Too Many Bus Stops

busCTA buses stop too often.  Commutes could be sped up dramatically if bus lines simply removed some of the stops. This would not only help passengers, but also improve the flow of traffic on some of Chicago’s busiest streets.

Take for example, the 22 Bus. This bus starts at Howard and travels approximately 9 miles down Clark to Polk, making approximately 80 stops along the way. Many of these stops are absolutely necessary. I would not recommend eliminating stops that are more than one block apart or stops that are at major arteries. So, in the case of the 22, it would not make sense to remove the stop at Armitage, where there are tall apartment buildings and where the 22 connects with the Armitage 73 bus, but the stop one short block north on Dickens could absolutely be eliminated and the passengers who get on or off at this stop should be asked to get off a little further north at Webster or further south at Armitage. Read more

Bar Obituary: The Horseshoe

Max Herman

Photo: Max Herman

The Horseshoe was dying long before I ever set foot in it. I had heard rumors about a big scandal that had ruined the owners, somebody running off with the money, somebody having to give up on creating their dream bar halfway through. A new owner not perceiving it as an amazing opportunity but, instead, as a burden, somebody else’s unfinished project that was now unfinishable.

But, the bars that don’t make money, the bars that reflect an offbeat sensibility, are usually the best. So I hoped to make this deeply offbeat and out-of-sync bar into a clubhouse for me and my offbeat band(s).

Playing at the Horseshoe was perfect. You could get a gig whenever you wanted. The owner was a funny old guy who liked our music and would give us a cut of the bar tab when we brought new drunks into his bar. No one cut us off when we played over our allotted hour. The Special was always $5 for a beer and a shot of whiskey*. There was n1014060_1392760674334731_265476131_never any cover. If you wanted to be paid, you could pass the hat. You could always get a sound check if you wanted one.

But at the same time…

Playing at the Horseshoe was terrible. The sound guy was often late. The venue drew almost no people. One time, my buddy plugged his amp into the wall and it immediately shorted out because the bar had some weird electrical problems. When we were promoting shows, no one had ever heard of the Horseshoe, and, inconveniently, neither had other venues. The food was… uneven. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the bar was open or closed. They left the house lights up until people came in, so people didn’t come in, so the house lights stayed up. The TV was not tuned to any particular type of entertainment, meaning the Horseshoe didn’t show the most important sporting events or movies or broadcast any particular genre; the TV was just turned at random to whatever the random bar tenders wanted to watch. They left the TV sound on well into sound check. Read more

Man Robs a Bank by… Asking for the Money

There’s an odd story on ABC 7’s website today about an
unarmed(?) man robbing a bank.

Apparently the suspect walked into a TCF Bank on Elston Avenue Friday afternoon and “demanded money.” According to the police, the “robber” did not show or imply a weapon. This strikes me as a very low impact robbery technique. I would not have thought this would work. The story doesn’t say if the man threatened bodily harm to anyone, but that harm may have been suggested by the demand.


Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Review – Trade Waiter

downloadMaybe the coolest thing that the big two comic companies do is create continuity across a large comic book world. In the DC universe, for example, if Superman picks up and moves a car while fighting Lex Luthor, it’s possible that later that day Bruce Wayne might get stuck in the traffic created by the misplaced car. Dozens of stories drawn and written by a diverse but unified group of authors make for a huge, densely populated world.

And, while some of the main roads of the DC and Marvel universes would be familiar to all moviegoers and children’s Halloween party attendees, cul-de-sacs are inevitable. Less popular characters attract their own devotees. Weird heroes and villains like Dazzler or Stiltman never need to be retired in a world where Batman has been in prime fighting shape for 80 years.

One such weirdo is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a confident, optimistic squirrel-human-mutant-chimera with an army of squirrel friends/assistants/mentors. If that sounds to you like a slight or goofy idea for a comic, I agree. The character was introduced in 1991 – and, while that is a long time ago for us, what with Michael Jordan then battling the Lakers for his first championship, in comics, the landscape was set and most of the “good” superhero animals were already taken: Spiderman, Catwoman, Batman, even, deeper cuts like Wolverine had been taken 18 years earlier.

Squirrel-Girl-Issue-2-OrientationIn the story, written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson, the creators lean into The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s goofiness. The character design lacks the clichés common to Superheroes. Squirrel Girl is not overly muscled or part of a creepy sex fantasy (cough, Wonder Woman, cough) she’s a normal looking teen aside from the tail and squirrel teeth. Henderson’s round cartoony style sets the tone for a breezier more fun book.*
The story for this Trade is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a superhero who talks to squirrels, crossed with the traditional supervillain-of-the-week. The superhero is in her first weeks of college. The bad guys are always vaguely insulted at the idea of having to fight a C-list hero. For her own part, Squirrel Girl doesn’t think she’s C-list. She’s a strong female protagonist, not in the boring sense of a bland over-achiever or sensible straight woman. She’s interesting and lovable precisely because she’s not nearly qualified enough to take on the challenges she jumps into headfirst.

