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Category Archives: Running Things Into the Ground – Politics

The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

The Best of Chicago in Ten Years

Seattle Weekly ran its Best of 2017 issue today. On the introductory page, they ran a piece predicting the future. What would the Best of Seattle be in 2027? I liked that idea and knew I had to rip it off. Here is the Best of Chicago in 2027.

Best News Story

Be honest: When Chicago’s street gangs, underground activist groups, and police colluded in 2024 because they were sick of getting abused by National Guard soldiers here by Donald Trump’s martial law edict, we thought it would be a tenuous alliance at best. They would barely get along, do just enough to fight back, and return to their prescribed places after everything was over, win or lose. But that didn’t happen! Everyone got along swimmingly, and the tide of the war turned as the Red Star Alliance smashed the Guard’s front lines on every street from Madison to 95th. They chased the Guard out for good with a quick and decisive victory against the Bronzeville Bulge, coming within a hair of killing Trump himself when he showed up to lead his henchmen in Bronzeville… And failing only because Trump boarded the first helicopter out when he realized that hey, war is dangerous.

After that, the Alliance stayed together. The violence and murder rate dropped instantly, and notoriously dangerous Chicago was suddenly one of America’s safest cities almost overnight. The Alliance’s quest to rebuild Chicago’s ruined neighborhoods has resulted in an influx of adult education centers, after school programs, and job services for anyone in need. But nothing they’ve done so far is on the level of what they’ve created this last year: A set of independent banks and credit unions which found a way to offer loans out to wannabe homeowners and wannabe business owners without any interest. Between that and the residents of the South Side now getting in touch with their creative dreams, the ruins of the Martial War are sparking back to life faster than anyone could have imagined.

Best Real Estate Story

Willis had to know that its attempt to buy out the name of the Sears Tower wasn’t going to go over very well. But the latest sale of the iconic building has finally placed it in the hands of an owner who has decided to restore the tower’s rightful name. The Sears Tower has finally returned to us, and the city has taken the extra step of declaring the name of the building – not the building itself, but its NAME – a historic landmark so this kind of thing never happens again. The city has also decided to punish Willis by attaching its title to the now-former Trump Tower, a move meant to be just as permanent so Willis has to keep its name on a building of shame.

Best Sports Story

In a year of great sports stories – Jonathan Toews retiring a champion after defeating old linemate Patrick Kane and the defending champion Buffalo Sabres in the Final, the Cubs winning their fourth Fall Classic since 2016 over the Seattle Mariners with a 109-win, all-time squad – the best sports story may be the most unusual sports story. When the Bears announced their move to San Diego two years ago, every NFL pundit imagined Chicago would be up in even more arms than the ones the Martial War was being fought with. But the people hardly raised a peep at all. A year went by with no football, then the McCaskeys announced they would bring Bear football back to Chicago!… Only, in an odd twist, “Bear football” meant an entire team of cardboard cutouts of the 1985 Bears. The cutouts stand out on Soldier Field every Sunday and do nothing. Despite that, though, the McCaskeys have made the Bears a financial success, charging $500 a ticket, and Soldier Field sells out every Sunday as the cutouts do nothing and the scoreboard slowly runs the score up to 46-10 over the course of a few hours.

This is more than a fanbase trying to compensate for a lost team. This is one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world apparently not even realizing the team is gone. The cardboard team is more than enough to placate them. A staffer went to one of these football “games” and tried to interview fans. When they pointed out that the team was literally made of cardboard, fans looked downright confused. When they said these Bears aren’t even playing football, the fans simply said that it was BEAR FOOTBALL, REAL FOOTBALL, not the pansy passing game they play today. It’s almost as if the fans don’t even know what football is.

Best L Line

The Circulator would be awesome if the city managed to get around to actually building it. At least there aren’t any construction delays, so that’s a plus.

Best Political Story

Rahm Emanuel is out of office. But what makes this story unique is that the people of Chicago VOTED him out! No other city has even done corrupt politics the way Chicago has done corrupt politics, and Chicago frequently responds to corrupt politics by opting for the evil they know over the evil they don’t know. Now, just to set the record straight, no one thinks the Buck O’Hare Scandal is why people got fed up with Emanuel. His crime was trying to get away with replacing the sweet relish on a Chicago dog with KETCHUP.

Best Art Exhibit

The Real Capone, which got the city to take a hard look at the reality of one of its mythologized heroes. Chicago sells so many little knickknacks with Capone’s face on it, you would think he was some great champion of the people, but Capone was a nasty character. This art exhibit showed the side of him that all the cheap souvenir shops don’t show you: The victims and their families, all in graphic detail. Several souvenir shops around the city have announced that they will cease selling Capone’s merchandise.

Best Architecture Story

Remember how the Sears Tower lost its title of the tallest building in the United States to Freedom Tower years ago on a silly antennae technicality? Well, as it turns out, Chicago was right to lose its mind over it. Several members of that committee were found to have taken bribes from the New York City Government to vote in Freedom Tower’s direction. The committee ended up being rather blatant about this; when a new bank tower in Tallahassee, Florida, which was clearly shorter than both ended up becoming the tallest building in the United States, we knew something was a little fishy. They all lost their chairs and the rightful place of the Sears Tower was restored.

Best Theater Story

The restoration of Englewood from its wholesale destruction during the Martial War has people across the country wondering if Englewood is going to turn into a new Harlem. The notoriously violent pre-War neighborhood has gotten a makeover and a hell of a reputation to go with it. The Halsted stretch of Englewood has given rise to a series of alternative theaters which run every kind of theater known to man. There’s an emphasis on African-American work, of course, with such iconic plays like A Raisin in the Sun and A Soldier’s Play, theater based on the books of Richard Wright and the life of Malcolm X, and poetry interpretations. Much is the district is painted up and down with colorful murals which would have been illegal before the War. The new Englewood Theater District has attracted so much attention that notable African-American playwrights such as Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange have recently announced their decisions to debut new, never-before-seen works there.

