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Category Archives: The Ultimate Battle!

The Ultimate Battle of Yours Truly’s Adopted Home Cities

A little over a year ago, I made a choice to throw my life into a major upheaval. After graduating from the prerequisite courses I needed to peruse an education in physical therapy, I decided that I wanted a drastic change of scenery before starting the proper certification program and moved to Seattle. That made Seattle my third city of residence, after Buffalo and Chicago. The adjustment period wasn’t easy, and Seattle proved to be a more closed-off place than I expected, but I managed to get through it, and it’s home now. I’ll be here quite a bit longer no matter what happens.

It’s not making me forget about my other adopted home, though, by which I mean Chicago. (I’m a native of Buffalo; therefore, it doesn’t count.) That’s not because of some ill grudge I’m holding against Seattle, however. It’s because of the conditions under which I was forced to leave Chicago, which leave it as a sort of question mark. I had a life there which I had to leave in a sudden fashion. If it weren’t for social media, no one there would have known I left, or what happened that I had to leave. It’s also because of how much living there changed me. It blew my mind open and awakened me to my own potential as a person, setting me off in a few directions that I hope to continue walking while in Seattle. Also, a lot of the friends I made in Chicago had regular runs to and from Seattle. They had friends and contacts here, and a few made regular visits. Naturally, I decided that warranted an entry in my Ultimate Battle series: The Windy City against Rain City. The Second City against The Emerald City. So let’s do this! Chicago vs. Seattle. One day, I’ll learn.

City Layout
The first thing you notice about both Chicago and Seattle is that both of them use directions to designate their street layouts. Every street in Chicago will be either north, south, east, or west. The point where the directions change confuses me, though; at least in the way that the east/west axis doesn’t make any damn sense. State Street is the dividing line between east and west, which is weird because the placement of State Street limits the east side. The east is fairly prominent if you’re on the South Side, but as you go north, it starts to get blocked by Lake Michigan. The east addresses start to limit themselves to double digits, and when you get up to Lincoln Park, State Street stops and there are no more addresses on the east. Despite this, though, Chicago’s layout is a logical grid, and although a few diagonal streets there can throw you off, it’s pretty easy to navigate and to pick a street you know and follow it down to the end. Seattle uses a fairly simple pattern of numbered streets: 1st Street is the one closest to Puget Sound, and they progress numerically. Unfortunately, Seattle sits on a thin little strip of land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and gets interrupted by Lake Union, and instead of just building around them, they all got in on the layout and have a habit of tripping things up just when you think you’re starting to understand the pattern. If you’re on the western half of Seattle and try to head north, you’re in for a treat. West Seattle is cut off by Puget Sound the same way Lake Michigan leaves Chicago’s east side. Then when you make your directional adjustment and go through downtown Seattle, the whole grid makes a sudden shift to the northwest when you reach Denny Way. And when you throw in the fact that there are streets with north, south, east, west, northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast designations that otherwise have nothing in common with each other, you’re defining the street layout in Seattle as “a mess.”
Winner
Chicago. And it doesn’t help Seattle’s case any that no one there seems to know how to build a bridge. The number of bridges connecting popular northern neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard to the business districts is limited and part of the reason traffic there can trip you up at midnight. In Chicago, the bridges crossing the Chicago River are nothing more than extensions of the street – you pick the street you’re looking for and drive into the sunset.

Transit
If you don’t like ferrying yourself back and forth, a good transit system is necessary to a city’s infrastructure. Although widely derided within the city limits, the Chicago Transit Authority – the CTA – usually comes through in spades. Consisting of an expansive bus network and a very good subway called the L – which has the unique quality that most of it is perched two levels over the ground instead of under it – the CTA has its problems, but it’s usually there when you need it. Nothing related to the CTA stops running, although they run with less frequency during lower travel hours. During peak hours, you’ll never worry about missing your bus or train because they come by so often that seeing one go by only means you have to wait ten minutes for the next one. The CTA is augmented by a commuter train network called Metra, which sends trains hourly to and from suburbs both close and distant. If you’re going into a near suburb, there’s a separate bus network called Pace which can help you around, but Pace is far from reliable. It runs only a few routes that don’t start to cover places you may need to get to. Seattle enjoys, well, I’m not sure what services are there. It’s not because I don’t know or have little experience using them, but because there are so damn many of them. There’s SoundTransit, which runs inter county buses, a lightrail called the Link, and a commuter train called the Sounder. There’s King County Metro, which is the bus system all to Seattle… And someone there also runs a streetcar system (which has two lines), a speed bus system called Rapidride, and a trolley system which is really comprised of electric buses. The advantage of Seattle’s transit system is that there’s a significant range which stretches into the local suburbs, which include more independent networks going in Snohomish and Skagit and Pierce counties. They’re not as effective as they could be, but they work, and they give people in those places a rung into Seattle. They’re also working together to simplify travel between those places, so they’re at least not as confusing as it seems. Seattle’s iconic Monorail doesn’t have anything to do with any of them – it’s a tourist trap used to get visitors in a time crunch between Westlake Park and Seattle Center quickly.
Winner
Chicago. Despite having eleventy billion public transit networks, there’s a reason Seattle’s traffic is so harsh: It’s because everyone who lives in the area knows you’re pretty much sunk if you don’t own a car. After years of being a holdout radical, I’ve decided to finally bite the bullet myself and get one. If you’re using the inter county buses, they have limited hours, and those hours are stupid. The SoundTransit doesn’t give a shit about you if you’re trying to go anywhere at noon; you’ll have to wait until the evening to get to Snohomish county. There’s a cute nickname for anyone living anywhere in Everett where the closest bus line is one of the circulators: “Walker.” The Sounder is next to useless. It goes all the way down to Tacoma. Are you planning to use it for a weekend trip to a Tacoma Dome concert or a Rainiers game? No you’re not – trust me on that.

Architecture
One of the important things to remember about architecture is that cities in the eastern and western United States are defined by different styles. There’s a lot more neoclassical architecture in Chicago and cities like Chicago. The west tends to favor more glass and steel superstructures. Although there’s no avoiding the neoclassical buildings in Chicago, the city uses a wide mix of architectural styles. Its tallest building, the Sears Tower, is done in what’s called the international style – a style identified by its square shape, grid-like windows, and facade angles of 90 degrees. Neoclassical shows up in Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. Merchandise Mart combines three building types: The skyscraper, the warehouse, and the department store. The John Hancock Tower is an example of structural expressionism. The architects that have graced Chicago include luminaries like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Fazlur Rahman Khan, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The crown jewel of Seattle’s skyline would be the Space Needle, an observation tower with a rotating restaurant that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Seattle also has numerous styles – its well-known Smith Building was once the tallest building on the west coast, and it’s a neoclassical structure. Seattle’s architects have included greats like Frank Gehry, Lawrence Halprin, and the architect of the new library, Rem Koolhaas. Seattle’s architecture has a way of blending into the rest of the city without a problem, while Chicago’s buildings look like they’re trying to fight each other for attention.
Winner
Chicago. I love and respect most of the architecture I see in Seattle, but there are two factors deciding this for me: One is that there is an entire school of architecture named for Chicago, which is frequently called commercial style. Commercial style has managed to spread out of Chicago and found itself in Australia and New Zealand. The other is the nasty wave of gentrification in Seattle turning decent neighborhoods into Tetris block structures, which is a clunky, unseemly, and very unpleasant way to look no matter where it is.

Food
Chicago has one of the most famous food scenes in the world. The people there aren’t the pickiest eaters, but Chicago cuisine involves staples like the Chicago-style hot dog, Italian beef, and deep dish pizza. Although you can find pretty much any kind of food in Chicago, those three stand out as Chicago’s edible exports to the entire world. The pizza stands out – it’s not in everyone’s taste, but it’s known for being almost cake-like in its depth. If you’re curious about it, you can flag down Uno’s, which was founded in Chicago and brought it out on the national level both in restaurants and frozen foods. The hot dog has turned Chicago into a city of snobs who are almost cultish in their devotion – the bun needs poppy seeds, and the hot dog needs to be Vienna beef before they’ll talk to you. But Chicago is also home to the most famous hamburger in the world – McDonald’s is headquartered in Oak Brook, and the corporation has designs on moving into Chicago proper soon. I know that’s barely an argument, but Chicago also has the inarguable burgers served by the famous Billy Goat Tavern, a local chain which grills burgers plain and lets you dress them however you see fit. Seattle is a city that still holds strong to its marine heritage, and that means its food icons were all pulled out of the ocean not too long ago. Fish and chips with tartar sauce, lemon, and ketchup are a common dish. Salmon is a signature of all people in the city, whether they’re decorating it with caviar or cooking it at a backyard barbecue. Smoked, grilled, or turned into chowder, salmon is something that’s going down your gullet at some point. If it’s a quick fix you’re looking for, you can find Asian food everywhere. The argument then turns into what kind of Asian food you’re after. Teriyaki or pho? Also, Seattle is one of the world’s leading producers and sellers of chocolate.
Winner
Chicago. I give Seattle a lot of credit for having healthier options overall, but all those seafoods tend to strain the account after awhile. Also, Chicago’s foods are more versatile (except the food snobs’ fucking hot dogs); they can be cooked in more ways, include different kinds of ingredients and toppings, and leave more room for experimentation. Yes, Seattle’s chocolate is an enormous strength, but if a decent chef in Chicago gets ahold of the right stuff, you can bet your ass they’ll find a way to cook it into a pizza.

Drinks
Chicago’s reputation for liquid nourishment comes from two sources: Intelligentsia coffee and Goose Island beer. You’re not going to find very many detractors of either brand. Goose Island brews 312, a signature beer they named for Chicago’s area code. Frankly, there’s not a weak spot in Goose Island’s beer lineup, and most of their stuff is comparable – and even preferable – to other popular microbrews, including Ohio’s beloved Great Lakes. Intelligentsia was founded in Chicago in 1995, and it spread out to locations on both coasts since then. Of course, those locations are New York City and Los Angeles. Although it’s pretty hard to place anything official on a review of Intelligentsia, their coffee is generally held in high regard. As for Seattle, it can counter Goose Island with, well… Microbrews. Dozens of them, if not hundreds. I haven’t found a defining Seattle brew since I moved to the northwest, but I think that’s because the city is renowned as one of the microbrew capitols of the United States, and people can argue about their favorites the same way they argue about their favorite teriyaki joints. As for coffee, Seattle has, you know, Starbucks! Around Seattle, Starbucks is known as the coffee everyone loves but are ashamed to admit it. Starbucks is basically the coffee god, which you can say about a chain with over 23,000 locations everywhere in the world. For those who not only claim to hate Starbucks but attempt to act on that hate and avoid it (HA!), they have to contend with Seattle’s Best, a subsidiary of guess who! Starbucks! And Seattle’s Best has also managed to penetrate Burger King, Delta Airlines, and Borders back when that was a thing. If you’re trying to avoid Starbucks, there’s also Tully’s, a chain which was started in Seattle and is now trickling into prominent cities in the western United States.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago never stood a chance here. The biggest statement to Seattle’s power here is that you don’t find many people in Chicago going out of their way to get to an Intelligentsia bar if there’s a nearby Starbucks… And Starbucks has a presence in Chicago which is almost as ubiquitous as it is in Seattle. While Goose Island seems to have designs on becoming a go-to brew on a national level the way Samuel Adams has, it still has to compete with Samuel Adams, and don’t think for a second that it’s ever going to catch on in Seattle.

People
I trust everyone reading this is familiar with the classic Chicagoan stereotype: Tough, takes no shit, but friendly in a midwestern way and able to ward off the most epic bad weather there is. Yep, it’s a long-running narrative, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s because it’s pushed endlessly by overgrown frat megadouchebros who graduated from Big 10 schools and used their lineage and connections to grab six-figure jobs immediately. You see them in Chicago all the time, even though they’re concentrated around Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. The tough person angle gets pushed because those are the guys running the Sun-Times and the Tribune, and writing Redeye, the city’s most prominent free rag. Seattle has an image attached to its people as well: Friendly, but a little bit standoffish and hard to crack. But educated. There’s a good case to be made that Seattleites really are like that, but if you walk up to any random person and end up striking up a few words, they can be pretty chirpy as well. And while there aren’t any weather stereotypes that go with Seattle’s residents, let me say this: I’ve never seen people more resilient to a straight-up drenching. They may not run around announcing their waterproofing to the rest of the world, but why should they? You, the transplant, knew the city was rainy when you moved here. If you’re not willing to learn how to deal with it, tough shit.
Winner
Seattle. There’s no gentile way to say this: Chicago’s people are just dicks. Despite everything you hear about their national reputation, they get so caught up in trying to act HARD that it can be difficult to get straight answers out of people you don’t know. And that’s all the hardness is: An act. Stand your ground against any of those posers and they’ll back down. If they try to start a scuffle, get in their faces and watch them run. The weather toughness is bullshit as well; ten inches of snow and these people buy out the grocery stores before locking themselves up for the next month. Chicago would let itself get invaded by an army of hipsters. It was two or three years before people stopped trying to impress me with how tough and broad-shouldered and cold-weathered Chicago was. When they did, they fell back on the old excuse that hey, they’re sure it’s nothing compared to Buffalo. Which it isn’t, so they better drop the fucking act and stop bragging about their toughness or they need to start fucking backing it up! I don’t pretend Seattle’s people are flawless, but they do know how they are, don’t delude themselves into thinking otherwise, and make the effort to improve.

