BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “Chicago.”

Only editions

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune

Anyone visiting Chicago can bring home a box of Fannie May, or a Drake Hotel flask. It takes a real professional tourist to hunt down a copy of both newspapers.

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♫ I want my MeTV ♫

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

An ad for WRME-LD/Chicago

If your radio station is actually an analog signal at 87.75 Mhz, muxed with a low-power ATSC 3.0 digital TV channel at the ass-end of the FM dial, and you still manage to come in #13 in the ratings, youʼre doing something right.

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I do not want fries with that

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A “Ham Quicke” at the Lavazza cafe inside The Drake Hotel

I used to live in a state where prostitution is legal, and even Iʼm not sure what a “ham quicke” is.

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Generational dirt

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The CTA Red Line Chicago station

Iʼm pretty sure I recognize all of this dirt from the last time I lived in Chicago about eight years ago.

Thereʼs no reason for any CTA station to look like this, especially considering that it has fewer passengers now than in recent years.

If the CTA canʼt handle basic sanitation, how poorly run are the rest of its operations? More to the point — How are passengers supposed to feel safe, if they canʼt even feel clean?

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Way way wayfinding

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The CTA Red Line Lake station

This is an example of wayfinding done right.

With a mere glance out the door of a subway train, I can see three signs telling me that this is the Lake station.

The signs are large, clean, and clear, with very high contrast.

Itʼs remarkable how many transit agencies and airports, large and small, forget the importance of wayfinding, communication, and consistent design.

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L of a shop

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A boarded up kiosk in the CTA Red Line Monroe station

I was surprised to learn recently that a good number of people in Chicago donʼt know what this is. And many people donʼt even notice that theyʼre there.

Iʼm old enough to remember when these underground kiosks thrived at CTA stations all over Chicago. Some were newsstands. Some were Dunkinʼ Donuts shops. Some sold other kinds of food to passengers. I always thought that was funny, because at the time, you werenʼt allowed to eat or drink on a CTA train. But the CTA was happy to sell you both inside its own stations.

I remember lines at the Dunkinʼ Donuts kiosks would sometimes be long enough to block the turnstiles.

Today, theyʼre all boarded up with stainless steel plates. Some, like this one, are decorated. As if to pretend that they never existed at all.

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Empty news

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

An empty newspaper rack at Adams and Dearborn in Chicago

It was just a decade ago that newspapers were fighting for space in Chicagoʼs downtown newspaper racks. Now, nobody cares.

The racks were installed by the second Mayor Daley as part of his efforts to clean up downtown, where busy street corners would sometimes have ten, 15, or even 20 newspaper boxes all chained together, spilling out into the street and blocking both pedestrians and traffic.

The new street furniture brought order, but also controversy. Small and marginal publication accused the city of playing favorites. There was always room for a Tribune drawer, or a Sun-Times drawer, or a Crainʼs Chicago Business drawer; but neighborhood, non-English, classified advertising, and pornography publications couldn't always get in.

Lawsuits were threatened, but I donʼt know if they ever went anywhere. Perhaps simply because right around the same time, people en masse decided to get their news from the internet for free, instead of paying for dead trees. It didn't help that both of the big newspapers doubled their prices (or more) as the internet ate their revenue.

Today, about the only place to get a newspaper in downtown Chicago is in a drug store. And even then, you might have to go to two or three different stores to find one, since so few are printed. There's no need, since work-from-home has made a 2022 weekday lunchtime on LaSalle Street feel like the same location at 6am on a Sunday in 2012.

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Broken news

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A broken marquee outside WLS-TV

This LED pylon was a big deal when it debuted 20 years ago. Even though it only showed promos for WLS-TV news, it was considered a major work of public art, which is why it was allowed to take up space on a public sidewalk.

The last time I checked on it was in 2017. It was broken then. It was also broken today, when I checked on it again in 2022. I can only hope that I just have bad timing, and it hasn't been broken for five years. State Street is already a lot shabbier than when I lived a few blocks away.

