Wednesday, May 6, 2009

One-of-a-kind Contraptions in Chicago

I think I may have already ridden the most unique vehicles of the trip thanks to Christopher Furman, Bill Tellman, and the folks at Redmoon Theater.

On Tuesday morning, I met up with Frank Maugeri at Redmoon. He's been with the organization for thirteen years, originally as a guest artist, now as artistic director. Although they call themselves a "theater," they do a lot more than perform on a stage. They build amazing contraptions and vehicles and bring them out into the public. Their workshop was filled with all sort of awesome devices- from a sailboat/bathtub to a mechanical toy theater to a giant hamster wheel that they shoot fireworks off of. But I was there to ride their wine bike, (which happened to be built by Christopher Furman, who I met two days before).


They rent this one out (along with a performer) for parties and special events. The performer rides around, steering with a little lever, as dozens of wineglasses spin overhead on the umbrella.


The wine bottle fits in a grip and pours at the turn of a crank.


I took it for a spin in the parking lot, and it certainly put me in a festive mood.

Next I met up with William Tellman, who's been commissioned by Redmoon quite a bit over the last few years. He owns a metal shop that makes all sorts of things- from stair rails to furniture to museum exhibits. He readily admitted that the vehicles he builds for Redmoon are the most fun to work on. First we checked out two of the pedal-powered vehicles he's built. The first is a pedal-powered drum cart. It's got mini stages equipped with various drums to hold three percussionists, while it's operated by two pedalers underneath.


Bill explained that it drives like a tank, (though I'm not that familiar with tank operation), which means that by pedaling at different speeds or in different directions from each other, the pedalers can steer the tank and/or make it turn in tight circles.

He also built a similarly powered gramophone cart that has a giant metal gramophone bell on top that plays music, words, or sounds.


Bill's favorite vehicle is the ladder machine.


It looks like a cross between a cherry picker and the top of a fireman's truck, though he built it entirely from scratch and it's all electric. You sit in a chair set behind half a dozen different levers and switches. Each lever operates a different aspect of the ladder- height, angle, length- and once you pull that lever it all moves pretty quickly and very impressively.


The ladder can extend about thirty feet, and when they bring it out there's usually an acrobat doing flips and various feats at the end of it. Operating it was already a thrill- I can't imagine what it would be like with a live person balancing at the other end.


I walked back to downtown, stopped by Hotel Felix for a little more WiFi, and finally made my way to the train station via a water taxi.


Breanna from Hammacher Schlemmer, (who provided me with the 14MPH Cooler), met up with me for the short ride. The boat took about ten minutes, and it seems like a lot of commuters actually use them.


The train left Chicago on time, but something must have happened during the night because when I woke up we were about an hour behind. It's a good thing we weren't any more behind or I would have missed my meeting with Amtrak. That probably would have been an awkward call to make.

No comments: