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The glass observation boxes are located on the top floor of the Sears Tower. They opened to the public less than a week ago.
The glass observation boxes are located on the top floor of the Sears Tower. They opened to the public less than a week ago.
My son's reaction to being "suspended" in the sky.
My son's reaction to being "suspended" in the sky.

On the ledge of the Sears Tower

CHICAGO -- Yesterday, while on a day trip in Chicago, my family and I squeezed into a packed elevator and rode 103 floors -- that’s 1,353 feet -- to the top of the Sears Tower, 233 S. Wacker Dr.

I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety until I saw the new glass boxes that hang from the tower’s facade and allow visitors to "step off the ledge." The glass boxes -- which opened to the public on Thursday, July 2 -- jut out 4 1/2 feet from the tower and are completely transparent, supported by steel beams.

It’s an extremely freaky feeling to step into one of the boxes and see exactly what it looks like to free fall from a quarter-mile in the sky. The panoramic view is both terrifying and breathtaking, and I’m not even afraid of heights.

I did not see a single sign stating a weight limit -- or person limit -- for the boxes, and I found it slightly unnerving that visitors were piling into them like they did the elevator. (Later, I learned that each box can hold at least five tons.)

My kids were super eager to test them out, and I admit I may have directed them towards a box that appeared to have lighter people on board. I know this makes little sense considering that each box could hold an elephant, but the high altitude might have enhanced my irrational mom fears.

One woman stepped into a box and stepped right back out. "I can’t do it," she said to me with wild, wide eyes. My sons, however, jumped up and down (!) from inside the box and yelled out, "Whoa! This is cool!"

I stood in one of the glass spaces for about a minute. I felt like Wile E. Coyote from the old Road Runner cartoons when he ran off the edge of a cliff and always froze in mid-air for a second or two, sometimes just to open an umbrella, before plunging to the ground.

Then I thought, "I think I see my dad," which is what Cameron said in the 1986 comedy "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" when he looked down from the top floor of the Sears Tower.

Finally, I th…

Everyone's a star at a Chickadee's show.
Everyone's a star at a Chickadee's show.

The Chickadees tweet for Summerfest tots

Milwaukee, unfortunately, doesn’t have a huge children’s music scene, so I make a point to check out the few local, kiddo bands that pop up, including Fox & Branch, The Figureheads and The Chickadees.

I wrote an article about The Chickadees a few months ago, and at that time, lead singer Mary Karlzen sent me their CD, "Songs From The Great Outdoors." It quickly fell into regular rotation in the car CD player, so when I saw that The Chicakdees were playing again this year at Summerfest, my family and I -- which includes my 6-year-old sons -- decided to make a pilgrimage to check out the band live.

Weather conditions were near perfect on the Big Gig's grounds, with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and a perfect lake breeze.  

The Chickadees performed at 2:15 p.m at Summerfest's Children's Theater & Playzone, and there was a decent turnout in for the show, including senior editor Drew Olson who was with his wife and daughter. Most of the audience members, of course, were under 10.

Karlzen -- who uses the stage name "Mare Mare" -- appeared with co-Chickadees Anjl Rodee and Carmen Nickerson wearing brightly colored Chickadees T-shirts, jeans or pants and matching pink sneakers. I instantly appreciated that they were animated and smiley, but not fake.

"It's great that the kids have fun, but as a parent it's sometimes hard to sit through a kids' show, so we try to make it entertaining for the parents, too," says Karlzen.

The band's debut album, "Songs from the Great Outdoors," won a Parents’ Choice award, and the group plans to release a second CD by the end of the year.

At the concert, most of the material was drawn from "Songs from the Great Outdoors," including "An Owl In the Tree," "5 Shiny Apples" and "Chickadees Song." The majority of the band’s songs are about nature, seasons and animals.

The trio has an engaging stage presence with catchy lyrics and nice harmonies, although it was difficult to hear Rodee …

Root beer?
Root beer?

Find me in a random root beer barrel

On Friday, July 3, at some point during the day, I’ll be slinging soda from a random root beer barrel. If you find me, say hello, and I’ll buy you a soda.

No, I’m not moonlighting on Instead, I am doing research for’s latest series of articles, "Shift Switch." For the next year or so, the writers will work other jobs -- most of which are "very Milwaukee" in some way -- and write about the experience. For example, Senior Editor Drew Olson made burgers at George Webb and served beer at Summerfest.

As long as it's not disgustingly hot, I am looking forward to working the barrel. Who knows, maybe I’ll discover that "soda jerk" is my true calling.

Pepsi, anyone?

Ironically, the word "big" appeared behind Blues Traveler's John Popper who underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost a lot of weight.
Ironically, the word "big" appeared behind Blues Traveler's John Popper who underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost a lot of weight.

Blues Traveler spices up mellow Sunday night

Prior to the Blues Traveler show, Summerfest had a mellow, "Sunday night" feel to it with a modest-sized crowd enjoying the breezy, beautiful summer evening. Hence, it was surprising how many people piled onto the bleachers at 10 p.m. to witness a show that sparked up Saturday night energy.

At the height of their success in the ‘90s, the Southern rock / blues band mastered dichotomy, and they continue to do so in 2009. On the one hand, the New Jersey-grown group attracts jam band enthusiasts fascinated by their improvisational live shows, but mainstreamers hooked on decade-old radio hits like "Run-Around" and "But Anyway" are loyal fans, too.

Originally, lead man John Popper’s extraordinary size and incredible harmonica-playing abilities added a circus-attraction element to the band’s mystique, and the group successfully entertained a variety of demographics for a half-decade before health issues pocked their success. In 1999, bassist Bobby Sheehan died of an accidental drug overdose and Popper struggled with obesity which led to diabetes and emergency heart surgery. Later, he underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost an extreme amount of weight.

Tonight, on Summerfest’s Briggs and Stratton stage, Popper appeared large but not obese, wearing his signature black-rimmed hat and a loose-fitting shirt.

Along with four bandmates, Popper ripped through a dozen songs without conversation other than the occasional, sincere "thank you" and a declaration that the show was a tribute to Michael Jackson. (Twice, Popper acknowledged Milwaukee by calling it "Mille-wah-que," referencing Alice Cooper’s pronunciation in "Wayne’s World.")

But what lacked in words was made up for with sound. The hour-and-a-half performance was almost a single jam -- one song rolled right into the next -- with crowd pleasers like "But Anyway" and "Run Around" mixed in with cuts like opening tune "Forever Owed," the high-energy "Save His Soul," "Look Around," …