A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Posts tagged ‘humor’

Transitory Thoughts on Urban Transit-Part 3

A SERIES ON PUBLIC TRANSIT CULTURE-today, Part 3, brats(aka, sausage) on the bus.

While Parts 1 & 2 discussed riding the elevated train, this entry addresses the bus.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I am changing my response to when a stranger asks for money for food. Make no mistake, I won’t give up any money. However, I will offer them any extra snacks I’m carrying (I often carry cheese & cracker packs). Recently, on a CTA bus, a man accompanied by a young teenager, asked me if I had anything for he and his son so they could get something to eat. As I had no snacks with me, I told him I had nothing for him. The man then posed his question to the passenger across the aisle. This male passenger, a middle-aged man carrying two grocery bags, stated in a strong Chicago, ‘da Bears’ kind of accent, “Want a brat?” The ‘man-in-need’ declined the kind offer of sausage, and he and his son exited the bus at the next stop. I told my fellow passenger I was also approached for money and I appreciated what he had said. The man then opened his shopping bag to reveal none other than brats-proving he wasn’t kidding. I’ll go out on a limb to say that such a scenario could only happen in Chicago.

Thankfully, altruistic, positive attitudes aren’t uncommon on the bus. I often see people of all types voluntarily giving up their seats for others they see as in need. Whether that means simply standing so another person may sit, or standing and putting forth the effort to raise one of the folding bench seats so that area may be used by someone in a wheelchair. Sure selfish attitudes are present too, but, often, efforts to help others abound. And that’s not only among the passengers. CTA employees are patient professionals committed to making the rides they provide safe and as pleasant as possible. On hot, near triple-digit summer days, I’ve seen bus drivers leave their air-conditioned seats to help weary cyclists get their bikes properly situated in the racks on the front of the bus.

Though there were no sausages exchanged, one evening commute earlier this year proved quite dramatic in other ways. My trip home was complicated by closure of a portion of the train line coupled with blocked streets, all of which related to a stand-off involving Chicago police and reportedly armed individuals. After being asked to exit the train, I boarded the bus to continue my commute. Boarding required another waiting period, and a line, as CTA staff were apparently addressing the practical logistics of transferring multiple train cars of passengers to buses. As the bus began moving I was standing amidst many other crowded commuters. All was going as well as could be expected until the driver on this north-bound bus turned west, and then south. At that point, a man near me began yelling that we were going the wrong way. A few others joined the shouting and added demands to exit the bus. Since we were off our prescribed route, due to additional street closures, the driver was passing bus stops, which a few other riders then began shouting about. Adding to the theatre of the moment, the man standing next to me began a loud cell phone conversation where he told the person on the line that the bus was now out of control due to a rogue driver. The man went on to direct his friend to tell his “northside crew” to cool it on the streets and stop (expletive) with the police so that he could get home. Other riders, like me, quietly observed the goings on, or poked at their smart phones. The melee ended with the bus driver stopping at a train station so we could reboard the train.

For me, on the most typical of travel days, taking the bus is a more tedious, patience-testing ride than the train. I offer several reasons for my view. First, traffic delays. The bus rides the streets and must negotiate the road with other drivers. The train, for the most part, has a continual command of the right-of-way. Its only impediments are the physicalities of the train itself, other trains, and the tracks. Second, human error. Human error certainly affects both types of transport, but many fewer humans are potentially making errors and slowing my commute when I’m on the train. Lastly, an emotional, very personal reason, riding the train just feels less pedestrian. Something about being either up above, or below, the busy streets communicates a certain urban/cosmopolitan panache.

A related note. Recently, on an 87-degree Chicago summer night, I noticed that electrical power appeared to be off on a particular block near me. A fire plug on the same block had been illegally opened and Chicago’s finest were monitoring a giant plume of water which spanned the street. I then saw 2 CTA buses, the articulated (bendy) type, parked along a nearby street. This was an unusual sight, made even more odd given these stationary buses were both full of people and CTA employees were standing alongside each bus. The AC-equipped buses were being used to cool residents of a nearby care facility for the mentally ill. How wonderful to know that in a crisis (no power = no AC) the city rises to the occasion to help those in need. I saw buses used similarly a few years ago when the power to an exclusive, Lake Shore Drive hi-rise was off and residents were left without AC or water. Although, the buses on Lake Shore Drive were well-appointed luxury liners, not city buses.

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Transitory Thoughts on Urban Transit

A SERIES ON PUBLIC TRANSIT CULTURE / Parts 1 & 2: Entry & Slow-Dancing

Part 1: Entry
Let’s begin with some transit-type mayhem of the pre-boarding type – the turnstile. The turnstile can be seen as gatekeeper to the next world, as a portal from the usual urban landscape to the realm of transit utopia (I’m being optimistic-please bear with me). While turnstiles mediate entrance to the trains, commuting via bus involves a looser entrance where the human factor comes into play given a driver controls bus entrance (to be addressed in an upcoming post).

