Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your park information specialist

Here is another tale of excitement and intrigue from Chicago, although rather than fascinating or thrilling, this one is downright funny. Or at least it is to me. 

The piece of conceptual art pictured above is official called Cloud Gate, but we referred affectionately to it as "The Bean" and I'm certain we're not the only ones.  As we approached the giant sculpture in Millennium Park a woman appeared next to us, seemingly from thin air. I believe she may have been crouching in the bushes. Anyway, as she bent down to extinguish her cigarette on the sidewalk beside her, the woman introduced herself:  "Hello ladies, I'm LaFawnduh*, your park information specialist." She explained how she could answer any questions we had about the park or Cloud Gate, and offered to take our pictures together.  Rachel and I knew precisely where this was going, but my darling, innocent mother jumped on the opportunity to have a photographer without hesitation. 

LaFawnduh confidently led us over to the far side of The Bean, where she all but pushed a group of girls taking their own pictures there out of the way by explaining that she was the park information specialist and would be happy to take their pictures after she was finished with ours. The whole time, I felt uneasy about the situation, and you can see it on Rachel's and my expressions in all our photos. 

And the instinct was not unfounded. After returning the cameras, LaFawnduh launched monotonously into her memorized spiel about representing Rainbow House, a shelter for abused women and children or something and asked for a donation.  Her speech sounded fake; it reminded me of a teenager forced to sell wreaths door-to-door, where their eyes wander about the ceiling instead of looking at fact, she did a perfect impression of this guy from Office Space (one of the best movies EVER). I noticed that the lanyard around her neck held a name badge on which she'd written her own name in Sharpie, and I could just make out the schedule of events printed on the back, with dates listed in April 2010. A lot of Conventions are held in Chicago; it would be pretty easy to come across a discarded lanyard like this and turn it into an official "park information specialist" accessory. I rolled my eyes when she couldn't see. 

My mom gave LaFawnduh five dollars, which we all agreed was fair, since in spite of the odd situation, she cleared the area and took some great pictures that we would not have been able to capture without her.  It only took her 5-10 minutes, so that's a pretty fair wage, too. But rather than thank us graciously, LaFawnduh took the bill, then looked expectantly between the other three of us and asked in an incredulous tone, "And...this will be from all of you?" When we confirmed and thanked her again, she put the money in the pocket of her hoodie, slung her backpack over one shoulder and walked away saying "Have a nice day" over her shoulder. I laughed. 
Here is LaFawnduh "helping" another group of unsuspecting tourists. 

My problem now is that I looked it up. Rainbow House is a real non-profit agency in Chicago dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence. Was LaFawnduh truly raising funds to support their efforts, or just using the name of a real organization to cultivate genuine sympathy for her endeavor? I will never know. It still seems sneaky to claim to be a park information specialist on one hand, and ask for donations afterward on the other hand. I would prefer a more direct approach: tell us up front that you volunteer in the park on behalf of Rainbow House, and would gladly take our pictures if we would consider a small donation to support the cause. And then have some official paperwork, a nametag, etc. to help us believe that your operation is legitimate. And whether or not you are honestly fundraising or just trying to make some cash for yourself, be grateful for every dollar you get. 

A great picture of my mom and Cloud Gate reflecting Chicago's skyline.

*I don't actually remember our "park information specialist's" name, so I borrowed this one from  Kip's girlfriend.

1 comment:

Sarah Rose Evans said...

We had the same thing happen to us in Cambodia, except that the guide was a small child who told us that our money would help them pay for elementary school education. If their pitch didn't work in one language, they would switch to another. Those kids could ask for money in something like ten languages.


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