But best of all, this comic makes you laugh. In continuity, Squirrel-related heroics lend themselves to wacky adventures – and the jokes play. This is the perfect book for a comic fan to read to a kid, but I’d also recommend this to anyone who wants a funny superhero book with a light tone.


*So many comics are horribly overwrought, it’s enough to drive you to review kids comics.

Paper Motor

Eight valve paper motor:

This motor from Aliaksei Zholner is one of a number of great paper motors and contraptions you can find from makers on YouTube. The use of a paper throttle makes Zholner’s compressed air powered V8 is particularly interesting.

Hat tip: Laughing Squid

The Continued Dominance of the Car

2015Assembly line saw record car sales in the US, economists cited low gas prices and the economic recovery a
s the main driving forces behind the resurgence of the auto industry. While these are important factors there are also structural issues keeping the car industry humming.

One issue is the way public schools are funded through property taxes. This funding structure puts the best funded public schools in the richest neighborhoods reinforcing economic segregation. How does
that relate to a broader car culture? Suburban school systems that don’t pay into the urban public school system have a natural funding advantage. It makes sense that home buyers would look to live in the places with the best funded schools. Read more

Every Frame a Painting (YouTube Channel) Review

I know the danger recommending a YouTube channel. It can create an instant time-suck for your reader. It’s one of those “I’m sorry/you’re welcome” situations. But I can recommend Every Frame a Painting with no reservations. This channel’s host is a film editor and, as you might expect, the videos are beautifully edited. Film criticism on YouTube is a growing genre and I would recommend all of the following:  Movies with Mikey, Nerd Writer, The Dissolve (once upon a time), and Belated Media. Even Tested on Occasion has some excellent commentary.

The Every Frame a Painting channel looks so much better than any other channel on YouTube, even among the premium channels, because it exclusively uses images from the movies it comments on. And it does what all writers/storytellers are taught to do: show rather than tell.

A commentary distinguishes Jackie Chan from other action stars by demonstrating something that, as a kung fu fan, I’ve always enjoyed but never understood.  If you skip ahead to minute — you can see how holding a shot for a long time creates a great showcase for an athlete who’s a real fighter.  The length of the shot allows you to see the danger and the drama of the action being performed. In contrast, frantically cut action sequences that cover over the actions of less talented actors rob the story of its tension.

Read more

Lou Pride’s I Won’t Give Up, Ex Machina (Comic), and The Venom Business – Quick Takes

I Won’t Give Up by Lou PrideI won't give up

Chicago bluesman, Lou Pride, played clubs around the country for over 40 years. When he released this album in 2000 he was already a veteran. From its packaging, the album looks like a homemade vanity project but, when you put the record on the stereo, the tracks sound big and full. His lyrics reveal swagger and confidence.

The title track is, as you might expect, all about preserving in the face of adversity. Being a club act can’t be an easy life, “People try to tell me I ought to get a job,” he complains. That might not sound like bragging, but it is. I stumbled across this album when my wife brought it back from work at Space in Evanston.

I couldn’t love it more. It’s a manual on how to be an excellent front man. Read more

Cooking Tip for the Very Tall

If you’re over six foot three, you may have encountered a problem that I have had. I didn’t recognize it right away, but now I know the oven is way too low. I’ve burned myself on the roof of the oven too many times and, while I think this is common for everyone, I would imagine it’s especially typical of tall people.

So, if you are extremely tall, anytime you have to put something in or take something out of the oven, crouch down very low so that you are looking directly into the oven. This is the best way to keep from burning yourself.

Seeing and moving are intimately linked. You are much more likely to ram your hand into hot metal if you can’t see where it is.

The Will to Whatevs by Eugene Mirman, Book Review

Will to WhatevsI laughed so much reading this book my wife wouldn’t allow me to read it in bed. I laughed so much reading this book on the train that people looked at me as if I were a crazy person. I laughed so much that when I found that the leaf containing page 205 and 206 had been torn out of my library copy,  I wanted to punch a hole in the sun.

When I was reading this book alone, I was always looking around for someone to read the jokes to.

The Will to Whatevs is structured kind of like a self-help book and the humor is absurd. It’s full of little asides and jokes inside of parentheses. The style is the odd meandering style of Mirman’s stand up comedy and the ads he keeps buying in newspapers. I found when I read the book to myself I could hear Mirman talking and that only made the book better. Read more

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