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Playing for dollars and smiles at O’Hare

Long before sunrise, Sharon Dawn Middleton gets out of bed to pile on layers of clothing for her commute to O’Hare Airport from her Northwest Side home.

Middleton, 74, catches a 5 a.m. bus, then the Blue Line L for her gig as a street musician on O’Hare’s ground floor. She would like to arrive earlier but there is no earlier bus.

Bitter cold doesn’t deter her; she showed me a nifty vest she wears with battery-operated warmers, “a dandy thing to have” to combat subfreezing temperatures, she said.

In the airport, Middleton sets up a short camping stool, a small amplifier and storage cubes made of fabric in which generous travelers will drop a buck or two or maybe 20 if they appreciate the music she plays either on a stringed instrument called a psaltery or the flute-like recorder.

For three years Middleton has played at O’Hare, outside one of two main terminal doors not far the L station and the elevators for the main parking garage.

O’Hare doesn’t have many spots for street musicians, and this is one of a coveted few, Middleton said. They open on a first-come, first-served basis.