BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “Chicago.”

Only editions

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,733 days

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 Alive 18,732 days

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 Alive 18,732 days

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 Alive 18,730 days

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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Funky Tut

Sunday, March 27th, 2022 Alive 18,597 days

A tarted-up ancient Egyptian artifact at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

I feel a little sad that I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see the Egyptian artifacts, and only ended up taking the same old photograph that every other tourist does.

I think I just didnʼt feel inspired.

I can see that the HMNS tries hard. But it all comes off as very Disney-fied. Not real. Plastic shrink-wrapped for my protection. I know itʼs done to get children interested in the exhibits. But too often, museums forget that adults go, too.

I wonder if Iʼd still feel this way if I hadnʼt been to some other really amazing museums featuring Middle Eastern and North African artifacts. The Oriental Institute in Chicago is the best one Iʼve been to so far, with the Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi in Istanbul a very close second.

The University of Chicagoʼs Oriental Institute feels like walking into Indiana Jonesʼ alma matter, and visiting it makes watching the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies a bit richer. The Jones characterʼs background includes ties to the University of Chicago. And George Lucas is also very fond of Chicago, where he tried to build a museum, but was rebuffed by special interest groups who believed a parking lot was a better use for land in a public park.

Eski Şark Eserleri has better stuff, but the facility is really run down from decades of what is euphemistically called “deferred maintenance.” Ordinary people call it just plain neglect. But itʼs certainly worth seeing, if youʼre in Istanbul, where there is absolutely no shortage of fabulous musea.

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Hi, Shern-Min!

Friday, March 4th, 2022 Alive 18,574 days

KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown studio at the George R. Brown Convention Center

Itʼs nice to see a TV station with a streetfront studio. They were in fashion in the 1990ʼs, and most large markets had at least one. They were a way to showcase the station in high-traffic areas, similar to the way big consumer brands like Starbucks, Hershey, and Nokia build flagship stores on busy tourist streets to serve as 3D interactive billboards.

The first one I saw was at KSDK/Saint Louis in 1994. Chicago is a walking town, so by the early 2000ʼs, several radio and television stations built their own. WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV, WBBM-TV, and WGN radio all had them. WKQX radio had one in the Merchandise Mart, but since the Mart doesnʼt have much of a street-level presence, it faced inside, where all the office workers could see it. WLUP radio and WFLD television each did something similar at Michigan Plaza, but while the radio stationʼs version was well done, it was hard to find. The TV station never really pulled it off. Even Loyola Universityʼs WULW/Chicago, and its student TV station had a streetfront studio.

The last time I checked, both WLS-TV and WBBM-TV have let their former showcase spaces deteriorate, and theyʼre not much of a draw anymore. WGN radio was still using its space in Tribune Tower extensively, but no longer 24 hours a day. WGN had an interesting gimmick where a microphone was suspended outside of the studio, and the talk show hosts would occasionally engage members of the public.

A similar setup was featured in a Tony Hillerman book, outside of KNDN/Farmington. Itʼs possible that it was real, since the Hillerman books tend to be more fact than fiction.

When I was at WGN-TV we longed for a streetfront studio, like the big stations downtown. But we were way out in North Central, pretty much half-way out of town. When WGN radio opened its showcase studio, we were jealous, since the space next to WGNʼs studio was originally designed to be a TV studio, and itʼs where WGN-TV was located until it moved out of downtown in the 1960ʼs. We always thought that space should rightly be a TV studio again, especially with all of our competitors opening shiny new studios all over downtown.

That never happened, because the people who owned the TV station at the time thought the prime downtown location was better used as retail space, then a museum, then retail space, and then left empty.

The picture above is KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown streetfront studio, and the woman in front of it is anchor Shern-Min Chow. We worked together for about five years, and she was always nice to me, but I donʼt think sheʼd remember me, so I didnʼt say hi.