Weather
Let me clear up a couple of things: First, Chicago’s brutal winters are old hat to anyone who has ever spent any considerable length of time living in a cold weather area. Seattle’s rain is manageable because so much of it comes in droplets, sprinkles, and mist rather than the all-out downpours we northeasterners have come to associate with the wet stuff. That being said, both cities have their reputations for good reason. It gets cold in Chicago and rainy in Seattle. Both places brag about their summers, though, but it’s only Seattle that really gives its people reason to do so; Chicago’s summers are steam baths, and unlike Buffalo, it doesn’t have the Lake Effect there to air condition the city when the harsher summer elements set in. The jet stream blows to the east, and Chicago is situated on the west side of Lake Michigan, so the cool breezes that prevent Buffalo from becoming a sauna are nowhere to be found in Chicago. Seattle’s weak season is the winter, which is the rainy season. Winters in Seattle can bring rain every day for weeks, to the extent that meteorologists talk about Sun Breaks. But the corollary is that Seattle’s climate is pretty temperate for most of the year. There’s none of the incredible extremes that regularly terrorize Chicago. And for a rainy city, there’s surprisingly little humidity.
Winner
Seattle. The rain can barely be called rain, and between that and the moderate climate, it makes for yearlong bicycling weather. It helps that when Seattle isn’t raining, the weather is the next best thing to perfect.

Sports
Okay, let me be clear about something here: When I say sports, I don’t mean the number of teams or championships won by the area. I mean knowledgeability and reaction to the local sports teams. Chicago has teams in all of the big four, plus MLS, and they’re one of two (three if you count Los Angeles) cities with two baseball teams. With the Cubs’ World Series victory, every team in Chicago has won at least one title during my lifetime, and they’ve all racked up respectable totals: The Bears have nine titles – one Super Bowl – which is good for the second-most in the NFL; the Bulls have six, which is better than all but two teams in the NBA; the Blackhawks add another six, tied for fourth-best in the NHL; and the White Sox and Cubs both have three, the third of which came for both after extended droughts. We can add an extra if we want to count the titles the Arizona Cardinals won when they were still Chicago’s team. Of course, the big question is more: Are the fans aware of all that? Well, during the time I lived in Chicago, I received more unwanted information about the 1985 Bears than about the current Bears, or any Bears for that matter. They think 1985 is still the trump card in a bar argument. The Blackhawks spent the last six seasons fielding what advanced stats proved is one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history, but before the 2010 Stanley Cup victory that kicked it off, people forgot the Hawks existed at all, and I’m not saying that as a colloquialism; I wore Blackhawks gear around the city during the last couple of bad years, and people constantly asked me what happened to the team. There was a large chunk of fans who thought they moved, and many other people thought the city’s AHL team, the Wolves, was the primary team in the city. To their credit, though, Chicago’s baseball fans are the best I’ve ever seen. Seattle has teams in two of the big four, plus an MLS team. The more dominant team of them is the NFL’s Seahawks; they’ve visited three Super Bowls, winning one with the most dominant defense since the 1985 Bears. They’ve also been robbed of a storied NBA team which had also been a champion at one point. Their MLB team is the Mariners, who have a large group of core diehards and a contingent of foreign fans due to their willingness to sign Japanese players. The MLS team, the Sounders, is one of the league’s most popular teams, and Seattle is also familiar with its sports history: There are fans who still wear Sonics gear, and I’ve even seen a Metropolitans shirt or two. The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American hockey team to win the Stanley Cup before folding sometime in the 1920’s. But that doesn’t mean the people of Seattle have forgotten their hockey history. This is a hockey city that just happens to not have a team.
Winner
Seattle. Big sports fans is another one of those megadouchebro-fueled myths that started with the frat people running the Chicago media and got around the country. While Chicago’s baseball fan base is unquestionably one of the best in the country, they don’t make up for Chicago’s “fan” missteps: They know nothing of football at all outside the ’85 Bears. They literally forgot they had an NHL team. I guarantee the dumbasses writing for Redeye have discounted the 2016 Golden State Warriors from any discussion because their 73-9 team lost the Finals while Chicago’s 72-10 team won the title. In Seattle, no one forgot the Seahawks’ 2014 title against Denver, and they know their team well enough to take on any Bears fan, but have already put that behind them to enjoy some of the best football in the league waiting for the next one. Seattle hasn’t had a major league hockey team since the 1920’s, but there are hockey fans in Seattle and they recognize my Nordiques and Whalers logos when I wear them; both of those teams have been defunct for at least 20 years. In short, Seattle’s fans may not have Chicago’s exposure or accolades, but they know about and appreciate what they’ve got.

Accompanying Body of Water
Chicago, of course, has Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, which – if you can believe this – is the largest collection of freshwater bodies in the world. Back when the Rust Belt was the undisputed trading route of the country, Chicago was the largest city on the Lakes, and so a lot of ships have come in and out of Chicago, and there are even a few famous shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake. Seattle is located on the eastern bank of Puget Sound, an inlet of the Salish Sea that eventually opens up into the Pacific Ocean. Given Seattle’s location in the northwest, that location made Seattle an ideal transportation hub and port. The mariner culture which grew up around and in Seattle is still prevalent.
Winner
Seattle. It’s clear that the culture of sailing had far more of an influence on Seattle than on Chicago. Puget Sound also has a much more direct route to the ocean. A ship on Lake Michigan has to go east through the other Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, so there are limits on the kinds of ships that can get there. That means Seattle has also hosted a wider variety of ships than Chicago – Puget Sound has had Nimitz-style aircraft carriers dock, and those are ships the Great Lakes are too shallow to let pass. You may make the argument that since Lake Michigan is freshwater and Puget Sound is saltwater, you can drink the water in Lake Michigan. As someone who’s spent most of his life so far in Freshwater Nation, I don’t buy it. Chicago’s location and history mean Lake Michigan spent decades as an industrial hub which shamelessly polluted the water with every chemical known to man. It wasn’t until less than ten years ago that fisherman were given the all-clear to actually eat the fish they caught in any of the Great Lakes, and even now, you’re an idiot if you actually try to do that.

Popular Culture
Here’s the question of how well Chicago and Seattle have been represented in popular culture. Chicago has a huge early start here, since most of the population of the country was scattered throughout the northeast and northern midwest back at the start of the 20th century, and Chicago – after having been burned to a crisp during the 1870’s – grabbed its spot as the second-largest city in the country and didn’t let it go until Los Angeles pulled itself into second during the 80’s. Not that Chicago lost very much – it’s still firmly in third, which means that anything on a worldwide tour WILL make it there. That means Chicago is a place which has had a good century and a half to capture the imaginations of producers and entertainers everywhere. First, there’s no getting around Chicago’s comedy scene, especially if you want to specialize in sketch or improv; you’ll pass through Chicago at some point before a decent troupe even considers you. Sketch and improv are to Chicago what theater and music are in New York City or screen entertainment is in Los Angeles. The list of musicians who have written songs glorifying Chicago is long and includes heavyweights like Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Wilco, Common, Elvis Presley, Weird Al Yankovic, Brian Wilson, Buddy Guy, The Doors, and Frank Zappa. Books set there include The Razor’s Edge, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and Upton Sinclair’s law-changing classic The Jungle. Plays include American Buffalo, A Raisin in the Sun, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Films are too numerous to even begin to cover, but include classics like Ordinary People, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High Fidelity, The Fugitive, The Blues Brothers, Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own, Risky Business, and almost everything John Hughes had anything to do with. TV shows set in Chicago include The Bob Newhart Show, Chicago Hope, Early Edition, ER, Family Matters, Married… With Children, Perfect Strangers, and The Untouchables. Seattle hasn’t gotten the attention going back that far; right until the 60’s, all Seattle had to draw attention to itself was Boeing. Attention was pretty slow to find Seattle, and the remains of the old industrial identity are still all over the place. But during the second half of the last century, Seattle started getting more people until it began to boom. The cultural tributes to Seattle aren’t even close to what they are with Chicago, but there’s some definite quality to it. Songs about Seattle include Arthur O. Dillon’s “Seattle the Peerless City,” which is the city’s official song. It was written in 1909. After that, save a couple of odd time signature appearances in the 70’s and 80’s, Seattle falls off the map until – yeah, you guessed it – the 90’s. At that point, the music scene exploded, and Seattle found itself with numerous songs shouting out to it by the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Macklemore, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Queensryche, Harvey Danger, Duff McKagan, Soundgarden, and Marcy Playground. Sherman Alexie emerged as a popular literary voice for places all over Washington, including Seattle. The list of movies set in Seattle is long and very respectable. It includes Singles, Sleepless in Seattle, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Ring, Wargames, Say Anything, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. TV Shows include Frasier, The 4400, Millennium, Reaper, Six Feet Under, Twin Peaks, and Weeds.
Winner
Chicago. Come on, even if Chicago’s insane head start was factored out, it’s still going to swamp Seattle. Although Seattle’s music scene is a who’s who that can fight blow for blow with anyone – for god’s sake, Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix came out of Seattle before it was cool – there are surprisingly few songs ABOUT Seattle. Seattle isn’t a referential must or a place comics move to hone their skills in anything, while the influence of Chicago’s comedy is apparent in almost every variety and sketch comedy on the air. I couldn’t find any live theater set in Seattle; they NAMED a whole musical after Chicago. (Even if it was a lousy musical.) The most important book set in Chicago changed food regulations to make sure corporate greed didn’t make us sick. True, Seattle’s TV settings are damn good – Frasier remains one of the best and best-aged sitcoms there is and one of the few real adult sitcoms ever made; Reaper was an experiment with an edge that was popular on the WB when it was here but which wider audiences just weren’t ready for; Six Feet Under and Weeds were popular everywhere; and Twin Peaks is a beloved cult classic which there are constant rumors of a revival of. Chicago’s TV shows were popular, but a lot of them were popcorn schmaltz – Miller/Boyett liked to set sitcoms there. But even if we cut off Chicago before 1962 – which is the year of Seattle’s World’s Fair, which was sort of the city’s coming out when the Monorail and Space Needle opened – Seattle is still getting washed out.

Landmarks
Neither city is lacking here. Chicago has the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the country (yes, it’s called the Sears Tower, and no, a panel of New York City-connected architects handing its title to Freedom Tower doesn’t change how tall it is), and Seattle has the Space Needle. Chicago has the John Hancock Tower, Seattle has the Smith Building, which was the tallest building on the west coast for decades. Seattle has the Monorail, Seattle Center, and Pike Place Market while Chicago has Lincoln Park… You know what?
Winner
Fuck it, this one is a tie. I’ll let Seattleites defend their landmarks and Chicagoans whine about how I didn’t give this to them all they want, but this really is one of those fanboy things. Both cities stand out.

Bicycling
Bicycling has been making a hard charge to establish itself as a viable form of transportation in recent years. That means cities have been racing – okay, well, more or less, anyway, in Buffalo it’s WAY less – to set up a workable infrastructure for cyclists. Chicago activated a plan a couple of years ago to set up a citywide network of bicycle paths, and progress so far is pretty good – I spotted traffic lights during my last trip to Chicago which were there strictly for bicycle traffic. But that’s nothing compared to Seattle, which already has every possible line painted on its streets and every possible trail set up for bicycling back and forth. Of course, if civil rights can teach you anything, it’s that even if the laws change, the people don’t necessarily go along with them without kicking and screaming. Especially in Chicago, where the people specialize in kicking and screaming. While I was living in Chicago, the city barely did anything to adapt to cyclists beyond painting a few lines on the side of the road. Bicycle lanes still don’t exist for a lot of streets, including the most prominent street in the city, which is Western Avenue. I’ve already noted that the people in Chicago are whiny little assholes about a lot of things, and cycling is one of them. Pedestrians still don’t look around when flinging open car doors. If the need should arise to get onto the sidewalk – and it will – don’t be surprised by physical assault. Yes, there’s the Lake Shore bicycle path, but that’s pretty well out of the way, and the floating trail which cuts through Wicker Park isn’t that long. Seattle, of course, is in the place that spearheaded the return of bicycling – the pacific northwest. It shows, too – trails and lanes are a dime a dozen around the city, and they’re pretty much everywhere in the park system. Despite the difference in terrain – Chicago is flat while Seattle is replete with spectacular hills and inclines – Seattle has managed to normalize bicycling to such an extent that Seattleites had to come back around from the other direction to make it niche again: The Naked Bicycle Ride was created in Fremont! Yes, there is a share of people who hate cycling in Seattle too, and no doubt there are those who like to assault cyclists, but Seattle as a whole is recognized as one of the best cities in the United States to commute by bicycle.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago isn’t outwardly hostile toward bicyclists, but its been playing a huge game of Follow the Leader. There isn’t anything Chicago has done yet that wasn’t done – and likely done better – in other bicycle-friendly cities already. The fact that it took Rahm Emanuel to sign the current bicycle plan into law should tell you just how far Chicago is behind its contemporaries.

