Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not Tellin'

There is a paragraph's worth of writing in stencils on the south sidewalk of Grand Avenue, starting at Milwaukee/Halsted and continuing west to maybe a little beyond Taylor. But I'm not tellin' what it says. You'll have to go there yourself.

I finished reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities today. In the last chapter is the following sentence (and even though it's not long enough to warrant a <blockquote> I'm using one anyway):

Most sentimental ideas imply, at bottom, a deep if unacknowledged disrespect.

For win and awesome. Obviously this sentence exists in some context, but I'm not tellin' what it is. You'll have to read the book.

And everyone should read this book. Especially if you're American, and especially if you live in a big city. Now much of this book is a critique of particular urban planning theories popular in the early part of the 20th century that have fallen out of favor. So if you read it you might want to get some background on Wikipedia first. Actually you probably don't need much more than that to understand what Jacobs is talking about. Although I might get around to reading some works belonging to the movements she criticizes at some point. At any rate, some of her ideas about cities have given me a new lens through which to look at Chicago.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dialogue du Al et de la Ville. Animé et tumultuex.

la ville: Hey, what's the book?
al: Huh?
la ville: What are you reading?
al: Book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
la ville: What's that about?
al: It's about... urban planning. (this was not really a very good answer but I needed to say something before the pause became really unreasonable
la ville: What's that?
al: Ways that governments and other bodies try to shape development in cities, and the real effects that they have.
la ville: Oh. So you really come to a park to read a book?
al: Yeah.
la ville: That's pretty weird, man.
al: Per'aps.
la ville: I mean, I guess I read some books when I was locked up. Not much else to do there. But in a park?
al: Yup.

al: *Knocks on window of red Ford SUV well back in a column of cars stopped at the stoplight on northbound Halsted at Division*
la ville: *Startled, spins her head around to see Al. Looks positively terrified. Has a god damn dog in her god damn lap.
al: *Makes window-cranking gesture with his right hand. How anachronistic. Al's car still has crank-windows, but Al's car isn't here. Al's bike is here. It has no windows.*
la ville: *Fumbles nervously with some switches. In time gets the passenger window cracked open.*
al: You needed to give me more clearance on that bridge back there. Those bridges are tough to ride on, and we need proper space.
la ville: I'm sorry, I didn't see you.
*The light turns green at this point. Damn shame, as Al was about to get right pissed off. Didn't see me? If that's all the attention you're going to pay to the road when you're driving, you can take your car back to the suburbs where it belongs and GET OFF MY STREETS! Yes, they belong to me as much as anyone. More certainly than they belong to anyone that doesn't pay attention to the road.*

EDITORIAL RANT: The fact that this woman was visibly more scared of me knocking on her window in broad daylight on a busy street than I was at how close she came when she passed me can mean only one of the following two things, or both. First, that she is irrationally afraid of weird people in the city (it's kind of unfortunate that penetrating automotive isolation is considered so weird, isn't it?) and should follow her car back to the suburbs, where she won't necessarily be safer but will feel that way. Second, that I am way too desensitized to irresponsible cager behavior in the great city of Chicago and need to get away. In case the second is true, I am biking to Urbana on Thursday and back on Sunday.

EDITORIAL RANT #2: I have a sort-of new idea. Which is that when the cagers get out of hand, we should meow at them. You know, cat noises. Some jerk just honk at you for pulling out into the lane to avoid an obstacle, even though you signaled, had plenty of room behind, and got back right promptly? Don't anger 'im with a flip of the bird. Confuse 'im with a long, plaintive meeoooooooow! In fact, I should have meowed at red SUV woman today. Pawed at her window and then started meowing.

(Apologies to Claude Debussy. This is not the first time I've named a blog post after the final movement of La Mer.)

EDIT: it's come to my attention that not everyone knows what "cager" means. It means this. I like "cager" because "motorist" sounds like some starry-eyed motherfucker in a Model T, bouncing potholes on a dirt road on the way from McConnelsville, Ohio to New York City to make his fortune (it's by this point the afternoon of Wednesday, October 30, 1929; this guy hasn't exactly been keeping up with the papers while on his trip). Also because "motorist" includes scooter and motorcycle folk, who generally act quite differently than cagers on the road, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

And for my third blog entry of the day: a couple words on poor citizenship

Sorry. Internet was down much of this weekend. Wrote all this stuff and am finally editing and posting now.

