Archive for the ‘Sic transit’ Category

Ya big lug

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

As I was heading south on Clark Street on my ride home recently, a truck passed me sporting some of these on its front wheels:

Spiky lug nut covers! I don’t know if the trucker got his from this site (there are quite a few that carry the things), but I hope his were plastic. One trucker bragged of having stainless steel spikes.

Are they more “Ben-Hur” or .007? They’re kind of cool, in a way, but as a cyclist I’ll keep my distance, thanks. I’ve cut myself on plastic more than once, and in the safety of my own home.

But it makes me wonder how I can customize my bike to make it more threatening. Add aerobars and turn them into a slingshot, maybe. Only good for forward firing, of course, but at least with tomatoes in season now the ammo would be cheap.

Hello, sailor

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Some people like to go to the waterfront to see tall ships. I like tall ships, too, but I also get a kick out of the Cayman Islands Navy when it’s in town.

Which it is, right by McCormick Place. Cracker Bay (welcome back!) and Lady Sandals. Perseverance II is here, too, but it’s not part of the Cayman Islands Navy, it’s just another big-ass boat.

Last fall, Lady Sandals stopped near enough to Philadelphia to catch the attention of the local Fox affiliate. “New Sandals Yacht Stops In Philly,” the story on its Web site is headlined.

“The Sandals/Beaches travel group has a new Yacht cursing along the East Coast, a perfect location for a wedding,” says Fox. I bet. Weddings and yachts — “Sandals/Beaches has teamed up with Martha Stewart and is offering new destination wedding packages. … The cost of an average wedding is between $20,000-$25,000” — probably account for a lot of cursing. Not to mention Martha Stewart.

Let’s hope Lady Sandals isn’t here for one of the destination wedding packages, cause I doubt the Air & Water Show is among the six designs and themes you can choose from for your 20 grand. But if it is, at least the weather looks good for Sunday. Tomorrow it might rain, and that excessive heat warning is still in effect today. All in all, perfect cursing weather.

Naming rites

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I was surprised to see a tour boat on the Chicago River yesterday named “Summer of George.” Not a very boaty name, is it?
A perfume, maybe, or even a band. But a boat?

A little stroll over to Google revealed that it’s the title of a Seinfeld episode. OK. Other unboaty Seinfeld episode names include “The Nose Job,” “The Andrea Doria” (actually a good boat name, unless you want anyone to pay to get aboard) and “The Hot Tub.”

Boatiest episode name? “The Serenity Now.” And, not surprisingly, there are loads of boats with just that name.

Messing about in boats

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Now that the Oakwood Beach Comfort Station is finished (the sign actually calls it the 41st Street Beach House, which is a more sensible name — it’s closer to 41st Street, and “beach house” is easier to understand than “comfort station”), the city and park district are starting another South Side project: the 31st Street Harbor.

The staging areas near the existing beach and north of it have already been fenced off, and trailers for the stars and co-stars are in a fenced-off portion of the existing parking lot. A tug and barge are at the south end of the beach, doing some kind of work on the eventual breakwaters.

The project made sense in the context of the city’s Olympic Games plan for the lakefront, but with the Games a-goner and the economy taking a bite out of boating (every harbor I’ve ridden past this year has more empty buoys than I can remember seeing) you have to wonder if we need 1,000 more boat slips at a cost of about $84 million. The city says it was planning the harbor before the Olympics idea even came up, but absent the games the argument for it seems to be more money for the Park District.

On the other hand, before the recession, demand for boat slips was high, and the Park District made a lot of money off them. When the economy comes back, that demand probably will too. Hard to say how demand will be affected if the Asian carp threat winds up closing the locks on the Chicago and Calumet rivers, which a lot of boaters use to take their boats out of the harbors in the winter. Maybe that will be a side effect of the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down the city’s gun ban — heavily armed boaters plugging away at carp as they pilot their boats upriver for the winter and back down in the spring.

Also in the offing is the Gateway Harbor, planned for just south of Navy Pier. I’m not sure that any construction has started on that, but that’s supposed to add about 160 slips and cost about $40 million.

It’s not clear to me how much existing parkland will be nibbled away for new parking areas for the 31st Street Harbor. Or what the fuzzy area on the drawing represents where the lakefront path crosses the new access drive — underpass or an architect’s version of the “here be dragons” gambit of mapmakers?