On a recent morning commute, as I approached the turnstyle, I saw a man standing almost directly in front of the fare-card slot. I then had to decide whether to: a) just step around him, which would involve invading his personal space, or b) say excuse me and wait for him to move from my path. As I approached, planning to dodge him without speaking, he said, “Would you put me on the train please?” I made momentary eye contact, and then, sparing him my less-than-civil thoughts, silently walked past him (option ‘a’). He didn’t appear at all phased by my indifference and appeared to be readying himself for his next target. I know the dangers of assumptions, but this ambulatory man, of my race, looked ‘disabled-by-choice.’ The economic times may be hard, but this gentleman’s approach to panhandling left me less than sympathetic toward him.

Part 2: Loss of Personal Space – a.k.a. Slow-Dancing on the El.
When I arrived at work one recent morning, the office manager said, “How are you?” I responded with what I see as the obligatory, “Fine,” and then added, “but I think I just slow-danced with six people on the El.” To explain, the El is what many Chicagoans call the train. This form of public transit has below ground, above ground/elevated (hence the term “El”), and ground level tracks. On some of its elevated tracks this train traverses the Chicago river. But more interestingly, on other routes it travels UNDER the river. Sorry, I digress. Back to the commute. So, on the morning in question, I stepped into a standing-room-only train car to begin what is usually the 10-minute portion or final leg of my 30-minute commute. And, to clarify, not only were all the seats occupied, but open standing space was non-existent. I ended up near one of the doors surrounded by other standing riders. I was able to extend my left arm to grasp a pole – not that this was necessary since falling down was not an option given my body was practically enveloped by the bodies of other riders. With each acceleration or slowing of the train, I tried to brace myself with my left (non-dominant) arm, which was closest to a pole. However, given my arm was almost fully extended, I realized I had little leverage. I finally resigned myself to my sardine-like reality. This situation left me wondering why the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) has not put more thought into reducing the stress of such unpleasant, yet apparently inevitable experiences. My commute left me haphazardly packed in the over-crowded train car. I felt like a cheap, knock-off cell phone accessory thrown into a bag of similarly tacky items, packed by an uninterested bagger at a discount store. So, why can’t the CTA attempt to make its often tightly-packed riders feel packed in a ‘special’ way? Why can’t cramped riders’ feel they were ushered into a transit vessel more similarly to the way a certain fruit-named company places its technology products into well-designed, aesthetically pleasing packaging? Sorry, again I digress. The point of this is that there is simply almost no accounting for the riders’ personal space needs while on public transit. Further, CTA trains and buses both include seating facing the center aisle. Some very recently introduced new CTA train cars have even more aisle-facing seating. Sadly, using such seats is a set-up for getting stepped on if you have adult-size feet. Once again, there’s no accounting for the personal space needs of many Americans.

Public transit need not be uncomfortable. My experience with public transit in northern European countries (Denmark, Holland, and Sweden) has been pleasant in that passenger space and comfort seems to have been at least amongst the list of top-ten priorities for transit vehicle designers. Trains were spacious, silent, and offered a smooth ride. Maybe we can learn something from our European friends about moving people economically AND comfortably.

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Turnstile image courtesy of http://www.wikimedia.org

MASCULINITY & PRIVATE TRANSPORTATION: Can the Former Exist Without the Latter?

