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Things to Do in Chicago

Karaoke With A Bit More

What: Karaoke
Where: Spyners 4623 N. Western Ave
When: Friday Nights Starting at 9:00pm
Why: “Ah, flibbity-floo!” You might say. “I hates me some karaoke!” Deep down, we all do. And at most places, there’s a good reason for that. Who came up with the concept of taking it so seriously? Who decided there should be contests? Who in their right mind tries really hard when it comes to Karaoke, which roughly translates to “Ghost Singing Super Happy Fun Time?”
Nobody at Spyners, that’s who.
Spyners is a friendly bar where you can sit back and watch the carnival unfold. Take advantage of the drink specials until you’re “comfortable” enough to sing some “Total Eclipse of the Heart (Turn Around)” with the best of them. You’re bound to meet some folks, and only regret a few of them.

What: Nocturna Featuring DJ Scary Lady Sarah
Where: Smart Bar Underneath the Metro - 3730 N. Clark Street
When: Every Tuesday 10:00pm 4:00am
Why: STOP! Okay, you’re just about to skim right past this one, and that’s completely understandable, but please hear me out. No, this is not just an event for you Goth folk out there, quite the contrary. Nocturna is a great place to be, especially if you are outside of the dark circle of Gothy gloom. First, you’re almost guaranteed a hassle-free time. All of them Goth kids had to get there on public transport in those outfits. So the last thing that they’re going to do is turn around and tell you how to live your life. Second, it’s a surprisingly fun time. Drinks are relatively affordable, the atmosphere is relaxed, and c’mon, the people there are begging to be watched. Finally, who knows, you might meet someone. It’s a long shot, but guys and gals who are wearing makeup, piercing god knows what, and trying to make their parents pay for something or another might just be able to hold down a good conversation. Or not. Either way, you’ll have a good time and get some good stories out of it.


Skydive Chicago

Just about an hour North of the City in Ottawa, rests Skydive Chicago.  This family-owned facility has grown from a small, little-known place to an enormous, fun-filled adventure over the course of 10 or so years.  There is so much other to do here rather than or besides skydiving.  There is a rec room with billiards, a deli/bar, a theater, pro-shop, etc.  Canoeing, hiking and horseback riding are also avialable on the 230-acre campus.  Just a little to the East of the skydiving hangar lies a pond with decks and volleyball too.  You may even just decide to sit around and chat with other skydivers in the hangars or the grounds.  It’s almost impossible to get bored even if you chicken out of the skydiving part.

After enrolling in a short course in the early morning on the basics of the sport and then practicing your moves on a simulator, be prepared to fly up about 13,500 feet in a small cargo plane filled with other veterans or first-timers. 

The first jump requires, by law, for the jumper to be attached by hooks and cables to an experienced diver, which they call “tandem jumping”.  Once you jump from that plane though, you’ll be glad to have that jumper attached to you as sometimes all you learned that morning goes out the window (as it did with me) and the incredible rush of adrenaline is all-encompasing.  The man I was attached to pulled my ripcord for me when I had forgotten.  Trust me, this is one law that I was glad to abide by.

You can hire a videographer to film the entire jump for you (the videographer jumps with you so he is right there the entire time) which we did and makes for great memories and a perfect conversation starter at parties. 

After we landed, which was very smooth, we sat around and chatted with others for a while and then went on home.  After all, this whole process takes the entire day.  Plan on getting there about 6 or 7 a.m. and staying until  long around 5 or 6 p.m.

And, if I were you, I’d go on an empty stomach.  But that’s just me.


Cross Items Off Your Life Long To-Do List

Don’t be ashamed, we all have one.  It doesn’t have to be your dirty little secret.  Because regardless of whether you have an informal list in your head, or a hard copy in your wallet backed up with a Word document, in some way shape or form, you’ve probably got what I like to refer to as the “Life Long To-Do List.”  And while there are certainly a fair number of items on my own personal list that will require me to leave not only Chicago but also the Continental US (spend time with Nepalese Monks for example) there is plenty of ridiculous adventure that awaits you somewhere within the city limits.  And so, here you have a few great places in Chicago that will not only help you cross a few items off your list, but also give you some great party lines (”So, this one time, when I was doing a Trapeze catch!”) and maybe just make you the interesting person you’ve always aspired to be.


