My new post on my marketing blog – enjoy and share if you feel so inclined: Bartending taught me about Client Service.
Well, last weekend, I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and that is buy my oldest son, Joel, a car. Which is only the ending part of the story. As I mentioned in my story from last spring, when we bought our twin sons a car to share, we’ve always been in the camp that kids don’t need their own cars. Neither my wife nor I had our own cars until deep in college, and so we never bought the kids cars when they turned 16. Is it more convenient for them to have their own at that age? I’m sure it is – but it just wasn’t how either of us were raised, and therefore, it wasn’t how we were going to proceed. But at some point, necessity wins. For the car we bought for Alex and Brian, it was Brian heading off to community college every day this year that forced the hand. And for Joel, well, it was landing the coolest summer internship we and he could possibly imagine.
In case you’re living somewhere under a rock, Tesla Motors is the “it” car company right now. It has been compared to Apple computer in the mid-80s – it is inventing the future as we speak, and that future is electric cars with rapid charging ability, high performance (rather than the whiny little golf-cart-esque things that other car companies are putting out), extreme luxury, unimaginable features, best-in-class-safety and incredible beauty all in one. They are inventing a nationwide rapid charging network just for Tesla owners, they are building a battery plant that is 10X the size of anything around today to serve the industry, and again, they are inventing this category.
And they hired my son, Joel, as an intern this summer in their paint engineering department at their production plant in Fremont, CA, in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area. Wow. So suddenly, the necessity requirement for the car purchase is being met.
This story wouldn’t make sense without getting to know my son a bit. This little boy has loved cars and everything to do with cars since he was old enough to make the Pbbbbbbbbbbbb sound with his mouth – and would push around non-car objects like they were cars – that at 7 months old. His favorite toys were all cars. At the ripe age of 3, he had the starting lineup of the NASCAR Winston Cup series committed to memory, and I’m not talking about just drivers names, but their sponsors, their numbers, their engine builder, their owner, the whole shebang. I could have won bar bets with him, and when I took him to his first NASCAR race (a Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile) just after his third birthday, he demonstrated that prowess and got people to buy me beers (“Buddy, you’re raisin’ that boy right, lemme buy ya a beer.”).
He would watch NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, World Rally Car (WRC), Super Bikes, etc. etc. non-stop on Speed Channel (RIP!), ESPN, national TV, etc. He cried his eyes out when Dale Earnhardt was killed. I bought him a pedal-powered Indy Car and a little play helmet and he’d strap that helmet on and race around the driveway, and then declare himself the winner, stand up in the car and conduct a winner’s interview with himself, perfectly mimicking the winner’s speech of “Well, the DuPont Pepsi Hendricks Chevrolet was just awesome today, and the work of the crew is what got me here.”
He would hold races of his 1/64th scale Indy and NASCAR toy cars on our dining room table, carefully logging the starting positions, the ending positions, the series points and more in notebooks. As he got older and got into video games, he would consistently completely ace the latest computer or console racing games. Right now he’s in the top percentiles of all registered players on some of the best/hardest racing games like Forza and others.
Most kids, when they get their licenses, do stupid things, get tickets, wreck cars, etc. Not Joel. Not at all Joel. He guards his driving privilege closer than anyone I know. Other than one unfortunate encounter with the corner of our garage and our minivan’s bumper a week after getting his license and one scrape of a mailbox a couple of months after that, he’s not had any accidents driving. He went five years with his license before he got his first ticket and that was driving back and forth from his internship with Nissan in Detroit last year.
He went to school to get a job with a car company. He started out as a mechanical engineering major and during his junior year, he realized that wasn’t for him and changed majors to his current one, Technology Systems Management, which, is really the applied side of engineering. Everything he’s done at school has pointed to that – the biggest of which is Formula SAE. FSAE is a racing program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FSAE teams design and build from scratch a “formula-style” race car (picture below) every year. They then compete in FSAE competitions where they have a business proposal competition (how much does it cost to build it and what are the projected production costs in a volume run), a design competition and competitions in a variety of tests of the car itself – static tests where the car is still, and dynamic tests like acceleration, braking, skidpad, and then autocross and endurance racing. He started as a freshman apprentice, being a general go-fer, and has worked his way into the team leadership this year.
