The Ogilvie Arches

mcdonalds

I’ve resided in the city of Chicago nearly my entire life. A toddler’s stay in Virginia here, a college move to Urbana, Illinois there. And one exquisitely awful year wasted with the wrong man in Bensenville, a suburb next door to O’Hare Airport. Oh the noise, so unlike the sonic cornucopia of sirens, bus recordings and general boisterousness that are the soundtrack of urban living. The sky screaming of planes, the smell of jet fuel in the air. Roaring, toxic monotony – much like that relationship.

I’m a committed Windy City concrete jungler. Nevertheless, I’ve spent many years traveling the Metra commuter train lines that ferry suburban workers to and from Chicago’s downtown. The operation serves more than 100 communities with 11 routes and 241 stations, a few of which can be found well inside city limits. I have a lot of love for the Chicago Transit Authority for many reasons. It’s another story for another time, maybe a novella. But two things which a trip on the subway or elevated train is not: comfortable or permissive of personal space. With cushy benches that double as nap mats during off-peak hours, upper deck seating and a smoother ride, Metra delivers a generally preferable experience to standing crushed between sweaty bodies while hanging on to a piece of metal for balance.

And the Ogilvie Train Station, which serves as a hub for many North and West Metra lines, has a few cute shops, some valuable services and a pretty amazing food court. This third wonderland has provided the backdrop to many quick office lunches, drink dates and post-happy hour carb loads over the years. Several businesses sell portable adult beverages to go for one’s Metra trip. How can the CTA compete, I ask?

Anyway the food court offers meal options both healthyish…and not. For every Subway or salad venue, there’s a Taco Bell, Arby’s…and of course, a McDonald’s.

The Ogilvie Mickey D’s has been a curious emotional foci, a place I find myself after incandescent episodes of grief. It’s completely disproportionate to my overall McDonald’s experience. Normally I eat at a franchise maybe twice or thrice a year? But when I do, it’s statistically likely the incident will occur at the train station.

  • In spring 2011, I bellied up to the bar after a stranger than fiction near miss with my soon-to-be ex-husband. The intrigue found me hiding behind a train station dumpster, crouching low to the pavement to avoid being seen. Thus forced to engage. Every second of the standoff included acute awareness of juvenile, humiliating behavior. Others saw me and possibly had a few questions, but it wasn’t their eyes I feared. After abandoning defensive crouch, I ate my weight in French fries while waiting for the next train back to the safety of my bachelorette studio.
  • While battling acute migraine headaches between 2012 and 2015, a period marked by many shameful episodes of public vomiting, fried potatoes were often one of the few foods my body would accept. Ensuing visits to the train station McDonald’s counter, where I was oft and understandably mistaken for a hungover mess. There was an advantage to the confusion. On several occasions, I was allowed to cut in line because other patrons feared my sick.
  • In February of this year, I made half a dozen grief trips on the way home from my current employer. Regular readers of this blog, as well as those close to Bob and I personally, know that this was the month where we lost two of our beloved fur babies within a three week timespan. Dead of winter devastation. Daily movement and functionality were hard-fought battles. I began 2016 on a low-carb diet, losing 15 pounds, and kept the regiment up more or less until Memorial Day. But February contained several days without any other fucks beyond immediate survival to give. There were some Quarter Pounders with cheese at the train depot.
  • In April, Prince died. I left work that day around lunchtime, a grief-stricken, sobbing wreck grappling with shock over the loss of an artistic inspiration. Double Quarter Pounder with cheese while feverishly reading online coverage of the Purple One’s untimely demise.
  • I’ve already mentioned Memorial Day. The next day, Tuesday, I threw low carb diet and exercise routines aside upon learning that my dear friend Todd had died. We’d spent time together the previous weekend and he was perfectly well. Six years of unflagging support, sardonic wit, music and political discourse – gone without warning. I can’t even recall what I ate that day. I just remember feeling pulled to the same particular fast food counter on autopilot. Ingesting my emotions in a familiar place had by now become a source of comfort through complete internal chaos.

It might be inferred (because accurate) that 2016 has been a challenge. Separately and together, Bob and I have had a lot of loss to experience and process. Certainly the complexity of it all has spilled over into our personal dynamics. Though we’re stronger and more bound than ever in our second year, the Terrible Twos aren’t just a toddler thing. Last month was hard. And of course it included an Ogilvie McDonald’s culinary therapy session. For whatever reason, I took a picture of the marquee and posted the image to Facebook with the caption “I’ve given up on life.” I suppose it was a cry for some kind of compassion and community during a moment of weakness.

My friend Meg observed, “the Ogilvie McDonald’s is a ‘special’ kind of giving up.” I knew exactly what she meant. What’s a more anonymous, pulsating and lonely experience than a train station? Add a toxic, fatty, solo meal to the mix and one has all the trappings of bad fiction. I don’t write bad fiction. I don’t write fiction at all.