1.  Learn to Fly

Since attending the circus as a youth, you have no doubt been envying the trapeze artists.  They were second in glory only to the show girl on the unicorn (or, in hindsight the middle aged woman on a white horse with a cardboard cone) who rode around the rings.  Thanks to the tireless work of the Gaona family, you can share in the renown but pass on all that sketchy carnie business.  At the Flying Gaona Gym at 5917 N. Broadway you have the opportunity to learn the craft year round.  In the summer months they hold lessons in various places around the city.   


2.  Tempt Fate with Sushi

Any hardcore Sushi afficianado will be sure to gasp in awe if you’re able to say that you had the wherewithal to choke down some Fugu.  This rather rare (especially outside of < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Japan) form of sushi is made from the blowfish.  If not cleaned properly the fish is deadly.  You can currently get your hands on some at Tsuki in Lincoln Park. 


3.  Get Over Your Stage Fright

If you have been harboring a fear of public speaking since your elementary school days, there is no time like the present for getting over it.  And, at the weekly poetry slams at the Green Mill on North Broadway you’ll do it in style.  The hypertrendy club hosts not only the best poetry slam in town, but also the open mic night that happens shortly before the pros go on stage.  Get over your fear, and get bragging rights that you performed at the Green Mill.  Clearly two birds with one stone.


4.  Learn a Party Trick Yoga Move

While you may not yearn for the Zen lifestyle, you certainly wish you could be that bendy.  True, some of the more difficult maneuvers might not be safe for beginners, but a life without risk isn’t worth living.  So, pick up a yoga class at a Bikram Yoga Center in Wicker Park.  After a few short sessions you’ll be busting out a Salamba Sirasana before you know it.


5.  Learn to Knit while Meeting People your own Age

At the Museum of Contemporary Art something rare happens the first Tuesday of the month.  The tradition is known as Stitch and Bitch, and it is much cooler than it sounds.  You know you’ve always wanted to craft your own winter accessories, and there is no place to learn like from people who have been doing it for years.  Plus, the event Sponsor Target is picking up your drink tab.  You might as well give it a shot.  If yarn work isn’t your thing, at least you’ve got a whole museum worth of art to distract yourself with.


Obviously this list is just a starting point.  Chicago is full of perfect places for crossing items off your to-do list, or even for finding new items to add to the list.  Keep it up though, because pretty soon you’re going to be tired of hearing from friends and relative strangers, ”I always wanted to do that!”



Feeling Independent?

Chicago is a beautiful city, with lots to do and see for everyone who visits or lives here. There’s great museums, great food, great clubs and bars, and of course, great shopping. The Magnificent Mile is one of the best places around to spend a day indulging in all the material glory of this fine nation. But maybe you’re feeling rebellious and want to show corporate America where they can stick it, or you’re looking for a unique experience to tell all your friends back home about, or maybe you’re just looking for somewhere new to satisfy your shopping cravings. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for somewhere other than The Gap to go spend crazy, why not try some of Chicago’s independent retailers? Chicago is filled with a thousand little shops that no one with an independent streak should miss. Here are a few of the better ones.

Hollywood Mirror

Hollywood Mirror is a funky little shop just a few blocks east of the Belmont stop on the Red Line. In here you’ll find the greatest array of second hand clothes this side of well, anywhere really. Everything from pin stripe fedoras, to bowling shirts, to Chicago Police shirts (sorry, no badges) can be found in the clothing sections. Don’t let the second hand second hand label worry you though. All the clothes are in great shape, and if you look long enough you’re sure to find something you absolutely can’t live without. But it doesn’t stop with clothes. Hollywood Mirror also has a sizable toy/miscellaneous junk section. Looking for pirate playing card (with gold doubloon)? They’ve got you covered. Or maybe you’d prefer a 50s style toy robot, or a rubber duck? They’ve even got a ninja themed arcade game you can jam on to bring you back to the glory days of the arcade. Whatever your mood or tastes, there’s bound to be some treasure awaiting you at Hollywood Mirror.