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Alley art

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

Graffiti in North Garland Court at East Lake Street in Chicago

Chicago has better graffiti than Houston has legitimate murals.

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I remain uncaffeinated

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A sign at Midway airport listing coffee options

This sign at Midway Airport helpfully lists 18 coffee options in the gate area. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went looking for a cup of joe. No luck.

More than half of the locations were closed, either temporarily or permanently. Most of the rest had lines 30 people deep. Probably because so many of the other restaurants were closed.

When I did finally find a place with a reasonably-sized line, they had no coffee. Didn't know they were supposed to have coffee. And were surprised to see their location listed on an official airport sign as having coffee.

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Nibbles

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

What $18.50 buys at Midway Airport

Big city mayors like to talk about promoting the health and welfare of their people. Then they allow the airport to sell passengers hamburgers for $4.00, while the healthy snacks cost $17.50 plus tax.

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No wonder boarding is so slow

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

Southwest Airlines encourages people to download its app for a “contactless day of travel.” You know what else is contactless? The way it was done up to now.

There's nothing about using an app that is more contactless than using a home-printed ticket, or even the old-style paper tickets. Both are read by a contactless scanner. It's not like the gate agent is going to lick your face because youʼre not using an app.

There are more disadvantages to using an app for your boarding pass than using a piece of paper:

  • Ask any janitor — people drop their phones in toilets all the time.
  • Restrooms, bars, restaurants, payment kiosks — there are a thousand ways to lose your phone in an airport.
  • Phones run out of battery.
  • Phone apps crash.
  • Phone apps malfunction.
  • Internet connectivity is required, but not guaranteed.
  • Internet connectivity in airports is notoriously slow and unreliable.
  • People run out of data on their mobile plans while waiting for their planes.
  • Screens time out and turn off just when someone gets to the gate agent. It happens constantly.

My observation waiting in line behind people using app-based boarding passes is that the paper passes scan more quickly, and more reliably than the phone-based equivalents.

The only reason to use an app-based boarding pass is if you enjoy forking over even more of your personal information to an airline so that it can sell that information to other people.

I am a paying passenger. I am not your recurring revenue stream.

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Optimism

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

And by “peace and quiet” Southwest Airlines means “listening to the simultaneous FaceTime calls of half-a-dozen people who think pajamas and flip-flips are appropriate attire for a flight across the country.”

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Airline humor

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

I know Southwest is trying to be folksy and humorous by having the status sign at the airport gate tell me I have plenty of time to read magazines. But I canʼt help but think, “No kidding. My flight has already been delayed six times tonight.”

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Welcome to Chicago. Now go home.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

The Discover Chicago store at Midway Airport. Closed for business.

I know that Mayor Lightfoot put a lot of work into the retail experience at Chicagoʼs airports. One of her big successes was populating them almost exclusively with local restaurants. Great idea. But you can't highlight local businesses, if those businesses aren't open.

This photo was taken at on a Tuesday at 5:37pm. It does a pretty good job of illustrating the retail situation at Midway Airport. Even though this was prime time for travelers, very few of the shops were open.

First impressions count. And millions of people will have this as their first impression of Chicago when arriving at Midway.

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This is your fault

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

Mayor Lori Lightfoot poster welcoming people to Chicago

When you leave the airside of Midway Airport, this is what greets you. On the surface, itʼs a nice welcome message from the Mayor of Chicago. Sweet.

The cynic in me immediately starts thinking itʼs a shameless promotion, and another way for her to get her face out there, like all those craptastic little towns scattered across America with signs reading “Welcome to Gripplebunk; Population 3,122; Cleetus McFasterberry, Mayor.”

