You sprint down Michigan Avenue, dodging wheelie totes, tourists and toddlers. The race is on. It’s you against the officer in blue, both of you aiming for your car with 1 minute left before rush-hour parking enforcement goes into effect.
Panting and near collapse, you reach your car—only to find a flash of orange on its windshield, mocking you for deciding to scan just one more rack. Then, as you rip it off your windshield, you realize: You’ve been Punk’d.
The orange missive, it’s really a flier from a famous sandwich franchise. The deliverer: Officer Wayward. That’s me, the Chicago police officer who couldn’t resist turning a piece of sidewalk litter into a piece of street-side prankery.
OK, give a cop a break. To redeem myself, I’m offering a beat cop’s tips for the Downtown Holiday Shopping Excursion – advice on safety, shopping, tips on dining and more. While everyone can’t be trusted, the word of this Chicago cop can.
- Close to the vest. Never leave your purse out of sight. Never leave it on the back of your chair. I have intentionally taken a cell phone or wallet from women’s purses that have been placed on the backs of chairs to prove a point.
- Your shoes don’t need shining. Don’t let anyone shine your shoes on the street. Vagabonds, thieves and worse prey on tourists to pay them upward of $15 to “shine” their shoes. The polish they use is typically stolen soap from hotels or dispensers inside McDonald’s. If approached by these folks, keep walking or prepare to shell out a small fortune for the shoddiest shine of your life. And God forbid you don’t have that kind of cash on hand—let’s just say I can’t be everywhere at once. For a safe and fairly priced shoeshine, walk your faded moccasins to Nordstrom’s, 520 N. Michigan Ave., and visit the 2nd floor.
- Flee the flier kids. If you see a large group of kids (from 7 to 20 years of age) coming toward you with a flier with a poem asking for a donation for their basketball team uniforms, get a grip. Should you pull out your wallet, you could be left wallet-less faster than you can yell for help. Oh, yeah, and the basketball team never existed.
- ‘Bucket beaters, beat it!’ A large assembly of kids wants the whole city to hear the sounds of drumsticks banging on plastic containers loudly at all hours of the day. The sounds they make resonate all the way up to top floors of high-rises and travel through office building sound-proofing easily. If you’re compelled to contribute to the arts, donate to Save the Music Foundation.
- Let the Police help the needy. I fell for the broken-down-car (also known as the I-ran-out-of-gas) bit once. Once. You’ll probably get a chance to fall for it, too, when coming off the expressway. But don’t roll down your window to give the homeless person money, coffee or anything else. Many panhandlers suffer from mental illnesses, and violent reactions are not out of the question.
- Stick to the sidewalk. Alleys? Not a good idea. Besides serving as urinals for bums, thieves lurk in their darkness. Trying to avoid pedestrian traffic so you can get to Starbucks quicker? Go ahead. But I doubt your latte is worth a mugging.
- Postcard peddling (or bucket beaters redux). If you really must have a postcard, go to Walgreens and buy one. If you meet someone on the street trying to sell you a postcard, you should heed my bucket beater warning above.
- Now hear this . . . I can’t emphasize enough how important being alert is in any major metropolitan area. When you take away your sense of hearing, you are setting yourself up for disaster. If you must listen to your iPod, do it on the treadmill. Trying to sing along with Amy Winehouse blaring in your ears will not save you from the man who just snuck up behind you.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
- Heaven on Seven. Craving some Cajun heat? Heaven on Seven, at Ohio and Rush Streets, is all you need to know. Their New Orleans barbecue shrimp is my favorite and the Beef Tenderloin Tips and gumbo are not to be missed. Not a fan of spiciness? Their menu includes a variety of flavorful but not spicy dishes. You want more flavor? They boast that they have the country’s largest collection of hot sauces from around the world. The fun if noisy atmosphere is great for the family and an overall good value.
- 676. This is a newer restaurant found on the fourth floor of the Omni Hotel. Elegant and spacious, the window seats provide a great view of Michigan Avenue. It’s got traditional American fare, great appetizers, a decent wine selection and one of the best Scotch selections in the area. It’s Gold Coast priced so not really recommended for kids – but great for a romantic dinner.
- Boston Blackie’s. Best burger on (or just off) the Magnificent Mile award goes to Boston Blackie’s, which is on the northwest corner of Grand Avenue and St. Clair Street. Their cheeseburger with grilled onions is to die for. Unnecessarily stuffy atmosphere (and beware the men-no hats rule) but totally worth the pretentiousness.
- Texas de Brazil. This Brazilian-style churrascaria between Rush Street and Wabash Avenue on Ohio is a meat-lover’s paradise with an equally amazing salad bar. If the contortionist/trapeze artist/wine-selecting girls don’t get your attention, the variety of meats will. selections range from lamb and pork to bacon-wrapped filets. I found myself downing mass amounts of water due to salty curing methods of their meats, but if you don’t care about sodium intake, this is the place for you. Not ideal for children. Priced once again for the area but look out for e-coupons by joining their e-mail list.