1. This guy took the wrong branch of the Green Line going to Pitchfork. If he is not from Chicago, well... understandable. We have lots of long streets resulting in many identically-named L stops. Three Ashland stops, three 35th Street stops, three Halsted stops... five Western stops (back when the Douglas branch was part of the Blue Line there was one on each of the Blue Line's three branches).

If this guy lives in Chicago, shame on him. He should know where the Green Line goes, and that a train going to 63rd is not going to take you to the west loop unless you're starting way out on the west side. And I'm guessing he picked up the train in the loop as it was going east, which really should have been a dead giveaway to a Chicagoan, because Chicagoans should have their bearings about them when on Loop Elevated platforms (it's not hard, as they're above ground and you don't just cross the tracks without noticing). I'm sure there are lots of people that live on the north side that would be lost anywhere in the city south of Roosevelt. Which is sad.

Also, "You're lucky you didn't come here after dark, or you all would've been jacked." OK. Well, he did say they were all hipsters, so maybe they would have.

2. I read a lot into, and internalize, coincidences. It's not that they happen for non-random reasons, but they bring about non-random thought. I tend not to think Freudian slips are what they're cracked up to be. People make mistakes in speech, occasionally they're ironic or funny, and that's it.

After reading some of Jane Jacobs' opinions about what makes effective neighborhoods work in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, I went out on my front porch putting on my shoes to go running. One thing she says that makes a lot of sense is that effective city neighborhoods need stable residents. People that stay there as their lives change, and as the neighborhood changes. Not a constant flow of people in and out who are all statistically interchangeable. That's really hard to achieve; she writes that few neighborhoods do, and I would guess that fifty-seven years later even fewer do today. It seems to be fairly true of Pilsen now, though things are changing. I moved to Pilsen in June. I vaguely want to live in Illinois for the rest of my life, though I don't know that I always want to live in Chicago, let alone in one particular place in the city; I'm not there yet, and I'm not saying I should or shouldn't be, but I'm not. Living in Pilsen, walking the streets here, and especially running to the south side, has renewed my love for Chicago.

As I tied my shoes a woman walked by slowly. She looked up at me on the porch and I nodded and said, "Good evening." She replied, "Good bye."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Don't trust me; I'm just authority!

Heather says that programming in Visual Studio makes her feel like a tool, but that she might be influenced by "real computer programmy people". Al likes feeling important. So Al is going to talk about a real computer programmy topic that's been on his mind lately, and how it relates to what a tool Heather is. And Al is. Because that is the kind of thing we believe in in this flat. Universal toolishness. Al is a tool; Heather is a tool; Christina might be a tool though we haven't really discussed this; Ed could maybe be a tool, but I think his boxing ability trumps my long-distance running ability, so I should be careful about that; probably most of our guests are tools; you're a tool for reading this, but if I was serving it from my own computer inside the flat you'd be even more of a tool.

Today one of my co-workers mentioned he was trying to find the second-best solution to a problem. The problem was basically that he needed to write and run a daemon under Windows. Computer people, prepare to be bored, because you're not in the majority reading this blog. I'm going to explain some stuff. Most programs you run quit when you terminate your session. On Windows that means logging out (on Unix programs belong to a controlling process, usually a shell, which acts as the session). But sometimes you want a program to keep running after you log off. There could be advantages to this in terms of resource use and security. In our case, only one session is allowed on our Windows server machine at a time (don't ask me about the licensing, I have no idea), so we want various of our programs to run without anyone logged in to the machine to keep it open in case an administrator needs to log in.

Under Unix there is a "magical incantation" required of a program to "daemonize". The program makes a couple of calls into the system and comes out detached from its controlling shell. Now the user can log off the shell and the daemon remains. On Windows daemons are given the more toolish name "Windows Services" and apparently have to be registered with the system in a more involved way. I don't exactly know what this way is, but it's obviously something that's documented and known, as many people have written Windows Services over the last decade or so using all kinds of different tools. The programs also have to be able to follow general instructions given to them by the system (start, stop, and the like). I've never written a Windows Service, but if any of it is particularly difficult to do in standard C, maybe with a separate "installer" to set up some registry junk, I'll eat my hat.

