Will Tap for Food

Now that I no longer have to commute to the heinous suburbs of northern Illinois, I’ve been spending a lot more time using public transportation to get around the city. I just think it’s the best way to really get to know a city. Although still a relatively recent transplant to Chicago, I am proud to call this town my home. We may be known as the Second City to most people, but Chicago will always be first in my book. That is, of course, unless that book contains a chapter called “Street Performers.”
For all of Chicago’s rich history, diverse cultural venues, fine dining establishments, and almost-champion sports teams, the city is sorely lacking in high-caliber street entertainment. Sure, you’ll run into the occasional folk singer, and there’s that one guy who has a violin duct-taped to a guitar so he can play both at once, but these are simply rare shining stars in a galaxy of mediocrity.
The last time I was in New York, I saw a full barbershop quartet on the subway singing a version of Coney Island Baby that elicited a standing ovation from the otherwise disengaged commuter crowd. And when I lived in Paris, there was a guy who would string a curtain between the two poles on the subway train and hold a fully orchestrated puppet show, replete with sound effects and costume changes. Now that’s street entertainment! I was more than happy to drop 20 francs in his hat for that show of raw talent.
For a city of three million people, you would think that we’d be able to at least somewhat compete with the likes of Paris and New York, but I am consistently disappointed by Chicago’s rag-tag bunch of street performers. I guess the final straw for me, probably because it hit so close to home, was when I was on my way to the Harold Washington Library a few weeks ago. I walked up the stairs from the El stop and passed a man who was tap dancing. I absentmindedly tossed a quarter into the cardboard box where he had crudely scribbled the words “Tips for Taps.”
After I got about ten steps away, something made me turn back. Something just wasn’t right – wait a minute! He’s not really tap dancing! He’s just kind of scuffling his shoes on the pavement and flailing his arms around!
I went back to get a closer look, and he said, “Hey baby girl! How you doing?”
I cocked my head a little and said, “So… what exactly are you doing there?”
“Oh you like that, huh? I’m just doing a little something we call the time step.”
That’s when something snapped in me. Time step? He can’t possibly mean THE
time step. The same time step that is the rhythmic foundation of every major tap dance move ever created? Blasphemer – how dare he?!?
I tossed my backpack to the ground, slipped on my Capezio TeleTone II’s, stretched my calves a little, and:
STOMP – hop – step – fulap – step – STOMP – hop – step – fulap – step – STOMP (right hand juts out for the big finish)!
“Now that’s a time step. Give me back my quarter, you fraud!”
The small crowd that had gathered around us cheered, and applauded loudly. I eagerly collected their generous tips in my empty latte cup, until a police officer wandered over and asked to see my license for street performing. Of course, I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but apparently my pal Gene Smelly did, because he whipped his out faster than I could say police brutality.
Without saying a word, I walked over to the cardboard box, dumped all my earnings into my competitor’s coffer, and walked away slowly, the sound of applause still softly ringing in my ears.

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