« On Lieberman… | Main | On Time … »

December 16, 2004

On Birds ...

As we head towards the Solstice, I thought I'd share a tale about weather. During Chicago's so-called Blizzard of 1979, "L" service had finally been restored and service was sporadic from Evanston, where I was living, to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, where I had a client. I got on a Howard - Jackson Park (now Red Line) train and had no problems going southbound towards Fullerton until we got to the eastern curve going into Sheridan and Irving Park Road. The train stopped right at the curve, awaiting a switching problem at the Clark Street junction to be resolved.

I gazed out the window and saw a bunch of pigeons at the small park at the "L" curve in front of the cemetery wall and remarked how well they survived the subzero weather that followed the snowstorm. I went back to my book and about 20 minutes later the conductor made an announcement saying the train would be back in service in a few minutes. I looked up and out the window and saw those pigeons once again.

Then I realized they hadn't moved in 20 minutes. They were frozen solid, rooted to the spot.

A couple hours later I was back on the "L" headed back towards Evanston and I made a point of getting a window seat that would allow a view of that spot. Yep, the birds were still there. As they were the following day.

Happy winter.

I grew up in the 1950s in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, at the corner of Sunnyside and Kimball. For me, the Kimball/Lawrence Ravenswood terminal was my own personal set of electric trains and that instilled within me a lifelong love for the "L" system. That neighborhood, of course, has changed considerably in the past half-century -- the Cooper and Cooper greasy spoon is long gone, as is the Terminal movie theater, the Purity Deli, and the notorious traffic cop who would completely lose it whenever somebody made an illegal turn from Kimball to the "L" terminal, which seemed to happen about every 10 minutes. But the line is stronger than ever today, as it nears its 100th birthday. I was there for the 90th birthday celebration, and I hope to be there in 2007. I just might even forgive the CTA® for tearing down that beautiful old Arthur U. Gerber terminal.

A tip of the hat to Glenn Hauman for teaching me html tricks.

Posted by Mike Gold at December 16, 2004 03:31 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


So, what happens when the L can't make it any more? As a Boston resident, I've been seeing the Big Dig problem first hand. A decade+ long project, that despite all you've heard, had some really smart people on it solving some really hard problems. They did, I suppose, an adequate job, but considering they were trying to do the near-impossible, it's hard to say if they did a good job or not. The problems have all been greedy administrators, and six-figure "foreman" afraid to admit mistakes, not really in the engineering itself.

What happens, in 20 years or so, when the L needs to be totally overhauled? Or the Golden Gate bridge? How many big-B Billions will it take to build something the size and quality of the WTC?

A year or two ago, there was a massive blackout in America, and it was blamed on 50 year old transformers in Ohio. How are we going to replace the *nation's* power system when it all goes?

In an early Sopranos episode, Tony takes Meadow into a church built by Italian immigrants. Despite being low-paid, low-caste workers, these guys were master craftsmen. When we need them again, where will they come from?

Posted by: Londo at December 17, 2004 09:36 AM

All big-city mass transportation systems are underfunded and are either in the midst of raising fares and/or cutting service, or have recently done so. This is a plague.

The source of this plague is our President and his controllers, who firmly believe that every touchie on a public transportation seat is a dollar not being spent on oil for their driveway-entrenched Hummers. This campaign has been bolstered by the most traditional source of local campaign financing: people in the road-building business.

Chicago has just put off service cuts and fare increases under the belief that they will get sufficient aid from the State of Illinois. We'll see. But to the city's credit, they have been rebuilding their aging L system one line at a time. The Green Line (Lake / Jackson Park / Englewood) has been completely renovated, the Blue Line (Douglas Park) is almost done, and the Brown line (Ravenswood) is up next.

As for replacing the power system, I'm sure our President was wonderful plans for that as well.

Posted by: Mike Gold at December 17, 2004 01:07 PM

The source of this plague is our President and his controllers

I'll agree with you, if you are willing to say "All Presidents and their controllers." It's not as if Clinton or Carter did fantastic jobs with Mass Transit, either. And heck, the Big Dig is probably as pro-oil as you can get, as it makes extra capacity for more Hummers to get on the road, and that was a Mike Dukakis/Tip O'Neill joint.

As for your last comment, I'm quite sure he doesn't. Niether did Bill Richardson, when he was in the Department of Energy. Nor did Grey Davis in California, or anyone trying to get power and water out in the desert in Arizona. Our nation's infrastructure is being left up to independant contractors, who are only in it to turn a profit. While there's nothing inheirently wrong with that, it is a problem that there is very little incentive to acheive long-term sustainability. Once the Arizona land rush is over, the developers couldn't care less if the houses fall down in 10 years, or if water rationing occurs.

As John Nash "said" in A Beautiful Mind "Adam Smith said the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what's best for himself, right? Adam Smith was wrong!" Our nation is built on just that Adam Smith notion, and it's the very reason why the trans-continental railroads didn't meet up, and why Cable TV still doesn't have 100% penetration in the US.

I'm unwilling to blame any one administration, as the problem is systemic. But who have you seen in the last 20 years who has been willing to change the system?

Posted by: Londo at December 17, 2004 02:13 PM

Well, the Clinton Administration had a better track record than the Bush Administration. That's not saying a hell of a lot, but various contracts made under Billy's time have been cancelled, delayed or ignored under George's, and various promises made by the Bush Administration have not been honored. This is a particular problem in New York City.

I thought The Big Dig predated the dawn of time. A lot of people kept that ball spinning over the years.

You're right -- there's nothing inherently wrong with making a profit. Unfortunately, there are certain necessities that government should provide that can not be turned over to private enterprise on a profit-based model. Our military. Our prisons. Our power supply. Our health.

I'll always blame the administration in power for not doing what I feel they should be doing. I generally don't waste time blaming previous administrations (no matter what I thought of them) because they can't get it done now anyway. Who have I seen in the last 20 years who has been willing to change the system? Plenty of people. Plenty. Who have I seen in the last 20 years who has been in a POSITION to change the system? Plenty of people. Who have I seen who both has been willing to change the system for what I regard as the better and has been in a position to do so?

Damn few.

Posted by: Mike Gold at December 17, 2004 02:30 PM

Unnerving thought, that sight of the pigeons. I've seen all manner of road-killed wildlife on the streets of Ottawa over the years, but nary a frozen solid pigeon yet.


Posted by: Dwight Williams at December 23, 2004 10:22 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)