Destructive Historical Fire
Because a good city should have a good comeback story, okay? Chicago’s fire ran from nine at night on October 8, 1871 to October 10. If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you already know the tale of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, but for those outside the Chicago bubble, here’s the story. Or the sentence, rather: The was a family called O’Leary. The Wife, Catherine, owned a cow. The cow kicked over a lamp and the fire spread out of control. That’s the popular tale, anyway. Another version blames a group of gamblers who happened to be using James O’Leary’s barn. The most common cause is probably related to a bunch of other fires that were going on in the midwest that day, but the truth is that no one ever determined who or what started the fire. What we do know is that the popular building material in Chicago at the time was wood. Held together with tar. During an unusually dry summer. In trying to control the fire, watchman Matthias Schaffer sent the department to the wrong place, and the fire destroyed damn near everything in Chicago, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 people homeless. But in stunning contrast to the way the people of Chicago today would have reacted to such a disaster – they would kick, whine, and scream about never becoming a world-class city LIKE NEW YORK CITY before spreading to places in Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin and leaving the remains to rot – Chicagoans back then WERE tough. I like to imagine two Chicagoans looking at each other in the ashes. One asks, “Well, what now?” The other replies, “Get some tools and start buildin’.” The way Chicago built itself back from the dead is the reason it’s called The Second City. Only five structures from then are still up: St. Ignatius College Prep, St. Michael’s Church, the Chicago Water Tower, Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, and a cottage at 2121 North Hudson. Seattle’s fire happened on June 6, 1889. Seattle was going through an unusually dry summer – not that rain would have helped, because the rain would only have spread out the thin turpentine all over the floor when the fire started. See, the fire was started by an assistant named John Black at the woodworking business of one Victor Clairmont in Pioneer Square. Black was trying to heat glue over a gas fire, but the glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread all over the turpentine and wood chips strewn about the floor. Seattle’s fire department did get there on time, but there was so much smoke that no one could find the source of the fire. So the fire was free to spread to a nearby liquor store, which of course blew the fuck up, which presumably helped spread the fire to… At least two saloons. The booze fire quickly wrecked an entire block. Attempts to fight the fire were inadvertently thwarted by Seattle’s own sewer system, because the pipes back then were made of wood. You can guess how that went. An attempt to stop the fire by blowing up a block went wrong when the fire skipped that block. After burning for two hours, everyone knew downtown Seattle was going to be a weird rumor very soon. Smoke was visible from Tacoma. The fire finally fettered out at three in the morning, and by then, 120 acres of Seattle were ash. Although thousands of people were displaced, damage was between $8 million and $20 million, and 5000 workers now had to find new jobs, the actual loss of life was apparently pretty low. But like Chicago, no one spent too long complaining. Not only did Seattle rebuild, the people also raised the street levels by 22 feet. In the year right after the fire, the population doubled, which made Seattle the largest city in Washington and a leading contender in being the terminus of the Great Northern Railway.
Winner
Both of these are awesome stories, but I’m giving the edge to Chicago. For one thing, it’s really cool that there are tours of the underground which take people through old Seattle from before the fire. But one of the remaining structures of old Chicago, the Water Tower, has become one of the city’s civic icons, and so it sits perched in a prime sightseeing area right at the northern end of Michigan Avenue. Also, we know the exact cause and trajectory of the Seattle Fire. We don’t have nearly as much info about the Chicago Fire, and there’s just something about that which screams CHICAGO! Perhaps it’s the fact that no one ever found the real culprit, and that the reporter who wrote the story – a fellow by the name of Michael Ahern – admitted in 1893 that he pulled the O’Leary’s cow out of his ass just to find a reason to bitch about the Irish. While the family was never charged with anything, the poor cow was so entrenched in local mythology that the city took the ridiculous step of exonerating the O’Learys and the cow in 1997. But the myth still lives on to such a point that the Chicago Fire Academy is located at its start (speculated) starting point. Besides, the Chicago Fire did more damage to its city. The four square miles it destroyed was pretty much all of Chicago.

Okay, this one is getting a bit too epic even for my tastes. We have a tie at six apiece with one draw, and I don’t want to be bothered anymore with trying to get one of these cities to lose this thing. If anything, I think I’ve sufficiently proved that no matter how many other ways you can think of to measure these two cities against each other, neither is a loser. Although I do have one note to give to one of them:

Chicago, stop whining. NO ONE finds your inferiority complex with New York City endearing.

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A Black Goat: The Ultimate Battle of Chicago Baseball Curses!

A Black Goat: The Ultimate Battle of Chicago Baseball Curses!

Once upon a time there was a baseball team. They hadn’t won the World Series in a really long time. But thanks to some smart managing, talented players, and a little bit of pluck and grit, they were able to make a completely unexpected run to the World Series at a time when no one expected them to. They paced their league and stormed through everyone they faced. Facing a pitching-heavy opponent in the Fall Classic, they fought down to the last, and were pushed to the brink in one of the greatest, most memorable baseball games ever played. And after decades of misery, it was in October of 2005 that the Chicago White Sox stood above all as the champions of the baseball world!…

Wait a minute, what’s that? That’s not how it went? That’s EXACTLY how it went! Oh, I think I see where you went wrong here – you were thinking I was writing about the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory! Well, not there I wasn’t. The Cubs victory was totally different. They were building up to it for years and it finally happened right at a time they created a team that will be a nightmare to every other team in MLB for the next seven years. Chicago is one of two (three if we’re counting Los Angeles) two-team markets in baseball. Unlike New York City – where the Yankees and Metropolitans both get a huge share of the popular headlines – there’s a severe dividing line which splits the White Sox from the Cubs. And that’s strange, because you could build an easy argument that the White Sox were just as star-crossed as the Cubs; maybe even more so. The White Sox also got less attention than the Boston Red Sox, who famously busted up an 86-year-old curse in 2004, even though the White Sox had a curse that ran slightly longer (88 years). But even Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the 2005 White Sox, kept things in perspective when he said that his team could win the next three World Series and still be less popular than the Cubs. The White Sox curse – the Curse of the Black Sox – went without publicity to such a point that no one remembered it existed at all until it was dug up in 2005.

It got me thinking about which curse was worse. So let’s do this! The Billy Goat Curse vs. the Curse of the Black Sox. One day, I’ll learn.

Coverage
I think just about everyone already knows about the Billy Goat and its effects. Some backwoods cave-dweller from East Outer Jahunga who never heard the word “baseball” in their life will bring up the Billy Goat Curse anytime someone finds them and mentions being from Chicago. They already know that the idea of a curse getting power through a bar owner’s pet goat is something that happened in 1945, even though the Cubs drought was a “mere” 37 years old when it happened. The Cubs are a nationally known and beloved team, so every time they come racing out and start well, that goat gets brought into it. Throughout the course of the baseball season, coverage of it has a habit of picking up strength. “The Cubs! Could this be the year they exorcise the Billy Goat Curse?” Since the time I started watching baseball, talk of the Billy Goat Curse has been run through the ringer in every postseason baseball game I’ve seen the Cubs play. It probably stands to be mentioned in a ton of broadcasts for the next several seasons as well, just so we all know it’s dead. The Curse of the Black Sox, though… Well, I hardly heard any mention of that, and that’s not just because the White Sox have played in so few postseason games. The Sox just don’t get a lot of attention. Their whole drought went unnoticed until they suddenly killed their curse in 2005, then it went unnoticed again even though everyone now knew better! The Billy Goat Curse getting more attention is somewhat understandable because it ran 20 years longer, but the Red Sox’ Curse of the Bambino was SHORTER than the Curse of the Black Sox and that also gets more attention!
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. I’ll grant that everyone in the media paid more attention to that, but coverage blew so out of control that White Sox fans forgot their own team was even cursed at all. Cubs fans never shut up about theirs. So the Cubs are winning this one based on the power of shameless self-promotion and, you know, everything else.

Origins
Again, since the Billy Goat Curse is so well-covered, everyone already knows where it came from. Although the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, it was in 1945 that Chicago tavern owner William Sianis hexed the team. Sianis bought a pair of tickets to the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. One, of course, was for him. The other turned out to be for his pet goat, Murphy. Not that there’s anything wrong with bringing pets to a baseball stadium – my sister and brother-in-law made a tradition of taking their dog to Citi Field to watch the Mets on Pet Day. But the fact that Murphy was a goat didn’t go unnoticed by the other patrons of Wrigley Field; they couldn’t escape the poor animal’s smell. So Sianis was thrown out of Wrigley Field. Understandably pissed off, Sianis stayed in his seat just long enough to utter the phrase “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Everyone laughed it off back then, but the Cubs didn’t return to the World Series for 71 years. The Curse of the Black Sox has a much darker origin story. The White Sox won the World Series in 1917 and were fielding Joe Jackson, possibly the best player in baseball; Eddie Cicotte, possibly the best pitcher in baseball; and Buck Weaver, possibly baseball’s best third baseman. In 1919 they won the Pennant in such dominant fashion that the ensuing World Series was expected to be nothing but a formality, and that people weren’t watching to see if the Sox would win, but HOW they would win. Well, the opposing Cincinnati Reds beat the White Sox in a monumental upset. But as the Sox rolled through the 1920 season, word got out that professional gamblers had placed Wall Street-asshole amounts of cash on the Reds. It began an investigation that revealed eight members of the White Sox had agreed to take payments from gamblers – notably Arnold Rothstein and Joseph “Sport” Sullivan – in exchange for losing the Series on purpose. While they were found innocent in the following trial, all eight were also banned from baseball for life. The scandal resulted in the Commissioner position being created and baseball’s zero-tolerance policy on gambling.
Winner
The Curse of the Black Sox. The start of the Billy Goat Curse sounds like a children’s fairy tale. An evil bar owner places an elaborate hex on the Cubs! Ooh! The way the Curse of the Black Sox started had tangible consequences in the real world, and it involved dangerous people and the possibility of someone who didn’t know anything about what was going on getting hurt. The Black Sox Scandal also had a positive effect: The ensuing rule against gambling has been a successful deterrent. Since its implementation, there have been a handful of players who were called in for questioning based on gambling habits they had for events other than baseball, and others warned because they had connections to known gamblers. But only one of those people ignored all those warnings and got banned for life.

Star-crossed-ness
Pinpointing where the Cubs really started to go bad can be a little tricky. Yes, they’re known for being the Lovable Losers, but that’s a smaller part of a larger narrative that people forget. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series between 1908 and 2016. They never won the Pennant between 1945 and 2016. Now if your observations are astute, you may be wondering just, exactly, accounts for the 37 years between 1908 and 1945. Well, uh, Pennants. Lots of them. Pennants in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938 to be exact. That whole loser image didn’t come into vogue until the 60’s or 70’s; until then the Cubs were one of the most hated teams in the National League. They were the Yankees without the titles the Yankees have to show for it. And even after 1945, the Cubs could make a habit of ripping hearts out and being stupid. There was 1969, where Sianis rescinded the Curse and the Cubs charged out, led the league from April until August, and then went 8-17 in September and got plowed by the Mets. There was Ernie Banks winning MVP in 1958 and 1959 but his team hauling losing records in both years. There was 1984, where they went to the NLCS only to lose a 2-0 lead in the series to, of all teams, the San Diego Padres. They lost the NLCS again to the San Francisco Giants in 1989, and the NLDS in 1998 to the Atlanta Braves. There was the epic NLCS meltdown of 2003 and those playoff popgun shots in 2007 and 2008 and hell, the Cubs got swept in the NLCS by the Mets just last season too. Between false hope like that, the Cubs kept sort of fading in and out, being mediocre enough to let their fans think they had a chance and just outright bad. As for the White Sox, well… Between 1917 and 2005, they won two Pennants. One was the 1919 Pennant which got thrown away. The other was a stellar effort in 1959 where the White Sox had the services of many of their best players – including Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Nelly Fox, and Luis Aparicio – at their peaks. Fox was the MVP, with Aparicio second in voting. Wynn won the Cy Young, while Fox, Aparicio, and Sherm Lollar won Gold Gloves. Manager Al Lopez was Manager of the Year. But the thing with the White Sox is that during the 50’s and 60’s, they were good… Just never quite good enough. Looking at the standings for the 1959 baseball season, it’s pretty clear that while the Cleveland Indians gave everyone pause for thought, the main reason the White Sox won the Pennant was because the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra had an off year. Besides that, it’s hard to say they were failing in the stretch. During their best years in the 50’s and 60’s, they had a lot of close calls, but were usually bowing out to a Yankees team that was just better. Not that it would have mattered, because they would only have gotten clobbered in the Series by the Dodgers anyway. After about 1967, they alternated between overachieving and having talent that failed. In 1983, the talentless White Sox won 99 games and their division; they’re the team the popular phrase “winning ugly” was created to describe. The year of the strike, the Sox were one of the best teams in baseball and could have gotten a Pennant, but the strike happened. The good years of the White Sox can mostly be summed up this way: No one remembers the bridesmaid.
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. It’s hard to blame bad luck when the team goes between falling short and overachieving. The World Series title the White Sox finally won in 2005 wasn’t the same as the Cubs. The Cubs’ title was the culmination of a well-built team with a grand design. The White Sox title was the ultimate of their overachieving years…

Aftermath
Well, you mean aside from two of the wildest parties Chicago has ever seen? The Cubs victory parade was attended by over five million people. I can’t speak for the White Sox, because I don’t know. But for a comparison, two enormous gatherings which I was in Chicago for – and personally attended – were the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, which was attended by over 500,000 people, and the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 victory parade, which drew three million. (The Blackhawks snapped a 49-year curse which was then the longest in the NHL.) But you’re probably wondering more about the long-term aftereffects, and in the case of the Cubs, they can’t be judged just yet. We can make a few speculations which will be good based on things we know, and here they are: One, their current general manager is Jed Hoyer. Hoyer’s past includes a stint as the Assistant to the General Manager for the Boston Red Sox which ran through the 2004 team. He was made Assistant General Manager – don’t ask me what the difference is – after Boston’s GM, Theo Epstein, stepped down briefly in 2005. Hoyer was one of four executives who kept the team going, completing trades for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and Andy Marte. He then worked as the GM for the Padres from 2009 to 2011, when he was taken by the Cubs. And you know who’s running the Cubs? Theo Epstein! Yes, the architect of the Cursebreaker Red Sox! He’s the President, not the GM, but he still developed a plan and oversaw it right through to the end. And it’s safe to expect that he’s using the same methods in Chicago as he did in Boston, which means this is a Cubs team built to win two or three more Fall Classics. But given the finicky nature of baseball bodies – today’s MVP is tomorrow’s obscure minor-leaguer – we can never be sure. The White Sox, on the other hand, we already saw. Its been 11 years since the Curse of the Black Sox went down in flames. And since the core of the 2005 team was kept intact, they were expected to spend the next few years slugging it out with Boston for the title of Supreme Sox Team… And, oh yeah, also World Series Champions. And that didn’t pan out. The White Sox made a run of it through the first half of 2006 but got blasted after the All-Star break, getting leapfrogged by both the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. And it was the Tigers that won the Pennant and spend the next decade being the class of the division while, save a division title in 2008, the White Sox fell right back into their spot as the second team in the Second City. That was the truth: The White Sox were the ultimate one-year wonder. Like most of the other White Sox teams, they overachieved and just happened to win the World Series while doing so.
Winner
I’m holding off on this one. Yeah, we can make educated guesses about the Cubs all we want, but we’re still not going to know anything until we see some real results.

