American Crow

Archive for the ‘Chicago Blogs’ Category

Flying Through O’Hare Makes Me Feel Like ****

In Chicago Blogs, O'Hare on August 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Useless I am on my way to Charlotte for my cousin’s wedding.  I hate travelling.  Pre 9-11, I used to travel for work about 17 weeks per year.  After about four years of constant delays, luggage mishaps, security nightmares, and standby list screw jobs, I looked for a different line of work and avoided airports at all costs.  It even bothers me to come to the airport to pick up friends given that the Soviet Red Army is guarding the drop off / pick up lanes with their ticket briefcase and yellow glow stick.

I left my South Loop apartment over two hours before the flight left.  After catching a bus to the “EL” stop, I took the train to another train, which then took me to O’Hare.  The bus was fine, and the first “EL” train was also fine; however, the second train was a ridiculously slow.  I have no idea why.  Construction on the tracks?  No.  Train in front of us?  No.  Rush hour (i.e. many passengers getting on and off)?  No.  Homeless dude urinating on the tracks?  Not today.  I think that the slowdown was the result of pacing the train.  The CTA is on a budget crisis and they probably have less trains leaving, thus slowing throughput.   What should only take 50 minutes is now taking over an hour and 10 minutes as the driver is waiting at stops longer and driving the train slower.

After all this trouble, I still made it to the airport with 50 minutes to spare.  I wasn’t checking any bags and already had my boarding pass.  It took me about 7 or 8 minutes to get to the security line from the “EL” station.  The line was longer than usual, but I was figuring no more than 20 minutes tops.  This should give me at least 20 minutes, which is more than enough time to walk to the terminal.

Couple of problems with my estimates starting with the screening process.  The bottleneck in the operation was not necessarily the number of people in line but rather the TSA security officer taking far too long to check through bags.  We had tons of people standing and waiting for their bags to go through the screening machine.  Once I actually made it to the machine, I had to wait at least 5 minutes before my bags actually made it through.  I left security with 10 minutes to spare before my flight left.  I then noticed that my flight was leaving Terminal C and I was in Terminal B.  The only way to get to Terminal C from B is to walk in this very bizarre 80s-modernistic, Alice in Wonderland-esque relaxation tube.  The tube is so long that I think its dropping me off somewhere in Wisconsin.

Where is the white rabbit?

Where is the white rabbit? Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!

The mind bending spa music gave me my Timothy Leary moment of clarity.  I had a vision of myself as my morning’s healthy and nutritious breakfast being chewed up by the teeth of the “EL” and the stomach of the TSA.  I am now entering the intestine of the “Love Tunnel” on my way to the anus of Terminal C.  It is fitting description of the events, given that commercial airlines typically treat their passengers like a bowel movement.  Take my nutrients (i.e money) and poop me out.

I ran to the gate.  When I arrived, the door had been closed.  The ticketing agent (aka Nurse Ratched), returned to tell me that the flight was sold out and that they gave my seat away to a standby customer.  “How could you do that,” I proclaimed.  “I checked in on-line and have my boarding pass.  I’ve been waiting at this door for over 5 minutes”

“It doesn’t matter” said the agent while looking down and typing away on her keyboard.  “If you are not here 10 minutes before your departure time, we provide seats to the standing list.  Also, I called your name on the loudspeaker.”

I love how airlines get to write the 10 minute non-guarantee rule without checking with me first.  It is a “fine print” example of a company inventing rules that seek to benefit only them.  I cannot think of another situation where a company will give away your purchase if not claimed 10 minutes before delivery.  In my opinion, the seat is mine and if I don’t get it nobody should.  The reason this rule exists is because airlines are so incompetent they cannot profit without it.  Next thing you know they will start charging you for bags.

The ticketing agent was hearing me but not listening.  She has probably heard my story a million times before.  I loved her irreverence while she continues to type away not making eye contact.    She is like an automated call center.  I was waiting for her to say ‘Press pound after your response.’

“I was stuck in security,” I replied.  “Does your loudspeaker work over there?”

She finally look up at me with an annoying frown.  “No,” replied the agent.

“What was I supposed to do?  Security couldn’t get me through the line any faster.”

She shrugged her shoulders confirming her indifference.

“Look, I know you don’t care, but what am I supposed to do now?”

Her ears perked up.  “Sir, I do care.  Head to gate C16 for customer service.  There is another flight leaving in two hours.  See if you can get on the standby list.”

