Unlike the Superbowl, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Indianapolis 500 that procrastinators can always attend "next year," The Oprah Winfrey Show, an iconic American institution, is about to kiss it's 25-year-run goodbye. So if you want to "Be in the Audience," as the website offers, before the window is nailed shut for good on May 25, now's the time to schedule your trip to Chicago.
Because this season is the last, the reigning queen of talk shows has promised a doozie. Known to surprise her studio audience with free cars, $1000 credit cards and gifts from her annual holiday "Oprah's Favorite Things" show, the guru of self-fulfillment upped the ante by giving away 10-day trips to Australia to 300 audience members during the debut of her final season.
The good news? Tickets to the show are free. Bad news? Getting them is akin to getting an audience with Kate Middleton. If you're like me and have tried countless times (you throw your name into an internet pot and hope for the best) to get tickets, here's a little tip. Harpo Studios has a special concierge hotline that such hotels as The Peninsula Chicago and The Four Seasons use to score tickets.
"We call at 2 p.m. for the next day's taping. And by 5:15, they call back to ask for guests' first and last names," says Robert Cameron, a Peninsula Hotel concierge. "I wouldn't plan a trip counting on it, but, as Oprah will tell you, dreams do come true."
Even if you're not one of the chosen few, Chicago is a great place to visit. Oprah, who landed a job at Chicago's WLS-TV 27 years ago, was so smitten with the place that she reported after her initial interview, "If I don't get the job, I'm gonna go into PR, because I want to work in this town."
Of course, now she has found a new town where she wants to work, spending much of her time at her 42-acre Montecito estate, but in Oprah's early days you could see her jogging along Chicago's 18-mile lake front, riding the bus to the station and eating her signature mashed potatoes at The Eccentric, the restaurant she opened with Lettuce Entertain You's Rich Melman.
So Oprah tickets or not, here are some fabulous ideas for entertaining yourself while waiting for the nod from the woman Forbes magazine calls "the world's most powerful celebrity."
Get High: Okay, so the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai pre-empted the former Sears Tower's tallest building designation, but the Willis Tower, as it has been called since 2009 when the British insurance giant who leases part of the building bought naming rights, is still an impressive skyscraper. Now, when the elevator operator whisks you to the 103rd floor in 60 seconds flat, you'll hear, although some beg to differ, that the Willis Tower is "the tallest in the Northern Hemisphere." Even more fun is the observatory in the John Hancock Center where free headsets provide a tour by Chicago native David Schwimmer.
Laugh it off: Second City, Old Town Chicago's famous improvisational comedy club where Tina Fey, John Belushi, Steve Carell, Steven Colbert and dozens of other comics honed their craft, still offers knee-slappingly hilarious shows seven nights a week.
Join a different live audience: Between Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and The Goodman, Chicago has more Regional Theatre Tonies than any American city. I enjoyed God of Carnage, 2009's Tony award winner, at the Goodman Theatre, the longest running nonprofit Chicago theater. Founded in 1925 as a tribute to Chicago playwright, Kenneth S. Goodman who died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, this old-time theater started at the Art Institute of Chicago on the site of the museum's Modern Wing.
Rock it out: At Lincoln Hall, a nearly two-year-old intimate concert hall started by Chris and Mike Schuba whose original music club Schubas Tavern launched the careers of such now well-knowns as Dave Matthew, Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket, I was lucky to catch Warpaint, an all-women's experimental rock group that Heath Ledger allegedly counted among his favorites. The roof of Lincoln Hall, once a garage, a machine shop and the 3 Penny Cinema, is where FBI sharpshooters perched to prevent John Dillinger's escape on the night he was killed.
With a rich history, fabulous art museums, the Field, the Shedd Aquarium, shopping on Michigan Avenue (where the Black Eyed Peas' and 21,000 dancers gathered to celebrate the premiere of Oprah's 24th season with altered lyrics of "I Gotta Feeling.") and 24.5-acre Millennium Park, don't be surprised if you're having so much fun in Chicago that you won't have to accept the concierge's tickets. For more info about Oprah's adopted hometown, click here.