Isn’t There Still Room for Both? (December 28, 2009)

Us mag cover

 ny times

Admittedly, I am writing this post whilst a little hot under the collar. I was affronted in one of the worst ways, according to me, by my partner Sam this morning. Sammy and I are teammates on the Chicago Office of Tourism Neighborhood Mapping Project, and normally get on famously. One of the hallmarks of our dynamic however, is a little good natured intellectual sparring now and then.

We were having one such debate over the war in Afghanistan. Sammy, just flat-out anti-conflict no matter the situation, feels we ought to pull every U.S. troop out of the region, like yesterday. I am a bit more gray in my approach, believing that leaving Afghanistan without a plan will cause further terrorist chaos locally and internationally in the long run.

At some point, Sammy made what I thought to be a rather judgmental, narrow comment, and by way of dismissal, I turned my eyes to the pages of the most recent Us magazine. This was both my way of announcing a break in the argument, as well as distracting my attention with something a little lighter. However, Sam dove upon me immediately, insinuating that perhaps my naive international opinions were influenced by my substandard literary tastes.

Now we come to the point: I am an avid reader, but I have very few rules as to what is considered “literature” in my lexicon. Who is to tell me that celebrity gossip and other airier fare do not have their own merits? Isn’t one of the goals of reading and literary consumption to be entertained? I have an International Baccalaureate diploma from my high school days, and an MA in English Literature. I have read the “great” books, but am not such an ivory tower snob that I wish to be out of touch with what turns the masses on. After all, I am a member of that mass. And I state proudly here and now that chick lit., Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton do it for me every bit as much as Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and Wordsworth.

I hate to be pigeonholed, but when it comes to an activity like reading, which I hold so dear as one of the ultimate coping tools provided for us, I cannot abide labeling. I am neither the stuffy bookworm nor the vapid gossip rag connoisseur. I am both, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is people like me who made a mashup like Pride, Prejudice and Zombiessuch a hit in 2009.

I abhor the overall “dumbing down” of our culture every bit as much as Sammy. We are absolutely on the same page there. I will never accept the Red Eye a real newspaper, the way some of my other contemporaries have. But at the same time, I console myself that at least people are reading the paper in some form. It may not be a day far off when I am mourning the loss of even this abbreviated tabloid. I have picked up theRed Eye once or twice myself, as my thinking is that you cannot condemn that which you do not understand.

The act of reading, in any form other than off a computer monitor, becomes more a lost art with each passing year. Those who cherish the antiquated form of entertainment found in books and periodicals should not be so cynical as to start cannibalizing each other. I realize this argument is far from over, and I may be called upon to defend my love ofThe Devil Wears Prada again. So be it. I will do so gladly.

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I Smell a Good Pout (October 22, 2009)

This morning, around 10 AM, I and my partner Sam were aboard the #30 CTA bus headed for the far South Side neighborhood of Hegewisch. Sam is my partner for the duration of my stint as a Field Researcher with the Chicago Office of Tourism. Initially, upon learning I was being paired with a 22 year-old male, I rolled my eyes as far back in my head as they would go. I had visions of a Viagra Triangle fraternity moron dancing in my head. Instead, to my surprise, young Sammy is the most idiosyncratic, salt and pepper graying, yoga class going, would be writer that I have ever encountered. His is a nerd supremo, rather than a randy idiot crushing beer cans against his skull. In other words, Sam and I are peas and carrots – a perfect match.

So anyway, we’re on the bus, the same one at roughly the same time that we have ridden the three days prior, while exploring East Side and Hegewisch. Our driver, a lively, witty and informed man by the name of Richard W. Linn, noticed our continued appearance on his route and struck up a conversation with Sam and I. It’s an hour’s ride from the 69th St. Red Line station where we boarded, to 135th and Brainard, where we alighted. Richard was kind enough to let us into the soon to be lost world of the salt of the earth, blue collar lifer with the CTA.

Why will this be lost? Well as Richard explains it, our terrific Mayor (and those of you who are regular readers know I mean this in NO way) has completely padded the Chicago Transit Authority with oodles of his cronies (the shock!!). Years ago, where Richard and his fellow shiftmates answered to one guy, they now owe allegiance to seven. These paper pushers mill around all day, and in order to give them something important to do, King Daley has deputized some of them with the authority to write parking tickets to violators on CTA property. That’s right. The next time you don’t pay your dollar at the Kiss N’ Ride, your fine may be issued, not be a uniformed police officer, or even a meter maid, but instead the guy who is in charge of writing the repetitive “Doomsday” press releases declaring imminent CTA death. Of course. And now we’ll pay $3 a ride to keep all these managers on the payroll. Best of all, the CTA has almost entirely stopped hiring full-time bus drivers and train conductors. This is because they can pay part-time workers half the hourly rate, without the expense of those pesky other perks like health insurance which would put a crimp in all the kickback payments. This cost saving measure might explain the higher incidence of train accidents in recent years, as high turnover and poor training, coupled with a lack of personal investment, lead to lazier job performance.

So anyway, this line of conversation was enough to get my blood boiling. The CTA clearly has its head irretrievably up its ass, compromising service to passengers while wallowing in enough graft and corruption to make Al Capone blush in his grave. I was both thrilled and appalled to be getting this insider information. Richard, a 47 year-old, 25 year veteran of the CTA with three young children, bears the King nearly as much ill will as I do. We bonded.

From these issues, the dialogue turned to some of the King’s other glaring transgressions, that to my everlasting frustration, citizens of Chicago seem to have a bottomless stomach for. How else to explain why there has never been a serious challenge mounted to set term limits or toss this a-hole?

But now we get this:

http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2009/10/mayor-richard-daley-to-unveil-budget-this-morning.html#

I am not playing semantic games with the King. To invoke fiscal responsibility as his motivation for anything is beyond the pale. He has robbed City coffers illegally, and cancelled Venetian Night for good measure out of nothing more than power hungry, vindictive spite. I am now convinced that this man can do anything he wants. I think he could bonk midgets on the head, and trip old ladies right in the middle of the Thompson Center and no one would utter a word.

So King Daley can’t bring the Olympics to Chicago? We’ll he’ll show us and the world dammit! He’s gonna, gonna, gonna…cancel Venetian Night, a beautiful festival that everyone enjoys. Yeah, that’s the ticket – just because he can. That 1.1 billion that was supposed to sit in a reserve for the next 99 years while this shitty parking meter lease plays out, just in case we ever really need it? We’ll let’s just pull a third of that out before a year is even up. Why? Because Chicago is struggling man. Mayor Daley, if you indeed feel so emasculated by your undeniable show of international powerlessness that you must needs destroy something, please do not make it the Windy City’s financial future.

Meanwhile, crime rates are shooting through the roof in disgruntled, impoverished communities, children are killing children and the rest of us, the ones without Daley as our last name, watch OUR City slip away from our control a little more each year.

Please Chicago readers. Comments? Questions? Concerns? Anyone willing to run for Mayor this next round? Little C? Richard W. Linn?