Well, it turns out that writing a Windows Service using the .NET framework is involved enough that Microsoft includes a "Service" template in Visual Studio to make it utterly trivial. At least if you buy an expensive version. My company doesn't. So my co-worker that wanted to write a daemon ended up writing it as a Web Service, which works the same way except that every time the server restarts you have to load a web page hosted by the server and click a button to start it, instead of having it start automatically. Fun.

We discussed this while walking around the west loop on lunch break. The problem, he told me, was that you couldn't write a Windows Service using our cheap version of Visual Studio. This struck me as pretty unlikely. I asked him exactly what about it was impossible, but he didn't know beyond that there wasn't a template for it, as there was in a more expensive version of the product. So tonight I punched in a few queries to Google and came up with at least a couple ways to run any odd program as a Windows Service.

That's a larger-scale example of why the whole experience of Visual Studio seems toolish. I mean, even more than that they don't want you writing daemons unless you pay them $600 (developers, developers, developers, my ass). It lures you into thinking that if it's not in the menu it can't be done. Since I've started using it I've fallen into this kind of thinking at the code level. Habitually restarting Intellisense when it goes away, even when it's unnecessary. And Intellisense, like all the other features, works on its terms and not yours. Between all the auto-completion boxes, un-helpful tooltips detailing function parameters, and those obnoxious red underlines I get because I haven't finished typing my expression fast enough, it's more a pinball machine than an editor. If I happen to reference an identifier before getting around to declaring it (happens all the time... sometimes you don't know you need a method until you need it) the Great Wise Intellisense usually auto-completes it to something long and silly. Who the hell asked it? I certainly didn't. I thought the computer served Al, not the other way around.

The thing is, Intellisense is fast and smart at finding matches. It's great for navigating the stupidly verbose .NET class library (it's probably hard to be less verbose when you're trying to write the One True Class Library, which maybe should indicate it's not the greatest goal). Visual Studio allows me to just flat not think about some rare, inane details when coding. Which is great. I just wish it did these things at my command. Maybe there's even an option for this. But this is beyond options. The nature of programming is that the programmer is in charge of the computer, not the other way around. The nature of programming is that only trivial problems can be found by pointing at menus. Here's what Wikipedia says about creating a daemon on Unix:

The common method for a process to become a daemon involves:
  • Disassociating from the controlling tty
  • Becoming a session leader
  • Becoming a process group leader
  • Staying in the background by forking and exiting (once or twice). This is required sometimes for the process to become a session leader. It also allows the parent process to continue its normal execution. This idiom is sometimes summarized with the phrase "fork off and die"
  • Setting the root directory ("/") as the current working directory so that the process will not keep any directory in use
  • Changing the umask to 0 to allow open(), creat(), et al. calls to provide their own permission masks and not to depend on the umask of the caller
  • Closing all inherited open files at the time of execution that are left open by the parent process, including file descriptors 0, 1 and 2 (stdin, stdout, stderr). Required files will be opened later.
  • Using a logfile, the console, or /dev/null as stdin, stdout, and stderr

And here's what it has to say about Windows Services:

A Windows Service is created using development tools such as Microsoft Visual Studio and Borland Delphi.

Yes. Let the programmers at Microsoft and Borland toil in the underworld, you have business logic to write. I realize this is more a culture thing than a technical thing, but I don't think it's any surprise that it's turned out this way. You don't have to do all the stuff in the Unix article manually; if you want you can find libraries or packages for most languages to make daemon functionality trivial (Perl's Daemon::Generic is pretty good, for example), but you can, as with so many other aspects of Unix, find out how the stuff works and why, and not have the answer be, "Because it helps us sell more $600 copies of Visual Studio."