Best Pizza

Giordano’s. Eight years running.

Best Hot Dogs

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs. Nine years running.

Best Newspaper

The Chicago Tribune. They own this newspaper, after all.

Best Street

Milwaukee Avenue. The Milwaukee Strip between Ashland and California remains the city’s best-kept secret if you’re looking for unique, out-of-the-way swag.

Best Ice Cream

Margie’s. It’s probably just time to retire them from contention by now.

Best Donuts

Glazed and Infused. Not only excellent donuts, but they deserve credit for the low-key role they played in the Martial War. Alliance spies used to drop off phony donut deliveries from Glazed and Infused under the guise of gifts from those supportive of Donald Trump and the martial occupation. Guard troops loved the things so much and ate so many that they ended up slowing down and being easy pickings for the Alliance.

Best Cafe

Ipsento. Not so much for the coffee as for their version of London Fog.

Best Bar

The California Clipper, which also doubles as an excellent and popular music venue.

The Inevitable Post About Legal Weed

The Inevitable Post About Legal Weed

Now to keep the record straight, I’m not a regular weed smoker. Legalized weed had nothing to do with my motivations for moving to Washington. That’s not because of some terrible moral objection I have to weed, though; it’s mainly because I’ve tried weed, and every time I’ve tried it, it never seemed to have the effect it was supposed to have on me. I’m not averse to social weed, but I don’t run around actively seeking it out – it doesn’t ever do anything that can’t be done with good old alcohol.

I do live in a weed-legal state, though, so it’s something I deal with on a regular basis. It doesn’t bother me, and in fact I have friends who smoke weed. As for this idea of some sort of open weed culture that the moralizers in the rest of this country worry about, though, I have yet to see that. Seattleites don’t sit giggling maniacally on park benches, they don’t lay down in the middle of the sidewalk on a pot brownie binge, and if potheads are frequenting the local fast food joints with munchies, I’ve been underwhelmed by the crowds. (Except for Dick’s, but that’s more because Dick’s makes damn good burgers.) The addition of legal weed doesn’t seem to make the culture of Seattle much different from the culture of Buffalo or Chicago. In fact, it feels like it hasn’t done anything at all. Basically, legalizing weed had placed weed a peg higher on the taboo scale. Instead of being illegal, its reached roughly the same level as porn: Everyone knows people are doing it, it’s legal, but for the love of god stay away!!!

Seriously, the state is pretty adamant about making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong curious hands. Like porn, weed is often sold in shady-looking little shacks with boarded windows and signs everywhere saying “21 ONLY!!!” If you happen to walk into one, some of them even have a fee just to browse. But like porn, it finds ways of trickling into the surrounding world no matter how much you try to control it.

One of the first things that struck me about legal weed is something I first heard on my night shift. So I was standing in the back room of my warehouse, trying desperately not to nod off, and one of those popular lawyer ads came onto the radio. You know the law firm ads vowing to defend you hook, line, and sinker if you get caught driving drunk? Well, in weed-legal Washington, they’re now making those same ads with an emphasis on being caught driving while high. And the agency that made the ad made a point to acknowledge all the common jokes and stereotypes about the difference between driving drunk and driving high. Then it made sure to point out that a DUI doesn’t differentiate between being drunk and being high; intoxication is intoxication, and it still impairs your senses and alters your consciousness one way or the other. If the cops think you’re driving funny and pull you over and you fail the test, your ass is getting hauled in.

It’s pretty scary that someone had to think to make a radio ad pointing that out. You would think it would be something that people instinctively realize, but the stupid truth is that if someone hadn’t thought it was okay, no one would have felt the urge to point it out. Weed smokers aren’t necessarily stupid people, but overlooking things like this don’t help nix that old stereotype.

My visits to weed stores have awakened me to the fact that weed is an expensive habit. I don’t think I’ve ever entered a weed shop where they sold single blunts – the cheapest things I’ve been able to find – for any amount of money that didn’t have two digits on the left side of the decimal point. No matter where you go, every time you see a reference to a weed dealer, the word “weed” is ALWAYS preceded by the word “legal.” The prices are probably a major reason for the distinction. The state government requires that the term “legal” be there in order to differentiate the recreational stuff from the medical or black market stuff. Yes, there’s still a black market for weed, because no one wants to pay $40 a week for their weed stock. Remember, wherever weed is legal, it was never legalized as a mercy or a stroke of common sense. It was done for revenue and as an effort to have some sort of control over who is getting it and how much people are using it. And it’s not going to prevent underage potheads from getting their hands on it. The rule applies here same as everywhere: If someone underage wants it and can’t get any, they’re not trying hard enough.

I have never seen a TV ad for a pot shop, but advertising for various places is everywhere. Billboards are up, and they’re plastered all over the pages of The Stranger, Seattle’s most popular alt rag.

The most unusual thing about legal weed, though, is its relationship with a federal government that still outlaws the stuff. The feds are all-omnipotent, and they have a bad habit of overruling the locals where they can. I was surprised to find myself taking drug tests for three different jobs – there’s a wide abundance of employers around Washington that’s perfectly allowed to fire your ass if there’s any weed in your bloodstream. The state is basically powerless in those circumstances, so even though Washington has a weed industry boom, the general sentiment among the population is that you’re still not really allowed to use it.