I am fuming as I walk to customer service.  Is it just me, or does every airline customer service area remind me of a a combination of a refugee camp and a Ponderosa buffet.  Stranded passengers from around the world come here for any and all issues, which are in turn completed by the lowest quality of employee.  Seriously, I think employees are assigned to Customer Service as punishment.  Also, why are the lines typically moving slower than the DMV at lunchtime?   This particular line probably had 15 or so people in it with 3 agents.  After 40 minutes, I finally get to the front part of the line, but by this time the line has easily doubled to 30 people.  In an act of unbelievable arrogance, two of the agents leave the desk and are replaced by one agent.  Are you kidding me?  If you have 3 agents and the line grows, what happens if you only have 2 agents?  Is the government overseeing this operation?

5 minutes later I finally get to the desk.  It takes the agent another 5 minutes to put me on the standby list and issue my ticket on a later flight.  The standby flight leaves in an hour and a half but is delayed by an additional hour.   I’m never getting out of here.  Seriously, this airport needs an enema.

This might be a little small for this logjam

This might be a little small for this logjam

Dickey’s Pawn Shop or How I Learned to Stop Worring and Keep Tons of Quarters

In Chicago Blogs, Parking Meter on March 31, 2009 at 9:30 am

What is the difference between the City leasing the rights to parking meters and the City pawning off parking meters for the $1.2 billion?  If desperate enough, a person will pawn off an asset for a loan at an outrageous interest rate.  You do this to fulfill a short term budgetary problem, like a drug addict getting their fix or a politician filling a budgetary need.  The City’s need to fill that gap lead them to pawn off the Skyway and parking meters.

The lease versus pawn argument can only be settled by comparing the value of the asset given up against the value of the loan received.  A Tribune article looked at this very issue:

“The city could have earned $1.5 billion—in today’s dollars—if it kept the meters and simply raised rates to the same levels it granted the winning bidder, according to H. Woods Bowman, a professor of public service at DePaul University. That’s nearly $300 million more than Chicago Parking Meters, a limited liability corporation formed by Morgan Stanley to operate the meters, will pay upfront, Bowman said.”

Great, so now the city lost money on the deal.  Any other strings attached?

A recent Tribune article found many glaring problems since the privatization measure was approved:

  • Outdated fee and violation-enforcement information still posted on many meters since the city switched from six parking zones to three.

  • Meters that, regardless of what the stickers indicate, charge the wrong hourly rates for the zone in which they are located, increasing the chance of vehicles being ticketed. For example, in the 1800 block of North Clybourn Avenue, an area where 25 cents is supposed to buy 15 minutes of parking time, meter No. 279089 provides only seven minutes for a quarter. A black marker was used to cover up the “15” on the meter’s rate sticker with “7.”
  • A surge in broken meters, many overstuffed with coins.
  • Stepped-up writing of tickets for parking-meter violations.

Outdated meters, incorrect rates, broken meters?  Anything else about Chicago parking people should know about?

How about the fact that Mark Geinosky, an Orland Park resident, got 24 incorrect parking tickets.  According to the Tribune:

“Of the 24 tickets he has received, 13 were written by the same officer.  The 13 tickets were written at four different South Side locations in May, July, August and October of last year. All 13 of those tickets were written at exactly 10 p.m., no matter which day they were issued. And all 13 were sequential in number, meaning that from May to October that officer wrote no tickets to anyone other than Geinosky from the ticket book in question.  In some cases, the tickets were issued on desolate stretches of road where legal parking appeared to be readily available.”

Fortunately, all 24 tickets have been dismissed.

So now the City is giving out tickets to drivers that did not break the law.  Is this an offshoot of the privatization deal?  Did they vote on this yet?

In my opinion, the city is doing this, in the immortal words of Bill Clinton,  “Because I could.”

They all better listen.  The backlash is on.  Check out the Meter Beater.

Ron Mexico Wants To Party…Chicago Style

In Bears, Chicago Blogs, Haugh, Vick on March 30, 2009 at 10:00 am
Hey Lovie...I'm ready!!!

Hey Lovie...I'm ready!!!

David Haugh, you finally got it right.

I’ve been waiting for the Tribune’s speculation on whether the Bears will sign Michael Vick and my wish came true last Thursday.   Vaughn McClure of the Tribune blogged about Lovie Smith’s comments from a USA Today article on Michael Vick.

