rochester
  • Cruisin’ Motor Cities in downtown Detroit
  • Detroit Festival of Speed
  • The Woodward Dream Cruise through the suburbs
  • Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

July and September also have car related events. There is a parade in Flint on July 20 and a Model T gathering at the Ford World Headquarters. Each of these are part of Michigan’s Year of the Car.

If you do go to Detroit, Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum are close by and worth a trip to Michigan on their own. You can, tour both as a package deal. If you can swing two days, one for each place, that’s better. You can thank car money for giving Henry Ford the umph to think up these two very different museums. On June 14-15 is Motor Muster Weekend and the village will be open until 9 p.m. on those days.

On the other side of the entertainment spectrum, check out Grant’s post on Detroit’s Motor City Casino. For info about travel happenings in Michigan, check out www.motorcities.org. There is a map that shows the cities where attractions are. By clicking on drop down menus, you can see what each place offers. Clever.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of May 5

take5This week I’m bouncing all over the place with a wide range of random picks from the contributors here. From gear to moo-moo’s to Daft Punk – look below to find what you may have missed.

5. Movie Posters from Belarus:
Fun! Who doesn’t enjoy looking at posters and prints from around the globe? The focus of this set here is Belarus for the most part, but still so cool!

4. Yurts: Comfort in the Great Outdoors:
Love the outdoors, but hate the discomfort? Problem solved! Check into a yurt on your next go in some of America’s state parks.

3. Cool Outdoor Gear Made From Recycle Materials:
Here is a cool way to be green and good to the earth. Willy points us to the perfect spot to learn more about sustainable gear to get you all ready for your summer backpacking tours be it through the suburbs, the park, or across Europe.

2. Cow Tourism:
This one is very random, but when I read it I fell in love with it. First it was Neil’s account on the first time he’d ever met a girl wild enough to steal a cow bell and how he later found out the importance of those bells. If only all travel romance tales could happen a little more like this, but with your twist I guess. Anyways, aren’t cows the greatest?

1. Gadling’s Massively Huge 2007 Summer Music Festival Roundup:
Pardon me if I seem a bit tuned out. Chances are I’m mentally at one of the music festivals found here in Gadling’s largest guide to the summer sound circuit ever and physically preparing to go!!! Thanks to Justin you can tune in too and later tune out, but I must apologize as we won’t be providing the tickets. You’re on your own there