- Kan Zaman. One of the few Lebanese restaurants in the area, Kan Zaman is a little off of the beaten path but worth the extra distance. Great Middle Eastern ambiance, affordable and tasty lunch specials, and probably the best shwarma I’ve ever had. The beef kabob is scrumptious and typically comes with sides of rice or bulgar wheat. If you have reservations on the weekend, make sure to reserve the floor table with pillows and see the belly dancers. Great for the family.
- 1492. This Spanish tapas restaurant at is a great spot for a romantic dinner –perfect for sharing with its large variety of cold and hot tapas. Croquettas de Jamon are delicious as are the Gambas al ajillo and patatas bravas. The sangria is pretty good but leaves you wondering if it was made with any alcohol. The restaurant’s not recommended for children. Great value for the area.
- Mezza. This no-frills restaurant inside the Northbridge Mall food court, 520 N. Michigan Ave., got me hooked with its fresh char-grilled steak wrap. It’s got excellent condiments, such as baba ganoush, hummus, yogurt dip and more, and is ideal for something quick.
- Indian Garden. People from India ask me for directions to this place. The enticing aroma of curry greets you on the first floor at 247 E. Ontario St. and transports you to nirvana instantaneously. If you like lunch buffets, this is one not to be missed; naan and roasted chicken legs are included. The chicken tikka, saag paneer and palaak paneer are very tasty. Vegetable korma is decent. Families welcome.
- Joe’s Seafood. Quite possibly some of the best jumbo prawns ever here at Rush Street and Grand Avenue. The breakfast/brunchservice makes you feel like royalty and the martinis might even make this veteran Scotch connoisseur switch. Try the apple pie martinis and the Key lime pie martini. Appropriately priced for the area and not ideal for the whole family. Reservations totally recommended.
- Frankie’s 5th Floor Pizzeria. Frankie Valli’s restaurant in the 900 N. Michigan Ave. building is new to Chicago and already has created some great memories for me. First time there, a young boy came up to me and said, “Thank you for protecting me and his mother.” So I gave him a miniature police badge. His eyes lit up much the same way mine did when I bit into the Luca Brasi individual pizza. Heaven! The next time there, I finished off my meal with the greatest dessert ever: A large bowl of oven-baked chocolate-chip cookie dough with vanilla ice cream. OK for children and reasonably priced.
- Berry Chill. Although not quite a restaurant, Berry Chill, serves up some of the best frozen yogurt in the area and for all of you calorie counters, most of the frozen yogurt is fat-free. All the fresh toppings to choose from will have you stuck in line, so expect to wait a bit.
- Dao Thai Restaurant. Large but hidden, this Thai restaurant at 230 E.Ohio St. boasts an impressive menu, including some great appetizers. The panang curry is a bit too peanut buttery but other noodle dishes exceed expectations. Great atmosphere and seating arrangements. Ideal for families and also reasonably priced.
SHOPS NOT TO MISS
- Harley Davidson. This place at Ohio and Rush Streets will have you humming “Born to be Wild” in no time. If you enjoy a casual ride on the back of your man’s Hog or own one yourself, you can find all types of accessories here from goggles to gloves. A truly mesmerizing variety of clothing is on display—shirts, jackets, vests, sweaters—all with the signature Harley Davidson logo.
- La Perla. I admit having this lingerie and intimate apparel store near my post has its advantages. Pretty women and more pretty women, and they all want to look good for their partner. Thanks to gratuitous mentions on “Sex and the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Housewives of New Jersey” and other TV shows, this high-end shop at 535 N. Michigan Ave. sees a lot of traffic. Choose from meticulously crafted bras to their latest innovation, crystal nipple covers.
- City Scents Florist. Walking in this shop at 209 E. Ohio St. makes me feel like I’m lost inside the Amazon. Top hotels in the area use its assortments and arrangements. The centerpieces here dwarfed me but don’t be afraid. They range in sizes and prices
- Zeza Salon. This upscale salon (211 E. Ontario St.) provides an impressive list of services: Facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing and great hair styling. Owner Al Hage and his staff have customer satisfaction all over their agenda. They even do emergency haircut repair. Reservations highly recommended.
- Personal Electronic Solutions. This has got to be one of the quirkiest and bizarre stores in the area. Besides selling state-of-the-art cell phones and other computer equipment, the folks here (8 W. Ohio St.) have your personal safety in mind. You can find pepper spray, home defense tools, infrared cameras, surveillance equipment and hidden storage containers. If you’re feeling like Nancy Drew and want to do your own investigating, drop in and scan the place.
- Ben’z Spirits. This very small shop (15 W. Ohio St.) has an intimidating selection of wine, as well as fine whiskeys and imported beers. Cigars from all over are on display here too. Salud!
- Biznet Internet Cafe. You can access your e-mail, scan documents or have your PC or Mac worked on at the café at 205 E. Ohio St. All at very competitive prices. They also do laptop and projector rentals and sell refurbished laptops and desktops with comprehensive warranties. Why buy new?Officer Wayward is a Chicago Police Officer. You may see him on Michigan Avenue tending to his flock of confused tourists and oblivious shoppers. If he’s not busy chasing down a shoplifter, a purse snatcher or his skirt-chasing partner, say hello. He says he doesn’t bite. You can hear more from Officer Wayward on his blog, The Blue Mile, at www.chicagonow.com/blogs/the-blue-mile.