Anyway, I want to conclude by saying: we software people don't know anything. And if you feel some way about some software you're probably right. If you feel like a tool using Visual Studio, not like a badass that could write anything, that's because it was made to automate common things, not to bring to you an understanding of all the crazy shit computers can do and how. That's what I get most out of programming, anyway. The rest, that's for management to worry about.

Paul Hawken and Jane Jacobs on the L

I just finished reading Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce and just started reading Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. So today as I was wandering all over Chicago, settling debts, buying shit, walking around, etc., I read the Jacobs. And, you know, that makes a lot more sense for El reading material than the last stuff I posted about reading on the El. Edward Abbey and Neal Stephenson... well, between the two of them there's plenty of disdain for cities (though for very different reasons). And with Jacobs there's love. Angry love sometimes, but love anyway.

And the Brown-Line train rocked gently from side to side like a gondola (it was actually a Red-Line train running on the elevated tracks because of subway construction). But that's not the damn point. Focus, Al. I wanted to write about Hawken, actually.

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist and an entrepreneur. He wrote The Ecology of Commerce from the premise that in the long run non-renewable energy sources will indeed run out and humanity will need to live within an energy budget limited mostly by solar output. And that in the long run if we produce toxic waste that we can't break down or use safely that it will continue to build up in the environment, accumulate in the fatty tissues of all kinds of animals (especially marine creatures, but land creatures like humans as well), and make us all crazy. He wrote this shit in 1993, when gas was under a buck a gallon in Georgia (source: I remember this kid on my block named David Hunt mentioning that it was in the 80s there, and it could have been some time around 1993, maybe before but not after -- he moved out of town not long after Clinton got elected, if memory serves). Of course, people with their heads screwed on their shoulders have been saying these things for a long time (the first peak-oil predictions came in the 50s and correctly predicted US peak production; cue arguments about whether the peak was artificially induced by drilling policy or whether that's irrelevant because only a fraction of US land available for drilling is actually being used anyway and because peak doesn't mean you're plum out, or that you couldn't possibly extract at a higher rate, just that it's not economical to do so), but I didn't read any of their papers 'cause I wasn't born yet.

So an aside. To my knowledge there are a few ways that people theorize we could deal with crises of energy and toxic pollution. The first is primitivism. Suburban sprawl faces obvious problems in a time of expensive energy (we're seeing that already), but so do big cities with energy-intensive industries that are very far from agriculture. So does anyone that wants a heated or air-conditioned home, hot water. Heating and cooling air and water consume lots of energy. More importantly (we can always take fewer showers, just ask the French), computers and data centers use lots of energy, and they're really important for, you know, progress and stuff. Anyway, in economic terms, the economy would have to shrink a lot. Economies like ours don't shrink in pleasant ways. That's what they say, at least. A severe adjustment could, as I understand it, overwhelm banks, which are already struggling because of the fall of housing and credit bubbles. At that point, all bets are off. I think there's at least a possibility of rampant starvation and economic collapse.

A second way is the idea of technological singularity. Hawken writes a lot about how our current economy is "linear", in that it extracts resources at unsustainable rates and outputs useless or toxic waste, similar to immature biological ecosystems (which typically grow quickly at first and then either suffer population crashes or in more benign cases just stop growing). He contrasts this to mature ecosystems, which are "cyclical", in that the waste products of one organism become food for others, almost universally. If there was toxic or useless waste the systems would not have developed to their complex state of maturity. What Hawken calls a "linear" economy is mathematically more properly described as exponential. Population grows exponentially; resource use does also, but more quickly. But there are technological exponential curves like Moore's Law, too. And rapid growth in various measures of information availability driven by world-wide network access. The time between world-changing events keeps shrinking, and this is taken as a trend by some futurists. One common idea is that the development of "true" AI, essentially the ability of a computer to think or even to take on human consciousness, could be a world-changing event that allows technological progress to continue forever. This could skirt the issue of pollution, as humans wouldn't have to rely on any other organisms or even their own biological processes to pass their knowledge on to another generation. Furthermore, this would make many current uses of resources obsolete, and potentially allow for extraction from other planets (in theory time isn't as much of a problem for computers as people, my source for this being the terrific Futureheads song Robot; though today's computers are hard-pressed to outlive goldfish, a computer with the ability to repair itself might do better). But don't listen to me. Listen to these guys. They claim that all this talk about physical resources is "astonishingly irrelevant", and here I am getting caught up in what a singularity might look like and how it would solve these problems. Which probably makes me a fuddy-duddy. Let's just say I'm a little skeptical, given struggles of space programs, physical limits of transistor size, and what seems to me like very non-exponential progress in AI research. For balance I should point out that quantum computing has had some cool results lately. For balance of balance, I just want to take this opportunity to make fun of some singularity nuts for talking like exponential growth curves have singularities. They don't. Even if accelerating progress makes change flash before our eyes at a ridiculous rate and we colonize the galaxy in a year or so (the speed of light is "astonishingly irrelevant", just another glass ceiling to be smashed by the power of our intelligence) a singularity means the stoppage of time and infinite progress, and that it would not be, if you just blindly follow trends, which is already pretty optimistic to me.

