Following Ferris
    Illustration by Sarah Turbin / North by Northwestern

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the perfect combination of silly antics, memorable characters and genuine comedy. But the flick is best remembered for its commitment to a simple yet outrageous plot: Ferris Bueller wants to skip class, so he concocts an elaborate scheme to dupe adults and have some fun in Chicago.

    But is it truly logistically possible for Ferris to accomplish his legendary day off? Using the latest technology—Netflix and Google Maps—we investigate.

    The Departure

    Ferris begins his day on the later side, according to two well-placed clocks that appear in the film. Before Ferris and Cameron leave the house to pick up Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane, our hero calls a few freshmen to spread the word about his “sickness.” During the call, a clock in the background reads 11:40 a.m. Ferris still hasn’t left the house, and his parents will be home at 6:00 p.m. sharp.

    Jump ahead. Ferris and Cameron have picked up Sloane and are headed into downtown Chicago. In the next scene, we return to Ferris’ sister at the school. There’s another clock in the background that reads 11:50 a.m.

    Looks like they’re driving a fast car.

    Ferris attends Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook. The parking garage where he and his friends leave their borrowed Ferrari is on Washington and Wells, a 33-minute car ride away. But according to the movie, the trip took only 10 minutes—which would mean Ferris was driving 136 mph. His day of hooky is not off to a realistic start.

    Ferris and his friends spend the next six hours and 10 minutes touring iconic Chicago landmarks. Based on the scene where their taxi pulls up next to Ferris’ father at the red light, we can assume that they use a cab for transportation. Still, the schedule looks pretty tight.

    1. The Sears Tower Skydeck

    It’s a four-minute drive from the Washington/Wells parking lot to the gang’s first stop, the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). According to the Skydeck’s Administrative Office, most people stay on the top floor for about an hour and the elevator rides take one minute. With the rest of the day in mind, it seems logical that Ferris and Co. wouldn’t linger, so we assume they stayed for half an hour. That means by the time they leave, it should be about 12:45 p.m.

    2. The Chicago Board of Trade

    The next stop is only about two blocks east of the Sears Tower. We assume the gang walked to avoid the cab fare; the walk takes about four minutes. The Chicago Board of Trade conducts tours for educational groups, so the teens could have snuck onto one of these and looked around. They’re alone when the film catches up to them, so it seems they broke off to goof around. Given that the guided tours take about an hour, allotting the kids about 45 minutes seems fair. At 1:35 p.m., it’s time for them to schmooze their way into a fancy restaurant anyway.

    3. Chez Quis

    Chez Quis, where Ferris commits fraud and pretends he is “Abe Froman: the Sausage King of Chicago," is an actual building, but not a real restaurant. The exterior is a private home just south of the Lincoln Park Zoo, only a 10-minute drive from the Chicago Board of Trade. After all the finagling and police officer impersonations, the fine dining experience must have taken at least an hour. Ferris and Co. didn’t go through all that trouble to just fill up on bread. Instead, they probably stayed for the meal and then likely dine-and-dashed, because what’s one more crime? That puts the clock at 2:45 p.m.

    4. Wrigley Field

    Wrigley Field is where things get tricky. The gang’s cab should arrive at Wrigley around 3 p.m., which is surprisingly impeccable timing considering most Cubs home games in 1986 began right around that time. But the problem lies not in when they arrive, but when they leave. To determine that, we have to check on Ed Rooney, dean of students at Ferris’ high school. 

    While following the trail of the truants, Rooney looks away from the televised baseball game and misses Ferris catching a home run. From the TV, the broadcaster declares, “That’s the first hit they’ve had since the fifth inning.” It must be least the seventh inning—if it was just the sixth, the hit wouldn’t be such a big deal. 

    According to an article in the Boston Globe, baseball games in 1986 averaged 2 hours and 44 minutes. That’s about 18 minutes an inning. Knowing that the gang stayed at least through the seventh, we can infer that they were at Wrigley Field for roughly two hours and six minutes.

    That means that by the time the gang left, it was 5:10 p.m. at the earliest—50 minutes until the crucial 6 p.m. deadline.

    5. The Art Institute of Chicago

    After another drive, the trio should arrive at the Art Institute around 5:25 p.m. The museum offers guided tours that last about an hour, and there is even an “express tour” that takes only 45 minutes. For the sake of time, we have to say that the kids went with this option.

    You see the problem though: Ferris and Co. are totally busted. Even with the express tour, they aren’t leaving the museum until 6:10 p.m., and with the parade, the drive back to the suburbs and the glorious wreckage of the Ferrari all left to go, there’s little hope in salvaging the day. Still, let’s ride this thing out to the end.

    6. Twist and Shout

    The parade scene, when Ferris commandeers a float and sings “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout,” portrays a real celebration of German-American heritage that takes place in Chicago every year. The fanfare happens on Dearborn Street, and Ferris in fact sings “Twist and Shout” in front of 33 North Dearborn—you can see the sign in the background. So how long did this take? The walk from the Art Institute is about seven minutes, and the songs are about five minutes altogether. We generously assume that Ferris joined the parade, hopped on the float, rocked the Second City, dropped the mic and hustled back to the Washington/Wells garage (another seven-minute walk) in about 20 minutes. At best, the gang leaves Chicago at 6:30 p.m.

    7. The Ruse Completed

    Here the movie begins to explore Cameron’s psyche, but let’s skip that and take care of business. The car has to get back to Cameron’s. Cameron’s house is also on-location—it is 370 Beech Street in Highland Park, about 35 minutes from the parking garage. With some urgency, the gang could have dropped off the car by 7:05 p.m. Then, it’s time to ditch Sloane in the middle of nowhere and hightail it back to Ferris’ house. 

    We assume that Ferris lives near his best friend, and after leaving his girlfriend to walk home alone in the middle of the evening, hopping a couple of fences, talking to some bikiniclad babes and hearing out the end of that goofy ‘80s soundtrack, we guess he makes it home by 7:25 p.m. That estimate doesn’t take into account the gang’s swimming break or the Ferrari crashing through the window of Cameron’s house.

    All in all, not bad. The movie sets the locations in a logical order, with Ferris taking the shortest route possible between the destinations, preventing backtracking or illogical scheduling. 

    The kids packed a lot into less than eight hours, and they gave us one of the best teen movies ever in the process. Despite the Hollywood timing throughout the flick, the idea of a day off is something that Northwestern should keep in mind. In times of stress, remember the words of our favorite ‘80’s mischief-maker: “The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do."


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