But the more I think about it, thereʼs more to this sign. Itʼs Mayor Lightfoot taking pride in her city. More importantly, itʼs hizzonor putting her neck out there and telling people “If your visit sucks, thatʼs my fault. If the train brakes down, thatʼs my fault. If you get mugged on Wabash, thatʼs my fault.”

It's also saying, “If you have an awesome time at Oak Street Beach, thatʼs my fault, too!” But few people seem to associate good things with the people responsible for them. Itʼs much easier to assign blame when thing go wrong.

Lightfoot is far from my favorite Chicago mayor, especially among this new generation. I disagree with a bunch of the things sheʼs done. But at least sheʼs trying to do things. And in ways big and small, she doesnʼt run from controversy or responsibility. Which makes her an old-style Chicago mayor.

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A life in transit

Sunday, August 7th, 2022 Alive18,730days

My retired transportation cards

I have a bad habit of holding on to transportation cards; especially if they have leftover money still loaded on them.

  • Ventra (Chicago)

    The grey Ventra card was the first one. It also functioned as a MasterCard debit card with the idea that it could be of benefit to poor people and the many thousands of Chicagoans who canʼt or donʼt have a bank account. That didn't really work out, and eventually it was migrated into the more common blue transit card.

    Amazingly, I was able to use the blue Ventra card on my most recent trip to Chicago. It had about eight dollars on it when I last used it, and 11 years later, that money was still available, and it worked fine. It turns out that it doesnʼt expire for 25 years.

  • Akbil (Istanbul)

    More durable than a card, and you can hang it on a keychain, I got an akbil to get around Istanbul. The akbil system has since transitioned to a boring plastic card like most of the rest of the world, and the money that I had left on this has now expired.

  • Amtrak (United States)

    This was just a rewards card, like a frequent flyer card. I earned quite a few points going back-and-forth between Chicago and Saint Louis; Seattle and Vancouver; Saint Paul and Chicago. But since Amtrak discontinued service to Las Vegas, I stopped using it and the points expired.

  • Oyster (London)

    I think this is the oldest of the bunch. I have no idea if thereʼs any money left on it.

  • Orca (Seattle)

    Orca bills itself as a single payment solution for getting around the entire Puget Sound area. But I seem to recall that it wasn't actually accepted everywhere. That may have been fixed by now, but I seem to recall that when I was using it, it was only valid on ferries, and Sound Transit buses and trains. I remember using paper transfer tickets on Seattle city buses.

    I have no idea if thereʼs any money on this one, either.

  • Do It All (Singapore)

    This card is supposed to do it all. I don't know if it did. I only used it on trains, and perhaps a cable car to Sentosa Island.

    Thereʼs probably money left on it, if it hasnʼt expired.

  • Octopus (Hong Kong)

    I've noticed that a lot of transit cards are named after sea creatures.

    I had money on it, but that was probably forcibly expired as Hong Kong was crushed under the mainlandʼs thumb. At least I still have my Hong Kong money with the image of Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ on it.

  • T-Money (Seoul)

    A good number of transit cards are also positioned as general-purpose payment cards. My observation was that T-Money achieved this most thoroughly, and early.

    It seemed like you could use T-Money anywhere in Seoul. Its acceptance was probably wider than even Visa or MasterCard.

    Since T-Money is more like a bank account than a transit card, there's probably money left on it.

  • Suica (Japan)

    Suica is one of two major transportation cards in use in Tokyo, and adjacent areas of Japan. The other one is Pasmo.

    How to choose between the two? Easy — Pick the one with the cute penguin on it.

    Suica has a unique set-up process, where you can create your account and login at the ticket vending machine, and it prints your name on the back of the card. Pretty nifty.

    Thereʼs very likely money on this one, since itʼs not that old.

  • Zipcard (United States)

    When I lived in cities where I didnʼt need a car all the time, I used ZipCar to bring home major purchases that wouldnʼt fit on transit, or to take longer trips.

    The interesting thing about the ZipCar process is that you tap the card on the car to unlock it and get the keys.

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