All folks wanted to talk about was the big "running of the bulls" event proposed in Cicero, as promoters dream about "recreating" the Spanish festival of San Fermin popularized by Ernest Hemingway.
"So, are you going to run with the bulls?" asked a guy on the elevator.
No, I said.
"Don't you want to run with the bulls?" asked a young woman.
Only if it involves sitting and drinking. Not running.
Running through the steaming leavings of livestock in Cicero isn't all that dignified. Besides, I get enough steaming leavings on my shoes covering politics.
Picturesque Cicero, approached from the east by way of scenic Cermak Road (named after a Chicago mayor who had his troubles with Paul Ricca's mob) isn't exactly northern Spain.
But if people want to pay $35 or more to be chased by steers at Hawthorne Race Course and drink beer and then throw tomatoes at each other in the summer heat, who am I to say no?
Actually, it's a stupid idea. But I have my own idea to promote — a circus maximus involving rats and politicians, with much betting and drinking — one that can make me some real money. So I caught up with Rob Dickens, chief operating officer for the Great Bull Run LLC, and pretended to be interested in his bull running business and the authentic Spanish-style tomato fight.
"Some people won't want to run with the bulls. They're not exactly brave enough to do that. So why not give them something fun and crazy to do too?" Dickens said. "So we've thrown in the tomato fight for good measure."
He described the fiesta as a daylong event, with multiple runnings of the bulls, "and bands and beer, and the tomato fight, of course."
In Spain, more than 20 people have been killed in the streets of Pamplona since Hemingway popularized the bullfight festival in "The Sun Also Rises."
But the bulls of Cicero will be different. The drunks won't run through the streets, but rather in a fenced course on the racetrack. The promoters promise to use more steers (neutered bulls) in the herd, and gentle American bulls. But not those Spanish killers.
If we compared the bulls to dogs, then the bulls of Spain would be crazed Neapolitan mastiffs, while the bulls of Cicero would be cocker spaniels.
"We are not using Spanish fighting bulls," said Dickens. "We thought better of it. … If it were all Spanish fighting bulls, no one would get out alive."
So the promoters are going out of their way to find cuddly, nonaggressive bulls that probably won't kill drunks who read Hemingway.
"They're not going to seek you out and gore you on sight," Dickens said. "They will run you over if you're in the way, but they won't go out of their way to try and get you. So we'll use a mix of steers and one or two rodeo bulls for good measure, and normal bulls."
"I'm no bull expert," Dickens said. "We're in contact with a ranch that supplies bulls to rodeos."
So there you have it: Folks will pay to run with the steers and gentle "normal bulls" — not killer Spanish bulls — and boys and girls will throw tomatoes and drink beer and everyone will have fun.
Naturally, I kept hinting about my idea, guaranteed to bring in cash.
"What's your idea?" Dickens asked, finally.
You take a bunch of politicians, dress them in blue suits, white shirts and red ties, then you bind their hands behind their backs and put them in a pit.
Dickens waited, saying nothing.
Then, I said, you throw the rats in.
And then, I said, we bet on how many rats the politicians can kill with their teeth alone.
Don't look at me that way. "Rat baiting" was a popular English betting game a few centuries ago. It might be worth considering in Illinois, which is increasingly turning to gaming to squeeze taxpayers to pay for government.
But don't worry — no matter how vicious rats can be, they quiver at the sight of a politician.
"Wow," Dickens said. "That sounds like an event. But won't you need the aldermen to give approval for that?"
Hmm. He has a point. And once the People Who Love Rats hear about it, they'll become incensed.
So I've came up with an alternative.
Just have the politicians use their teeth to grab the rats. All they've got to do is toss the rats out of the ring, and the crowd will bet on the number of rats tossed.
Overly chewed rats will count against the point total.
Our state legislators have particularly strong necks, and I suppose they could throw a rat 10 feet with the strength of their neck muscles alone.
If you don't like that one, how about The Running of the Taxpayers?
Here's how it works:
Promoters invite all state constitutional officers, all the legislators, the Chicago aldermen, the county board members from the entire metropolitan area, and let them drink beer out on the racetrack.
Then we take a like number of taxpayers, and attach wooden horns to their heads with Velcro. Somebody blows a trumpet, and the chase begins. If the politicians escape the racetrack, our taxpayers will chase them through the streets of Cicero for an authentic Spanish-style experience.
I promise this will be loads of fun.
And then we reach for the tomatoes.