It’s the kind of thing that can make you wonder what the whole point of legalizing pot is if the feds still get enough final say to make sure users fear for their usage of it. That’s not to say it’s actually discouraging people, but more than a few weed users are finding themselves in trouble for what’s supposed to be a legal habit.

So yeah, legal weed is a weird cross world which is likely going to stay weird until the government grows a brain.

Defeat of Bull Run: The Failed Division I Experiment

Defeat of Bull Run: The Failed Division I Experiment

This will always rank among the greatest mysteries of the universe: Why was Stonehenge built? What was Fermat’s Last Theorem and how did he come up with it? How on Earth was Danny White, former athletic director at the University of Buffalo, not fired once his plans for The New York Bulls Initiative came rolling out of his mouth? With White having departed Buffalo in 2015, we will probably never know.

I don’t want to decry Danny White completely. He did do a lot for UB Athletics: He improved the facilities, raised money, got the alumni association excited about UB sports for the first time in forever, and many of his coaching changes were upgrades. He can be credited as the guy who made the Bulls competitive. On the bad end, he also just plump dumped both Jeff Quinn and Bobby Hurley, and god only knows what he was thinking. And being one of those hotshot wunderkind executives, he was basically in and out. But we can deal with that; this is Buffalo, after all, and no matter what the sport or what level of said sport, we don’t expect anyone to stay very long. White came in and did his time on the bottom rung. We knew he wasn’t going to stick around.

You remember The New York Bulls Initiative. That was one of the two worst things he did to the university. The quick refresher is that White created a brand change which would have emphasized the “New York” over the “Buffalo” in the “State University of New York at Buffalo.” It was a victory for the school, but only in the most perverse way possible: The only people who approved of the change were a handful of treasonous alumni active on prominent digital media; the same people who graduated from UB, packed their degrees under their arms, and bolted. The students at UB were indifferent, and the residents of Buffalo rejected it with a capital R-E-J-E-C-T-E-D. The people of Buffalo are already pissed about having to qualify their home state with the phrase, “No, not THAT New York,” which packs an innate hatred of New York City. To see SUNY’s flagship – one of the very few things Buffalo can lay claim to that New York City can’t – try and attract attention by latching itself to a place no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand was maddening. It counted on the idea that potential recruits didn’t know geography, and one wonders how long it took for touring students to make it to downtown Buffalo and realize Times Square was eight hours away.

After White’s departure, UB relocated its brain and rediscovered is proper identity. The university mopped up the damage from The New York Bulls Initiative and rebooted its inherited call sign. But a week ago, we got to see the real damage left by White’s grandiose plans. Now, I don’t want to call White a bad guy for this: If anything, he was a visionary who saw the big-time potential for UB Athletics and tried to act on it. No one can complain about that. The problem is that White misread the sports interests of longtime Buffalo residents. He was from the south, in college football country, and was naturally inclined to think a Division I football team is the keystone of all college athletics. He convinced the university of that idea to such a point that, to keep $2 million in athletic subsidies for football, UB cut baseball, men’s soccer, women’s rowing, and men’s swimming and diving. All in the name of a bad football team with no local media coverage.

Buffalo is a professional sports city. I’m not saying the Bills and Bulls can’t coexist in harmony here. Following the sports in Seattle has shown me that football fans can be fanatical no matter what level the sport is being played at. Generations of football fans in the Puget Sound megalopolis were grandfathered into football fandom following the University of Washington Huskies. When the NFL finally popped into Seattle and introduced the Seahawks in 1975, all those Husky devotees took one look at this weird newcomer and… Decided they had enough room in their hearts for both teams. Every sports memorabilia store in Seattle has a couple of racks given to the Huskies. Come autumn in Seattle, you’re hard-pressed to find people NOT dressed in Husky purple on Saturdays. Sundays, blue and green light up the streets – and the Space Needle – for the Seahawks. And hell, fans of the Huskies’ primary rival, the Washington State Cougars, have a presence in Seattle too, even though the Cougs play way the hell over in Eastern Washington. (And not the close part of Eastern Washington, either; the university’s city, Pullman, is less than ten miles from the Idaho border.)

Now, I’m not saying this CAN’T be Buffalo. I’m pointing out there’s a million reasons why it WON’T be. Keeping with the Huskies as my reference point since their harmonious coexistence with their local NFL team is what the Bulls are shooting for, we can start with longevity. The Bulls don’t have any. Yes, the football team was founded in 1894, but they’ve had a rough and inconsistent go of it. The team was never very good, and it was actually suspended in 1970 because the student body didn’t want to use its fees to fund that sort of shoddiness. When it was reinstated seven years later, the Bulls were a Division III team. They moved up to Division I-AA in 1993, then took their big leap to Division I in 1999, and after that… Well, they’ve won a conference title and competed in two bowl games. Eight of their players were drafted since 2000, including Khalil Mack, the decorated linebacker who was taken fifth overall in 2014 and is being credited with the Raiders’ turnaround. It’s better than the first years of their Division I status, in which they were ranked dead last in a field of over 100-some odd teams. It’s really not fair to compare them to the Huskies, but since they’re playing at the same level of college football, we need to clarify what the Bulls are up against. The Huskies created their football program in 1889 and have always been playing in Division I. They’re established as one of college football’s legendary powers, a team you would not be ashamed to show to an Alabama or Michigan fan. Playing in the nasty Pac-12 since 1917, the Huskies have claimed a couple of National Championships, many conference titles, and played in a hell of a lot of bowl games. They’ve never had a Heisman winner, but seven of their players have finished in the Heisman voter top 10, and they’ve had players win a lot of other individual awards. Their alumni includes established NFL luminaries including Corey Dillon, Lawyer Milloy, and Warren Moon. Just this last season, they were ranked in the top five, won their conference, and played against Alabama in the Peach Bowl. Yes, they got hammered by an unstoppable Crimson Tide team which many thought would win the National Championship, but you can bet that Nick Saban planned every which way for the Huskies. Had Alabama played against Buffalo at all, the Bulls would have been written off as one of the Tide’s schedule creampuffs. Saban would have rested any players who weren’t trying to impress an NFL scout.

