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by Albert Corvera and Christopher Brinckerhoff

Buckingham Fountain is Grant Park’s watery centerfold. The famous structure streams water in the middle of many annual festivals including Bluesfest and Taste of Chicago. This is the spout.

Tourists are drawn not only to the festivals themselves, but also to Grant Park. Rainbows of flowers, lush green bushes, and perky trees quarter the spaces. These are the sprouts. Maintaining lakefront sprouts is a full time job.

Foreman for a private contractor for the city, Willie Riley, said his crew began working on the lakefront’s foliage at 5 a.m. on June 24, and was putting in a 12 plus hour day to prepare for the 2008 Taste of Chicago.

“We are here to help beautify the city by putting in flowers and shrubs and fertilizing the plants,” Riley said.

Their job was part of the Mayor Daley program, according to Riley. They plant and prune flowers, put mulch down, and pull up weeds. Working outside during the summer with a good group of guys has its moments.

“The guys I work with are a pretty nice group of guys,” Riley said. “We all pitch in together as a team and try to do things together to make sure everything’s done. We take pride in what we do.”

Riley and his men are hired scouts, but there is another type of scout to consider. As summer quickly rolls along, tourists become part of Chicago’s cityscape. Teenagers Toni and Sergio Pinon from Tallahassee Florida made their first trip to the windy city this year. Popping ears in a skyscraper elevator topped Toni’ list of Chicago experiences.

“We went to Buckingham, the Sears Tower, and the Hancock,” Toni said. “The most fun was the elevator ride on the Hancock.”

Chicago’s fast paced lifestyle put the kids’ approximately 200,000 hometown population in perspective with Chicago’s 3 million people.

“Chicago is very, very busy,” Sergio said. “It’s really a lot crazier [than Tallahassee]. It’s fun. I’m starting to get used to it.”

Copyright 2008

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