Anyway, Hawken doesn't really talk about those things, I just think they're important. Hawken proposes a sort of middle way. We don't have to take the all-or-nothing risk of continuing to accelerate extraction and pollution rates in hope of reaching a singularity, which might then bite us in the ass and turn into Skynet or HAL 9000 anyway. And we don't have to suffer a die-off because we're so far above the natural carrying capacity of our planet. We can instead radically re-organize our economy so that it works more like a mature ecosystem. When one company produces waste materials, another finds ways to use them. By changing the entire taxation regime over time to target non-renewable resource extraction and unusable waste (especially toxic waste) very heavily (replacing taxes on pure income or consumption) we can make sustainable business the only profitable kind, instead of the very difficult path it is today. The idea is that today businesses are cutthroat competitors, fighting tooth and nail for profit, and that they're really efficient at it. Unfortunately that usually means they're really efficient at turning resources into waste, because the actions of extraction and pollution don't incur costs that reflect their true long-term cost to human civilization. If we can make restoration of the environment, which has long-term benefits, profitable, businesses will compete too-and-nail to make the world better.

And I might have believed it, too, if Hawken himself hadn't provided all the reasons it would fail. I live pretty close to an old coal plant that is a heavy polluter. Located in the middle of Chicago, it pollutes at rates higher than allowed by current laws. But it's been grandfathered in. No, this plant does not meet the standards of the Clean Air Act. But what come out of these smokestacks aren't noxious gases, my friend. They're nostalgic gases (concept of "nostalgic pollution" shamelessly stolen from Heather; not from her blog, from a conversation with our neighbors at a party, but the blog gives me something to link to). I think that says a lot. The government isn't independent of corporate influence and won't be; it will help craft laws for its own benefit (examples provided by Hawken). Corporations are very good at subverting laws that would attempt to constrain their behavior (many examples in Hawken's text), and through globalization have become more powerful than most governments already and are surpassing the rest (again, argument provided by Hawken). Worse, because corporations in the modern capitalist world have all the rights of people but none of the responsibilities (this is true legally, as they're rarely punished severely, but the big problem is that they can very easily liquidate and reform, change their identities in the public eye without changing leadership), they're able to use PR devices to convince people to support corporate interests instead of their own.

To me, that's the biggest part that's unconvincing. Hawken's thesis is that only corporations acting under capitalism can save the world, and that we have to be concerned with how to keep them intact while building a sustainable economy. Meanwhile he provides more support for the claim that they're fundamentally destructive and sick than that they actually could be the drivers of a sustainable economy. He proposes that private "utilities" be places in charge of local resources, and that because of their long-term interest to sustain that resource that they'd allow only the right level of usage. There are some similar entities today: OPEC tries to control its member states' oil exports, and even so some of those members are reaching peak production and turning into net importers. Even in the US today, any company that owns land and has drilling, mining, or dumping rights on it should have as its interest the preservation of those activities as far into the future as possible. Yet strip mining and toxic pollution rule the day. Even governments, spurred by vital public needs and budget constraints instead of shareholder pressure and general profit motive, routinely are accused (rightly) of selling out the future with short-term financing fixes. I fail to see why resource utilities, if operated anything like either current corporations or governments (and that seems to be Hawken's major idea), would do differently than any of the existing examples we have.

