Rubber Ducky, You're the One...

I was all set to deliver a post this week on the topic of routine. Really, I was, but then I heard through the family grapevine that my cousin, Trista, and her kids might be coming to town for an impromptu day trip. I've been itching for a break lately. We've been in the preliminary stages of planning a father-daughter vacation, and my already acute sense of wanderlust has taken on epic proportions. For today, however, I was more than willing to settle for a "staycation." As soon as I heard the Manars were headed to town, I asked my boss if I could use some personal time, and I was on board for a fun day in the city. You'll just have to wait on that other post...

Will, with some pancake bites. This photo doesn't quite do justice to how huge the fork was in proportion to his body.

We started off our day with lunch at Yolk, Trista's dining request, where we filled our bellies with delicious breakfast treats, with the exception of Abbie, who requested the ubiquitous meal craved by kids nationwide -- chicken fingers and fries. To my delight, they tasted just like the ones at Baker's Square, my own childhood favorite. Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

To be completely honest, I had somewhat of an ulterior motive in taking the day off: I was hoping to persuade everyone to attend the Ducky Derby, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. I had first become aware of the event the year before, when I spotted the huge rubber ducky near the Michigan Avenue Bridge last year, and discovered the derby upon further investigation. Unfortunately, I had already missed the race, despite the fact that I was unemployed at the time, and would have had no scheduling dilemma resulting from full-time employment. I was sorely disappointed that I was going to miss it this year as well, but the presence of my seldom-seen young relatives was just the excuse I needed. After all, what would be a better way to pass an afternoon with children, than to check out an epic race of rubber ducks?

Abbie, Will, and their souvenir ducks, waiting for the Ducky Derby to begin.

The race begins at the Columbus Drive Bridge over the Chicago River. The city closes the street, and raises one half of the bridge, allowing a dump truck stationed on the remaining side to unload its cargo over the side of the bridge and into the water. There, the ducks float downstream, aided by the spray of a hose from a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District boat, through a course demarcated by a system of bumpers. The first duck to reach the end of the course is the winner. 

The best part of the whole thing was watching them dump all the ducks off the back of a truck into the Chicago River. On the water taxi, you can see the Derby's mascot.

Each duck is numbered, and for a donation to the Special Olympics, you receive your own number (although we found the donation process to be rather dubious: we paid for a "quack pack" of six entries for the price of five, but only received one number; at least it was all for a good cause!), and if you have the first-place duck, you win one of a number of donated prizes, including a trip to the Dominican Republic, a spa visit, or sports tickets. As of yet, we haven't been able to locate the results, but I'm not holding out much hope. 

They keep the ducks confined to a course, so that they can all be recovered instead of polluting the river.

As it turns out, the ducks move at a very leisurely pace. Apparently, without the assistance from the water spray, the race can take up to four hours! Even with the assistance, things were progressing far more slowly than the fifteen minutes quoted to us by the race's announcers. Coincidentally, the announcers also misrepresented the length of the journey, billing the event as a race from the Columbus Drive Bridge to the Michigan Avenue Bridge. In reality, the race went only as far as a pontoon boat floating between the two bridges. Although we picked a poor viewing spot in light of the actual destination, it proved to be of little importance, as the full distance probably would have taken the entire day.


As it was, the kids quickly lost interest in the proceedings. They simply had to wait too long for things to get going, and once the race started, the action was too far away, and too slow-moving to be of much interest to them. We ended up throwing in the towel before the race was even half over. Nevertheless, I'm still glad to have gone at least once. How often do you get to see thousands of rubber ducks pouring into the river? Even if it wasn't as exciting as I had expected, it was still pretty neat. Not to mention, I got to walk along Chicago's Riverwalk for the first time. It's really quite pleasant down there!

The kids were completely tuckered out by the end of the day.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty great day. Trista and Mom may have been a little traumatized by my admittedly poor decision that it would be acceptable to take the double stroller on the bus (it was, after all, the middle of the day on a weekday, I just failed to account for the increased ridership levels of high tourist season), but there were some incredible moments as well, ones that I couldn't catch on film --the wonderment on Abbie's face as she craned her neck to watch all the skyscrapers go by on the bus; Will's tiny hand reaching out to hold Mom's as he fell asleep in the stroller on the walk back -- these are the tableaus that warmed the cockles of my heart as I witnessed them unfold, and the memories that will stick with me. No routine day at the office could even hope to hold a candle to that kind of day.

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