Sandmeyer’s Bookstore

The Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, at 714 South Dearborn (a mere one block East of the Harrison stop on the Red Line), is an independently owned and operated store, located in historic Printer’s Row for over twenty years. They’ve got a wonderfully cozy atmosphere, with creaky hardwood floors, jazz music playing over a small set of speakers, a very friendly and helpful staff, and a card catalog system (you read that right at no point in their twenty-three years of business have they had a computerized system). On most days you can find one of the Sandmeyer’s working there, and they’re more than happy to help you find that perfect book. They’ve got a wide variety of books, and a good sized collection, too. Most worth taking a look at is the very large section of Chicago books. If you’re looking for any kind of guide to the city, fiction or non-fiction about the city, or just a nice photo tour of the city, you won’t find a better selection than what they’ve got here. You’d be hard pressed to find a more complete collection of books on, about, by, and for Chicago and its people. You’d also be hard pressed to find an independent bookstore in the city with more charm, atmosphere, and a better staff and collection than the Sandmeyer’s. So if you’re looking for a good read to cozy up with when you get back to the hotel room, check them out and you won’t be left reading the room service menu.

The Gourmand

After finding the perfect read at the Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, you may well want to sit down and enjoy your book with a nice cup of Joe. But why spoil your day of independent store fun with a stop at Caribou or Starbucks? Well you’re in luck, because the Gourmand, one of the best independent coffee shops in the city, is just two doors south of the Sandmeyer’s, so you don’t have to resort to same old, same old quite yet. The Gourmand’s menu, colorfully written on a number of blackboards, ranges from the best mocha (and any other kind of coffee you could want) in the city, to soups, salads, lasagna, sandwiches, cookies, cakes, pies, and even microbrewed beer. Stop in any time of the day and you can get a complete meal (including breakfast the author recommends the chocolate chip pancakes), which can then be enjoyed on one of the sofas lining the walls or at one of the more traditional hardwood, coffee shop tables. Several speakers play alternative and folk music, the green walls are adorned with original works of art, and there is a wide variety of local newspapers to browse through. So stop in, order up your drink of choice, sit back, and enjoy the atmosphere of this wonderful coffee shop as you reflect on your day of independence or at least your day of independent shopping.

These are, of course, only a few of the many great independent stores in the Second City, so as you travel the city, keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what hidden gem you might stumble across next.


Three Superb South American BYOBs

United Airlines just reinstated direct flights from O’Hare to Buenos Aires, but for those who aren’t quite ready to undertake the 11 hour journey, Chicago’s north-of-the-Loop neighborhoods offer a wealth of different South American cuisines for modest prices.   Following is a sampling of BYOB favorites from three countries: Venezuela, Columbia, and Argentina.  

Be forewarned that South Americans are unrepentant meat-eaters; while there are at least a few vegetarian or seafood options on most menus, the star attraction is always beef.

Caracas Grill


6340 N. Clark St



5:00 PM to 11:00 PM Tuesday - Sunday

Closed Mondays


This tiny storefront restaurant sits on a busy, grungy street in Rogers Park, but inside, an authentically warm and communal Venezuelan scene awaits.  The grandmotherly cook comes out between courses to chat with patrons, most of whom appear to be locals.  Soccer matches play on a couple of small TVs, and conversation stops for a shot on goal.   Service is laid back but friendly, and the food is spectacular.  The light, puffy empanadas are a terrific and not overly-filling appetizer.  One must-taste entree is Pabellon, flank steak in a fragrant stew served with black beans, rice and fried plantains.   There is usually at least one delicious pork special as well.

            Venezuelans tend to drink beer with their meals, so feel free to bring your favorite brew instead of (or in addition to) a bottle of wine.


Las Tablas


2965 N. Lincoln



11:30 AM to 10:00 PM, Sunday - Thursday

11:30 AM to 11:00 PM, Friday, Saturday


Las Tablas, which occupies a couple of large, packed rooms in Wrigleyville, offers more in the way of atmosphere than Caracas Grill, with brightly colored walls and Columbian flags on display.   The menu is more extensive, as well.  Columbia is the bridge between Central and South America, and this is reflected in the cuisine, which offers fruits and vegetables not generally found on the menu in countries such as Argentina.  

