On this near-record, near-summer day, it’s hard to recall that just a month ago, Chicago had hail.
Yes, freakin’ hail.
But that didn’t stop us from going to Navy Pier for some mid-week entertainment.
We’d had a non-stop 5am-5pm work frenzy kinda day. Production meetings, proposals, editing sessions – you name it, we did it – put out fires, shakes some trees, and shake out some tree fires. By the time we dragged ourselves to 5:30 kid pickup, we were exhausted. The weather was unseasonably crappy and the kids were predictably crabby. We were tempted to plop them in front of Magic School Bus, pick up some $5 “cheese and sausage” (uh-huh) pizza, and call it a night.
But we didn’t.
Instead, we grabbed McDonald’s – a step up from Little Caesars, no? – and headed down to the Cirque Shanghai preview, courtesy Lori’s ridiculously well-connected sister. This girl has the hookup.
Box seats to the White Sox? Check.
Reservations and complimentary drinks at Zed 451? Check.
Tea with the First Lady? Ahem. Still waiting.
What is normally a 20-minute jaunt took 2 hours because apparently, Chicagoans had completely forgetten how to drive during inclement weather. Not unlike Atlanta or DC when it snows. (Ahhh! The skies have opened! Just stop the car! Anywhere! Anywhere! The National Guard will find us. Won’t they…) By the time we pulled into the parking lot, Nick was out cold, drool trailing from the side of his mouth down his shoulder strap; Gabe had sucked his fingers so hard they were more café than mahogany; and Olivia has a diaper that smelled so foul I swear something had crawled into the car seat with her and died.
They were clearly ready for a 2-hour show.
The production crew had thankfully put up the side walls of the outdoor pavilion, so it wasn’t crazy cold – out there, on the lake, in the storm – but I had grabbed the emergency blanket at the last minute, thank goodness. We tried – in vain – to pump up the excitement as we dragged the small, tired butts to their seats.
“So Awwwwesommmmme!!!! Right?! Hollah-back yo!…How cool is this?! Out on a school night!! –”
“I’m tired.” Nick whined.
“I tired.” Gabe echoed.
“I tired.” Gabe did not have the echo thing down yet.
Olivia made it about 20 minutes into the show before her brain decided that she simply lacked the cognitive functions to make sense of anything she was seeing. So she fell asleep. Nick and Gabe, on the other hand, were transfixed.
It could have been the music – a smash-cut amalgam of Black Sabbath guitar, ancient Chinese secret bamboo flutes, and booty-skankin’ Ke$ha with the occasional Loretta Lynn detour. But I bet it was the death-defying stunts in glam rock costumes that held their attention.
I liked Cirque Shanghai for the same reason that Lori and I watched Jackass: The Movie. For every pig-eating-an-apple-from-some-guy’s-bum, which is stoooopid, there was a segment that celebrated the limits of the human body. Yes, if you really push yourself, you can make it through a corridor of Taser guns. It’s very La Mancha, dreaming the impossible – and sometimes in incredibly poor taste – dream.
Perhaps Nick and Gabe would not have thought to balance several chairs on top of one another then climb to the top. Now they will. They probably wouldn’t have come up with walking backwards on the outside of a rotating cage while blindfolded…but at least now they know it’s possible. Granted, during each over-the-top stunt, I was calculating how quickly we could get to the ER since I already knew they would be trying these things at home. Plus, their beloved – but childless – aunt leaned over each time and said “I bet you could do that in your backyard”, finally stopping after I shushed her during the young-woman-riding-a-unicycle- on-top-of-a-twirling-umbrella-held-by-another-unicyclist sequence.
(They did, of course, try to recreate some of the stunts at home, which usually involved Nick telling Gabe to “Just sit here” – on his ATV – and “don’t move,” followed by him scaling a tree, positioning himself 7 feet above said ATV, fully prepared to jump, while holding a hula hoop, and me shouting from the kitchen window, “NOT THE BEST IDEA!”)
The grand finale was a full-on primary-color-motorcycles-revving-in-a-metal-cage Voltron homage, complete with “Mega thrusters are go!” fist pumps and stirring brass section accompaniment. You could have driven a semi-truck through Gabe’s and Nick’s open mouths.
“How’d they do that?”
“Well, Nick. If you look closely, you’ll see that they are just riding behind one another in a line – a line that happens to make a figure 8 across the sphere’s interior. The neon tail lights create the illusion that their paths are simultaneous – which they aren’t, just linear. And of course, the speed of their bikes is creating enough centrifugal force to keep them from falling when they go upside down.”
That’s what I thought, but it was such a lame teaching moment answer for such a spectacular performance that I went instead with the “practice makes perfect” meme.
“They spent a lot of time rehearsing so they could do it right.”
“Yah, coooool.” So Gabe did understand the echo pattern.
After the show, we eventually made it back to the car, the kids amusing themselves by opening and closing their hand-held fans while Joyce made small talk with Every. Single. Person. We. Passed. Olivia got a fan too, and the boys promised that they would take care of it until she was old enough to open it herself.
“That was GREAT, Nana!” Nick said, as he buckled his younger brother in.
“I’m glad you liked it, buddy. What was your favorite part?”
“Motorcycles!” Gabe piped in.
“Oh yeah, the motorcycles.” Nick now echoed. “Can I get one?”
“When you’re 18.”
“How about a giant cage?”
“When you join the circus.”