“The Falcons own Vick’s contract rights, but have ruled out a return and are attempting to trade their erstwhile face of the franchise.

Any takers? Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said that while he is committed to Kyle Orton as his quarterback, he believes Vick deserves a chance to compete for a job.

“I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that’s available: He goes back into the pool,” Smith said. “That’s what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she’s back in society.

“Mike made a mistake, and he’s paying the price for that mistake. Once you’ve paid your debt to society, you have to say, ‘OK, let’s go on from there.’ “

In reviewing Smith’s comments, Haugh writes the following:

But despite Smith’s benevolent attitude, the Bears still should stay away because Vick would present too big a distraction as an unpolished quarterback unlikely to contribute immediately. Not to mention his unresolved status with the NFL. Any potential payoff isn’t worth the investment of time, money and emotion required.

Bravo David.

From a talent perspective, I think Michael Vick is phenomenal.  I do not think he is a polished quarterback.  Check his stats on NFL.com.  In six seasons, he never had a quarterback rating higher than 81.6, his rating in 2002.  Comparably, that puts him behind 20 other quarterbacks in 2008, and just slightly better than Kyle Orton’s rating of 79.6.  He does run for a ton of yards, but the best running quarterbacks in NFL history (Steve Young, Randall Cunningham) had a quarterback rating to offset their scrambling ability.  Steve Young played for fifteen seasons and had a quarterback rating higher than 100 in seven of them.

On a personal level (which Haugh chose not to address), I think Lovie Smith’s comments are absurd.  If OJ still had legs to run on, we should throw him back into the pool as well.  Comaring Vick to Martha Stewart may be the worst comparison of convicted felons, considering the difference between Vick’s crimes (cruelty to animals, illegal gambling) to Stewart’s (insider trading).  Why not compare Stewart to Al Capone’s tax evasion crimes?

Lovie Smith must be a Cubs fan given his poo-pooing of the dog fighting and dog murdering charges against Vick.  According to ESPN, Aramis Ramirez loves cockfighting.

“The New York Times reported this month that Ramirez was featured in an issue of a Dominican cockfighting magazine, En La Traba, and is pictured with some roosters.

“When I’m in the Dominican Republic, I’m dedicated entirely to them,” he was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday, Ramirez declined to address the subject. Cockfighting is legal and popular in his country.

“I’m not going to talk about that. That’s personal, that’s a different culture down there. I’m from [the] Dominican, so let’s talk about baseball,” he said.”

The Dominican Republic has a cock-fighting magazine?  Are you kidding me?  I believe the literal translation of “En La Traba” is “Jackass with a Rooster?”

I love the rationalization using the “different culture” example.  Cockfighting is probably just like Christmas, apple pie, and the 4th of July in the US.  Everyone does in the Dominican, which is why Albert Pujols has all those rooster farms (of course he has none).  Hey Aramis, there are countries in the Middle East that advocate stoning and flogging.  Hey, if its legal and part of the culture, it must be OK.

For full disclosure, I love dogs and grew up with them.  I find both Michael Vick’s and Aramis Ramirez’s actions deplorable and disgusting.  Michael Vick may pay his debt to society, but that doesn’t mean he should ever wear an NFL uniform again or become a millionaire again.  Let him pawn off “Shamwows” on cable given that their current pitchman is in jail for soliciting a hooker.

In the Ramirez situation, MLB cannot suspend him for following the law in another country.  If the union can keep steroids out of their player contracts for all those years, they certainly can prevent foreign based cockfighting limitations.  However, the fans can rise up and not buy his jersey or any product he endorses.

Vick in Chicago, it’s not impossible.  In fact, it looks like a group of people in the south side of the city may welcome Vick with open arms.

In my opinion, the problem in today’s society follows Lovie Smith’s comments, we try to rationalize everything in order to manipulate forgiveness.  The real intention lies somewhere between money and power.  Do you think Michael Vick really cares whether you forgive him?  He just wants the ball and the millions that come with it.  Given that his creditors probably want the same thing, there may be a massive PR push to get Vick reinstated.

You drowned and electrocuted a dog for not performing?  Ran gambling operations across state lines?  I’m really sorry.  I must have just slipped and forgot that was against the law.  But I’ve served my jail time and we all have to move on.   By the way, I have a great selling jersey and sell out stadiums.

