Oak Parkers undoubtedly took note when their December issue of Chicago Magazine arrived. The cover story was entitled “40 Reasons to Love Chicago,” and most of those reasons fit nicely on the cover in text and graphics. One of those reasons was clearly stated in bold aqua letters to the left side — Forest Park. “Hey, what about Oak Park?” was likely the reaction of some local readers.
Most of us to the east of Harlem can acknowledge that Forest Park has certainly gone through somewhat of a renaissance in the past decade or so. And certainly many Oak Parkers have been beneficiaries of this (especially the many former Oak Park retailers who found cheaper rents). Who of us hasn’t frequented some great Forest Park restaurants or bars over the years? So, let’s give them their due (besides, Oak Park was not totally left out; reason 11, “The Interview Show,” featured 11 duplicate photos of our famous resident, WBEZ ‘s Peter Sagal).
Anyway, I choose not get hung up on this accolade given to our neighbors. Instead, I focused on the reason just above Forest Park and in bold white letters: Wilco. If you don’t know about Wilco, you should.
To say I’m a big Wilco fan is probably an understatement. Seven years ago my neighbor, Bruce McNulty, turned my son John and me on to this alternative rock group that has its roots in the Midwest and home base in Chicago. As of this writing, I own all of Wilco’s albums, five Wilco T-shirts, have had three Wilco concert posters framed and have a Wilco button on my guitar strap. Between John and me, we’ve seen the band in concert 11 times. I’ve even made a pilgrimage to the Wilco-themed Sky Blue Sky Sandwich Co. in Toronto.
But it was the $3 bumper sticker I purchased in the fall of 2008 that’s given me lasting amusement. In the spirit of an election year, Wilco advertised a red, white and blue tongue-in-cheek “WILCO NOW” bumper sticker. I slapped that on my Chevy, and the next two years would give me almost as much entertainment as their seminal album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
Soon after, a number of colleagues at work wondered what it was all about.
“What on earth is this Wilco thing?” was a typical question.
My enthusiastic answer usually took several minutes. If I’d persuaded them, they’d take me up on borrowing a CD for a listen.
Then one day an e-mail showed up from another curious colleague.
“So you’re the person with the ‘Wilco Now’ bumper sticker! I’ve had umpteen conversations with people wondering who the cool person was! Mystery solved!” More than any other comment, this significantly raised the self-esteem of this career human resources professional (the word “cool” is rarely applied to anyone in my profession).
Then there was the colleague who, like me, gets into work early and who made a bee line for me across the parking lot one morning.
“Do you really like Wilco or did someone just put that on your car?” I did not have to explain Wilco to him. And it turns out he’d seen them live many more times than I had.
Then, several months ago, the bumper sticker began to transform itself. The “NOW” began to fade, and I had the following comical talk with John.
John: “Hey, that sticker just says “WILCO” now.
Me: “Uh, yeah, that’s what it’s always said.”
John: “Uh… ha! OK. Let me rephrase that. It now just says “WILCO.”
Then we both decided that Wilco, being the uber-cool, hip, creative band that they are — and from Chicago, too — set up this bumper sticker joke so that people would have these funny conversations.
Then we further decided that another reason the NOW, which was red and would fade on purpose, was because Wilco, which performed a fundraiser for Barack Obama in 2007, are blue in their politics and wanted to send this not so subliminal message to those fixated on the fenders of America.
Yes, that had to be it! And Chicago Magazine no doubt included Wilco, if not for their music, then for their magical, mystical ways of marketing.
So, fellow Oak Parkers, congratulate Forest Park on their distinction and revel in the 39 other reasons to love Chicago.
Anthony Gargiulo Jr. is an Oak Park resident.