By Cara Jepsen
This year's Taste of Polonia kicks off tonight with an opening ceremony celebrating Warsaw's 400th anniversary as Poland's capital. The four-day fest includes live music, puppet shows, a polka marathon, and bingo and casino games. The opening ceremony starts at 6; Jerry Zahara and the Happy Stars polka band plays at 7. The fest runs through Monday night at Copernicus Plaza, 5216 W. Lawrence. Admission is $5, $3 for seniors, free for kids under 12. Call 777-8899 for more.
If you never made it to the regular weekend fireworks at Navy Pier this summer, you may want to check out tonight's sixth annual XRT Rock & Roll Fireworks--supposedly the largest, most expensive, and longest (25 minutes) of the lot. Whatever the case, they're the only ones choreographed to rock music broadcast simultaneously over the radio; U2, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, and the Who are all scheduled to be played. The free sky show starts around 10 at Monroe Harbor, Monroe at Lake Shore Drive. Bringing a radio tuned to 93.1 may heighten the experience. Call 481-9978 for info and suggested viewing areas.
Originally begun by officers two decades ago as a way to teach kids about careers in law enforcement and the legal system, the 25th District's Police Explorers program nowadays also serves as an alternative to gang-banging. Interspersed with the lectures about drugs are demonstrations on fingerprinting and self-defense and excursions to miniature golf courses and water slides. Today the group will hold a car wash to help finance future events. It's from 9 to noon at 5555 W. Grand. It'll set you back $3 per car. Call 746-5090.
Imagine a guy flying by at 55 miles per hour on a souped-up lawn mower. Now imagine a dozen others pursuing him around a track. That vision will be realized at today's Championship Race for Riding Lawn Mowers, which will include some of the fastest modified lawn mowers in the country. Among the five contests scheduled will be a spectator stock race for everyday lawn mowers (minus the cutting blades, of course). On display will be the world's fastest lawn mower--the Dixie Chopper Jet Powered Lawn Mower--which is equipped with a helicopter engine and can reach speeds up to 65 miles per hour. There'll also be a performance by the Precision Lawn Chair Drill Team of Vail, Colorado. The events take place in conjunction with Rockford's On the Waterfront festival--an 815 version of Taste of Chicago. The races start at 1 (gates open at noon) at the Rockford MetroCentre at Main and Elm Streets in Rockford. They're free, but you have to pay $7 to get into the fest first. Call 847-729-7363.
Though each hour-long film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's stunning ten-part Decalogue series loosely addresses one of the Ten Commandments, the films don't have to be seen in sequence to be appreciated. The Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, will show parts three and four at 3:45 and parts five and six at 6; parts seven and eight screen Tuesday at 6, and parts nine and ten Thursday at 6. Admission is $6. Call 443-3737.
For many of us kids growing up in the boonies, drive-in movies meant staying up late, wearing pajamas in the car, and gorging on snacks. As we got older the theaters were synonymous with underage drinking, pot smoking, and other illicit activities. Then came cable TV, multiplex cinemas, and home video, and you know the rest of the story. Aurora's Hi Lite 30 Drive-In, however, is one that survived, and tonight it cohosts with WJMK 104.3 a Dusk Til Dawn Pajama Party. The all-nighter starts with Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges, continues with Grease and Eat My Dust, and ends with The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Fly (with Vincent Price, not Jeff Goldblum). There will also be a hula-hoop contest. The event starts at 6 (films begin at 8; radio jock Pat O'Kelley hosts a live broadcast from 6 to 10) at the Hi Lite 30 Drive-In on Montgomery Road near Route 30 in Aurora. Admission is $10.43 per carload. Call 630-898-5888 for directions.
The Chicago Federation of Labor celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with today's Laborfest at Navy Pier. The all-day event features dockside stage performances by the Orchestra 33 Late Night Band and the country music group Nashville Anthem. Skyline Stage events include a labor rally, performances by cast members of Show Boat, and music by the International Ink Spots. Skyline and dockside events both start at 11 at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; dockside events are free, but Skyline tickets are $5, and only union members and their families can attend (members should contact their local for tickets). Call 222-1000 for more.
Thirty-three years ago a man named Al Weisman picked up a flag, marched around his Lakeview block, and led a group of neighborhood children in an informal parade. Since then it's become an annual Labor Day event that attracts more than a thousand marchers--many wearing red, white, and blue and waving flags. Called the WOOGMS (Wellington-Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society) parade, its motto is "Everybody Marches, Nobody (Just) Watches." Though Weisman died in 1974, his son and grandsons continue the tradition. This year's parade includes the Jesse White Drum Corps. It starts at 11 at the corner of Pine Grove and Wellington and ends on the lawn of Saint Joseph Hospital, 2900 N. Lake Shore, where the Jesse White Tumblers will perform. It's free. For information call 755-0888 (weekdays) or 327-4924 (Labor Day weekend).
Today is the final day of the African Festival of the Arts, a giant, six-pavilion celebration of the culture and history of Africa. The event includes films, folk art, food, history displays, fashion shows, children's activities, and an authentic re-creation of an African village marketplace. The Muntu dance troupe, Haiti's Boukan Ginen, Steppin' Out, and the all-female jazz ensemble Samana will also perform. It's from 11 to 10 today at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. Tickets are $5, $3 for children and seniors. Call 955-2787.
For the last dozen years actor-storyteller-novelist Spalding Gray has come to the Goodman Theatre to unveil his quirky monologues. His newest piece, It's a Slippery Slope, has him finding inner peace while skiing the Grand Canyon. Tonight's preview benefits the Goodman Theatre Discovery Board. It's at 7:30 at the theater, 200 S. Columbus. Tickets are $50, which includes a chance to win a five-day ski package to any lodge in the U.S. ($150 also gets you a postshow dinner with Gray). Call 443-3800.
Around the Coyote, the annual arts extravaganza that helped gentrify Wicker Park, starts up again today with a fancy concert fund-raiser featuring the world beat of Ulele and the funky acid jazz of Liquid Soul. A preshow reception will feature stand-up comic Aaron Freeman as well as a kissing booth, tarot-card readers, and jugglers. The reception starts at 6 and the concert at 8 at the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee. Tickets are $50 for the reception (includes concert, food, and drinks) or $19.50 for the concert only (cash bar). Call 342-6777 for more.
Chicago's old main post office is one of the worst workplaces I've ever seen. Straight out of the movie Brazil, the building is ugly, dirty, dark, and hopelessly depressing. Fortunately workers will be moving across the street to a new facility, which will undoubtedly save some lives. What will happen to the old building? There's a group of people who want to turn it into a high-speed rail station. Today Dave Goldin from the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and architect Ward Miller will present their plan, called Back to the Future: Modern Transportation Technology Rebuilding Our Urban Heritage, at a Friends of Downtown brown-bag lunch. It's at noon in the east meeting room of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. It's free, but you should bring your own lunch. Call 726-4031 for info.