Another thing that bothers me is that he quietly acknowledges in a few places (if you look closely and infer some things) that his "restorative" economy would have to shrink, and that population might have to shrink. But he never mentions the pain involved in this. Actually this might be a good argument for his ideas: that a gradual shrinking, though still painful, would be much, much better than a crash, and that keeping the same institutions in charge gives a better chance of gradual shrinking than various left-anarchist revolutions (or a global Communist revolution). The counter-argument to me is that a lot of investment assumptions have to change if you take away the assumption that the economy will, in the long term, grow exponentially. I think this includes a bank's expectation that it can lend money and usually get it back with interest, without which fractional-reserve banking would have a much greater risk-reward ratio. As most of our money supply doesn't exist as currency, and is a creation of this banking practice, this concerns me (I'm not really an econ guru, so if my understanding of the issue is totally wrong let me know). Hawken talks all about population crashes but that he doesn't mention the implications of a shrinking economy worries me (I can't find many quotes from economists in general on the subject other than stuff like, "Hey, look at the Great Depression, that sure sucked, 'eh?"). Anyway, market valuations of things are based on speculation, and no matter how carefully a plan is made to transition gradually to no-growth, if the realization of it hits the market suddenly we're headed for a crash.

The other economic question I have is whether corporations really are very efficient when they can't rapidly extract non-renewable resources or otherwise externalize the costs of their operations onto society. For one thing, corporations as they are means marketing as it is, which preys on people's irrationalities resulting in overconsumption of all sorts. The type of efficiency I'm talking about here is in whether they can elevate the carrying capacity of Earth, or whether they'll lead us to sell out long-term needs like education and research for short-term nicities. If the economy overall won't be exponentially growing anymore I think those become real trade-offs (whereas today overconsumption fuels growth by requiring more labor and more resource extraction).

But I don't want to be totally negative about the whole deal. Even though I'm pretty pessimistic about a plan like his actually working, it might, if it worked, be a fairly livable version of capitalism with corporations. I like his points about preventing business from externalizing its costs onto others (read: the poor). I'm not sure whether he's being disingenuous or just doesn't realize it, but imposing taxes or creating utilities that fully foist onto business the costs of their damage to the commons (and reward their improvements of it) are tantamount to nationalizing the commons. A fine idea in my opinion (coincidentally, The Death and Life of Great American Cities also talks about the tragedy of commons with regard to cities), but good luck sneaking it past highly interested parties.

Damn this is a fucking mountain of text. Sorry y'all. I'll try to be snappier next time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Paper of Record


Fucking New York Times, June 29, 2008. Towards the end of this article, which mostly exists to tell rich New York tourists how to visit Chicago's "Latin Quarter" (I've never heard anyone in Chicago use that term ever... the Times guy could conceivably be right about this, though) by visiting upscale restaurants and trendy galleries while staying in downtown luxury hotels, lies a paragraph about gentrification in Pilsen. Here's my favorite thing ever:

But apartments in the area are being fixed up, and higher rents are squeezing out some residents. Anglo newcomers in their 20s and 30s are out and about, jogging and walking their dogs.

Hey, that's me! I mean, I'm white. I run a lot. And my roomie Christina wants to get a Pomeranian (presumably to take bowling).

And you know what, I might be contributing to Pilsen gentrification. I don't try to; I try to shop in the neighborhood, I'm not a snob (except about beer), I try to keep the conspicuous consumption to a minimum, but I don't rule out the possibility that you can pin some Pilsen gentrification on my shoulders. But if I am, I'm doing it by affecting rental and grocery prices with my stupid bourgeois consumer habits, not by jogging and walking Christina's potential future-dog.

You see, I'm just a regular guy. I come into a neighborhood like Pilsen, it's, what, 90% Mexican? But I'm still who I am. Me and my Nordic brothers, long-distance running is in our blood, man. You see all these guys from the mountains of Kenya dominating international competition, and I'm honored they've taken up part of our culture, but when you hit the streets, lower-west side Elmhurst (Berkley and West Saint Cha, wassup!), when you hit the floor of Fleet Feet and Dick Pond's, when you hear the great Joe Newton speak, you know us white boys still love the game.

