By Paula Hendrickson
Long ago, on a PBS station not too far away, there was an addictive little show called Wild Chicago. The classic WTTW series, which ran from 1989 to 2003, explored strange, quirky and eccentric places and events from across the Chicagoland area. Originally hosted by series co-creator Ben Hollis, and later by Will Clinger, the show featured a spate of “Wild Correspondents” that at one point included former Rockford reporter Sarah Vetter.
About ten years ago, Hollis returned for a short-run reboot called Wild Chicago’s Illinois Road Trip, which included a stop in Rockford.
Last summer the franchise expanded as Wild Travels, with Clinger at the helm for another offbeat adventure to discover even more oddities, bizarre museums, and strange subcultures across the country. Among the places they visited in the first season were a neon sign “bone yard” in Las Vegas; a house with a boulder in it; a Portland “peculiarium”; the National Museum of Funeral History; even a two-story outhouse.
Wild Travels returns for a six-episode second season this summer. Clinger will take the audience to see a collection of strangely beautiful bug art, go behind the scenes of a Florida mermaid show, visit a library situated on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, and even get to the bottom of an annual event where people gather to moon a passing Amtrak train. Each episode includes a fun mix of multiple segments.
The thing I always loved about Wild Chicago – and also love about Wild Travels – is that it showcases people who are truly passionate about what they do, whether that’s collecting things no one else sees the beauty in, creating art, or being part of a subculture mainstream American doesn’t quite understand. Clinger’s genuine curiosity and sense of humor make interviewees open up about their particular interests or jobs – even the guy who built a business by diving for and recovering golf balls from water hazards and reselling them around the world.
If you’re anything like me, when watching the show you’ll realize that the “oddballs” of the world find more joy in life than most people will ever know. Wild Travels, like its predecessor, celebrates the unusual and remarkable people and places all around us.
Wild Travels season 2 premieres Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on WTTW; new episodes air Saturdays at 4:30 and repeat Sundays at 11 p.m.