Impact
Although its only been a few days since the Cubs won the World Series, this is something that can actually be seen. The Cubs did have a great impact on the country. Let’s face it: The country has had a uniquely shitty year. The Republican Presidential candidate was picked strictly because the insane right political wing was desperate for a victory and thought the guy who fired up the worst of their fan base could be reined in. They’ve been proven wrong and only started to see the consequences of their stupidity after it was too late. David Bowie, Prince, Gordie Howe, and Muhammad Ali all left the Earthly plane. We’re being exposed to the bad side of the NFL and are torn over it, and even if we can ignore the bad side of it enough to use it as an escape, we can’t even do that anymore because one player is using it as a way to protest the way his people are treated. The Cubs managed to do the impossible by uniting the country, at least to the extent that it could have been united in a year like this. In the meantime, the White Sox winning the World Series didn’t have any impact at all. The Curse of the Black Sox itself is what had the impact. It was the Black Sox, after all, that resulted in baseball creating a Commissioner and a zero-tolerance policy on gambling. The Black Sox are also blamed for nearly ruining the sport, but that’s the reputation of it – I’m not sure about the truth of it. It’s something they teach you in elementary school history class, and they teach you that people stayed away from baseball until Babe Ruth was moved to the outfield and started hitting home runs. Honestly, did any other bad sports scandal have an impact like that? No one boycotted baseball for the steroid thing. No one avoided it after the strike, even though the fans made their displeasure over that known. People aren’t really staying away from football now. We didn’t quit on basketball even after a ref admitted to fixing a playoff series.
Winner
I’m going to give this to The Curse of the Black Sox. Yes, it’s awesome how the Cubs brought the country together, but that’s only going to be temporary, and if the Cubs manage to turn the corner, people are going to turn against them soon enough. Remember what happened to the Boston Red Sox? Same thing, although Red Sox fans becoming the worst people on the planet didn’t help their cause any.

Drama
You’ve seen The Exorcist, right? Would that movie have left the same impression on you without the girl’s neck doing a complete 180-degree turn, all the vomit, and the Priest killing himself at the end? Nope, didn’t think so. The drama is what people remember. And the Cubs of 2016 had that in spades during the postseason. Every pitch and every swing of the bat was watched with rapt attention. Everyone was already conditioned to know the Cubs were capable of blowing it at any time, and they had a past which backed the mindset up. One loss to the Giants was a tragedy. Two to the Dodgers and everyone in Chicago was suddenly picking out their favorite bridge over the Chicago River to jump off. Three to the Indians – who had a 3-1 lead in the World Series by then – and all the wind in Chicago was the deranged and heartbroken howling of Cubs faithful knowing their team was going to blow it again. (In all honesty, you couldn’t blame them for that one.) But the Cubs, like the Red Sox 12 years before, pulled themselves out of the insurmountable hole in order to get back into the Series and win it. And that seventh game was one of the greatest and most dramatic ever played: The Cubs lit up the scoreboard early and looked like they were going to cruise to the end, but the Indians came back, tying the game on a two-run homer in the eighth. The game went to extra innings, pausing for a brief rain delay during which one of my friends expressed her sentiments by saying, “I guess Mother Nature has to cry about this game too.” The Cubs scored two runs in the tenth, only to let the Indians score one more before they were finally able to close it out. On the other hand, when the White Sox ran down the entire league for their title in 2005, no one seemed in a big hurry to resist them. They made one of the most dominant postseason showings ever. In the ALDS, they plowed through the Red Sox, who – lest we forget – won the World Series the year before. In the ALCS, they lost the first game to the Los Angeles Angels before rebounding and winning the next four on the strength of four straight complete games from their starting rotation. In the World Series, every game they played against the opposing Houston Astros provided us with suspense. Two games were decided by two runs, and the other two were decided by one. Game three was of particular interest – it was a 15-inning marathon which saw the Astros take a 4-0 lead which they blew when the White Sox scored five in the fifth inning. The Astros tied it in the eighth, sent the game to extra innings, and the ChiSox and ‘Stros dueled for four more innings before the ChiSox scored two in the 14th to end the marathon. The game set a few marks: The teams combine to use a total of 17 pitchers; they threw a total of 482 pitches; 21 total batters were walked; 43 total players were used; and 30 total players were left on base. In the following game, the White Sox clinched the title with pitcher Freddy Garcia being nearly perfect through seven, and Jermaine Dye scored the only run of the game. Dramatic? Yes. Suspenseful? Definitely. Necessary? Not exactly. The theatrics didn’t change the fact that the 2005 World Series was only four games long.
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. I take nothing from the White Sox here, but there was a difference between them and the Cubs: Clout. The White Sox of 2005 had it. The Cubs of 2016 didn’t. If the Sox didn’t close out in that fourth game, they would have had three more chances to do it, and history says they almost certainly would have pulled it off – only one team in baseball (the 2004 Red Sox) has ever managed to win a playoff series in which they were down 3-0. In total of sports, the number of teams that has climbed out of the 3-0 hole can still be counted on one hand, and all except the Red Sox are hockey teams. And that’s because being in that hole can mentally break you down. It says that even if you managed to get that far, the other team is clearly superior, you the players want to mentally cut their losses before they get hurt. Even if they win a game or two, it’s an effort to save face. The Cubs weren’t in that hole, but being behind 3-1 in a series is pretty close. It makes things a lot harder. There’s no room at all for error. And the Cubs, with all that history weighing on them and looking like they Cubbed it all up yet again, persevered. They shook off the mentality that situation can put on an athlete’s mind, came back into it, and never let it get into their heads again.

Looks like the Billy Goat Curse was the superior curse after all. Yes, the implications and impact of the Curse of the Black Sox were a lot nastier, but the goat is associated with Satan, so there’s that.

Trains, Planes, but No Automobiles: The Ultimate Travel!

Trains, Planes, but No Automobiles: The Ultimate Travel!

I’ve gotten a respectable distance through the United States. I’ve been from the extreme north to the extreme south, extreme east to extreme west. And here’s a kicker which people these days may not believe: My journeys to the extremes all took place on land. There were some buses and cars involved, but I’ve mostly become known for my primary reliance on a form of old-fashioned travel which is so forgotten that a lot of people don’t even realize it’s still around: Train. It was the Amtrak that opened up the vast expanses of America for me and allowed me to view and experience firsthand the sights we sing about in all our popular National Anthems.

This didn’t happen because I had anything against air travel, per se. Except my fear of heights. But I always knew that sooner or later, I was going to have to get over that. And when my sister got married, I found myself nestled on an Alaska Airlines flight to California asking “Is this really so much better than the train?” So let’s do this! Trains vs. airplanes. One day, I’ll learn.

Efficiency
The point of both trains and planes is to get passengers from one point to another. Now, everyone knows the fastest way between two points is a straight line, and that how airlines operate: They fly from point A to point B in the straightest line they possibly can. Furthermore, they can frequently make those flights in a matter of hours with minimal interference. Trains are land-based, and can only travel on sets of parallel rails, which means that if things are crowded, they can’t simply turn onto the next rail because it’s moving faster. Trains also move slower than airplanes – yes, they’re faster than cars, but they still take a matter of days to make trips airplanes cover in hours. Of course, you’re allowed to get off a train to stretch when it stops.
Winner
Airplanes. There’s virtually no way trains are superior to airplanes in pure efficiency. I saw very few delays in the airports that I was in, while trains will frequently get held up for the slightest of reasons: They can’t keep the tracks clear, there’s a shift change, the engineer channel-surfed into a rerun of Battlestar Galactica that he really liked. Furthermore, the primary train system in the United States – Amtrak – is a government-run passenger train which is forced to run on privately-owned freight tracks. If you can’t guess what gets the priority on the freight lines, you’re probably not an American. My first-ever train journey was delayed three times because of this.

Service
Good service can make a long ride a little bit more pleasant, and both trains and airplanes have certain kinds of service. Trains have their conductors, who walk from car to car taking tickets, writing down ticket information, and giving passengers notice of what stops are coming up next. Trains also have service exclusive to the dining and lounge cars – two different things – and they all excel at their jobs. All the dining car service I ever experienced was faster than The Flash; after placing my order, I had my hot food placed down within a few minutes. The lounges don’t have roving service, but the server standing behind the snack counter has always been very fast. Instead of a handful of different kinds of servants handling designated roles, airplanes make do with their flight attendants. The flight attendants are in the business of doing a little bit of everything, from handing out little trinkets to serving drinks and snacks as well as being a line of first aides who present safety procedures. It’s the flight attendant who greets you as you board and cheerfully sends you off after the flight. In between, the flight attendants perform all kinds of services, from giving out complimentary snacks to taking food orders to cleaning up your garbage. And they all do it with a politeness which is almost superhuman.
Winner
Much as I like the service on the train, the flight attendants take this one because they’re asked to do a more impressive number of tasks in a much smaller space. Flight attendants are the be-all-and-end-all on an airplane. Not only that, but they also bring the service to the passengers rather than standing in one place so the passengers have to get up and approach them. Also, I frequently found myself looking to them for how calm they are in the face of everything a flight can go through. After all, they make their living on the airplane, so they’ve seen it all.

Terminals
If you have to wait, you should at least be comfortable while waiting, right? And trains have stations that resemble palaces in certain locations. The train station in Albany is a modern glass and steel structure with all the amenities of a western skyscraper. Grand Central Station in New York City and Union Station in Chicago offer giant underground networks filled with restaurants and kiosks, comfortable waiting rooms, and even vehicles which span for several blocks and protect travelers from the elements. Unfortunately, those fortresses are rare, and if you’re in some backwoods outpost like Rugby, North Dakota, or Elyria, Ohio, your train station is more likely to resemble a quickly-assembled tool shed. Its amenities will include virtually no security, bathrooms which offer no reason to trust them, and a few vending machines. And there are cities with the aforementioned palace stations that don’t even have their palace stations anymore: Buffalo and St. Louis both ran train stations which were art deco masterpieces before they were left to decay. Both have been rescued, but Buffalo is struggling to find a new purpose for its old station while the St. Louis station is nothing more than an odd gathering of random food outlets and small outlet stores. Airplanes park at airports, which take up enormous tracts of land and provide an aesthetic beauty which is less than underwhelming. Douglas Adams once wrote that it’s no coincidence that in no language exists the phrase “as pretty as an airport,” and he was dead on. Airports are built more for functionality, and that makes up for their ugliness. Most airports offer a bevy of places to eat and buy newspapers and souvenirs. More importantly, an airport can hold several different flights going to many different places at the same time, while the average train station will be a single train stop for five minutes while some people get on and others get off, which is why there are so few trains that go in and out of any given city per day.
Winner
Airplanes. The good train stations are too few and far between, and they’re actually becoming less common with fewer people taking long-distance train rides. In any case, even the largest train stations can hold a handful of trains at once. Airports have a lot of terminals and are built to get a lot of people to their flights. Airplanes aren’t as large as trains either, so airports are built to be convenient for a bunch of different airplanes to dock at the same time.

Price
Prices on both the train and airplane tend to shift according to how many people are traveling. I’ve seen prices for both run close to $300 for round trips. The difference is that for the train, a price like that could take you across the country while an airplane ticket with that price tag could take you a couple of states. Oh, and there are these other differences too: After you pay the ticket price for the train, that’s the end of all monetary transactions unless you decide to buy the food on the train. Otherwise, you show up at the station, collect your ticket, get on the train, get off the train, and that’s that. With airplanes, the ticket prices tend to waver a lot more on a day by day basis. Then you go to the airport, and pay to have the pass printed, and to have your luggage checked, and to get most of the food. Although I did notice that the airplane food you have to pay for is cheaper than the train food.
Winner
Train. Maybe you could make an argument that the airplane offers better advantages for the higher prices, but given unlimited time and money, do you think that’s going to matter? Cheaper is going to be better in most cases, and the train is one of them.

Sightseeing
There’s a reason trains and airplanes have windows: It’s so the people traveling can get some sweet views of the outside scenery. The great thing about airplane windows is that there are covers which easily slide over them if you think too much sun is getting let in. Trains have curtains, but they’re a pain in the ass to move. Airplanes offer some incredible views which you’ll never find anywhere else – if you overcome the height, you’ll get to see entire coastlines, whole mountains from above, and big cities which you can cover with your hand. It offers a chance to see things in an entirely new way. The view from the train is dramatically different. It offers more of a pioneer point of view as it takes travelers, ground-level, over expanses of land which a lot of people will never get to access in their cars. Trains tracks are built in a way which allows them to cover any kind of weird stretch of terrain, no matter how unlikely. The kinds of things they’ve done with steel rails are still things no one has really attempted to do with asphalt, because a train needs only a narrow confine to move around, and that leads to incredible sights as travelers are taken across swamps, along canyon bottoms, and even through cities.
Winner
Trains. While an airplane can give travelers a unique view from above, it offers its best upon takeoff and landing. At some point, the level is just about perfect, and that can be before the airplane levels out. Also, train travelers don’t have to try to look through cloud cover the way airplane travelers do. There’s a lot more to see, and you can easily view the little details which lend color and artistry to the landscape. But what really takes points away from the airplane here is that the best views of the scenery are only available to the people next to the windows. This isn’t a problem on trains, where windows are very large and you can head to the lounge for a view of everything the surrounding scenery has to offer.