Whatever the case, the area from McCormick Place to 39th Street is about to become a construction zone till late 2012. But the unbuilt beach house has already been awarded a liquor license, so there’s something to look forward to. Maybe the city should give one to the Calatrava Spire, too. We ought to get something out of that hole in the ground, even if it’s just a cold beer from some guy with a cooler. Or one of those carts the mayor wants to add at O’Hare.

Tidings of comfort

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Now under construction not far from my house is the Oakwood Beach Comfort Station. Not a train station, gas station, way station or any other kind of station. Comfort. Picture a long veranda with rocking chairs, comfy pillows and cool shade on a hot day.

The Oakwood Beach Comfort Station

Wrong. It’s bathrooms. And a snack stand, too — when I found the renderings online I could see that, along with the family changing room (the what?). But basically bathrooms. An important form of comfort, no doubt about it, and welcome at the beach, the newest in the city. But why not just call it bathrooms? Was it named by the people who gave us “Off-Track Wagering Facility” signs?

OK, enough mockery. It’s a good thing, and I can see from the growing number of people using the beach that it’ll be busy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it opens this weekend: There’s a grand opening banner for Lunchbox (the snack stand), workmen are putting down sod, the outdoow shower head is working and the fencing around the place has been taken down.

Another beach is also getting a new comfort station, Osterman Beach, on the North Side. Since the same company is doing both places, and got the contract at the same time, I rode up there the other day to see how they compare.

The Osterman Beach Comfort Station

I think Oakwood is slightly closer to opening than Osterman (which still has the fencing surrounding it), but not by much. Aside from what looks like a larger patio next to the snack stand, Osterman is a twin of Oakwood.

Which reminds me…

Tune that name

Earlier this year when I checked the Park District’s Web site to see what was going on with “my” beach, it didn’t have a name. The Park District said it “hadn’t gone through the naming process” yet. You might think that’s the Chicago Way of saying “how much ya got?” That’s what I thought. But maybe not.

Now, the naming process has produced the name Oakwood Beach — because the nearest street is Oakwood (39th Street). That’s the process that has given us beaches with such majestic names as 31st Street, 12th Street, North Avenue and Foster. They’ve been named after streets since time began (Chicago time, that is) — 31 of them.

Except: Rainbow, Hartigan, Lane, Osterman and Leone. Rainbow was named after “the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division that fought gallantly in World War I.” But the others were onetime Street Beaches renamed after politicians (Hartigan, Lane and Osterman) or Park District employees (Leone). Chicago Way again? Well, if that were the case, they’d all be named after politicians. No more Street Beaches.

So if politicians have the edge in any new name contest, I suppose I could lobby for Oakwood to be renamed Douglas Beach, after Stephen A. Douglas, whose tomb lies about five blocks north. Even the name Oakwood is taken from Douglas’ estate, Oakenwald. But the Little Giant was also a real estate developer, and don’t we already have enough stuff around town named after developers?

Instead, how about Leon Despres? He was a Hyde Park alderman who stood up to former Mayor Daley (the current Daley’s dad). He may have been a white Jewish guy, but he was called “the lone Negro on the City Council” for his advocacy of civil rights. He was a decent man and the beach is pretty much in his old neighborhood (though 57th Street Beach might have a better claim on his name, since it’s actually in Hyde Park). Why not?

Bike, rain, dark, wind, more wind, more rain

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I enjoyed Bike to Work Week, right up until the last hour or so. My boss had seen the weather forecast this afternoon and came around to warn us of the 60 mile-an-hour winds that were about to hit. “And you’re on your bike?” he said to me. So with his encouragement I left early.

But not early enough. It was pretty dark when I hopped on my bike at about 4:15. By the time I’d gone two blocks it was raining and darker. Four blocks later, sheets of rain were blowing past me. I saw a tree down on South Plymouth Court that completely blocked the street, trees down along the lakefront and broken branches everywhere. I coasted south past the Aquarium, picking up speed thanks to the wind.

By the time I got home it had let up somewhat, making me think that if I hadn’t left early, everything would have been fine. But no, it kept raining, so I’d have gotten soaked no matter what.