You know what? I can "run retro" down West Egg from Spring and know the cagers got my back. When I'm running segments or Killer Dillers on Tha IPP the joggers and walkers know to get right before they ever see or hear me. Because even if they never break five in the mile, we have a connection. That's what I mean when I say it's my cultural home, the land of my people. Proper god-damned trail etiquette is in our blood.

I don't expect or demand that in the city, and I'm OK with having to be more cautious; I'm living with lots of people from cultures that find beauty in draining a three or curving a corner-kick into the goal, but who see two awkward skinny dudes straining to kick at the end of a 10k and just don't get it. I'll slow down when I turn a corner, even if I'm doing interval training, because I don't want to bowl over some girl that's not paying attention to the sidewalk because she's yelling into her cell phone at her boyfriend, and wouldn't know how to react to someone pulling 5:20 pace anyway. I never though I'd say that shit. The city's changing me.

But what I do expect is that people respect my cultural heritage and don't blame the ills of gentrification on my running and Christina's potential future dog. I don't care how long the New York Times has been the voice of the Pilsen community here, it's just flat wrong about this one.

CORRECTIONS: 1. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever used the phrases lower-west side, West Saint Cha, West Egg (yes, my parents live on a street that can be easily turned into a Great Gatsby reference), or Tha IPP to describe places in Elmhurst. 2. White people aren't really even much of a race, let alone a "people", and we're not psychically connected. Certainly not by long-distance running; we're just as lazy as anyone else. 3. The real reasons for the exemplary trail etiquette on the Prairie Path are: it's a long path, not a park that people use for other activities, and there aren't very many major parks directly along it; it is not very densely trafficked, so there are fewer opportunities to be cut-off or blocked; and, finally, its crushed limestone surface precludes its use by skaters and limits the speed of ridiculous spandex-wearing bike dudes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Apologies to the pretty good 7th-season South Park episode, "Toilet Paper"

EDIT: I just realized that I might be spelling Gabby's name incorrectly. Because I've never seen it written I don't know if it's a full name or short for something or just a nickname she hates but everyone uses anyway because people are such very cruel animals. So I guess I apologize if it's wrong or if it's a cruel nickname. It's all I've got at the moment.

I just went on a pretty cool bike journey to the southern edge of Chicago and back with Gabby and Heather. We went mostly down Cottage Grove and King Drive, through the Chicago State campus (empty for the summer and holiday), down South Michigan to 119th Street. Then around Morgan we jogged down to 120th and saw an old Ingersoll facility of some sort. It appeared to have recently suffered a big fire: the roof was mostly collapsed and some wood parts of the frame had what looked like recent fire damage. Plus we found really old papers and computer punch cards in nearby brush that were really well preserved. They couldn't have been out there through a heavy storm, and we had plenty of rain in June.

Fast-forward to after dinner. We were in Beverly, basically, and there was a reasonably safe and direct way for Gabby to get back to Hyde Park from there. A direct route back to Pilsen would have taken Heather and me through some areas we didn't want to go through at that time of night. Heather took the CTA back north and I went to bike the long way to Pilsen via Hyde Park. Gabby and I were on Vincennes, which runs diagonally, and we'd veered off onto Halsted (a very easy thing to do, apparently). We realized this around 79th street, when Gabby mentioned that her favorite blues club was on South Chicago somewhere in the 70s. So we just rode east to South Chicago, then went back and forth until we found Lee's Unleaded Blues on South Chicago and 74th. It was a good show. We were a bit underdressed and tired and left at the first intermission...

... at which time we noticed Ally Sheedy, the goth chick from The Breakfast Club, was bowling in the lane next to us and we asked her for her autograph but she didn't have a pen, so we followed her out to her car, but on the way we were accosted by five Scientologists who wanted to give us all personality tests, which were administered in the Scientology Center in Denver until 10:45, at which time we accidentally boarded the wrong bus home and ended up in Rancho de Fritas Rojes, south of Castle Rock, and finally got a ride home with a man who was missing his left index finger named Gary Bushwell, arriving home at 11:46.