The likelihood of Buffalo playing for the National Championship here isn’t improbable – it’s impossible. The dirty little secret of the FBS is that it holds some conferences in higher esteem than others. The Huskies play in the Pac-12, the harsh conference which includes USC, Oregon, and Colorado. Alabama plays in the downright brutal SEC, that conference smack in the middle of college football country where LSU, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia are in a constant state of almost-war. Buffalo plays in the MAC, which people serious about college football see as a cute little sideshow. The people in charge of the college football cabal threw the MAC into the Group of Five, better known as “oh, those OTHER conferences.” The college football teams people have heard of and, you know, follow, are in a group of conferences called The Power Five. Those are the teams that get automatic bids to big, cool bowl games like the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl. They’re the ones that are ranked in the national polls to visit the playoffs and ultimately compete for the National Championship. Members of the MAC don’t get to go to those or play for a national title. Buffalo is an MAC team, which means that International Bowl invitation from 2008 is as good as it gets. And the backhanded write-off is justifiable; the Bulls have played against nationally ranked teams 14 times since moving to the FBS, and their only victory came against Ball State. The other 13 teams they’ve faced obliterated them in short order. Their best showing was probably the nationally televised game against Ohio State in 2013 which unveiled Khalil Mack to the football world, and they lost 40-20.

You’re free to argue that Buffalo hasn’t turned up with an enormous fanbase because it hasn’t been playing top flight college football long enough. A fair point, but Buffalo is never going to find that non-alumni fanbase because there are other factors in play which help connect fans to their favorite teams. Let’s start with the location. UB has its north campus and its south campus. South campus is easily located right on the northern edge of the Buffalo city limits, between Main Street and Bailey Avenue. That’s a convenient location with seemingly half the bus lines in the city, plus the rail stopping and starting there. Although south campus is the more scenic of the two, it’s north campus where the crux of student activities happen. North campus is the home of The Spine, UB’s response to a common university quad. Most of the classrooms are there, more students live there than on south campus, and all the athletic facilities are there – including both UB Stadium and Alumni Arena. Now, at most universities, the campus offers an idyllic setting: Syracuse University is set on the peak of Syracuse’s University Hill neighborhood, where it’s conveniently between the Syracuse Business District and Westcott, the local bohemian enclave. The University of Washington is on the southern peak of a gorgeous bluff overlooking Lake Union, in close proximity to The Ave, a lively small business strip on University Way. It offers incredible views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier. UB North is… well, if there’s such a thing as an island on land, UB North is it. A major pain in the ass to get in and out of, UB North is locked up in the center of a set of thruway lanes and parking lots in Amherst. It offers nothing photogenic, and if you want to walk down to an off-campus chow joint, well… Good luck with that. You’ll need to take the shuttle to south campus first. Any take-out orders on north campus WILL be delivered. Lots of college football teams offer great tailgating. UB North makes tailgating more trouble than it’s worth. As for public transit to UB North? Forget it. The campus gets a couple of inconsistent lines, so if you plan to take public transit to Bulls games, it’s easier to enroll and jump the Stampede busses. As for the stadium itself, it’s a bleacher version of a tool shack which was knocked up in an hour by your suburban uncle who doesn’t know anything about construction. It’s a converted track field with around 30,000 seats, and even a sideline seat is far off enough to require a telescope. Husky Stadium, by comparison, has 70,000 seats in a football facility that keep selling out.

In short, UB is under the delusion that a football team that regularly gets hammered by the Army Black Knights (which they do, since they play each other most years) that plays in glorified bleacher seating in a spot longtime Buffalo residents barely know how to get to is going to turn into Notre Dame. And this is a win/lose gambit to boot – with Buffalo’s football loyalty sole property of the Bills, anything less than national contender status will leave the Bulls somewhere around The Yukon. THIS is what the UB suits are trying to make into a national power, the thing four other sports teams were cut for. It was a resort so they could get a subsidy for the football team. Subsidies are last resorts. They’re grants to prolong the suffering of already-dead programs. You don’t see universities from the Big 10 using subsidies, because they have revenue. FBS Bulls football is a failed experiment which could rescue its dignity by swallowing its pride and dropping back a couple of divisions.

How many scholarships got dumped so UB could keep itself convinced of this charade? The football Bulls already play like a Division III team, so why keep pretending? Why NOT get bumped back down to the lower divisions? Anyone who felt pressure would be removed of it, and everyone could go back to enjoying football for fun again. Four sports teams wouldn’t have been unceremoniously ditched. No, UB wouldn’t have any power to attract big-name high school prospects to their football team, but guess what? They’re not doing that anyway! Buffalo has never been the place where players with serious NFL ambitions wind up. People who want to play football while they learn things are the only players who play for the Bulls, and that’s always going to be the case no matter what division the Bulls are in.