On the upside, I got to try out the best freebie of Bike to Work Week: the bright yellow 312 Urban Wheat Ale bike seat cover from Goose Island Brewery. It’s like a shower cap for your saddle — keeps it dry when your bike is parked in the rain. If I’m not violating anyone’s copyright (don’t look, Roger), I give it two thumbs up.

Now it’s time to raise the biking bar: It’s time for Bike Instead of Work Week.

The power of the prez

Friday, May 28th, 2010

It happened again. On my way home from work, police blocked off the lakefront path because President Obama was coming to town. I’ve been through this before…

He and his family actually came to town yesterday, but today was his visit to Louisiana and the oil spill. My timing was so good I spent 20 minutes near Soldier Field with a bunch of other cyclists watching his helicopter — actually several helicopters — arrive. We traded stories of other times Obama’s arrival or departure had delayed us. “I wouldn’t have voted for the guy if I knew he was going to interfere with my commute,” one guy joked. When I suggested maybe he’d do Bike the Drive Sunday, a woman in front of me groaned and said, “Don’t even say that.” A very tall guy who gave up and cycled back north said, “This is cool — maybe it’s old hat in D.C., but it’s cool to see it here.”

And it is. I hope he and his family enjoy their visit home. He’s having a rough time, what with the wars he inherited, the economy going kablooey, the Party of Nope, the BP disaster — who’d want that job? But he’s doing it, and I think he’s doing it well. He’s a good president and may turn out to be a great president. He deserves a good weekend here.

Appy daze

Friday, April 16th, 2010

After dodging pedestrians the other morning — and just as an aside, and probably a long one, it’s thanks to Robert Feder that I know I wouldn’t be able to say “pedestrians” if I worked for Randy Michaels at WGN radio, nor would I be able to substitute “people fleeing on foot,” but I might get away with “ambulating hominids” or “sidewalk zombies.” Michaels sent a memo to his on-air talent listing 119 words and phrases he no longer wanted to hear, which, while laudable from a let’s-all-speak-proper-English perspective, was tainted by his encouraging said talent to rat out any fellows falling short. Plus the whole CEO micromanaging his staff aspect.

I don’t listen to WGN enough to know how egregious the talent is, but I’ve seen enough of the print media Michaels oversees (the Chicago Tribune) to know he’s got bigger fish to fry than whether ambulating hominids are called pedestrians on his station. The Trib used to be a good if stuffy paper, but now it’s kind of a sidewalk zombie, too. I wish this were a better opportunity for the Sun-Times to wade in and clean the Trib’s clock, but the Sun-Times is pretty emaciated these days. Besides, I have friends at the Trib (many of them former Sun-Times co-workers); I wish them no ill, but I sure wish them better bosses. And an occasional clock-cleaning by the S-T…

Where was I?

Dodging pedestrians. And it occurred to me there’s an app waiting to be developed for the iPhone. I’ll call it the iWalk. It splits the screen in two and uses the phone’s camera to feed video of what’s in front of you onscreen. So half the screen displays the sidewalk, the other half your playlist, or Facebook, or your e-mail — whatever you want!

It will incorporate the same technology used in cars to warn you when you’re about to run into something, so it’ll beep when you’re headed for a light post, parking meter or fellow pedestrian. Future software upgrades will let it detect “walk/don’t walk” signs and let you play individual songs or sounds (“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”) for different alerts (“Stop! In the name of love” should be a favorite for “don’t walk”).

When Apple puts a camera on the iPad, iWalk should be even more essential.

This is the kind of breakthrough that could make me a very wealthy man if I knew anything about software. Those of you who do know about software and filch this idea, please keep me in mind when the royalty checks arrive.

And if the whole idea just makes you want to lie down, well — there’s a nap for that.

Snow days

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I came to Philadelphia to visit my daughter Emily and see the opening reception of her senior jewelry show at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. When the plane was leaving Chicago, Southwest warned us that weather conditions on the East Coast meant our flight could be canceled or diverted, but we took off OK, landed under overcast skies and the flight continued to Orlando.

I had checked the weather forecast before leaving, and it said there was a high chance of snow, but that’s not the same thing as a high chance of a whole lot of snow. So when I arrived and heard that anywhere from one to two feet was expected, I changed my return reservation — Southwest had already canceled its Saturday flights in anticipation of the bad weather — to Sunday. As I chatted with the reservations agent, I could see a few flakes in the air outside the hotel window, but nothing threatening. I walked the short distance to the new Tyler School of Art building and looked at the displays — a really impressive show, beautifully done jewelry and some very creative CAD-CAM work with the special printer the school has.