Or, Can You Be a Real Man Without a Car?
To begin – some background.
I’m not from here (Chicago, my home of 20+ years). I grew up in rural, Midwest America where the closest thing to local public transit was when someone gave you a ride. I learned to drive a car at age 13. Don’t worry, no highway/street driving. A friend of the family let me drive their Pontiac sedan in an empty soybean field. For the younger readers, Pontiac was a GM-derivative. I’ve loved driving ever since that day when I pretended the bean field was the Autobahn (at 5-10 miles per hour of course). Before I continue, it’s very important that you understand the following gender-related driving mandate. Although driving was always done by both males and females in my family, one very strict rule was never broken – an adult male cannot be the passenger of an adult female (unless it’s his mom). The only exception I witnessed was when my mother drove my father home after he had been briefly hospitalized (and couldn’t drive). I know this sounds antiquated, but this was rural America in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When a teenage male reaches legal driving age, he HAS to have his own vehicle. If you grew up in a certain SES, a car/pickup truck was given to you. If your family couldn’t afford to buy you a new car, your parents would give you their car and take the opportunity to get themselves a new one. Otherwise, you were expected to buy yourself a used car with income from part-time jobs and/or loans from family members. So as you now know, the culture of my upbringing closely tied a young man’s identity to his vehicle. In other words, first and foremost, you were your ride.
The Option of Public Transit.
I first rode a bus in my mid-20’s. In my 30’s, I first considered the possibility that one could be an independent, self-sufficient adult without owning a car. I know it sounds odd, but, coming from a rural farming community, being a grown man ALWAYS includes car ownership. However, change is one of the few constants in life. I recall my shock when I first heard a male acquaintance, an architect no less, say he had never owned a car. Having gotten my first car at 16, a gift from my parents (used ’73 Ford Capri), I couldn’t conceptualize the reality that a male in this society could survive puberty sans automobile. But, we do live and learn.
The Parking Challenge.
Car possession does have its cons-parking, for example. Parking in the city is always a chore unless you are willing and able to pay for a garage spot. Outdoor reserved parking spots in desirable areas of Chicago can easily sell for five figures (more expensive than some homes in today’s economy). I have always lived in congested areas. I remember several times having double-parked and ran inside my apartment to quickly use the restroom so that I could go back to the car to continue trolling for a relatively legal parking spot. I lived near Wrigley Field at that time. It’s true I could have found a spot more quickly if I had been willing to park further from home. But that would have broken the cardinal rule of parking-never park more than four blocks from home. Don’t ask me who came up with this rule, given it’s a car-related rule, it’s nearly gospel to me. I eventually, and painfully overcame this dictate and went to the other extreme-I would park anywhere, at any distance from home to pursue my new goal of avoiding the parking challenge. As you see, a lot of time and effort have always surrounded the whole ‘car thing’ for me. So, to conclude, for this man, car ownership has always been equated with independence. However, I now must raise the following question, does a truly self-sufficient adult hurry out the door in the morning, on the way to work, only to then stand and wait for the bus/train? Yes, I wholeheartedly submit. Yes. Besides, now we have the capability of using our smart phones to track the location of every form of transit. So, the ‘power’ and control is back in the palm of your hand. Anyway, that’s what I tell myself as I pace back and forth waiting for transit which the “train tracker” assured me would be there 10 MINUTES AGO.

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What 2012 Presidential Political Candidates Can Learn from Dogs

After taking my dog to the dog beach I had a revelation – dogs have all the answers. Dogs, great companions and clearly the most popular of the domesticated animals, are often seen in a somewhat negative light. In the English language there are numerous common idioms which cast aspursions about ‘man’s best friend.’ For example, consider the following sayings, 1) to ‘dog it,’ means to shirk responsibility; 2) to ‘go to the dogs,’ means to deteriorate; 3) to ‘lead a dog’s life,’ means to have an unhappy or harassed existence; or 4) to ‘put on the dog,’ means to assume an attitude of wealth or importance.” However, despite what are often seen as negative aspects of their behavior, dogs generally treat each other fairly and decently. First, dogs know how to work things out and get along. Little dogs get to sniff big dogs and vice versa. Among dog social circles, even the unattractive and ill-behaved get a shot at ‘running with the big dogs.’ Dogs are fair and quite equitable with each other. If a small dog gets too aggressive with a larger dog, the bigger dog likely growls and/or snaps at the smaller one to reprimand it or put it in its place. The smaller dog then responds respectfully by ceasing its inappropriate behavior. This is sometimes taken to the point of a sort of restitution when the smaller dog lies in a submissive position to show its remorse and acknowledge its guilt/misbehavior. There’s usually no need for one dog to attempt to cause permanent harm to another or destroy another’s reputation with other dogs. There’s no arguing over ‘super-packs’ as you’re either in a pack or you’re not. No one cares about such things since you’re just a dog either way. Eventually, in the equitable world of dogs, there’s a chance for every dog to ‘have his day.’ And, finally, at the dog park, no one gossips or mud-slings about another dog. Everyone is accepted and treated based on their merits, not the color of their skin (coat), and there’s no barking about any other dogs’ skeletons(bones)-in-the-closet. In conclusion, dogs are quite wise because all dogs know that, at the end of the day, EVERY dog licks itself. Talk about the great equalizer. Are you, like me, already tired of the endless political squabbling being broadcast all over the news, which will continue into the month of November? If it brings you any solace, just remember, we’re making the whole thing harder than it has to be. Dogs really do have all the answers and know how to get along with each other, how to resolve conflicts. Thanks for reading my rant, and, please share your thoughts.