This is frustrating because of what the university is ignoring in its attempts to boost its helpless football team: The basketball team turned legitimately good right under everyone’s noses. Basketball is a huge college sport with millions of fans too, and the basketball Bulls have emerged as a somewhat known and respected commodity. 351 schools play Division I basketball between 32 conferences. Since being admitted to the MAC in the late 90’s, the Bulls have won the conference tournament twice, been to the NIT once, and received ultimate validation in 2015 and 2016 when they played in the March Madness tournament. They’ve been the regular season champions twice and the division season champions three times. Now, Alumni Arena is on north campus, so it shares a few of the same problems as UB Stadium. But the basketball team has a few distinct advantages over the football team besides being good. The Bulls don’t have an NBA team to compete with, and they’re in ideal position to kick off rivalries. Canisius is is slightly more storied team which has also made a handful of March Madness appearances. The Canisius campus is also located right in Hamlin Park. Niagara and St. Bonaventure would also be big local rivals, but the big advantage is that Syracuse University and the mighty Orange are two hours down the road. The Orange is one of the greatest college basketball teams in the sport’s history, and they play in the ACC. The blood rivalry would write itself if the Bulls moved to the ACC – it would pit New York’s largest private university against New York’s largest public university.

Furthermore, the cartel that decided the Bulls are ineligible to compete for football’s national title isn’t nearly as omnipotent in basketball. The college basketball structure isn’t as convoluted. 351 teams compete in Division I. All 351 have a shot at the National Championship. Yes, the NCAA still plays favorites with conferences, but there are still Cinderella teams in March Madness every year which can make deep runs and spoil the giants’ hopes. That gives the Bulls opportunities in basketball to make waves in ways the football Bulls can only dream of.

The emphasis on football also has the effect of ignoring Western New York’s greatest athletic talent resource. Yes, when Buffalo sports fans talk about their teams, they tend to lead with the Bills, but that’s because football is the country’s everywhere reference. Buffalo’s true sports roots are in hockey. The culture of the city revolves around hockey. Hockey – and ice skating in general – are leading off Downtown Buffalo’s redevelopment. The city has hosted several important hockey tournaments, and an amateur ice hockey tournament is held every winter. The city is home to many NHL professionals. The extent of football’s culture in Buffalo is… Well, what? The Bills? The Bulls? The fact that chicken wings are now tailgate staples? Well, what? You think about that. I’ll wait… Okay, get the idea? Buffalo is a hockey city at its core, and for whatever bullshit reason, its most prized university doesn’t have a team. This is one of the biggest no-brainers we’ve ever seen in the city; more so than even the Chicken Wing Festival. With the insane reserve of hockey talent running around upstate New York, the Bulls would go from nonexistent to contender within a few years – and that’s the worst case scenario.

The University of Buffalo is writing this off as a result of economy. It doesn’t have to be. All it would require for UB to keep the four teams it’s cutting and football is a little thought. And the ability to swallow pride and admit that Division I football at UB is a failed experiment. Yes, the university will have to swallow its pride, but so does anyone with the misfortunate to have to root for them.

A Response to Seattle Met: Why I am Buying a Car

A Response to Seattle Met: Why I am Buying a Car

The Seattle Met recently wrote an article about how more and more Seattleites are forgoing the follies of the local public transit to move themselves around in their own cars. It was a whine that didn’t feel like a whine, but they weren’t totally off. Traffic here is a capillary jam. They did, however, choose to conveniently ignore a few things about the Seattle area public transit which might help them understand what’s going on.

Seattle’s transit goes through about nine agencies in some three or four counties, and the Met decided to focus strictly on the King County transit. It makes you wonder if the Met thinks Seattle exists in some sort of little capsule. What, is everyone in the general area a vampire, they can’t get into Seattle proper without invitation? Because last time I checked, there were a lot of people living in various places outside Seattle who venture in and out of the city for work. Back when I was working my night shift, I made friends with a co-worker who made a nightly commute from Olympia. That means Tacoma wasn’t out of the question.

Seattleites voted to expand their public transit system. I give them all the credit in the world for that – its been at my attention for some time that Nashville recently voted down a railway expansion for its MTA because it would bring “the wrong sorts of people.” (Read: Minorities would be able to, you know, go places.) But I’ve also made the recent decision to end years of being a holdout radical to go out and buy a car of my own. Why? Because I have an hours-long commute in both directions which the I-5 is only partially responsible for.

Okay, it’s only the second-longest commute I’ve had to get to a job since I moved to Seattle, but the longest and most difficult commute I had took me into Bellevue for my night shift. But that one can be easily hand-waved; I live in Everett, and no one would expect a half-hour drive from Everett to Bellevue no matter how they’re going about it. My current commute, however, only goes into the U-District. Not only is that a lot closer, but the way there is just a straight shot down the I-5… Yet it gets drawn out to over two hours – not much quicker than my old transport to Bellevue – because two transit systems in the area have randomly decided to emasculate themselves!

What’s more is that there is a perfectly normal bus run that makes a dash right across the part of the U-District I need to be in. The problem is that the bus line that takes me straight the way there only starts up at 9 AM. Think about that – I don’t work weekends, and the easiest, smartest bus route in the King County/Snohomish County transit plays dummy. It goes straight to Downtown Seattle, hitting a handful of the big hot stops on the way in, including the place I need, and it starts making the runs well after workers need it. You would think the problem would be solved when I leave work and make my way back to Everett, but it actually gets worse. That great route I just told you about only runs until about 2:30 PM, when it just stops… And starts back up again an hour and a half after my shift ends!

Going in and out of Seattle requires navigation of a transit labyrinth. In the morning, I have to make jumps from Everett to Ash Way before hitting the bus that gets me to 45th. You would think going back would be a run of that same route in the other direction, but here’s the thing: My transit source for the main leg of the journey, Community Transit, runs about half of their intercounty busses in the morning. The other half only runs in the evening, and none of the evening routes put me anywhere near my station n Everett. So I have to get on the first bus to Lynnwood, hop a second bus for a five-minute ride to 99, then catch the Swift to get to my cross-street. The way back is made even more of a pain by the fact that my bus options for the short stretch along 200th don’t synch up with the Swift times and there not being a stop right on 99. I get to 99 just in time to miss the Swift, and since the Swift chooses THAT time to switch to its non-business schedule, I get left with 20 minutes to kill while I get soaked.