Food
Trains serve both regular meals and snacks, but they use two different cars to do so. The lounge car offers several snacking staples – a little alcohol, pop, and some small, cheap, handheld sweets. They also offer more lunch-like treats like burgers and hot dogs, but those are wrapped up and thawed in the microwave. In my book, that makes them no good, since parts of them stay frozen anyway. The food in the dining car is actually pretty good, and served nice and hot. And in all honesty, Amtrak serves one of the better cups available anywhere. Airplanes serve complimentary snacks and drinks – at least some of them do. They also have full meals available, but the trouble with this category is that I haven’t eaten a full airplane meal. I’ve heard the food in first class – which I’ve never flown in – is much better than the food in whatever non-first class is called, but having never eaten either, I don’t think it would be fair for me to judge the nice train food against a couple of bags of mini-pretzels.
Winner
Incomplete. Ask me again after I’ve made a longer-distance flight. Actually, I’m just including this for completion’s sake – I tend not to order full meals during lengthy travels. Even on the main leg of my journey to the west, I subsided mostly on a loaf of bread from Whole Foods and Amtrak’s coffee.

Comfort
The most hated and disrespected form of long-distance travel in the country is probably the bus. There’s a reason for that: Buses are cramped, loud, slow, and have very little space to move around. Imagine that same atmosphere in the sky. Okay, that’s not fair to airplanes – airlines do everything they can to make the flight more pleasant than any bus ride will ever be. They offer refreshments, and the flight attendants are always around in case you need anything. But that doesn’t change the fact that airplanes have to cram a lot of people into a small space, and there’s going to be a little bit of discomfort on a few levels like that. The seats tend to be on the smaller side, it’s difficult to walk out of your row, and having your carry-on bag by your feet can make you feel a little cramped. Trains, well, the dining cars don’t have a whole lot of space available, so you may sometimes be asked to share a table with someone you’ve never seen before. And like on airplanes, there’s a risk of slamming your head against the overhead compartment. Airplanes seat people three to a row, unless hey paid for a first class ticket, in which case it’s a roomier two to a row. Trains offer two to a row in coach, with large seats and sizable spaces to get in and out – which train travelers use to move around in the car quite often. The aisles on a train are significantly larger, and two people can easily get around each other. And although trains don’t call it that, they do offer a first-class spot for people willing to pony up the cash; it’s called the sleeper car.
Winner
Trains. There isn’t a spot I can think of where airplanes are more comfortable than trains. Even the first class goodies on airplanes don’t come off as any more comfortable than the average coach seat on a train. Furthermore, the room trains have is important on long trips, where passengers will want to get up and stretch their legs a few times. Even if a passenger feels crowded in a seat, they can easily get up and spend a few hours in the lounge car reading, using the internet, or watching the world go by. Airplane passengers also have more engine noise and turbulence to deal with, while the train is almost silent and makes little more than gentle rocking motions.

I don’t intentionally write these things to be ties, you know. I try to be as honest and objective as possible, even if my preference isn’t what comes out on top. (That was the case in my Cleveland vs. Buffalo sports curses post.) But, for a third time, I’m not able to place one above the other. Airplanes and trains both have their merits.

Tabletop Games vs. Electronic Games: The Ultimate Games!

Tabletop Games vs. Electronic Games: The Ultimate Games!

Games are one of life’s simple pleasures. We all love the big outside escapes – travel, movies, museums, arts and culture events, things like that. But those things tend to cost money and take time, and so games provide everyday escapes from the skullduggery of work, chores, and daily news. Games are fun to play, they take your mind off the rest of the world for a few hours, they can bring people together, and you can use them to learn about basic principles of sportsmanship.

The kinds of games available can be drawn into two different categories: Tabletop games and electronic games. Tabletop games are basically games that can be placed on a tabletop so everyone playing can have equal access to the equipment. They are probably better known as board games, but calling them board games tends to leave out various card and dice games. Electronic games are games that are hooked up to a television or computer. Many of them can be played online.

As many people know, I grew up pretty well-versed in the ways of both, but had a clear preference for electronic games. I spent seven years as a critic of electronic games, but tabletop games were recently reintroduced into my life and I started thinking about which type of game is better. So let’s do this! Tabletop games vs. electronic games. One day, I’ll learn.

Gameplay
Remember that I said games can be used to teach the basic principles of sportsmanship? Yeah, if you play a lot of tabletop games, that’s something you’re going to be learning plenty about. Tabletop games require you to have a good sense of humor about defeat, because even a lot of games where you get a significant amount of control over the game’s universe require good, hard luck. It doesn’t matter how much you understand about the laws of probability – if you’re playing a card- or dice-heavy game, you’re going to fall victim to some weird masterstrokes of fortune. The more complex the game, the more odd luck can get. Games like Dungeons and Dragons add an extra dimension with the sheer details they throw in – Dungeons and Dragons itself is famous partially for the number of 12-to-20-sided dice it includes in a package. While little novelties like that are intended to tip the odds, you’re still not allowed to find your favorite number and plop the die down with it facing up, and that can result in things like a dwarf with two hit points charging through a small army of ogres. (That was something that happened to me once playing Dungeons and Dragons.) Electronic games can also require a certain amount of luck. Back when video games were first starting out, one hallmark was the fact that developers were constantly throwing in little glitches and obstacles made to ensure the game always had the advantage. That meant gamers had to deal with traps in scrolling games meant to throw off any sense of rhythm, which could place a gamer in a precarious situation. Other games were loaded with dead ends and unfair traps which the people playing had no way of knowing about in advance, and to make those matters worse, some sadistic developers would randomize those things, which meant a gamer would put a lot of hard work into getting into the game only to get locked in some inescapable room on a deep run. Electronic games also utilized keyboards and controllers instead of dice.
Winner
Electronic games. Although unfair little gameplay quirks will always be a trademark of electronic games, they’re not showing up nearly as often now, while tabletop games are always depending on the luck of the draw or the roll. Besides, having direct control over a video game character through a controller can mean that someone truly skilled will always have a chance. That’s not the case on tabletop games. Yes, there are degrees of skill required to play tabletop games well, but unless you’re sticking to one of the old school staples like checkers, chess, othello, or go – which don’t depend on luck – you’re always going to be reliant on elements of gameplay that are out of your control.

Social Bonding
Despite their competitive nature, a good game can help cement a bond with people you know and create one with people you don’t. This can be especially apparent with tabletop games, because any tabletop game worth its salt requires that you have other people around to play against. (Unless you like to play solitaire.) Unfortunately, that can also be a great weakness for the shy and introverted: In order to really enjoy a good tabletop game, you have to be able to coax others into wanting to visit you to play. Electronic games can also be a source of fun for friendships; even after the game is turned off, a great game can have friends talking strategy and tactics for hours afterward. And while their solitary nature allows them to be enjoyable for a single person, our increasingly online world actually opens up the outside for those willing to take the time to learn online gaming, because it allows people to connect with others anywhere in the world. It’s not unusual these days for real-life couples to say they first met in the online world during a game of Everquest.
Winner
Tabletop games. Yes, it’s possible to meet people online, but there’s the reverse of that as well: Online gaming has become a source of bullying and sometimes crime. There are a thousand different stories of friends and couples who met online, but the faceless nature of electronic gaming has given rise to forms of blatant sexism, racism, and other bad -isms which have discouraged potential gamers who were dabbling in a new hobby. The Gamergate movement exists because of people who believe electronic games are the exclusive domain of a very particular type of person (think a Y chromosome and a low melanin level); they’ve taken to attacking, insulting, and threatening anyone different from them – roughly half the population – for the crime of having an opinion. You never heard of behavior like this developing from tabletop gamers.

Storytelling
It’s hard to find a good story in a tabletop game, but not impossible. Hell, when I was a kid, I loved a role-playing game called Hero Quest, which became a sort of gateway to Dungeons and Dragons later on. Hero Quest had defined good guys and bad guys who were thrown into various scenarios for reasons told in the fashion of a linear story by a game master who knew the ins and outs of the scene. The game master always had the most access to the story, and would slowly reveal it over the coarse of the game. Electronic games operate on much the same principle, except there aren’t any players there to reveal the narrative – it’s done by the game as you advance. In both formats, the players make choices which are supposed to affect the story, but electronic games were a bit slow to catch on to that aspect of it; the earliest electronic role-playing games were set strictly on rails. You simply walked through the game as any other and tried not to die. Tabletop role-playing games offered a bit more flexibility because it would be possible to find the right piece of information through communication with the game master. Electronic games didn’t have that – you got the information the game felt like giving you, which would only loop itself if you tried to press the issue. If you didn’t have a strategy guide, you were shit out of luck. Of course, not every tabletop game had a story. A lot of the classics just brought people together to play. Electronic games might seem to have an advantage here then, but they didn’t have a lot of story either. Games like Pong, Frogger, and Pac-Man never even bothered. What little bits they had as stories were nothing more than objectives.
Winner
I’m going with tabletop games on this one. Yes, electronic games are evolving and very much improved on the way they tell their stories and interact – Fable II has become a favorite of mine. But you’re still at the mercy of a game which isn’t going to tell you any more than it’s programmed to know. Tabletop games can be easier in reveals and puzzles if you’re able to figure out the right way to communicate. Also, I should note tabletop games don’t make use of arbitrary and unobtrusive bits of debris to prevent you from reaching your goal, either. That’s one of the great banes of being an electronic gamer for a few reasons, not the least of which is because it’s so fucking stupid. But the bottom line here is that your personal decisions have a greater impact in the world of a good tabletop game while even many of the best electronic games stop updating the current events halfway through.

Playing Equipment
A complex tabletop game can turn into an OCD sufferer’s worst nightmare. Boards, cards, dice, and figures are often parts of the most basic game setup. That’s no frills here – I’m not even considering the many pieces of equipment that can get thrown into games with 3D settings. Lots of the little accessories needed to play a good tabletop game are small and easily losable. And every time you want to go out and buy a new game, you get a whole new set of more losable equipment meant to go with that game and no other! So you would think the victory for electronic games here would be automatic. And 20 or even 10 years ago, it might have been – you get one CD or cartridge which contained literally everything on it. No need to worry about losing a piece or 13. But with the technology advancing, it started getting a bit more complex than that. If you play your electronic games on computers, you have to make sure the specs are just right, then go through the pain-in-the-ass process of downloading it. That’s called “installing” the game. Taking the time to learn the various keyboard and controller functions can also be a bit of a chore, and the games themselves try to rob you of the fun of learning yourself because they’re increasingly involving mandatory tutorials which can’t be skipped. If you want to play on the internet, you have to buy an expensive piece of equipment that enables it.
Winner
Electronic games. For all the bullshit you have to go through of buying all the equipment and installing the game, most of it is a one-time purchase. And you don’t have to worry about all your little knickknacks being inside the box once you decide you’re finished playing. It’s just a little on/off switch. Yes, electronic games cost more, but it’s worth the price to make sure you don’t lose anything because some poor loser swept the entire board off the table.

Replayability
So you finished a game and thought it was good. That doesn’t necessarily incentivize an immediate second play through. There have to be enough different ways to go about playing through a good game to warrant replays. And tabletop games shine at this: You can always find new people to play with who see things differently and force you to innovate and invent new ways of playing. Luck can always swing from one player to the next, and how the player on the hot streak plays can turns everything in a whole new direction. Video games also offer incentives to replay them: Some have secrets to find, some have different levels to challenge you, and some have variations in the gameplay. Of course, the differences in tabletop game replayability depends on who you have playing, and electronic games have it based on the gameplay itself – some games offer direct decisions on exactly what you can do.
Winner
Tabletop games. Electronic games can only have so much replayability. Games where your actions really affect the surrounding world are a very recent development, and even many of those get a lot of flack for not changing enough. And before them, electronic games were basically rote memorization of patterns. The early attempts at being nonlinear were noble, but all they offered was the same scenery in a different order.

There will always be a place for electronic games, but tabletop games are throwing them off the hotel balcony.

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.

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

When I first moved to Chicago, I knew instantly that I was going to become a Blackhawks and Bulls fan. They played my favorite sports, and I wanted to fit in with the community, so my adoption of my new teams complimented my longtime fandom of the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia 76ers perfectly. In hockey, everything came easy for me. For basketball… Well, when I took off for Chicago, I had been a Sixers fan only since 2002, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay one. The player I wanted to support wasn’t with them anymore, and he may have been out of the NBA completely by then. So, sick of explaining my loyalty to the Sixers, I started trying on new teams, seeing how they fit. Although I did eventually find my way back to the Sixers, in 2007 an unexpected run to the playoffs by a virtually unseen team called the Golden State Warriors caught my attention. They traded several of their lynchpins, won only a couple more games than they lost, squeezed into the eighth playoff spot on a technicality… And totally upended the Dallas Mavericks – the best team in the league – in the first round. While that upset wasn’t the shocker everyone acts like it was – the Warriors were actually undefeated against the Mavericks in the regular season – I still thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The Warriors were immediately placed onto my watch list, and I’ve been cheering for them ever since. Something about the Golden State Warriors just felt right.

