Chicago, where winter makes us strong

Fort Lauderdale sales pitch leaves us cold

It was 79 and partly sunny in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.

So?

So what that Fort Lauderdalians were cruising the roads with the top down while Chicago was enjoying a little precipitation? OK, sticklers might prefer the word "sleet," but whatever.

Anyway, my dear Fort Lauderdalians, it's not even cold here. It was so warm Thursday that when I stepped off the curb to get in my car, I plunged into slush up to my ankles. Cold? Cold is when that curbside mess is 100 percent ice mixed with dog poop.

So who needs Fort Lauderdale?

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (sunny.org) thinks we do, and on Wednesday it dispatched its beachmobile to Pioneer Court, next to Tribune Tower, to convince us.

Inside the beachmobile, a live man in swim trunks batted a beach ball around with a live woman in a bikini. On an outdoor beach chair, near the live beach cam broadcast, lounged an ice sculpture of a bikini-clad babe. Another ice figure did a headstand on a paddle board, an ancient Hindu practice known as yoga boarding.

Encased in a big ice block was yet another bikini. Passers-by were encouraged to stand behind it to be photographed, creating the illusion — chuckles — that they were wearing the teensy suit.

My dear Fort Lauderdalians — Lauderdites? — trust me. You do not want to see Chicago bodies in bikinis on your beaches this time of year. The sight of so much Chicago winter blubber would chase your visiting Canadians straight to Mexico.

"Want me to take your photo?" one of the beachmobile promoters chirped as I walked past. She smiled as if to say what could be more hilarious than me in a bikini in Chicago in February?

I unzipped my 550-goose-fill down coat with a defiant flourish.

"No, thanks!" I said. In Chicago in the winter, an unzipped coat is as liberating as any bikini.

Why is it that people in places like Fort Lauderdale — by which I mean places made soft by too much sun and too few clothes — think Chicagoans want to escape the very thing that makes Chicago Chicago — by which I mean winter?

"Why would a Chicagoan want to come to Fort Lauderdale in the winter?" I asked Francine Mason, a spokeswoman for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

She laughed. "That's funny," she said.

Funny? No, funny is Chicago people in bikinis in February.

Look, maybe we would like to get away from this wintry slop. But don't tell us we do. It's like talking trash about someone else's family; family members can do it, but anybody else gets punched.

"We're not saying move here," Mason said. "Just take a break."

Mason was very nice, but why shouldn't she be? It was 79 degrees out. She admitted that while years in Fort Lauderdale haven't erased her New York accent, they have vanquished her inner winter warrior.

"Once you live here for quite a while," she said, "anything below 70 feels cold."

See, this is our problem. Here in Chicago, we believe in the fortifying nature of winter. We find our comfort, our meaning, our identity, not in surf and sand but in the belief that anything below 32 makes us strong.

So, Fort Lauderdale, we'd like to extend an invitation. Come to Chicago. In February. We'll be sending our slushmobile down your way. You can pose in ugly, puffy jackets and heavy boots and feel what it's like to grow some winter spine.

For more, visit us at http://www.bleepinfreezin.org, where our slush cam is on 24 hours a day until May.

mschmich@tribune.com

Featured Stories