I think the unreality of the scene keeps me coming back. It’s not the real Becky. It’s not my life. Those visits to McDonald’s represent a false sense of willful control during delirium, a way to organize tragic events that are lawless and messy. It’s a second’s consolation, an indulgent, fleeting fullness before beginning long, empty grief work.

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Rahm the Edible (February 25, 2015)

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a piece for the now-defunct online magazine RootSpeak entitled, Rahm the Inevitable. The column was published just before Chicago’s general Mayoral election that year, a time when Rahm Emanuel’s march to City Hall had the pre-ordained feel of a Hillary Clinton 2008 – without the Barack Obama spoiler. Here’s a snippet of my February ‘11 observations:

“Now that the wide variety of political shenanigans that have come to exemplify the 2011 Chicago mayoral race have been exhausted, it seems there’s nothing left to do but wait for Tuesday’s electoral returns. At that point we may stop referring to former U.S. Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the ‘presumed favorite,’ move beyond his Goliath campaign and start seeing the new CEO of Chi-town in action.

After all, there’s no way anyone could take him at this point, right? Rahmbo has five times more campaign funds at his disposal than nearest fiscal competitor, Gery Chico. His slick print ads and television spots depict the handsome, well-dressed former ballet dancer as a family man who cares about the middle class, ready to make the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city. A few of his TV plugs contain public endorsements from not one but two U.S. Presidents, current POTUS Barack Obama, as well as immediate predecessor William Jefferson Clinton.”

Back in 2011, Emanuel emerged as the Windy City’s clear victor, logging 55.35 percent of the total vote count, compared with Gery Chico’s limp 23.97.

Well kids, what a difference a leap year makes, eh? Over the course of his first term, “the ‘tough choices’ that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city” turned out to be a complete gutting of the Chicago Public School system, while siphoning funds to promote North Side charter schools for the elite. South Side children that were redistricted without their consent have been forced to hoof it through dangerous gang territory.

Another of those “tough choices” was the privatization of the Chicago Transit Authority’s payment operations, with the 2013 debut of the Ventra card system. I think Rick Perlstein of The Nation spoke for many of us when he observed:

“The problem is not just the profusion of private contractors who do the public’s business so poorly; it’s the fact that the public’s business is being so relentlessly privatized by the government executives in charge. Slowly, the perceived imperative to privatize has become the political tail that wags the policy dog. The results are before us. Why, indeed, was this massive change in how Chicagoans pay for their bus and train fares initiated in the first place?”

Coming off predecessor Mayor Daley’s absurd parking meter lease “deal” which screwed Chicago for 75 years, a repeat of this type of performance wasn’t interpreted as very populist of Rahm. But if the ravaging of public education and the city’s transit system were not enough, there was plenty else about Emanuel to rankle Chicago’s largely blue color spirit: the close ties with new Republican Governor and enemy of organized labor, Bruce Rauner, the arrogance, the bullying, the closed door meetings. The antithetical “man of the people” conduct that exemplified the Mayor’s first term finally led Rolling Stone to declare, Rahm Emanuel Has a Problem with Democracy.

Well after yesterday’s general re-election performance, in which Rahmbo was forced into a surprising April runoff against second place finisher, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, he certainly has a bigger problem with democracy now.

Here’s the pesky thing about voters. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to persuade them that you’re in their corner, they take a look at your record and decide not to believe you. The tide of public sentiment was running against Emanuel before the first polling place ever opened its doors. And here’s what else changed since I wrote about Rahm’s first Mayoral run in 2011.

  1. This round, Emanuel had THIRTY times more campaign funds at his disposal than his nearest fiscal competitor.
  2. He is the sitting CEO of Chicago, and incumbents are generally considered the electoral favorite with few exceptions.
  3. It seems unbelievable even as I type, but Garcia entered the race a mere four months ago. Rising from relative obscurity as a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, he took an astounding 33.9 percent of the popular vote compared with Rahm’s 45.4.

    That last number is the most important one. Because having failed to secure the required 50 percent plus one vote, the former Rahm the Inevitable must now face an April 7 runoff against Garcia in which nothing is certain. All that money. All that love from the political elite. And yet it’s more than possible that Emanuel could be out of a job in six weeks.

The people spoke yesterday and I suspect they’ll raise their voices even louder in the coming days. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Tuesday’s near record-low turnout was a combination of bad weather and voter apathy. When folks stop believing they can change anything, they tend to stay home.

By any measure Rahm Emanuel already lost on February 24, 2015. A megawatt celebrity sitting Mayor with 30 times the budget, and infinity political supporters (including the POTUS), is back shilling for votes today. But he’s been wounded. The previously scared but hungry can smell his blood. I relish the pile-on, not out of spite or schadenfreude, but because like most citizens, I understand that what’s good for the Windy City is good for me. And another four years of Rahm is a bad deal. I’m grateful that my fellow Chicagoans finally feel empowered to reject it.

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?