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Somebody, please – help me be a better puppy parent

I think I need help being a better puppy parent.  We have a 9-month-old puppy in the family, Rex, a male Beabull (1/2 Beagle & 1/2 English Bulldog).  He really doesn’t ask all that much of me.  However, lately he’s let me know many times that I’m falling short when it comes to giving him the attention, love, holding, etc., that he wants.  Rex lets me know I’m not attending to him properly in multiple ways.  There’s the ever-so-subtle, very sharp, puppy bark.  The barks may be few, such as when something happens to capture his attention, or the barks can be many – unending until I give in, stop whatever I’m doing, and let this almost 40-pound dog pretend he’s a lap dog.  Then there’s the lengthy whine, often high-pitched, piercing, and one which makes you wonder if your neighbors are now certain you have begun the nightly beating of your dog (kidding, of course).  Who would have thought so much drama could be communicated by a whine.  If these methods don’t work, Rex gets really creative and finds new and better ways to be annoying, destructive, or just amazingly cute, all of which are done to capture your attention.

I’ve finally accepted that in my relationship with Rex, he’s the ‘giver,’ and I’m the ‘taker.’  Oh sure, I make sure he’s fed, bathed, walked, etc.  But he’s the one always offering unending affection and unconditional acceptance.  My moody self can be flighty as the wind – loving one minute and an iceberg the next.  Now don’t get me wrong, neither of us in this relationship is without his faults. So, lets look at Rex’s shortcomings.  He has that Beagle stubbornness, which can really try your patience.  When he picks up a scent he likes, his ears turn off, his eyes focus only on whatever has captured his interest, and I become non-existent and irrelevant.  What about dogs being pack animals, what about my being the ‘alpha dog’?  All of that goes out the window when Rex smells something interesting. Apparently, I’m just the ‘means to an end’ for Rex.

Rex has that cute Beagle face, you know, the big brown eyes, floppy rounded ears, and the ever-sniffing nose.  Everywhere we go, people respond to him and seem to immediately adore him.  Women always smile, often stopping whatever they are doing to pet him.  I’ve seen women walking, even romantically strolling, with the one they love, pause and react to Rex’s presence.  I’ve seen women stop their conversation, release the hand they are holding, to speak to me and say, “What a cute dog.  Can I pet him?”  I wish I had half of my dog’s magnetism – animal or whatever its origin.  I often see men doing the same, commenting on how cute my dog is, saying it in their most masculine tone of voice.  I often don’t get it – Rex is just a puppy.  I grew up in a household with pets (cats & dog), and when I was a pre-teen, we had various creatures in (guinea pigs) or outside (a rabbit) the house.  I know the attraction of household pets.  However, what is it that happens when you walk a puppy down the street causing others to go out of their way to get some ‘puppy time’? I just took Rex out for his last walk of the night. I planned to get him, do the deed, and get back in – you know, a clandestine manuever. Wouldn’t you know it, we were mobbed by dogs and people in the elevator. When we got outside, other dog owners, not content to just enjoy the companionship with their own dogs, began with the questions, “What a cute dog – What is he, a boy or a girl, What’s his name, Isn’t that darling,” etc., ad nauseam.  I guess you’d have to have an extraordinarily ugly or viciously mean dog to be able to take a walk and be left alone.  Don’t get me wrong, many times I get a real kick out of the attention, but, at other times, I just wanna be left alone.  Do I sound jealous of all the instant love and affection Rex gets?  You bet your dog biscuit I am.  Anyway, Rex is worth his weight in gold.  And if you have a dog, or even a cat, I’d bet you’d say the same about your pal.

It’s ok to hug your mother – It’s not ok to hug the mail carrier!

We’ve all encountered and/or known those people-the people who are a little too loose with their emotions. The stranger in church who takes full advantage of ‘Love thy neighbor.’ The person who, seemingly at the Pastor’s suggestion, hugs you way too hard and for far too long. The wedding guest who cops a feel while giving the bride a congratulatory hug. Just because you’re an invited guest, it doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to get your grope on.

And what about those TSA people who snap their latex gloves gleefully as they prepare to legally molest you? I thought the full-body scanner, by providing a peep-show view and risking the health of the travelling public, would eliminate the need for frisking. And why, by the way, must I hold my hands above my head, with my fingers in diamond-shape, for the scanner to work? Are we travellers just being made the butt of someone’s joke? Yesterday, for the first time, TSA staffers even asked that I remove papers from my pockets. It did take me back to my elementary school days though. I felt like when the teacher demanded to see the note I had written the pretty girl sitting in front of me. Hopefully body-scanning technology will be an improvement in safety measures. Last time I flew from Miami International, the TSA man seemed to enjoy loudly announcing to me that my luggage had tested positive for explosives.

Federal buildings create another opportunity for GED recipients, I mean Security staff, to potentially get to second base with those of a higher social class.

Maybe I’m too uptight about these things-too firmly entrenched in the priceless value of one’s personal space. If you’re reading this, Mr./Ms. TSA employee, Security professionals everywhere, please don’t take offense to my attempt at humor, but please do proceed doing your job with respect and gentleness. Not everyone thinks it’s a turn-on to be felt-up by strangers.

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