By Tony Fitzpatrick
The common starling or European starling was introduced to North America a couple of centuries ago by enthusiasts of Shakespeare. That’s right, Shakespeare. I had to read that twice myself. Evidently, the Bard was fond of the plucky bird’s gift for mimicry and a bunch of blue-bloods thought it would be jolly-good fun to have the little winged gangsters over here. The first thing the common starling did was muscle as many songbirds, including the lovely Eastern Bluebird, out of nesting spots as it could. It spread wildly, becoming one of the most successful species in the history of the continent. Particularly hard hit were the bluebirds, who were pushed damn near across the Mississippi River, damn near becoming Western Bluebirds. Population-wise, they are just beginning to come back now in the last two decades. This is what happens when we decide to diddle-dick around with nature—we become the victims as well as the beneficiaries of unintended consequences. Read the rest of this entry »
By John Greenfield
If 2013 was Chicago’s Long, Hot Summer of Transportation, then 2014 is the Summer of the Big Projects. Last year featured well-publicized game changers like the South Red Line rehab and the Divvy bike-share launch, but this year’s initiatives might not be so obvious to casual observers. That’s partly due to the changing of the guard at the Chicago Department of Transportation.
After forward-thinking, sharp-dressed commissioner Gabe Klein stepped down in November, he was replaced by the CTA’s head planner, Rebekah Scheinfeld, who’s only the second female chief in CDOT history. While her management and sartorial style is lower key than Klein’s, she’s no less progressive. “A lot got kicked off in the last two-and-a-half years,” she recently told me. “My goal is to continue that momentum, to make sure that we are bringing these projects in on time and on budget.”
One planned initiative whose future is somewhat beyond Scheinfeld’s control is the expansion of Divvy from its current 300 docking stations to 475. In January, Montreal-based Bixi, which provides the bikes and stations for the system, declared bankruptcy, putting the supply chain in jeopardy. However, Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Divvy for CDOT, is looking into alternative suppliers in case Bixi goes belly-up, and Scheinfeld says she expects the city will meet its expansion goals this year. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): “We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us,” writes novelist Robert R. McCammon. “We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow path and told to be responsible.” That’s the bad news, Aries. But now here’s the good news: The next twelve months will offer you a series of excellent opportunities to re-magic yourself. If you have not yet caught wind of the first invitation, I bet you will soon. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dmitry Samarov
A lot has been written in the last couple years about ride-share services like Uber threatening the livelihood of cab drivers. In most of these articles Uber, Hailo, Sidecar, et al are pitted against local taxi companies like Yellow and Carriage. What is rarely made clear is that none of these companies—ride-share or traditional taxi—actually employ any drivers. So while they fight it out in the courts about regulations and who can and cannot get what part of the transportation market, the people doing the actual driving aren’t being represented by either side.
In 1993—when I became a cab driver—calling a taxi was a simple business. You picked up your home or office telephone, dialed your favorite cab company, and waited outside for your ride to arrive. A cabbie had two choices for picking up fares: troll the streets for passengers or “play the radio,” which meant turning on the two-way and submitting to the whims of his company’s dispatcher. Picture Danny DeVito in “Taxi” for an idea of the types we had to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »
Breakdown: Sharing memories of his first 5K—where his father put out a cigarette at the starting line before someone yelled “Go!” to get the race started—Fleet Feet owner Dave Zimmer enthusiastically thanked the roughly 1000 runners gathered at the starting line for the inaugural Original 5K. Intended to take runners “back to the 70s when American distance runners stood atop the podiums of the world’s most famous races” the Original 5K sported a solid 70s theme, with a low entry fee, volunteers shouting out course times from stopwatches along the course and a pair of Wigwam tube socks replacing a race shirt in the official packet. In short, a relative back-to-basics running experience along the lakefront.
I say “relative” because the race was still chip-timed (“do you really want to wait a couple of weeks to receive your results in the mail?” the race’s website asks), most runners sported new-fangled running gear and the post-race party included Clif bar samples. But the complimentary post-race beer kept it old-school: Miller High Life.
“I think this running thing might just catch on,” race announcer Dave Kappas frequently quipped throughout the morning. Indeed it might. If the Original 5K proved anything Saturday morning—aside from the fact that Chicagoans love a good themed race—it’s that a race, stripped of all its fanciness, is a group of people meeting in one place and running together for a good time. Whether they’re wearing tube socks and headbands or Garmins and iPhones. “Is this the best running city in America or what?” Zimmer declared rhetorically at the starting line, to resounding cheers from the runners. There’s a pretty good chance it is. Read the rest of this entry »
By Tony Fitzpatrick
All over the West and South Sides of Chicago there are still live poultry shops. It only now occurs to me that I’ve never actually been in one. Americans are particularly squeamish this way—we never want to look the creature we’re about to slaughter in the eye. We’d rather see it fried with some biscuits and gravy on a plate, or in nugget form in a small styrofoam box or, even better, chopped up with a bunch of vegetables in some soup. We’re not much for the blood and the feathers and the screeching death that comes along with butchering poultry.
A number of people have begun to keep chickens in their yards in Ukrainian Village to raise their own eggs and I have to admit it is kind of heartening to see a plump chicken or two walking the alleyways. You want to warn them that feral cats, large rats, raccoons and now coyotes also walk these alleys, and would gladly feast on them. But then you notice these are some big-assed chickens and when you get right up close and look them in the eye you see all of the madness in the world. These chickens are Chicago chickens and they just might be able to hold their own. Read the rest of this entry »
By John Greenfield
“Rockford could be fun,” said the editor of this magazine when I proposed writing a travelogue about the Forest City. “I mean, who goes there?”
Actually, there are plenty of reasons to visit Illinois’ third-largest city. I’d been to the area earlier this spring to play a gig at Pig Minds, a quirky vegan brewpub in nearby Machesney Park. We camped down the road that night in Rock Cut State Park, which feels surprisingly spacious and wild, considering it’s only a couple miles square and located just outside of Rockford.
Despite this foray, I’d never explored Rockford proper until a couple weekends ago. That’s odd, since it’s the home of power-pop legends Cheap Trick, and their magnum opus “In Color” is one of my favorite albums of all time. Oddball guitarist Rick Nielsen, known for his flipped-brim caps, checkerboard-patterned threads, and multi-neck axes, still lives in the city and is one of its most ardent boosters.
“I love Rockford,” Nielsen says in his four-page spread in the town’s official visitor guide. “This is where my friends live, this is where my family is from, where I got kicked out of band in junior high [for calling the teacher an 'incompetent, drunken fool']. It’s home.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): “When I was young,” wrote French author Albert Camus, “I expected people to give me more than they could—continuous friendship, permanent emotion.” That didn’t work out so well for him. Over and over, he was awash in disappointment. “Now I have learned to expect less of them than they can give,” he concluded. “Their emotions, their friendship, and noble gestures keep their full miraculous value in my eyes; wholly the fruit of grace.” I’d love to see you make an adjustment like this in the coming months, Aries. If you do, the astrological omens suggest you will experience a blessing like Camus’. Read the rest of this entry »