Review that ride home: The Swift switches to its non-business schedule a half hour to an hour later, I get home at a more reasonable time. Community Transit places a stop on 99, I get home at a more reasonable time. The bus I take on 200th leaves three minutes earlier, I get home at a more reasonable time! Got all that? I didn’t even have to bring Everett Transit into it, because – despite its circulator runs being sore spots – they don’t really have anything to do with this.

The tipping point came on one of our “esteemed folks” bank holidays earlier this year. Now, on normal holidays, damn near every system running around Puget Sound switches to a Sunday schedule. But Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day are, for whatever bullshit reason, not normal holidays. And Sunday schedules usually offer all-day service. But here, we can’t have that, because it would only make sense. Therefore, the transit gets to avoid switching to a Sunday schedule and just make service cutbacks. And by “cutbacks,” I mean they just plump STOP a handful of the routes I need. The morning proved to not be much of a problem; I was able to find an alternate way through Lynnwood. The evening run, though, forced me to stand for the full 90 minutes waiting for the Soundtransit bus to finally arrive and take me straight to Everett.

That sound like fun?

Yes, I’m glad to see that while a lot of cities are cutting transit, Seattle and the areas surrounding it are willingly voting to add to it. But those Link extensions will be years in the making, the Sounder is the most useless train on the planet, and the Swift is only working on one extra route at the moment. In the meantime, I can go crazy or get a set of wheels so I can roll out of bed at a reasonable hour.

Proper as the New Radical (Short)

Proper as the New Radical (Short)

So I thought about this today. For pretty much my entire life, my parents always taught me how to act proper, but I didn’t take to a lot of it very easily. As I always did, I questioned because all of it seemed like relics of the ancient past. Through my late teens and most of my 20’s, I was always playing the role of the radical, trying my best to avoid what I thought of as pretension.

It wasn’t until I returned to Buffalo after living in Chicago that it hit me: I had the radical beliefs and capacity to question everything that city raises its natives to pigeonhole them, but if you lined me up side to side with anyone else there, you would never know the difference between me and the types of people I was rebelling against. I wasn’t doing anything to distance or elevate myself, so I started to re-evaluate the way I presented myself. I haven’t regretted it.

Today we saw the inauguration of Donald Trump, a man with the temperament of a spoiled child whose “bwankie” was taken away. This man, who ran a stormy Twitter rant almost 20 minutes long about how he was portrayed on Saturday Night Live, is now the leader of the free world. So it was today that I realized the full importance of conducting myself as a proper gentleman the way my parents always wanted me to.

With the enormous swath of people taking after Trump’s vile behavior, being proper is the way every radical should rebel and show the rest of the world the best of our behavior. Any nitwit can scream curse-filled slogans at the town hall while wearing political cartoon t-shirts and growing unkempt hair; they just blend in with their ideological opposition, which can frequently be seen dressing and acting the same. It takes a true wit to rebel by outclassing their opponents.

Now, more than ever before, is time to stop being an angry slogan-screamer. Look what just happened – see what doing that got us? It’s time to start cleaning up our language and expanding our vocabulary. Wear well-fitting clothes that flatter our figures, even if we’re just in jeans and t-shirts. Stop being indignant and start being tactful when we get offended.

If Donald Trump wasn’t born with a silver spoon, he’d be just another whiny little brat. Think about it: Who or what would he be without his pop’s fortune? So since the new president has no intention of acting presidential, it’s time for us radicals to pick up his slack and show the rest of the world the country’s best.

Explaining the Appeal of Donald Trump

Explaining the Appeal of Donald Trump

Anyone who is denying the seriousness of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign now or arguing that he’ll lose at this point is in denial. Trump has morphed into the rampaging elephant with wings. He’s sitting at the top of the polls and looks like a safe lock for the nomination, but there are still people continuing to lie to themselves about the possibility of a Trump presidency. I don’t mean the everyday neighborhood butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, either; I mean full-fledged politic-heads who are versed in the nuances of the Geneva Conventions and Human Rights Constitution are going on the Tube and launching into blithering dumbass mode in efforts to talk themselves into evidence against Trump being real. They can give all the lectures in the world if they want, but they’re exemplifying Kurt Vonnegut’s famous statement about how lies become true if they get repeated often enough. It’s probably a self-survival mechanism.

People are acting like the rise of Donald Trump is some big surprise, but if they had been paying attention, it would have shown up right in front of their faces years ago. For me, this isn’t even hindsight. This is the horrifying climax of a stunt Trump pulled just before the last presidential election. He had threatened presidential runs before, but never with such an intensity. I’m not sure anyone noticed, but Trump was drawing some passionate crowds five years ago. I openly said that if Trump decided to ever run for President, there was a good chance he could win. Everyone I told that to laughed me off. Of course, now they’re pretending I never said anything like that in the first place.

It’s hard to take satisfaction in watching this whole sorry political episode pop into fruition. Since I understand international politics and come from a place that doesn’t, its been easy to read into Trump’s main selling point: That wall. The Trump Wall has been the only consistently detailed idea Trump has been using. It’s all he’s needed, with occasional lip-synching about how he’s just going to hire the best and brightest to do his thinking for him. (Because no other President has ever done THAT before, right?) People can and HAVE argued that the other Republican candidates are worse for the country, but there’s a reason they aren’t as scary as Donald Trump: It’s because Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and John Kasich all have a sense of civil servitude. Say what you will about their policies, but they all come across as being part of the race for a chance to make America great again. A Trump presidency would be four years of a bullheaded ego with no sense of feasibility or humility. The Trump Wall is the perfect example of it. Donald Trump says he’s going to build a big wall along the Rio Grande to keep the Mexicans out, and that he’s going to make Mexico pay for it. Now, this is a fairy tale. Mexico is already laughing it off, and the question of what Trump will do when Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto takes him off the speed dial hasn’t been addressed. Will Trump have the good sense to just leave it alone? Or will his ego cause him to spend trillions of US dollars on an invasion with our depleted Military to force Mexico to comply? Trump is already famous for his inability to shake off personal insults. What happens if he gets control of the Military? Going to extremes here, think a two-front war against the European Union and the Chinese which we don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Then consider that he’s already been thrown out of England.