This last season in both leagues, there was an odd synchronicity between four of the five teams I like. The Sabres found a place in history by literally being a worse hockey team than any since the 1930’s, while the Sixers – who hold the distinction of fielding the worst team in NBA history for a season in the 1970’s – were just as awful, and probably would have been the worst team in the NBA this year had the New York Knicks not started making an effort to tank during the middle of the season. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Warriors were both favorites to win their leagues. The Warriors, in fact, were historically good; they played on the level of the 1983 Sixers, 1996 Bulls, or 1986 Boston Celtics. The Blackhawks had an unusual season. For a month, they couldn’t find the net; their star player was badly injured around the halfway point; and they limped into the playoffs on a losing streak. Both teams, though, pulled through and won their titles, and I followed my teams the whole way through, screaming like a lunatic. I also started asking myself, with the season similarities between the NHL and NBA, which league did its playoffs better. So let’s do this! The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs. One day, I’ll learn.

Big Prize
The NBA has the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. It has a 24-karat gold overlay, but is made of 14.5 pounds of sterling silver and vermeil. It’s two feet tall and designed to be a very basic cup with a quixotic little detail: There’s a sphere attached to the rim of the cup, so the Larry O’Brien Trophy looks like a basketball falling into a net. The team that wins it gets its name engraved onto the side along with the year, and the team gets to keep the trophy until it rots. The trophy has also undergone something of an identity crisis: The original NBA Championship Trophy was a more traditional cup design which was named after Walter A. Brown – the original owner of the Boston Celtics and a man who was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) – starting in 1964. The original design was junked in 1977, but Brown’s name was attached to it until 1984, when it was renamed. The NHL offers its Champions the Stanley Cup, which was originally bought by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 and named the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup. Like the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it evolved slowly into the form everyone knows and loves today. Starting as a glorified punch bowl that was seven inches tall and 11 inches wide, that first punch bowl design is now what caps off an iconic trophy which is 35 inches tall and 34 pounds. There’s no copy of it made for the winners every year, either – the names of the players for the winning team are engraved on the side, and the team keeps it for a year, or however long it takes for them to lose it. The Stanley Cup even acknowledges the lockout of the 2004-2005 season, by simply stating “season not played.”
Winner

The NHL and the Stanley Cup! The Larry O’Brien Trophy is a nice thing to win, and the quirky design certainly stands out. Design, however, will only win so many points against a trophy with an entire mythology surrounding it that Zeus would be proud of. The Larry O’Brien Trophy is handed to a handful of players on the team, then given to the owner, at least during the public presentation. The Stanley Cup is handed to every member of the team to skate around with for a minute, then everyone pauses and surrounds it for a team picture. During the locker room celebration, players drink beer out of it! Every player then gets to spend a day with the Cup. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some anecdotes which add to the Cup’s mythos. The Stanley Cup has made its way into a swimming pool; one player from the Chicago Blackhawks was pushed around The Loop in a wheelbarrow with it; and people have found uses for the Cup including a baptismal font, flower pot, dog food dish, and paper incinerator. It has marched in the Gay Pride Parade. Even the misspelled engraving on the Cup are legends. The most telling aspect of the trophy contest, however, is the fact that the NBA is adopting publicity techniques used by the NHL and the Stanley Cup in order to gain more popular recognition for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Star Power
Every sports league has a shortlist of galactic superstars, and every team has a face. The NBA has nationally known names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony headlining it. The NHL has familiar players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, and John Tavares in its ranks. The NHL, though, sees games as team efforts, and so, of a 60-minute game, your favorite players will average somewhere between 20-24 minutes on the ice in a single game, all sparsed out in shifts of a couple of minutes. This means unknown players will get chances to play hero, and some unknown but prominent players will have a chance to shine. How could anyone forget the manic, possessed performance of Anaheim Ducks (still known then as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the 2003 playoffs? Or Cam Ward outdueling Ryan Miller during the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals? Okay, they’re cheating a little, because they’re goalies, but there are plenty of other instances: The May Day goal, a series-winner scored by Sabres enforcer Brad May in 1993; Chicago’s Bryan Bickell emerging as a playoff monster in 2013, putting 17 points on the board during the playoffs, including the equalizer in game six with 76 seconds to go in regulation; and Daniel Briere – an All-Star during his time in Buffalo, but otherwise a write-off expense everywhere else – leading all playoff scoring with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. NBA games are shorter – they run for 48 minutes, divided into four 12-minute quarters. The average starter on an NBA team can easily be on the court for around a half hour, while the team’s superstars can be out for 40 minutes. While a lot of sportswriters like to huff on breathlessly about how stars in the NBA keep stepping up in the playoffs, you don’t see very many of them mentioning the fact that NBA coaches run their teams in a way that allows their stars to accumulate thousands of points per game. That makes the NBA more of an individualistic showcase for its best players, who are expected to stay on the hardwood doing everything in two directions. Game plans and gambling lines are drawn up with an NBA team’s stars in mind, and more often than not, the stars deliver, and most of them turn in laudable efforts even when their teams lose. When we attack NBA stars for choking, that comes with context – most of them actually do just fine, and we’re tearing them down for a singular aspect of their games that just happened to be off at a bad time.
Winner
The NBA. Basketball is a high-scoring sport in which players can put points on the board in bunches. While I do give hockey’s team mentality all the credit in the world, the short shifts, short overall playtime, and low scoring mean stars can disappear in the playoffs more easily than we care to acknowledge. You can see the difference in the way the playoffs are advertised: The NHL tends to emphasize the cities, while the NBA can get away with placing more emphasis on individual players. You don’t see “Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks take on Steve Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning;” it’s just the Blackhawks against the Lightning. You do see a lot of that in the NBA. Everyone knows LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and that HIS Finals opponent, Stephen Curry, was voted the league MVP. Their respective teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, were only mentioned by sportswriters when they wrote first about how the Warriors had better players and would inevitably crush the Cavaliers in four games, then later about how the Cavaliers were overcoming their lack of talent to turn it into a series. In the light of NBA history, this is even more prominent: Everyone knows about the rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, but who besides NBA fans can name their teams? Later, it became Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rescuing the league from oblivion and turning it into a juggernaut. To a casual fan, this is an important distinction. After all, a casual fan looking to see what the hype is about can easily miss great plays by star hockey players; if they’re looking to see what the NBA is about, a star can put on a hell of a show every night.

Game Flow
The flow of a game is important. It can make or break the memorability and entertainment value of a playoff game. Both basketball and hockey are known as very fast sports, but both the NHL and NBA have had major issues with teams exploiting dumb rules to create championship defenses: The NBA has the San Antonio Spurs, and the NHL has the New Jersey Devils. Both of them exploited loopholes and created slow, boring versions of their sports which required the leagues to take action. Other than them, both sports have rules that stop play for ridiculous reasons. The NBA seems more prone to them, because it has so many more, but the NHL’s play stoppages take more time to sort out. In the NBA, the ball is merely handed to a player on the other team for a quick inbounds pass, while NHL stoppages require an entire face-off. The NBA also has shorter between-period intermissions and a single real halftime, compared to two halftimes in hockey games. Both sports also have very different ways of settling close games in the final minutes – the NHL has the empty net, in which the goalie is removed in favor of an extra attacker, while the NBA starts using intentional fouls.
Winner
The NHL. Even hardcore NBA fans will admit basketball is a sport in which close games are only entertaining if one team starts to pull away during the final few minutes. Otherwise, everything becomes a pattern of free throws, intentional fouling, strategic inbounding, and timeouts; it’s not unusual for a close NBA playoff game to take 15 minutes to play the final minute. In the meantime, there’s hockey, taking the goalie out of the net, and then speeding up as the team that’s down and which removed their goalie fights frantically to score the goal that forces overtime. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in a hockey playoff game, I’ll grant that last minute can feel like an eternity. But the NHL wins here because in the NBA, that final minute can be a true eternity, not to mention a joyless bore to watch.

Storylines
A casual fan can get caught up in a good storyline revolving around the playoffs, and so the narratives tend to get pushed by the leagues. Good storylines are why the baseball playoffs still have pull, even though the sport has now sucked beyond belief for three years and the measures being taken to speed it up are fairly half-assed (although, to MLB’s credit, they do seem to be working). Sometimes the stories are rich in history and tradition: In 2008 and 2010, the NBA saw the renewal of its oldest and fiercest rivalry: The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played against each other in the Finals, with Boston winning the former and Los Angeles taking the latter. In 2010, the NHL got a juicy Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, two of its oldest teams, neither of which had much to brag about lately; Chicago was fighting against a curse which was about to hit the wrong side of 50, and the generally excellent Flyers had been choking in the Final since their most recent Cup in 1975. Then again, they can go the other way as well: The 2003 Stanley Cup Final was between the Devils and Ducks; or, to put it in terms the fans looked at it in, the team everyone hated for ruining hockey against the team everyone hated because its name evoked a popular Disney movie. The NBA frequently ends up turning to its marquee stars to sell the matchup, but they can get away with it: Magic vs. Bird always meant compelling basketball. When that rivalry petered out, the league turned to asking if Michael Jordan could ever be a winner, and was lucky to be able to add the double whopper when Jordan’s first Finals opponent was Magic. When Jordan left, there was the New York Knicks finally getting past Chicago, but could they win the title everyone wanted and expected them to win? The Finals this year has the best story in eons: LeBron James returns to his original team to make up for his past sins, but can he lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever title in their 45 years of existence? Can the Warriors win the Finals for the first time since 1975? You would think the NHL had a bigger problem in selling stories, since nearly half its teams were created in the 90’s, but not really: 1994 gave us the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, one team 54 years without a Cup and the other Cup-less since its 1970 creation. 2001 asked if Ray Bourque could finally win that Cup everyone thought he so richly deserved. The expansions have worked surprisingly well for the NHL in terms of playoff storylines because since the Original Six finally began its resurgence in 1993, fans have been able to enjoy a respectable combination of the old powerhouses and their new usurpers, and the unpredictability of the playoffs meant new faces and new possible upsets, forever vaulting newer teams into the Final. In that respect, even the teams we all hate have given fans good stories, whether the teams we hate are old powers looking to return to their thrones (the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs) or new teams trying to carve a niche for themselves and saying they deserve the respect traditionalists all have saved for the old teams (the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and even the Phoenix Coyotes a couple of years back). The greater possibility of upsets in the NHL also lends a hand, because it ensures a unique Cinderella story every year – the 2003 Western Conference Finals might have been one-sided, but you can’t say the series between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Minnesota Wild didn’t begin with an interesting premise.
Winner
The NHL. The random aspect of the NHL playoffs allow for the creation of more unexpected stories on the fly. Meanwhile, the old teams and new teams in the NHL ensure that a lot of fans will be watching – they’ll be snagged by the possibility of the new teams going down in flames. The biggest decider, though, is the fact that the NBA still runs on a hierarchy. While the NBA can get away with promoting individual stories over team stories, this hierarchy doesn’t leave it with much of a choice. There are some upsets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but but generally, the teams in the Finals are going to be the best teams in the league. This season has been an exception, and if the San Antonio Spurs had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, it wouldn’t have been much of an exception. The NBA seems to like the hierarchy because it makes marketing easier, and it can concentrate on the popular teams instead of odd teams like the Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, or Oklahoma City Thunder. More on this later.

Parity
Every team has to have a decent chance of winning a title once or twice. If they don’t, a sports league becomes a secondary plot to one or two teams which dominate every season, and what fun is that? Why would anyone cheer for a team unless they believed the team had at least an outside shot at a title every now and then? The NHL is good at delivering new teams to the playoffs; it probably helps that it introduced a million different new teams to the league in the 90’s. Given the frequently-close nature of hockey games, unexpected teams have been able to make deep playoff runs. Although the NHL playoffs are known as a gauntlet, they’re usually pretty good at weeding out teams that aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, although there have been a few notable exceptions: The 1938 Blackhawks somehow won the damn thing, despite having a putrid 14-25-9 record, scoring fewer goals than anyone, any allowing more than all but one team – before the Original Six era. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers were also a very pedestrian team, and the 1996 Florida Panthers – who were in just their third year of existence – made it to the Final with bits and pieces still fresh from being cobbled together from the expansion draft. In hockey, a lot is reliant on lucky bounces and good goaltending – the late 90’s-era Buffalo Sabres were notorious for making deep playoff runs because they had the greatest goalie in the world and no one else. (Okay, Miroslav Satan if we’re being nice.) In basketball, things are much different – the teams with the best athletes usually turn out to be the best teams, and so any and all teams that managed to squeak into the playoffs by a hair will be out before the Finals. Yes, we sometimes see great players carrying teams on deep runs, but teams without some sort of superstar power generally don’t stand a chance in hell. The Detroit Pistons’ 2004 Championship was a shocker at the time, but they were helmed by a superstar coach, Larry Brown. The 2007 Golden State Warriors hadn’t lost a game against the Dallas Mavericks all during the regular season, so their famous upset wasn’t as incredible as everyone thinks. (It was still pretty cool, though, so much that I started following the Warriors afterward.) The seeding and regular season records usually make things predictable in the NBA playoffs. There’s a lot of writing about NBA teams that had no business being in the Finals, but there have only been four Finals teams below a third seed: The 1978 Seattle Supersonics; the 1981 Houston Rockets (who had a losing record); the 1995 Houston Rockets (who managed to win the whole damn thing); the 1999 New York Knicks (in a lockout-shortened year during which every team fell out of shape); and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks.
Winner
The NHL. Much as I respect great athleticism, I want my team to have a reasonable shot in the playoffs, even if they do rely on their goalie getting hot at the right time. The random puck physics and streakiness of hockey teams have prevented the rise of a true hierarchy in the NHL. Meanwhile, the question in the NBA is usually more “how” and less “who.” The result is that, with the exception of the 70’s – when eight different teams won Championships – the NBA can be easily divided up into eras, with only sporadic aberrations like the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers or 2011 Mavericks. Even the Pistons and Rockets won their Championships in two-year spurts during eras where they were great but others were simply better. Since my birth in 1981, we’ve had the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dominate the 80’s; the Chicago Bulls owned the 90’s; the Millennium was all about the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers again; and this decade is shaping up to be more random, but we still had the Miami Heat in the Finals for four straight years, as well as a Western Conference so dominant that there are constant calls for realignment. I’ll grant that the NHL was the same way for a long time, but that hasn’t been the case in awhile. The Original Six era was one of NCAA-level corruption, and we can safely assume that when the NHL finally gave in to expansion, it was done by the original owners in the hopes that the other teams would just be carpets for the Original Six. Then the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 – beating the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, who came from the 1969 expansion – and the Original Six probably shrugged those off as bones thrown to fans. They didn’t realize their years were over until the New York Islanders and Oilers won everything in sight during the 80’s, and since then the Original Six have been occasional winners against random teams from the Expansion Eras. And every member of the Original Six that won went through an extensive drought.