Didn’t pay your Income Taxes?  I’ll just admit a “unintentional mistake” and move on.  You say you owe over $35 grand?  I really dropped the ball, it’s a Turbo Tax issue.  You can swear me in as Treasury Secretary now.

Colonel Sanders for Mayor

In Chicago Blogs, South Loop on March 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm
Someone please hire this man!!!

Someone please hire this man!!!

According to the Tribune, Colonel Sanders wants to fix your potholes.  The City of Chicago does not given that they are more interested in fixing a low traffic street that the International Olympic comittee is visiting.

This may be one example of privatization I would be in favor.  Maybe the City can hire Grimace and Mayor McCheese for traffic detail while The Burger King handles parking tickets.  With each ticket, he could give a free coupon for a Double Whopper.  It’s a win win situation.

Quick, someone find something that damn oven mitt at Arby’s can do?  No, don’t have him work out the Mayor’s office, he’ll just end up in jail.

On a serious note, the City’s priortization should be troubling for all residents.  The City of Chicago is looking to reap the financial benefits of hosting an Olympics.  Other than pride, will residents feel any of the financial benefits of Chicago hosting the Olympics?  Will potholes get fixed any faster?  Are property taxes going down?  Is traffic going to get better?  Is the corruption going to get better?  Will sales taxes go down?

Update From Pat Dowell on 3rd Ward (South Loop) Meters

In 3rd Ward, Chicago Blogs, Parking Meter, Pat Dowell, South Loop, Uncategorized on March 10, 2009 at 8:44 pm

I recently received a new email from Alderman Pat Dowell regarding her ordinance proposal as mentioned in a previous post.  In her previous letter, she wrote:

“I introduced an ordinance to City Council in January that will exempt all parking meters  in the 3rd ward only from Sunday hours and will ensure that all new meters in the ward (placed in 2008 only) will be exempt from the new rates for at least two years.  The ordinance is scheduled to be heard before the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety on March 11 at 9:30am.”

This past Monday March 9th, Alderman Dowell sent an updated email as follows:

My ordinance on parking meters in the 3rd Ward will not be heard in March.  It will be on the April agenda of the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety.  I hope you will be able to attend the April meeting.

Ald. Dowell

First off, in her original email, Alderman Dowell mentions that the ordinance is to be heard at 9:30 AM on Wednesday March 11th.  Is it just me, but why does the city have committee meetings on a Wednesday morning at 9:30AM?  The people impacted most by this ordinance are working people who usually work from 9-5 Monday through Friday.  I would need to take the morning off to represent myself at this meeting, which for me is taking a vacation day.  For a self employed entrepreneur, this means no work and no pay.  Shouldn’t the city be more accommodating to working people and schedule the meeting after 4:00 PM?

Next, I will say that Alderman Dowell is in stark contract to our previous Alderman Dorothy Tillman.  Not only has she not wielded a gun at a city council meeting or recently gotten arrested, she is actually communicating with the people of the 3rd Ward.  I have received 2 more emails from Alderman Dowell’s office in the past few months than I ever received from Alderman Tillman.  As an example, Youtube has a video showing Dowell waiting for Tillman at a debate…and Tillman never showed up. Man, the crowd got all fired up in that one.

In the aforementioned video, Dowell blasts Tillman by stating, “Tonight demonstrates exactly why we need change in the 3rd Ward.”   That being said, Alderman Dowell did vote for the meter privatization and increase, so it seems that she does believe in change…mostly quarters.  Her comment that the increase is “part of an effort to raise much needed revenue for the city” is an old and tired lyric.

Cities are always in budget shortfall, and it is much easier for city councils to raise taxes, or in this case parking meter rates, rather than examine and cut operating budgets.  As it turns out, the shortfall that Dowell was referring to is even worse now.   Ah, those tricky real estate tax computations.  It looks like the City used the same formula for computing market values as AIG used on their Default Swaps.

Finally, I wonder if the committee meeting will be anything like this council meeting.  One could only hope.