There’s a reason Trump is doing so well, though, and it has nothing to do with his brand name. It has a lot more to do with the fact that he doesn’t hold rejects from The Jerry Springer Show to any moral failings they have. I’m not silly enough to believe Trump has any conscious grasp of sociology, but if you’re a white person who’s in extreme poverty, the views of you don’t exactly run the gamut: You’re seen as either a personal failure who made bad choices or a moral failure who deserves everything bad that comes your way. There’s no consideration for surroundings, upbringing, or mental programming; you just suck. Yes, Donald Trump is taking advantage of stupidity, but he’s effective because he’s not running around saying that his potential constituents deserve to be sleeping in the beds they made for themselves. Other politicians and intellectuals keep telling bottom-rung whites that it’s their own fault they live down there. Trump is the only one who is telling them that everything is not their own fault, it’s someone else’s, and that’s music to the ears of people who get treated like disposable napkins.

Since there are a lot of poor white people who have educations comparable to those of any poor minority people, Trump has an easy sell. He’s not a politician, but he’s pandering to millions of people who don’t know anything about politics. That’s key: Donald Trump can easily sell himself as less a presidential candidate and more of a messianic figure or magic man who has solutions or ideas BECAUSE he’s not involved with politics. There are a lot of people who believe the President is supposed to be a wizard, and that’s what Trump is selling himself as. Trump himself seems to believe this; he’ll snap his fingers, and all of America’s problems will go away. The fact that trying to play politics will involve doing politics will be lost on everyone, including Trump himself, a fact which his head strategist took note of – before quitting his campaign because of it.

Our own Americentrism is also playing a part in it. The United States is only arguably the superpower it used to be, and with the rise of both the European Union and China, other countries aren’t exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of pissing off the Americans anymore. We like to play up our victory in World War II as a statement to just how awesome we are, but there are a couple of points worth considering: The first is that the historical record says less “the United States won the war” and more “the United States provided a huge assist to the Soviet Union by hammering the western front in Europe and then island-hopping in the Pacific.” The second is that World War II ended in 1945, and our record since then has been putrid: We fought the Koreans to a draw, fought an eight-year stalemate in Vietnam before figuring out it had nothing we wanted, and bungled two invasions in the middle east. Yet, we still fly on the belief that we’re the best and only superpower in the world, and Trump exemplifies that ethos. Not a man who has often been shown paying respects to other cultures or people, Trump is the perfect Ugly American. He and his followers still believe that others will automatically pay deference to America no matter where they are because… AMERICA! Trump believes himself to be immune to criticism, and that little bunnies should and will dance paths for him everywhere he goes, which is a common idea in this country.

When all that is taken into consideration, the question isn’t “how is a guy like him able to make a serious bid at the presidency?” It’s “How did this take so long?”

The Battle of the People: The CTA vs. the NFTA

The Battle of the People: The CTA vs. the NFTA

Well-known fact about myself: I hate driving. I can do it and I’m perfectly willing to do it; it’s just that I prefer to have other people do it for me. Unfortunately, since I’m not a rich person with a personal limousine, I don’t have ready access to anyone with a car who can drive me anywhere whenever I want to be someplace else. That’s where public transportation comes in. There are whole citywide networks of buses and subways which are conveniently there to ferry me from Point A to Point B in the event that a ride isn’t available.

Cities don’t share public transportation systems, though, and that leads to that interesting phenomenon that some cities run better transit systems than others. I’ve resorted to getting around on public transportation in Buffalo and Chicago, so now it’s time to compare these systems to each other to find out which one is better. Chicago has the Chicago Transit Authority – the CTA – a large system of buses that goes with its legendary rail system, the L. No slouch in taking people across town itself, Buffalo responds with another system of busses and a lightrail – the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority, better known as just the NFTA. So let’s do this! The CTA vs. the NFTA. One day, I’ll learn.

Size
Chicago has about 2.7 million people. Buffalo has around 250,000. Logistically, you’re not going to create a public transit system for Buffalo which is the size of the CTA. So I guess the question here is how far someone would have to walk in order to reach the bus or subway stop. If you were walking through Chicago, even in the parts closer to the edge of the city, bus stops never seem that far away. Usually about four blocks is considered a long walk to a bus stop, and the walk to an L station won’t be so bad either. However, there are a lot of bus routes that force you to transfer just miles before the edge of the city. (42 Western, ahem.) These can be a pain because the connector busses to the city limits don’t come around quite as often. In Buffalo, four blocks is usually considered a close walk, unless you’re downtown, where the busses seemingly have stops on every block the closer they get to City Hall, even though they don’t need to be there. Routes in both cities can take upwards of an hour to get where they’re going, but Chicago’s sensical grid layout means it’s easy to figure out what bus goes where. Buffalo’s busses go in squiggly patterns designed to cover the most space they possibly can, and if you end up in a place you don’t know, it can be hell to orient yourself and find out how to get where you need to be. Also, Buffalo’s subway is a single line – a straight shot up Main Street from Harborcenter to UB South, and there was never any courtesy expansion across the Buffalo River so the people in South Buffalo and the First Ward could get on the lightrail every ten minutes.
Winner
The CTA. The NFTA is not only smaller and less convenient in terms of relative size, but they’re going to keep making service cutbacks until they don’t exist anymore and South Buffalo secedes from the rest of the city just so it can function. Also, there are a few spots where the CTA is good about taking people into the suburbs: Oak Park, Cicero, Skokie, and Evanston are all touching L lines. Do NOT expect the NFTA to take you very far into the suburbs, especially if you live in the southtowns.