Two hours later, as the reception began, it was snowing heavily, but not sticking. So the reception got a very good turnout. But the post-reception reception, hosted by another student’s parents at a Mexican restaurant not far away, was pretty well socked in. The streets were becoming slick and hard to drive, the winds were strong, the snow heavy. We managed to flag down a cab, whose driver didn’t want to drive down my daughter’s street, fearing he might get stuck. A second cab driver (after a fruitless wait for the Temple Owl Loop bus) took his chances and managed to get there. En route we saw a car on our right make a U-turn across several lanes of traffic, and later saw an SUV take a right-hand turn too fast and skid sideways down the street.

Saturday morning it was still snowing hard and it was obvious that the Winter Powerhouse the Weather Channel kept excitedly detailing was not just TV hype. By midafternoon the snow had virtually ended, so Emily and I met and had lunch at a Center City brewpub, Nodding Head Brewery: their Snow Day menu, reduced from what they usually serve thanks to the weather. Good beer, though, including a Belgian Chocolate Stout that was very tasty. Several rather drunk Temple students entertained subway riders on our way back by leaping off at stations and trying to complete passes to one another with a rugby ball.

Southwest, meanwhile, entertained travelers like me by canceling all its Sunday flights out of Philadelphia, so I spent an hour (and $17) on the phone (mostly on hold) to get my flight changed again. My Philadelphia-Manchester, New Hampshire-Chicago trip was out, and I would have to wait till late Monday afternoon to leave. If I’d felt like paying $600 or so I could have flown out of Philadelphia on United, or USAirways, but the trip is getting expensive enough as it is. I’d feel more like wandering around and sightseeing if I’d brought boots, but my loafers are pretty ineffective in the drifts and the big pools of slop that are forming at most intersections.

So I’ve been able to see the second-biggest storm on record for Philadelphia, and while the crews cleaning the sidewalks around Temple have made it seem a deceptively easy storm to handle, walking a block away reminds me how much snow 28 inches is. It’s a lot, and you can only shovel or plow so much of the stuff before you run out of places to put it. I’ll post some photos after I get home.

One highlight was watching the local NBC news at 10 o’clock Saturday night. Although most of the coverage dealt with the storm, they managed to do the whole newscast without mentioning public transportation (hint: it was largely shut down) or the airport (hint: it was completely shut down). But if you wanted to see video of kids frolicking in the snow, there was plenty of that, as well as assurances from public officials that roads were being plowed.

There’s a campus bar steps from my hotel where I could watch the Super Bowl, but Emily warned me it would probably be crowded, and after the rugby-playing crowd on the subway I’m not sure I’d have the patience. Too much like my old DePaul neighborhood. So it’s beer and cheese and crackers in my room, lunch with Emily tomorrow between classes and then with luck a flight home.

Backing the Bid

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Hello, CTA? I’d like to report a suspicious package. It’s a pro-Olympics promotional announcement that played on a No. 2 bus this morning. “How long have they been doing this?” I wondered, thinking – since I usually commute by bike – that I’m just out of touch.

Well, if ABC News is to be believed, the announcements are new. And they’re paid for by the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee, so presumably if the anti-Olympics people want their message heard, they can pay for bus announcements, too.

For that matter, if I want to read a 20-second message saying “read my blog and click on ads,” all I have to do is pony up, right? We all know the CTA’s in trouble (while waiting for that bus, I read a “route elimination” notice posted near the stop; so long, No. 173), so a little ad money for a PA announcement must come in handy.

A quick check of the CTA Web site makes me wonder. I can buy any size poster – can’t decide between the Ultra Super King and the Michelangelo – but the PA system isn’t on the list. Could it be that I just don’t pal around with the mayor enough?

I’m all for propaganda (read my blog, click on ads), but I don’t want to hear it on the bus. If I stood up and started talking about Jesus (or Cross Palms), the driver could usher me to the curb. Unless the rest of us can buy some of those 20-second slices of commuters’ time, I think the Olympic spots should be ushered to the curb, too.