Show of Athleticism
The NBA and NHL both give us fluid and spectacular athleticism, although they are also both prone to bad stereotypes; basketball is frequently viewed as a long slog played by lazy players which any tall person can dominate, while hockey is seen as a glorified boxing match played on ice. Hockey, though, has the ability to turn its players into human battering rams. To play hockey at the highest level, a player has to have a certain awareness of where his body is going and what it’s capable of. Hockey players aren’t just fighting against other hockey players – they’re also competing with the surface. While performing a group of difficult-to-learn athletic skills, the hockey player has to also be playing a whole other sport, and the skills to stop, change direction without slowing down too much, and control a small rubber disc which is ruled by its own laws of physics. Basketball offers more what-you-see-is-what-you-get athleticism. Basketball players punch the laws of physics in the face. There’s no extra insider understanding of human movement, physics, kinesiology, or the sport necessary for people to understand what they’re seeing. When Chris Paul throws a perfectly-timed layup pass to Blake Griffin while Griffin is two and a half feet off the ground, which Griffin slams into the net, everyone who sees it understands they’ve just seen something superhuman.
Winner
The NBA. The athleticism and skill you can see in the NHL is a lot more subtle, and it tends to be lost on casual viewers if it’s a dump and chase game; or if a team is using the Neutral Zone Trap; or when four guys are trying to dig the puck out of the corner. Meanwhile, if a sports fan from Europe visited the United States and asked what our sports offer to match the spectacular athletes we see in European Soccer, the NBA is what you would show them.

The NBA has its merits, but there’s nothing like a white-knuckle playoff hockey game which goes into multiple overtimes. Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams playing. Then it’s just torturous.

Playing with Ultimate Power: Super NES vs. Genesis

Playing with Ultimate Power: Super NES vs. Genesis

This is another one of those great 90’s arguments. It seems a moot point right now, sure; today’s kids will never have the pleasure of growing up standing by their favorite video game console, warding off its attackers. In the 90’s, console ownership was like being a fan of a sports team: You picked, you stood by it no matter what, because it was YOURS. If someone attacked, you took it personally, and gunned for the attacker with a barrage of Your Mother insults and shots at the console itself which frequently included the words “crap” and “suck” as well as a bunch of other, much more creative things you could think up that involved more explicit terms. You didn’t care what the objective truth was – all you knew is that an attack on your chosen console was an attack on you, your family, your lifestyle, your religion, and whatever else you held close to your heart.

Time marched on, though, and multi-console homes began becoming the norm. Those of the 16-bit Golden Era shook hands and called our uneasy truce. However, the objective question at hand was never properly answered: Which console, exactly, was the superior console? While others might like to throw in bids for personal favorites like the TurboGrafx-16, Neo Geo, 3DO, CD-I, and Jaguar, those are all being thrown into the wind these days because we all know it was really about two consoles waging a fierce war against each other: In the first corner was that eternal Goliath of video games, Nintendo, which brought what is still arguably its crowning console achievement: The Super NES. In the other corner was Sega and its trailblazing Genesis, which was able to successfully play the David for a couple of years and make itself into a household name. So let’s do this! The Super NES vs. the Genesis. One day, I’ll learn.

Hardware
The Genesis came along a couple of years sooner, and when it did, it was the most powerful console the discerning gamer could buy. After all, its only real competition was NEC and its TurboGrafx-16, which critics kept accusing of being nothing more than basically a pair of eight-bit consoles duct-taped together to emulate 16 bits. The Genesis was released in Japan in October 1988 before being dropped into North America ten months later to capitalize on Nintendo’s apparent laziness and/or inability to admit they probably needed to evolve their hardware in order to keep up in the video game market – after all, Sega was able to get by for awhile on a marketing campaign which showed the Genesis as the embodiment of cool while showing the original NES as a console which kids played. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Nintendo got the point; when they released the Super NES in Japan in 1990 (North America in 1991), they had created a monster bigger and badder than anything the video game demographic had ever seen. The Genesis had a faster CPU speed (7.67 MHz as opposed to 3.58 on the Super NES), a better internal ROM (One compared to a nonexistent ROM on the Super NES), and a synthesizer. The Genesis One had a headphone output and the Genesis in general had backward compatibility with an adaptor. In every other respect, the Super NES swamped it: More colors, better resolution, could show more sprites at once and in higher resolution, and twice as much RAM. They tied in sound processor bits – eight – and in CPU bits – 16.
Winner
Super NES. Yes, the Genesis had a two-year head start, but the problem with a big head start is that the competition quits worrying about timing if it has a machine developing in the wings which is capable of kicking your ass. You can make the argument that it’s not about the equipment so much as how the equipment is used, but this argument is entirely about the equipment. When used to its full potential, the Super NES could do more than the Genesis, and that’s not even bringing the controllers into the debate. The Super NES wins this round.

Mascots
When Nintendo released the NES in 1985, the idea of video game characters was fairly new – Pac-Man had been a massive hit with a song and a Saturday morning cartoon, but he was more or less a novelty which no one thought would ever come along again in a fad industry which, courtesy of Atari, was on life support. Nintendo introduced a certain plumber by the name of Mario, packed his game in with the console, and within five years more American schoolkids were familiar with Mario than Mickey Mouse. After that, Nintendo did it again by introducing Link, Samus Aran, Mega Man, and eventually, Kirby. Thanks in large part to those characters, video games became a cultural force which could no longer be ignored, and lord knows other developers tried to follow Nintendo’s lead. NEC introduced the wildly underrated Bonk on the TurboGrafx-16 while Sega found some success on the Master System with Alex Kidd and Shinobi. NEC bowed out, and Sega carried Alex Kidd and Shinobi to the Genesis while also bringing a memorable duo of hip hop aliens, Toejam and Earl, into their first party line. But it was in 1991 that Sega found a winning formula when it introduced a zippy little blue hedgehog by the name of Sonic, and the console war became a real console war. Nintendo’s mascots were so good that they were able to keep going on their strength, especially when placing them in new 16-bit games like Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. They also created another new character to add to their pantheon, Star Fox, and reinvented Donkey Kong as a good guy. Meanwhile, with no familiar names, Sega got to work finding their own exclusive characters which could help propel the Genesis along: Ecco, a dolphin in search of his lost pod who fights aliens that are endangering the time/space continuum; Vectorman, a robot made entirely of orbs; and Ristar, another underrated mascot developed by Sonic Team whose appearance served as the curtain call for the Genesis.
Winner
Super NES. The fact that Sonic was the character that introduced, embodied, and influenced the entire idea of in-you-face XTREME!!! ATTITUDE!!! in the 90’s can’t be understated, and the games in Sonic’s core series in those days are some of the best ever made. That, however, can’t hold a candle to Mario, who basically created the template to an entire genre of video games which is still very popular; another character – Link – who served as the template to the pseudo-3D action/RPG’s which were popular throughout the 16-bit era; and Star Fox, which turned Mode 7 shooters into viable commodities instead of interesting novelties. And while most people blame Sega’s advertising department for their eventual fall out of hardware development, their first party developers certainly didn’t do the company any favors, either. Toejam and Earl were given two popular games, released to sensational reviews, and never seen again until they showed up on the Xbox; Vectorman had a similar fate, but without the next-gen console update. Shinobi and Ecco were placed on ill-fated consoles before disappearing completely. Ristar was never seen again. Ecco and Sonic both suffered severe quality downgrades when their gameplay mechanics didn’t translate very well into 3D. Nintendo’s mascots have all suffered too, but the Mario and Legend of Zelda series continue to churn out regular Game of the Year material, and Nintendo will always be just fine as long as that’s the case. If you can get away with pitting your first party characters against each other in an acclaimed series of fighting games (Super Smash Bros.), you’re good no matter what.

Controllers
When it comes to actually being able to control your games, both Sega and Nintendo acted on a startling realization which others hadn’t yet envisioned: They were both aware of the fact that video games were evolving, and the standard one-button-to-jump-and-one-button-to-shoot format would soon be outdated. Sega countered by adding an extra action button, so they ended up with three instead of two. Nintendo placed six on the Super NES controller, which was unnecessary and incredible at the time, but it proved to be a great long-term move. Soon after the release of the Super NES, two-dimensional fighting games reached their apex, and the Super NES was better equipped to handle the wide range of moves. Developers struggled to work six-button schemes into Sega’s three-button layout, and after awhile, they just stopped trying altogether. The Genesis adaptation of Mortal Kombat II was missing an entire move, and Streets of Rage 3 had a couple of non-essential attacks cut. Sega rectified the situation by releasing six-button versions of their standard controllers, but the three-button controllers continued to be prevalent until the Genesis went defunct. I’m not sure if it ever became the default pack-in controller. But while the Super NES controller was the more functional, it was also much harder to hold; the Genesis had a nice pair of grips that stuck out on the bottom ends and said, “Grab me!” The Super NES controller had the look and feel of an oversized pill, and it introduced an innovation that became a bane: The shoulder buttons, which felt weird and misplaced. It was very difficult to get at the shoulder buttons because it never felt like my hands were at the proper angle, and how good is a controller anyway if you can’t play a game for more than ten minutes without your hand cramping up?
Winner
I’m going with the Genesis. Maybe you don’t share my opinion of the shoulder buttons, but those poorly-placed innovations made it too difficult to play games. You’ve only forgotten that, or maybe you’re looking at them through nostalgia goggles, but the things were a hassle that never got fixed until an entire console generation later, when Sony’s Dual Shock introduced the pistol grip. I don’t know why people raved about the thing so much. Maybe they were fooled into thinking that boxy old controller with the original NES was still the greatest controller ever, or something. Also, the Genesis had disc-shaped d-pad while the Super NES had no diagonals. There’s some consideration of the gamer for you.

Innovative Games
Part of the reason the Super NES and Gensis are considered the infallible Kings of the Golden Era is because developers started getting bold, and we started seeing them take gaming risks they never would have taken before. Innovation of both consoles ended up challenging all gamers and unleashing their imaginations as they were encouraged to think outside the box. The Genesis had games like Shining in the Darkness, a turn-based RPG played in the first person; Ecco the Dolphin, and exploratory puzzle-based game which boasted digitized graphics motion-captured from footage of real dolphins and immense gameplay rewards to those who stuck it out; and Comix Zone, literally a panel-by-panel brawler set in a comic book. The Super NES brought Star Fox, with its Super FX chip and nonlinear level paths; Chrono Trigger, the legendary RPG which gave us the tech system; and Uniracers, a 2D racing game where you raced unicycles around roller coaster courses. Nintendo introduced pre-rendered 3D graphics with Donkey Kong Country; the Genesis countered later with Vectorman. The Super NES could use scaling and rotation and the Genesis was capable of animated cutscenes. Both of these consoles had a lot going for them in this department.
Winner
Genesis. Yes, the Super NES certainly had a huge share of innovative games that worked, but it also had the option of falling back on established characters. While the Genesis may have spent its early years adapting the invincible game library Sega had in American arcades, Sega had ran out of them by the time the Super NES hit stateside, and after that, they were forced to take chances because they had nothing to ride. The Genesis used celebrity licensing – Michael Jackson and Joe Montana were noteworthy signings – and had to make the Genesis appeal to people who weren’t kids or the parents of kids who needed video games to be safe. So we saw games like Mutant League Hockey, Phantasy Star II, and the blood code version of Mortal Kombat. Retro Gamer said this about the Genesis: “It was a system where the allure was born not only of the hardware and games, but the magazines, playground arguments, climate, and politics of the time.” Exactly. It was born, in other words, of the things that necessitate innovation and invention.

Action/Adventure/Platform Games
Um… Wow. It’s tough to figure out just where to begin with this one. These genres produced so many games and overlapped so much that it almost doesn’t seem worth debating. Mario against Sonic is a fight to the death. Both had access to third party attempts at new characters, like Earthworm Jim and Rocket Knight Adventures. Sometimes, the Genesis versions were better and the Super NES owned better versions of other games.
Winner
Look, there’s nothing that can be said about one console’s collection of these genres that can’t be said for the other. Certainly Nintendo can harass Sega people about having The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but the Genesis was fully capable of taking on that challenge: Sega released a pair of outstanding adventure games, Landstalker and Beyond Oasis, which were as deep and rewarding as any Zelda adventures. Nintendo could throw Contra and Castlevania at Sega, but the Genesis was given mid- and late-life games in both series: Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps hold up as well as any of their namesake games on the Super NES. Nintendo threw Donkey Kong Country – with its new-fangled graphics technique – at Sega, only for Sega to counter with Vectorman which, today, is almost universally considered the better game for miles. Mega Man had to contend with Gunstar Heroes. In other words, if you’re not willing to write this off as a draw, it’s time to get off your fanboy throne.