Try the Picada Columbiana for two, featuring pork, steak, sausage, chicken and sides of plantain, yucca, and fried potatoes.   The delicious paella is made not only with seafood, but includes chorizo sausage and chicken.  As with Caracas Grill, either beer or wine would be an acceptable accompaniment to the hearty fare.


Tango Sur

3763 N. Southport



5:00 PM to 10:30 PM, Monday - Thursday; to 11:30 Friday

12:00 PM to 10:30 PM Sunday


            Wrigleyville’s Tango Sur, which features lovely outdoor seating during warmer months, is a faithful recreation of an Argentine asado or parilla, a steakhouse specializing in grilled meats.   Tango music plays above the din, and the servers are extremely polite when dealing with the crowds waiting for a table. 

Appetizers tend to be heavy:  Patrons who order the parillada have a whole grill loaded with chorizo, blood sausage, beef short ribs, and sweetbreads delivered to their table.   Steer clear of the overly bitter and garlicky spinach empanada in favor of the more delicately seasoned beef. 

The specialty of the house is bife vesuvio, steak stuffed with spinach, cheese and garlic.  Lomo means tenderloin, in this case, filet mignon of beef.  While more tender than the churrasco, or sirloin, the latter has better flavor.  Meat entrees are served with a simple salad of lettuce and tomato as well as fried potatoes.   For those who aren’t tempted by beef there are a few authentic and decent pasta dishes on the menu (many Argentines are of Italian descent).  Entree portions are enormous, so doggie bags are required for all but the most ambitious eaters–ask for the rest of your meal para llevar, or to go. 

As for what bottle to bring along, consider picking up an Argentine wine.  Malbec is probably the best known variety, but there are also fine Cabernet Sauvignons being produced.   Some good-value labels include Grafigna, Bodega Norton, Crios, Luca and J&F Lurton, all of whose wines can be found at discounts stores such as Sam’s and Cost Plus World Market.  (See www.samswine.com and www.worldmarket.com, respectively, for Chicago-area locations.)



The Best Places in the Windy City

This one is a nobrainer, I have live in Chicago all of my life and this is one of Chicagos best kept secrets. Hyde Park. Its a little community in it’s own right, and its still one of  the best places to live because diversity thrives here. Nesstled in the heart of Hyde Park is one of the best and hottest places to sit down and eat after a stroll on the beatuful lake front, The Dixi Kitchen has the best serving of red beans and rice I’ve had in all of my life, they also have fried green tomatoes, gumbo and fried corn bread so good it’ll make your mouth water. This place rocks and they have been serving some of the best southern cooking in all of Hyde Park for many years now. This place is a must to visit if your visiting from out of town. After filling your tummy I suggest you take a long romantic walk along the HOTT spot,  us kids from back in the day called our favorite spot, the hott spot, which is normally called the point. The point which is located right on the outter drive, behind the Museum of Science and Industry and can been seen on your way downtown, the point is a very romantic place to take your sweetie for some cuddling on the big massive rocks that sit just inches from the water, its an awsome must see and one of the most romantic palces I’ve ever been. There are many old historic buildings that still sit in the heart of Hyde park and they all tell their own story of surviving in a constent changing envrionment. Hyde part is on my A list for must see places in Chicago. 


A Day in Lincoln Park

Want to experience Chicago’s famed Lincoln Park but only have a day?

1. Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap (Armitage and Lincoln): Start your day with breakfast at Stanley’s (opens 7AM, Monday thru Friday), where you’ll find biscuits and gravy, scrambles, hash, french toast, pancakes, and a number of sides.  On the weekends, brunch starts at 10AM and includes a make-your-own-omlette bar, sandwich fixings, and a variety of pastries, fruits and vegetables.  This brunch comes full circle at the bloody mary bar.

2.  Armitage Shopping and DePaul History: After breakfast, walk up Armitage past the many boutiques and shops that range from designer consignment to local designer retail.  My favorites include: McShane’s Exchange, Lori’s Shoes, Art Effect, L’Occitane and, to top it off, a hot or cold drink at Argo Tea.  Continue north on Sheffield to Fullerton.  If you aren’t hungry yet, stroll through the comfortably small DePaul University Campus and make a stop at the Richardson Library which also houses art exhibits (Fullerton/Seminary).

