Chicago isn't a show for journalists, or even for enthusiasts. It's a show for consumers, for ordinary people. The Windy City's auto expo reportedly brings in more Joe Public foot traffic than any other new-car show in the country, and its floor is laid out accordingly: There's a lot of quasi-fun stuff to do and a lot of weird cars to poke.
You can drive a Jeep (or a Toyota Tundra, or a Chevrolet Volt) around a fake landscape (dirt pile!). You can play with a Ford Mustang while it's strapped to a dyno. You can watch unintentionally funny commercials for Gery Chico's anti-Rahm mayoral campaign in the food court. And so on.
Thrills, spills, chills! Also, giant belt buckles in display cases. How can you not love that?
1. The Jeep Soft Top Challenge: Up! Down! Up! Down! How long does it take you to put a Wrangler's top up? Probably not as long as it would've taken twenty years ago, but hey, who cares about time when you've got a big orange clock? Big orange clocks are fun. And while I love Jeeps, I don't understand why anyone would play with the top on a Wrangler unless they absolutely had to. Also, 2359 what?
2. The Dodge Charger Cop Car: I know it's old. It's still really cool. I couldn't stop staring at it. If you're going to get pulled over, you might as well get pulled over by Officer Kickass. Next to this, Ford's Police Interceptor just looks like OfficerTrooperSergeantCaptain Rainbow Brite at Large.
3. Mr. Jeep Dirt Shovel: This guy's entire job was to shovel dirt. Jeeps came by, they moved the dirt, he shoveled dirt. Lather, rinse, repeat. At least he had safari clothes. Who doesn't love safari clothes? (Also, does this pay better than journalism? Because I could totally hang out all day, drink a beer, contemplate my navel, and do this.)
4. The Texas Truck Rodeo Belt Buckle: Speaks for itself. Put this on Burt Reynolds and stick the dude in a '77 Firebird, you take over the world. Seriously. It was the size of a dinner plate. I put this on, I'd keel over from the weight alone. If you distill it down to pure cliche, America might be the best thing ever.
5. Custom Vans! Custom vans custom vans custom vans custom vans! Seriously, you guys, custom vans!
6. Snaked-Out Dodge Viper: Because really, the world's snakiest car isn't snakey enough. Because there's no such thing as beating a bad idea into the ground. Because you only know bad taste is bad if you're self-aware, and Viper owners are famously nothing of the sort.
7. Chevrolet Sonic Graphics: Is that a wing on the gas cap? Is this hip? Am I finally-at the ripe old age of a month shy of 30-too old to understand what the kids are on about? Do people pay for this? Are they all design-hating troglodytes?
8. Holy hell, the Audi TT RS: Custom vans custom vans custom vans! No, wait. I mean, er, turbo five turbo five turbo five! Sure, it's essentially Porsche 911 money for something that shares a platform with the Volkswagen Golf. But it's a freaking Audi with an RS badge and a freaking turbo five. And I am a sucker for heritage. (Custom vans!)