To its chagrin, Chicago’s affluent downtown neighborhood of River North is not without pockets of underdevelopment. The unsold penthouse at Trump Tower. The old siren firehouse on Franklin tempting developers dining at Gene & Georgetti across the street. Those highrise sarcophagi along Grand that fell a couple dozen stories short of maximizing every last air right.
But most glaring: that half-barren block of Orleans between Huron and Erie. With its two surface lots, a shuttered recording studio and late-night Mr. Beef stand, the stretch feels even starker by day with nary a highrise shadow to relieve the heat island.
This is River North’s Valley of Asphalt.
And with a redundant literary nod, it’s overseen by not one, but two larger-than-life visages. Discerning (or paranoid) passersby will notice two immense advertisements of Clive Owen* hawking British vodka while separated by no more than 70 feet of blacktop and a Mr. Beef roofline.
One of the Clive Owi looks north up Orleans. The other south. There, night and day, they keep a non-sobering vigil over the anus end of the River North entertainment district. With two-foot-tall eyes, they seemingly see all, but are probably just locked in a Narcissistic staredown of Sissyphean proportions.
To be fair, the Owi possess a good face. The Cary Grant hairline, clefted chin and eyes so cerulean as to have made book learning unneeded in their case. So powerful is the Owi gaze that to step between them is to risk being torn asunder by their competing tractor beams of charisma – with your hypnotized top half ripped and rendered over the roof of Mr. Beef and your nether bits and pieces sucked in the peckish direction of Erie.
But the Owi should be careful. They would not be the first celebrities to befall misfortune in these parts. Consider pro basketball player Antoine Walker, who lived in a townhome two blocks away on Huron where in 2007 he was ambushed, duck taped and relieved of a Mercedes Benz, briefcase of jewelry and $10,000 to $20,000 in cash.
Then two years ago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was accused of slipping a Mickey to a woman met at the Crescendo night club on Ontario. Or former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson’s bodyguard who was shot outside the Ice Bar night club (later a.k.a. the Highball Lounge on Clark near Superior).
And defining down the term “entertainment district,” River North was once home to public hangings at Hubbard and Dearborn, with 86 men perishing on the gallows for all to see from 1887 to 1927.
So mighty staring Owi— Do not let the area’s yuppie veneer throw you. Danger stalks the Valley of Asphalt. Do not blink. Do not think. And by all means lay off the cheap British vodka.
*British actor Clive Owen is known for such movies as Steve Martin’s remake of “The Pink Panther” and “The International.”
SkitSketchJeff is Jeff Burdick, who is a resident of River North thanks to an extremely lucrative blogging career.
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