Price
I’ve read numerous long essays by prominent economists, and let me tell you this: If privatization is supposed to drag prices down, the CTA fucking blew it. They blew it big. The only thing the privatization of the CTA resulted in was jacked-up fares and an inconvenient credit system with which turnstiles are known to frequently refuse to let customers through while still draining their accounts. Maybe it would help if the CTA had some real competition, but competition or not, all that extra convenience and efficiency which is supposed to follow privatization didn’t come about, and now Chicago is stuck paying fares which would disgust people in Manhattan. The prices of the unlimited passes in particular have skyrocketed over the last few years: The one-day pass is $10 now, double what it was when I lived there. The two-day pass was cut entirely. The single-fare rides on the bus and L are different, too. One stop on the L? That’ll be $2.25. A stop on the bus is merely two dollars. The NFTA doesn’t have quite such a finicky system; both bus and subway rides are two dollars for one. The NFTA charges half the CTA’s price for a day pass, three-fourths of the CTA’s price for a monthly pass, and anyone under 17 years old can get a pass for the entire summer for $60. The closest price comparison is with the seven-day passes, which run $28 for the CTA and $25 for the NFTA.
Winner
Lesser is better. The NFTA wins this round. You can argue that the CTA charges more because Chicago is a bigger city with a bigger transit system, but with economic inequalities in both cities and the liberal ways they both cut routes, people who regularly ride public transit don’t give a flying shit about bang for the buck as long as they can get where they need to go. So all those economic arguments in favor of the CTA are pretty much meaningless when someone has limited funds.

Punctuality and Frequency
Transport is worthless is you can’t get where you’re going on time. Fortunately, the NFTA is pretty good about showing up when it’s supposed to. That’s something even the most adamant CTA booster admits the CTA royally sucks at. The thing about the CTA’s little punctuality problem, though, is that where it flounders in ETA, it more than makes up for in frequency. CTA busses are schedules to run every 10-15 minutes, so if you end up getting to your stop a little late, all that’s required is for you to stand around waiting for the next bus. The L can be a little bit worse, but not by enough to cause concern if you’re not already running late. As for the NFTA, it’s in the habit of forgetting there are people who have places to go. Busses in the most packed areas of the city get sent around twice an hour, and it only goes down from there. If you’re in a suburb with a bus stop, don’t expect to ever see another bus come after mid-afternoon. The subway is great at running on point, but the problem there is that the points have a habit of firing upward if there’s construction and a track gets shut down. If things are running smoothly, trains come by in ten minutes. On one track, that time doubles.
Winner
The CTA by 500 miles. The NFTA has it in for the city, especially if you live anywhere south of the Buffalo River. Anyone who’s lived in Buffalo for awhile has either never been to South Buffalo or is well aware of the weird on/off cultural flip that happens when they get there. South Buffalo is wildly different from the rest of the city – it’s sort of a localized version of Texas in that getting there is like landing on a whole different planet where the people have only a general sense of what happens anywhere else in the city, although they claim to be among Buffalo’s most fervent boosters. Furthermore, the NFTA has taken a beating from intellectual types who blame it for being one of the causes of the nasty racial rift that exists in Buffalo. And although the racial divide is starting to disappear (however slowly, but it’s still progress), no one is giving the NFTA any credit for it.

Cleanliness
Let’s face it, public transportation can be a hostile environment. Not violent, mind you; just very unpleasant. There can be any manner of unidentifiable liquids and unseemly substances on public transportation, and there are times when it can smell godawful. The CTA claims that it cleans out its busses and train cars twice a month with high-powered chemicals. Of course, given the volume of people who use the CTA on a daily basis, chances are you don’t know the difference by the time you get on the bus or into the L car. The NFTA busses and train cars are infinitely cleaner; you still wouldn’t eat anything off their floors, but you’ll rarely have to hold your nose and endure an offensive odor. Furthermore, the NFTA is a lot nicer to look at, bad color schematics and general designs aside.
Winner
The NFTA. I’ll grant that part of the reason why is because the NFTA goes out of its way to keep people from riding its busses or lightrail line, but clean is clean.

Cool Bands Named After
The CTA ended up inspiring the name of a band called Chicago Transit Authority, which shortened its name to Chicago after the real CTA threatened a lawsuit. Describing themselves as a “rock and roll band with horns,” Chicago proceeded to sell over 40 million units in the United States alone. Their infectious mix of rock, jazz, and rhythm and blues music resulted in earworm singles like “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 4,” and “I’m a Man.” The NFTA, according to a Google search, doesn’t have any musicians at all named after it. You could maybe attribute Buffalo Springfield to a band named after a city, but that’s pushing it.
Winner
The CTA. After all, Chicago took listeners to the park one Saturday. With the NFTA, you’ll never get to the park.

This contest is decided in favor of the CTA, and since I basically knocked this out in a few days on a loose deadline, I should also mention it would have been far more one-sided had I taken my time. While the NFTA certainly has its fans… Aw, hell, I can’t even finish that sentence with a straight face. The NFTA doesn’t have any fans. Even the Buffalo government hates it. And yes, I complained frequently about the CTA; but I never forgot how much worse it could get, either.