When I was at KHOU, we prided ourselves on the fact that we were the only TV station downtown. All the others were half-way out of town, and when important things happened, we were usually better positioned to get to the news before everyone else.

Since then, KHOU has moved even farther away from downtown than the other stations. Its main studio is in the Galleria Area, but at least this satellite studio gets daily use. The only TV station that does local news thatʼs farther away is KIAH/Houston, but its news product is a very faded shadow of what it was when I was there.

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Inky fingers

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,289 days

Mise en place

Coffee and seven newspapers (thereʼs a Chicago Catholic under there somewhere). My day is set.

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Easy, and ready to go

Sunday, April 18th, 2021 Alive 18,254 days

Caribou Blend from Caribou Coffee

This weekʼs coffee is Caribou Blend from Caribou Coffee.

I was introduced to Caribou when it came to Chicago. There was a shop down the street from my apartment, and next door to the place where Darcie worked. Darcie already knew about it because it originated in Minnesota. Now itʼs owned by an Arab government fund, which is why the only stores are in the upper Midwest, and the U.A.E.

I got the Keurig cups simply for convenience. If I feel like having a fifth or sixth cup of coffee during the day, I probably no longer have the patience to deal with grounds and brewing. I guess the Keurig machine is good for something, after all. Which makes sense because I like my coffee the way I like my women: Easy, and ready to go.

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Tuesday, January 19th, 2021 Alive 18,165 days

A screenshot from the WTTW web page

Being unemployed leaves you with no money. Not having money means youʼre poor. That was easy.

This feels like a think piece put together by a Northwestern grad whoʼs never been poor.

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Wafers for lunch

Saturday, January 4th, 2020 Alive 17,784 days

Guardian Angel Cathedral dwarfed by the Encore casino

One of the things I miss about not working in the office anymore is that I canʼt squeeze in a quick lunchtime mass anymore.

I sometimes used to go to the noon mass at Guardian Angel Cathedral, but it wasnʼt exactly a contemplative atmosphere. Standing room only, and half of it tourists. Thereʼs a special Catholic church just for the tourists, paid for by the casinos, but the tourists still end up at Guardian Angel. I guess being a cathedral, itʼs got more gravity.

I see stories in the media all the time saying that church is dying, but I canʼt help but think this is just a cliché, and not based on facts. Yes, churches in Chicago are closing all the time, but thatʼs because of bad decisions made by the archdiocese in the early 1900ʼs.

Because the various immigrant groups in Chicago couldnʼt get along, instead of having a church for each neighborhood, each neighborhood was given several churches — one for each ethnicity/nationality/community. So, Bridgeport, for example, had a bunch of Catholic churches: one for Germans, one for Poles, one for Lithuanians, one for Irish. But now that everyone gets along, all those churches arenʼt needed, so theyʼre constantly consolidating. The church I went to in Chicago (Assumption) was an Italian church, formed because Italians in that area of town werenʼt welcome at what is now Old Saint Patrickʼs Church.

Here in Las Vegas, and most of the southwest, there simply arenʼt enough Catholic churches for the number of people who want to use them. I go to Saint Elizabeth either for the 4pm Saturday, or the 6am on Sunday, and both times it is absolutely packed. This is a church with a capacity of at least 750, which to me seems pretty big. Iʼve heard from a person I know in Ohio who says itʼs the same situation there.

There are Roman Catholic congregations here that meet in the lyceum of the Lutheran high school down the street, for lack of space. We had a similar situation in Seattle, where the noon mass at the cathedral was so packed that there was another Catholic mass down the street at the Unitarian church.

I feel bad for the people who live in small towns around here. Amargosa Valley and Pioche are 250 miles apart, and have to share a priest, so they only get a single mass every other week. Other towns only get mass once a month. Because of this, we have special dispensation from the Archdiocese of San Francisco to watch mass on TV. The church I go to records a mass on Thursdays that is broadcast state-wide Sunday morning. Thereʼs no communion, naturally, but it still counts somehow.

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