By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
On Tuesday, as I was heading to help facilitate a work group for local professionals planning to earn the Accredited in Public Relations credential, I came across a man known to many in Chicago for two things: His wardrobe and his personality. Our brief encounter inspired this post — the subject of which will follow shortly.
The gentleman in question, Vincent Falk, is pretty easy to spot because he wears what I believe are “zoot suits” of every color in the rainbow — and then some.
I chatted with Mr. Falk at one place where he often holds court: In front of the WLS-TV Channel 7 newsroom on-air studio, which abuts State Street near Lake Street. Like many passersby, he hopes to get some screen time during the closing newscast credits. After asking if I could take his photo, Mr. Falk agreed, complimented me on the red golf jacket I was wearing and offered me the opportunity to don his jacket. I politely declined: The jacket didn’t go with my trousers.
(This excellent post by the late, legendary Roger Ebert provides more on Mr. Falk, and the images are better. My trusty BlackBerry Curve has a crummy camera, but I still love it.)
I told Mr. Falk I would like his image for my blog, but I wasn’t sure what I’d write about. After a conversation punctuated by pun after pun uttered by this amiable, unconventional man, this became pretty clear to me: Will people like Vinnie Falk — a true character if there ever was one –continue to find a home in a Chicago that I maintain is losing its character to conformity?
If this popular image above (probably not taken in Chicago) is any indication of the potential for future “characters,” I don’t think so.
The Chicago I was raised in was, indeed, a city of neighborhoods, most boasting people who were iconoclastic in their own humble ways, like Mr. Falk. These were neighborhoods of two-flats, corner taverns and mom-and-pop groceries, neighborhoods where people lived for generations. A person could be decidedly left-of-center, okay weird, and still be accepted, still fit in.
These places hardly exist anymore, as communities like Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and increasingly Logan Square have evolved into urban theme parks, the price of admission being a $3 doughnut, $9 beer and two-hour wait for brunch. Conformists — not characters — come from these places. The thought of hanging around for generations is remote at best to many new Chicagoans.
In June, I’ll head back downtown after work to co-facilitate the APR prep class. I’ll pass the Channel 7 studios on State Street and hope Mr. Falk is there, waiting for the 5:00 p.m. newscast to end.
This time, if he offers, I’ll gladly try on his jacket.