3. Bourgeois Pig (Fullerton and Lincoln): The Pig is a locale favored by students, Children’s Memorial staff and others looking for a cafe that’s trendy in a not-even-trying-to-be-trendy kind of way.  The Pig’s lineup includes: sandwiches (also many veggie options), salads, soups, baked goods, ice cream, coffee, espresso drinks and looseleaf tes, housed in large glass jars lining the walls.  Wireless available, as well as eclectic music played by the staff.

4. Lincoln Park Zoo: Next, continue east on Fullerton to and through Lincoln Park Zoo, a free attraction.  This zoo is home to elephants, bears, lions, penguins and many other birds, mammals and amphibians/reptiles.  Also one of the oldest “zoological gardens” in the country, Licoln Park Zoo overlooks a popular section of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan.  Bring a frisbee for some fun or a blanket for some afternoon rest and relaxation.

5. Victory Gardens (Lincoln Ave, between Beldn and Webster): Home to many Tony Award-winning plays and actors, Victory Gardens has a couple cozy stages on which you can see local and world talents performing primarily local works.  Great for just yourself, a date, or the parents.  If you’re still hungry (before or after), there are plenty of sandwich/pizza shops and bars in this area.  A nicer but very affordable option is Tillie’s, at Halsted south of Armitage, or Green Tea, a tiny but excellent sushi restaurant at Clark and Webster.


Top Five Cheap Dates in Chicago

When it comes to matters of the heart, it’s hard to deny the
very best for your romantic paramour. 
However, in reality, wining and dining your sweetheart can be a costly
affair.  Here are the five best Chicago ways to have a
seemingly luxe – but fundamentally inexpensive – date with the one you love:


1)      As
Pepe Le Peu proclaimed, what more do you need than “a loaf of bread…a bottle of
wine…”?  How about the grass between your
toes and the sound of Bach in the air? 
The grounds at Ravinia offer
$10 lawn tickets to virtually all of their summer season performances.  All it takes is a short train ride (there’s a
$5 special) and a picnic basket, and you’re there.

2)      Bring
Your Own Bottle restaurants are popping up all over the city, so hop on the
brown bag wagon!  The cost of alcohol can
easily double the total on your dinner bill, so why not bring your own and skip
the double (or even triple) markup on the standard restaurant wine?  Here’s a tip: a lot of newer restaurants in
the city will start off BYOB while waiting for their liquor license – just call
ahead and ask what their policy is.  You
just might be able to score a table at a hot new restaurant that you may not be
able to afford otherwise!  Check out www.byob-chicago.com
for restaurants.

3)      Create
a theme and your creativity will outshine any frugality.  Check out one of Chicago’s Independent Film theaters (try the Landmark Century Cinema at Clark and Diversey) and pick out one of their foreign
films to see.  The first tickets of the
day there are only $7.  Picked a Chinese
flick?  Head up to Ecce Café (3422 N. Broadway) post-show for some pan-Asian – and
very moderately priced – fare.

4)      Want
totally free entertainment?  Take a
stroll through Chicago’s
Lincoln Park Zoo – one of the
nation’s largest free zoos.  Afterwards,
you can mosey on over to the Treasure Island (1639 N. Wells) – on Saturdays, there
are samples of artisan cheeses, breads, and meats abound – and if you ask
nicely, the bakery will give you a piece of chocolate to try!

Every girl loves to window shop, so take your lady
friend for a relaxing walk down one of Chicago’s
best boutique streets – Armitage
Ave, west
of Halsted and up to Racine. 
Check out the latest duds at Cynthia
and Active Endeavors,
before treating yourselves to some quality Italian ice at Tom and Wendee’s – yum!


Eating in the South Loop For Less Than $6 a Day

Ok. So you’re working downtown. You haven’t gotten a raise in what seems like years. You hate brown bagging it and you have to eat. But you can’t spend all your money on lunch. Do you starve or do you eat downtown on less than $6 a day? Is that possible?

Yes it is. And I’m here to tell you how.

If you like pizza, Baccino’s on Clinton and Adams has a carryout only lunch deal of a slice of pizza and a beverage for $3.30 (thin) or $3.50 (thick). If you’re worried about where you’re going to eat your lunch, don’t. Beginning each spring, they set up a sidewalk cafe. If you’d rather eat somewhere where diesel particles from CTA buses don’t drop on your food, you can walk two blocks to the Chicago River where you will find a myriad of places with outdoor seating and a river view. Union Station Plaza would be the closest one and my personal favorite.