Letter to Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell

In Chicago Blogs, Parking Meter, Pat Dowell on February 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm

One of the biggest con-games run by the City of Chicago is parking.  While I admit to being a justifiable recipient of parking tickets in the past, most of those violations were an absurdity.  For example, my car was recently towed while parked at a meter.  Although I had plugged the meter through the ending time, 6PM, a city worker put up a “Tow Zone” sign probably about 30 minutes after I parked with a beginning time of 5AM the next morning.  Having fought through snow-ridden traffic on my nightly commute, my spidey-senses were not fully functioning thus did not have the intuition to move my car.  I returned to the space at 6AM the next morning only to find out that my car was towed.  I was ordered to pay $160 to get my car out of the pound and another $65 in parking fines.

The good thing was that I fought both the towing and parking charge and won both; however, this happy ending did nothing to dispel the frustration of dealing with parking ticket logistics.  If the city worker had put up the sign earlier (according to state statute, 24 hours in advance), I wouldn’t have been towed.  Instead, I had to journey to the bowels of lower Wacker drive and spend over an hour trying to bail out and find my car.  Next I had to take a 1/2 day off of work to attend a hearing.

My story is not at all unusual and at least I have a silver lining of having won my case.  I have a buddy that received a parking ticket for parking in front of a hydrant.  The problem was that he didn’t park it there, the person who stole his car parked in front of the hydrant.  Instead of taking a day off and attending a hearing, my buddy protested the ticket via the mail offering a copy of the police report.  The judgement can back liable and he was forced to pay the ticket.

Recently, the City of Chicago decided to lease out its parking meters to a private company.  As with everything else the city leases (Skyway, Midway Airport), the rates involved skyrocket.  Pat Dowell is the 3rd Ward Alderman who voted for the privatization program.  I decided to write her a letter…

Dear Alderman Dowell,

I am a South Loop resident and I am concerned over many of the changes to parking meters in the area.

Back in December, the City Council voted to privatize city parking meters for $1.2 billion.  After further investigation, I found out that you voted for this measure.  I wanted to understand your perspective regarding this vote.

This past Sunday, my wife and I drove to Wabash and Congress to attend a church service.  The web site for the church indicated ample metered parking.  I grabbed about six or seven quarters and headed down to our car.  I found a meter, but the six to seven quarters only lasted 30 minutes.  I was shocked to see a quarter only lasting no more than five minutes.  I attempted to find an establishment that would offer change but none were open on Sunday.  Since we were not interested in paying over $10 to park at a surface lot for one hour of church, we decided to head to breakfast.

According to the Sun Times, “Parking downtown will increase from $3 an hour to $6.50 the next five years under a lease deal.”  How does the city expect people to utilize these meters?  Plugging a meter for $3.00 per hour requires 12 quarters.  Plugging a meter for $6.50 per hour requires 26 quarters.  Given that an entire role of quarters only has 40 quarters, or $10, this would mean either (a) a carload full of quarters or (b) frequent trips to the bank.  Either case puts the burden on taxpayers, not just in paying the meters but also obtaining and maintaining quarters.

My wife and I both drive to our jobs, thus our family has two cars.  Our building requires us to purchase our parking spots (of which we also pay property taxes) thus we are only able to afford to purchase one parking space.  When we first moved in, there were no parking meters.  A year later, parking meters arrived for Monday through Friday rates (beginning at 6AM) for fifteen minutes per quarter.  A year later, some of those meters required Saturday rates at fifteen minutes per quarter.  If these meters are privatized increasing the rate to 5 minutes per quarter seven days per week, we will either need to purchase a parking space or move.

I understand this agreement is unprecedented and appears mostly driven to fill a short term budget deficit; however, such a proposal is another example of the city further alienating taxpayers.  My wife and I love the South Loop, but given what we already pay in property taxes and sales taxes (10.25% highest sales tax in the country), we are hard pressed to justify living here.

Sincerely,

American Crow

As a follow up to my letter, Alderman Dowell responded the next day with the following email:

Thank you for your email. As part of an effort to raise much needed revenue for the city, there will be city-wide increases made to parking meter rates and hours of operation…Knowing that this change will have an impact on our community, I introduced an ordinance to City Council in January that will exempt all parking meters  in the 3rd ward only from Sunday hours and will ensure that all new meters in the ward (placed in 2008 only) will be exempt from the new rates for at least two years.   The ordinance is scheduled to be heard before the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety on March 11 at 9:30am.  I hope you will attend as I believe the Committee members would benefit from hearing your story.  To be clear, the meters (in your neighborhood) will not have the same rates as you find in the downtown area.  Those meters will be $.25 for every 15 minutes and operate from 8am to 9pm.

Ald. Dowell