‘Nonsensical walk’ tempts tourists through Loop’s lesser-known parts

April 4, 2013

When Amanda Scotese taught video production to high school students in neighborhoods like Avalon and Albany Park, she’d bike or take public transit and arrive early enough to walk around and explore.

Scotese studied urban theory at the University of Chicago and was taken in by the 19th century concept of the flaneur, a kind of urban explorer or “connoisseur of the street” who walks for pleasure more than transportation.  

“On the most basic level I just love walking,” Scotese said. “It’s such a basic way of learning about the world. Some people prefer to read books, but I walk a ton.”

Scotese took indirect routes though Chicago’s neighborhoods that offered her sights to see. She’d wind up side streets and meander down alleys and boulevards. She looked for details in the landscape that might escape someone in more of a hurry, or in a car: a block where two-flats bled into old factories, another where storefront churches outnumbered every other kind of building; children playing in a hydrant or an elderly woman sitting on her porch in a forest of plants.  

In our daily lives, we are often stuck in predictable patterns of movement, taking the same routes to and from work, accidentally tracing the same footsteps we made yesterday and the day before.

But Scotese says that “by stepping off the same route, we can learn a lot.”

Not just an academic, Scotese has also channeled these interests into a business.

She has worked in tourism for more than a decade, including a stint with travel maven Rick Steves. In 2010, Scotese founded Chicago Detours, which bills itself as “a tour company for curious people.”

In addition to offering walking tours that showcase downtown staples you can often see from a boat, Scotese has done things like publish a map to Chicago’s underground Pedway. Now she’s launched a quarterly series of walking tours that explore the sorts of overlooked spaces she discovered on her own quirky trips.

The first, a “Nonsensical Walk of Indoor Spaces,” takes place this Friday, and will lead participants through a series of publically accessible – if rarely seen – Loop lobbies, Pedway passages, shortcuts and corridors. The tour starts at Block 37 and ends at the Chicago Board of Trade.

“We go through the Daley Center, City Hall and the Thompson Center,” Scotese said, ticking down her itinerary, which also includes “taking the Pedway through the parking garage under [Millennium] Park.”

The tour’s unconventional narration will involve a game of telephone: The tour leader will pass back snippets of information to the first few participants, who will pass it back to the people behind them and so on.

“I did this walk . . . to get a sense of what interior spaces are open to the public,” Scotese said. “It was just this entire world that I had never imagined: wild shortcuts, eateries tucked away in spaces you’d never notice from outside.”

Scotese hopes participants will get from the tour what she has from this and her other walks.

“In the few hours I wandered around downtown I had a much better sense of the city,” she said.

Chicago Detours’ Nonsensical Walk of Indoor Spaces takes place April 5 from 4 to 6 p.m. Meet in the Pedway atrium of Block 37 at 108 N. State Street. Tickets are $20, space is limited and reservations are required.

Follow Robin Amer on Twitter @rsamer.