Role-Playing Games
You would have thought Sega would be just fine wandering into the 16-bit era in the role-playing department. After all, they had released the classic Phantasy Star on the Master System, which had a first-person view through the dungeons and was considered one of the most unique games available back then. With the introduction of the Genesis, Sega fleshed out the idea of a first-person RPG when it introduced Shining in the Darkness, the first game – and still the game many gamers consider the best – in a loose series of games affectionately termed the Shining series. Shining in the Darkness eventually paved the way for a pair of sequels, Shining Force and Shining Force II, both of which are more traditional RPGs with serious elements of strategy. A bunch of other great RPGs also popped up: Light Crusader, Landstalker, Beyond Oasis, Sword of Vermillion, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and Shadowrun all stood out. Likewise, when Nintendo entered the 16-bit world, they were coming in on RPG strength too: They had a successful series on the NES called Dragon Warrior, which proved to be another template series, so with that alone Nintendo looked all set to go up against the juggernaut Sega had become. And then Dragon Warrior’s developer, Enix… Stopped exporting the series, which in Japan was called Dragon Quest. That didn’t mean Nintendo was down for the count, though; they went about releasing a new Zelda game, and they also had this second party developer called Squaresoft which had released an amazing little RPG on the NES called Final Fantasy. Although the full compliment of available Final Fantasy games didn’t make it to the United States, the Super NES did get Final Fantasy IV – which was Final Fantasy II here – and FFVI, which was FFIII here. Both were considered groundbreakers, and Final Fantasy spent the Golden Era going toe-to-toe with Phantasy Star. Beyond that, Nintendo really got to work churning out classic after classic: Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, Earthbound, Breath of Fire… Hell, Nintendo even teamed up with Squaresoft to make Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
Winner
Super NES. Let’s face it: Sega gets royally stomped in this category. I know this is the second time in a row I brought up The Legend of Zelda and pit it against certain Genesis games, but that was for two reasons: One is because the RPG elements of them are toned down to the extent that you can make a case for them all being either adventure games or RPGs, and the other is because I wanted Sega to have a fighting chance here. I was a Sega person during those days, but even I can admit this: Outside of Phantasy Star, Shining Force, and the action RPGs, there weren’t a lot of RPGs that buffs of the genre got excited about. Most of them are best remembered these days as excellent cult games: There were some damn fine games in the Might and Magic series, and the collection also includes The Faery Tale Adventure, Exile, and Warsong; but if you brought any of those games into a room to throw at the likes of Actraiser or Chrono Trigger – which is in the discussion for the greatest RPG ever, an opinion I tend to concur with – you’ll be laughed out. The entire genre is basically one of Sega’s legendary missteps, especially seeing as how Sega pretty much outsourced its RPGs to the Sega CD after that came out. And no, I’m not awarding points to the Genesis here for the Sega CD or 32X because their games weren’t compatible with the Genesis; therefore, I’m not giving any points for the introduction of the Lunar series, harsh as that is. The cancellation of a Genesis version of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom doesn’t help either. If you like RPGs, you’re a Super NES person, and that’s that.

Sports Games
Although it’s barely brought up today, the 16-bit era was a golden age of endorsement deals from real professional athletes for sports video games. Joe Montana had Sports Talk Football. Jerry Glanville (!) had Pigskin Footbrawl. Evander Holyfield had Real Deal Boxing. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Deion Sanders (who endorsed games for two different sports), Troy Aikman, Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Sampras, Jack Nicklaus, and so many other professional sports people had so many game endorsements that it’s impossible to list them all. Hell, things got so out of hand that Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal both managed to sign endorsement deals for games that had virtually nothing to do with basketball – Jordan signed his name to an action/adventure game called Chaos in the Windy City and O’Neal went down in history for one of the most notorious gaming blunders in history, a fighting game called Shaq-Fu. This resulted in a massive market for sports games; so much so that sports games became game series which released new versions every year. Of course, the NES had started out giving gamers a handful of classic sports games, including Tecmo Bowl, so Nintendo had momentum going into the Golden Era. Then Tecmo suddenly started producing games for both the Super NES and the Genesis. Nintendo also had Punch-Out, which their fans could brag about for years before Toughman Contest appeared on the Genesis and arguably was the better game (the reasoning was because its boxers were real and didn’t use patterns to let gamers know when and how they would strike). The 16-bit years saw the comic sports game genre reach its apex with Mutant League Football and Mutant League Hockey for the Genesis, while Electronic Arts emerged as a go-to giant in simulations. More arcade-oriented sports games also came out – NBA Jam was very popular. The emergence of sports gaming makes sense – after all, sports has been an eternal theme in gaming, from the time of the first-ever video game – Tennis for Two – to the first hit video game in an arcade, which was Pong. The Golden Era allowed deeper and bigger games than ever before, and the licensing created a sense of realism which didn’t previously exist.
Winner
This is where the Genesis truly shined. Yes, the Super NES had many of the same sports games as the Genesis, but it was never quite able to one-up the Genesis the way Nintendo would have liked. Hell, the Genesis versions of EA Sports’s popular NHL series are considered to be the outright superior – especially in the case of the iconic NHL ’94, for which the Genesis version is the defining hockey game of all time. As if that wasn’t enough, Sega had an entire wing of first party developers right in their own offices simply called Sega Sports, and those guys weren’t just trying to ride the tide to the bank; they produced a series of NFL games capable of holding their own against EA Sports’s mighty Madden series. They also produced World Series Baseball, the defining baseball series of the time, with its groundbreaking, dramatic plate view. The greatest testament to how good Sega Sports was is in their legacy. When Sega went third party, Sega Sports was turned into 2K Sports, and in 2004, they released ESPN NFL 2K5, which is still considered the greatest football game ever made and which scared EA Sports shitless to such a point that Electronic Arts had to run out and snatch up the NFL license for itself. 2K Sports’s basketball games are considered the best available today. (And frankly, Madden football was never that good in the first place. Had sports gamers not been brand loyalty sheep to it, 2K Sports could have fleshed out its potential and Electronic Arts wouldn’t be playing Monopoly.) Furthermore, Nintendo’s attempt to stay on their kiddie image is what probably kept the Mutant League series off the Super NES, and there’s a distinct possibility it kept them from trying to get certain athletes licensed, although that’s just my own hypothesis.

Fighting Games
Ah, a category you were all waiting for because it covers another one of those great 90’s debates: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat! So, everybody already knows both consoles were homes to some stellar ports of Street Fighter II and, to a lesser extent, Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat has kind of an odd track record on home consoles: The Genesis version of the first game was better, and the Super NES had the better version of the second game before they leveled out at the third and fourth games. But what about the fighters that didn’t have those names? Well, both consoles had very good renditions of the Fatal Fury series which, in the grand pyramid of fighting games, ranks just below Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Both had renditions of the criminally underrated Samurai Shodown, but while the Super NES had all of the original characters, they were compromised by small sizes. The Genesis version axed the least popular character, Earthquake, but made the sprites a lot bigger while making the final boss a playable character in the two-player mode. Both had notable exclusives of popular arcade games: The Genesis introduced a fine conversion of Virtua Fighter 2 in its twilight, and the Super NES got an awesome version of Killer Instinct. Both also had several fighting games which are largely unheard of, and both had home exclusives like Clay Fighter, Weaponlord, and Brutal. Of course, they also both had to contend with the atrocity that was Shaq-Fu blighting their reputations too.
Winner
I really wanted to pick a winner for this one, but I can’t. As with the Action/Adventure/Platform category, the respective output of both consoles is too similar. It’s even more similar that that, in fact, because so many fighting games were made by third party developers, and the exclusives flat out sucked half the time. I know there will be people whining about how I should give this one to the Genesis because it had Eternal Champions and the bloody version of the original Mortal Kombat, but here’s the thing: Eternal Champions was a lousy game. As for the bloody version of Mortal Kombat, don’t give me that shit. The Genesis version was every bit as bloodless as the Super NES version. The inclusion of a code that inserted blood into it doesn’t count, because the thing about video game codes is that they’re not meant to be discovered! There’s a difference between a bloody version of the game and a version which had a blood code; even though everyone knew the fucking code, it still required a set of actions not mentioned in the manuel or alluded to anywhere in the game. I know people want me to give this to the Super NES because its controller had twice as many buttons, but that doesn’t work either because both consoles offered the same range of alternative controllers, and all but about two of Sega’s alternates had six buttons, plus that disc-shaped d-pad the Super NES controller lacked.

Shooting Games
There’s little in gaming more fun than hopping on a spaceship and blowing everything in sight to Kingdom Come, and once again, both consoles had whole sets of shooters created strictly to oblige you. As far as the more multidirectional overhead shooters go, both consoles had Electronic Art’s great Strike series and the whacked-out bit of comic genius that was Zombies Ate My Neighbors. As far as exclusives went, the Super NES had the Pocky and Rocky series while the Genesis had the innovative Red Zone. When it comes to rail shooters, though, the selection couldn’t be more different, and this is a big deal because rail shooters were one of the most dominant genres of video games in the early 16-bit era; they were so popular that even the TurboGrafx-16 built an army of rail shooters which included several all-time greats. Once again, the Super NES was stacked with a list of name games; its list included games from the Gradius, Raiden, and R-Type series. The Genesis had to rely on innovative development, and so it had a list of shooters that included games like Sub-Terrania, MUSHA, and Steel Empire. Both had great shooting games with behind-the-player viewpoints: The Super NES, of course, had Star Fox while the Genesis had Space Harrier II and After Burner.
Winner
I’m giving this to the Super NES. Konami made third party games for both consoles, but they clearly seemed to prefer Nintendo. After all, it was Nintendo that got the Gradius games and a sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbors – called Ghoul Patrol – which never came out for the Genesis. After Burner and Spare Harrier II were great games, but Star Fox introduced the idea that a shooter didn’t necessarily have to be linear. Although the Genesis did get a Raiden game, had a solid shooter lineup, and introduced Sub-Terrania, it’s very difficult to persuade me that its general quality wasn’t more hit-or-miss than it was on the Super NES. The problem with shooters is that they exemplify a particular ethos about game design: The way shooters are done is so stupidly, insultingly simple that everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it; but on the other hand, doing it well takes time and practice, and even with that, it’s still very, very easy to suck at it. Although innovation is normally a wonderful thing, in shooting games, you usually want to stick with name brands because doing it well is automatic for them at a certain point, and you want something you know will be good rather than taking a risk on something which, even if it’s not bad, still has a huge chance of feeling like a worse version of something you’ve played before.

Arcade Conversions
It’s hard to believe these days, but once upon a time, the arcade was the place where you could play the newest, biggest, most advanced game available. Arcade games weren’t limited by console technology, so programmers went nuts. If an arcade game made a lot of money, it would inevitably find its way to the Super NES and Genesis, where it was up to the developer to try and cram all the advanced circuitry in those mammoth machines into a 24-meg, 16-bit cartridge. Naturally, conversions could be hit or miss. This was most obvious in fighting games: Street Fighter II carried over pretty well to both. Mortal Kombat Genesis mopped the floor with the Super NES version, and Mortal Kombat II Super NES returned the favor. The Super NES got the superior version of Art of Fighting, and Samurai Shodown was better on the Genesis. NBA Jam survived almost fully intact on both. Sometimes, developers did weird and unnecessary things to arcade conversions: When Capcom brought Final Fight to the Super NES, it axed the most popular character, Guy, the two-player mode, and a whole level. Later, Capcom basically retracted by creating a version with Guy, but it was still a single-player game with two selectable characters and a missing level. Acclaim cut the ducking punch from the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat II. Both consoles also tried to adapt games which were way out of their league: The Super NES gave it a go with Killer Instinct, while the Genesis used Sega’s acclaimed Virtua Fighter series, and they both turned out well – they kept the fundamental aspects of the games while scaling back the technology.
Winner
Genesis. I give Nintendo all the credit in the world for how the Super NES debuted – it started out by giving people Super Mario World straight off, and that proved to be a sign of the times because it meant that Nintendo was, after years of holding out, recognizing and adapting to the changing nature of video games. They showed that by presenting gamers with an epic specifically tailored to their new console. This isn’t about epics or what’s suited to do what, though – it’s recognition of how good developers did in bringing the arcade experience home. And in that respect, Sega is the undisputed King, albeit on the strength of the early Genesis library. It’s not a coincidence that Sega first advertised the Genesis by playing up adaptations of its arcade library, or that the first pack-in game for the Genesis was Altered Beast; Altered Beast was a weak game, but it was popular and people liked it. Sega then set off on an arcade conversion streak which also included Strider, Golden Axe, Gain Ground, Atomic Runner, and Air Buster. Sega also created a whole new version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Shadow Dancer. In the early days, if you wanted a certain arcade game to bring home, you bought a Genesis, because if Sega made it, you knew it would show up on the Genesis, and frequently be damn good.

Well, holy shit: My second tie. Oh well. My loyalty was with Sega throughout the era, but this just shows that in the Golden Era, there were no losers in the Super NES/Genesis war. It doesn’t matter by now, though. This fight has been over almost 20 years now, and nearly every serious gamer who was a member of the 16er Generation has – no matter which console they prefer – conceded that both were excellent.