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Imagining Da Casino in Chicago

PETER SAGAL: Anyone who lives in Chicago is painfully aware of our city's inferiority complex.


NPR News Peter Sagal.

SAGAL: We're caught between New York and L.A., literally and figuratively, fighting off the cities like Denver and, God help us, Minneapolis who want to steal our crown as the best city most people fly over. All the visiting celebrities interviewed on our local TV chat shows are always asked, so do you like Chicago? What do you like about Chicago? And the celebrities always say, oh, yeah, I love Chicago. I love its energy, because what else are they going to say? They love our processed meats?

We got in the news recently for being the first city to ban foie gras, which is just insane. This is a metropolis that grew rich by being cheerfully cruel to animals on an industrial scale.

Our mayor wants the Olympics because look what they did for the international stature and prestige of Montreal? Thanks to the best-seller, "The Devil in the White City," Chicago is now best-known for our serial killers and the World's Fair that closed a century ago.

So we need the nation's first city-owned casino. But instead of the Venetian or Paris casinos in Vegas, which conjure up sterile visions of foreign locales, the Chicago casino's theme will be its host city. You'd knock on the door like an old speakeasy and only be allowed in if you pay a small bribe.

Cocktail waitresses would be dressed like payroll-patting city workers. One of them goes and gets you a drink, while three of them just watch - but they have to be tipped too.

A grand, marble staircase - known as the white flight - would lead you up to a gaming floor, where the croupiers will be dressed like aldermen, when they take your winnings they put a symbolic chip in their own pocket and promise to pave your street.

Outside, instead of an erupting volcano or pirate ship battle, every hour on the hour, actors dress as cops and protesters will reenact the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, except now, the police batons will be rubber and it will end with everybody getting bought off with city contracts, and then joining each other for a rousing chorus…

(Singing) My kind of town, Chicago, is.

What Chicago is, is authentic. We won't promise you riches or parties or fun; we'll take your money and give you enough cheap gins so that you become soused and keep playing. And if you do, by freak random chance, win too much, paid cast members will take you out back and pretend to break your legs, because the reason we live here and the reason we love it and the reason that those Hollywood types really should spend more time here is that Chicago's great product, a rare commodity in today's world, one we can make our own is reality. What happens in Chicago really happens.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Peter Sagal is the host of NPR's WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME and the author of "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (And How to Do Them)." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Sagal is, has been, and perhaps someday will be again, a husband, father, playwright, screenwriter, author, journalist, columnist, marathoner, Jeopardy contestant, dramaturg, podcast host, documentary host, foreign correspondent, wedding officiant, and magician's assistant.