For more Italian food, go to Venice Cafe on Wacker and Jackson. Not only is it great food but there is plenty of it. I usually have a hard time finishing. At the height of lunch hour the line is long, but the wait is worth it. You order your food, move down the line and by the time it’s ready, you’ve paid for it. They actually make the pasta fresh for each customer, cafeteria style service with a sit down restaurant atmosphere.

The Alonte Deli on Wacker and Jackson serves pasta with marinara sauce and French bread for $4. It also has a self service steam tray section with daily specials and soups, as well as a made to order deli section. A salad bar is alsoavailable but watch out the daily specials and the salad bars are charged by weight.

Presidential Towers is a little known jewel. Located on Monroe and Clinton,
walk past the restaurants and go directly to the grocery store. There you will find
not only groceries, but also the best selection of homemade soups made
daily. For less than $5 you can get a large soup, fresh roll (from sourdough
to rye) and a beverage (wander the grocery store for this). They also
offer an executive meal which is a hefty sandwich, a medium soup and a bag of
chips. There is a salad bar and a hot meals section where there are daily
specials from pot roast to catfish. You can order side dishes a’ la carte or
buy an entree with two sides. Though more than $6 (if you get the whole meal) and a beverage, still a bargain with generous, tasty portions.

If you like sub sandwiches, Charley’s on Clinton and Monroe frequently has
people passing out 2 for 1 coupon on the sidewalk. Team up with a buddy and you get your sandwich half price.


Best Italian Lunch Buffet near O’Hare

Are you yearning for a quiet, refined and authentic Italian lunch buffet which will not blow your budget?  I have found just the place.  Pescatore Palace Restaurant and Banquets is tucked away in an industrial area of Schiller Park on River Road (between Irving Park and Belmont Avenues) just minutes away from Rosemont’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont Theatre and O’Hare Airport. 

From the moment you walk up the stairs into this haven, you are surrounded by the sensual tastes and sounds of SouthCentral Italy.  The main dining room has a quiet sophistication which welcomes you with calming shades of blue and reminders of the ocean.  You find fishing nets hung from the walls filled with crab and starfish.  You admire the various paintings depicting dreamy seaside scenes under a border of hand-painted grapevines.  You hear Andrea Bocelli’s melodic voice seranade you as you are seated by one of the courteous male waiters.  If you are lucky, you may even be seated in the bright Bocelli room which is enveloped in afternoon sun from it’s wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.  Yes, Andrea himself has visited here on a few occasions to enjoy the outstanding and authentic food. 

Master Chef, Vito Barbanente, will probably greet you himself as he ensures the buffet table is amply stocked with his day’s delicious entress.  Vito brings to his restaurant his culinary passion, hard work and dedication from his native Bari, Italy seaside town.  His fish dishes are the freshest and most flavorful available.  His mouthwatering soups fill your senses with warmth and his chicken, beef and vegetable dishes offer a subtle medley of spices and seasonings. 

The lunch buffet is offered from 11am until 2pm Monday through Friday at a price of $9.99 per person.  It includes both a hot and a cold buffet.  Pizza and bruschetta is always available as well as fruit salad and delicious desserts. 

Pescatore Palace offers an extensive and rich wine list and a full menu for those who would like to sample one of Chef Vito’s personalized creations.  The coffee is always fresh-brewed and full-bodied and the service is impeccable. 

The lunchtime crowd is mostly comprised of businessmen from the neighboring light-manufacturing establishments.  The buffet selections change every day and include fish, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, caprese and assorted salads and rich desserts.   What keeps me coming back every week is the personal service I receive and the unparalleled food I find in this quiet getaway. 

If you too are yearning to eat your lunch in smoke-free, pleasant place where you can have a quiet conversation with your friend and where you know the food will always be fresh and good, I highly recommend Pescatore Palace to you.  By the way, ‘Pescatore’ means ‘Fisherman’ in Italian.   And, if the finest fish is what you seek, Chef Vito will please your every wish. 


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