Under cover of darkness, a man, his head down, ran in front of a two-story apartment building in Logan Square. Another figure, in silhouette, stood on the roof of the building awaiting instructions.
It looked like a scene out of “Mission Impossible.” It took teamwork to pull it off. The team arrived a few moments later. It included a man with an exceptionally long scarf strumming a guitar, a woman wearing a fake bear’s head over her own and someone hidden inside a giant inflatable Pokemon costume. Another woman carrying a stuffed horse, a lady in a purple wig and a dog in a holiday bandana rounded out the crew.
The man on the mission was 43-year-old Shahab Astabraghpour, a salesman at Abt Electronics, and he was about to propose to his girlfriend, Deva Suckerman. In addition to a few close friends, he was accompanied by half a dozen complete strangers, all of whom responded to his recent Logan Square Community Page Facebook post seeking help with his marriage proposal.
“Never met him. It just seemed like a very magical thing to do,” said Michael Wilkin-Dalby, the man with the guitar, who responded to the post to gather on the 606 Trail near Western and Bloomingdale on Christmas Eve. Participants were asked to bring with them “weird, gimmicky things” — Astabraghpour, who trained at The Second City and performs in an improv show in the suburbs, really wanted to make his artist girlfriend laugh.
Wilkin-Dalby, a transplant from Manchester, England, strummed his guitar as Astabraghpour declared his love for Suckerman with a series of posterboard-size notes held up by him and the volunteers along the trail so that she could see them from the couple’s second-floor apartment in the Bloomingdale Arts Building.
One of the signs read, “Yes, he’s playing the music from ‘Say Anything,’” a reference to the famous scene in the 1989 movie featuring Evanston-native John Cusack that inspired Astabraghpour’s proposal — and countless others over the years. In the film, Lloyd Dobler holds up a boombox outside his girlfriend’s window and plays Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Astabraghpour also wanted to emulate South Side rapper Common’s “Come Close” video where he proposes with written signs.
The man on the roof was John Polo, who pitched in to photograph the event after several others on Facebook asked Astabraghpour to record the event so those who couldn’t make could watch it later. Other donations from the community included a tres leches cake from Jeniffer Gutierrez, who runs “Sugar Queen,” a home bakery, and a bouquet from Flowers for Dreams in West Town.
A few moments later, a flabbergasted Suckerman hurried down to the street to meet her boyfriend of seven years, who dropped to one knee, pulled out a diamond engagement ring (also secured by Polo) and then popped the question.
“Oh my God, look at all this!” said Suckerman, 50, after saying “yes,” and kissing her boyfriend.
Suckerman, a counselor at United Cerebral Palsy Seguin of Greater Chicago, where Astabraghpour is also a volunteer, said she was most impressed by the neighborhood’s involvement.
Hundreds of people had weighed in on the Facebook post with ideas, she learned later. And while fears of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and last-minute holiday plan shuffling limited the size of the flash mob, Astabraghpour said, the couple was overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone involved.
“Words can’t express what it means to me, the proposal, of course, and the icing on the cake . . . the community response!” Suckerman wrote in a Facebook post on Christmas Day. “Some of the many things I love about Shahab — his creativity, his ability to pull off things I would generally think of as ridiculous and pie in the sky, and his ability to connect with people and bring people together. And here it is, all coming together! I will never forget last night!”
To Astabraghpour, getting his neighbors on board was key to the whole thing. The couple met at The Wormhole Coffee on Milwaukee Avenue and their favorite haunts include local spots like the Gallery Cabaret dive bar.
“We met through the neighborhood,” he said. “That’s why I wanted the neighborhood involved.”
Why the quirky costumes and other bizarre elements?
“It’s the land of misfit toys,” he said of the area. “It’s a random hodgepodge of people. That’s all the more reason to do this. It speaks to the heart of the neighborhood.”
After the whole operation was done, those who took part — buoyed by the magic of the moment — beamed with pride and shared a few laughs. And then they melted back into the night and went their separate ways.
“This is such a great Christmas memory,” Wilkin-Dalby, the guitar player, told Suckerman. “I’m so glad you said ‘yes.’”