Here is Joel at the wheel of the 2013 Illini Motorsports FSAE car in a testing session last summer:
So, I guess I’ve set the stage for “Joel is a car guy”. As part of his run up to a career in the automaker business, the next stage is interning – and last summer, he hit a great one. He interned at Nissan in their technology center in Farmington Hills, MI. Nissan paid well, provided him a company car to drive (and damn nice ones too) and he spent the summer kart racing with an old friend of mine from high school who works there too (and helped foam the runway). Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t able to pick him up for this summer – with his change from Mechanical Engineering to Tech Systems Management that took him out of contention. He had fairly well planned on going back to his old summer job of being a camp counselor at a local day camp (which is a great job, so don’t take that the wrong way), when out of the blue, the dream internship happened. He got a call from Tesla Motors where someone that knew him from FSAE had recommended him. After a very short interview period, he got the job and he’s headed to California for the summer.
As a car guy myself (the Brits call it being a “petrol head”), it has pained me that I haven’t been able to buy my petrol head son a car, but it just hasn’t been a necessary expense. And when you’re dealing with five-figure expenses, it needs to be necessary. But with the internship in California and all, it became time. So he and I started doing research – I should say he started doing research, with me sort of following. My wife was still pretty soft on the idea – she recognized the need but the expense scared her – and it does me. But, we’ll manage. On Saturday, he came home for the weekend, and we set out to look at two cars, with no intent on buying either. But the second one we looked at, a pristine 2007 VW GTI just spoke to me. Joel was meant to drive that car. The car looks and drives like new and had a perfect record on CARFAX with all service details documented. Doesn’t get better than that. After much “gut wrenching” thought, and a quick phone call to Robin, much to Joel’s surprise, I said to the dealer “Ok, if we take it today, what can you do on the price?” I thought Joel’s head was going to pop. The look on his face was completely priceless. We did the deal and I thought the kid was going to do cart wheels on his way to the car.
One HAPPY kid:
As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I also have a VW GTI – a 2011. It is the perfect blend of a performance car and practicality. Tons of room inside to haul people and stuff. And when it’s just you, a curvy road and the gas and brake pedals, it flat hauls ass. So Joel and I have “dad and son VW GTIs.” And while he’s over the moon happy that he finally has a ride of his own, I’d stack my happy against his and probably win that I was able to do this for him.
The boys with their toys:
To him, I’ve said – “Have fun with it but drive it safely everywhere that’s not a race track.” But I also said, “and when you do hit the track, look out for the guy in the midnight black GTI, because it’s going to be dear old dad who is not going to give an inch to you.”
As you were,
A ton going on right now in my life and much, much to write about, but I’m going to go a topic at a time, so today’s topic is my outing last Thursday night to see Brit Floyd, ostensibly a “Pink Floyd Tribute Band” play the music of Pink Floyd at the Chicago Theater. I’ve never been a huge Pink Floyd fan – and in fact, it’s a topic of humor with my wife of late – we both realized that with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and a few other major acts, there are a lot of songs we know and music that we like, but don’t ask us the names of the songs, and don’t ask us to name our favorites, as we won’t be able to tell you. Now that said, it is a wee bit easier with Pink Floyd – there’s a couple of major songs from The Wall (Another Brick …, Comfortably Numb), from Dark Side of The Moon (Money, Time, Wish you were here), etc. But even those, if you come into them in the middle of the song, we don’t hit right away. The game we play now is if we’re in the car listening to Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM, and a Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin, etc. song comes on, is to cover the radio display and say “Ok name it” … and neither of us can.
ANYWAY (the linguistic version of when you realize you’re down a rabbit hole you didn’t intend to explore), my friends Beavis and Peter Pan started emailing when this show was announced, and I thought it would be a good way to both have a great night out with two good friends and also perhaps get to know this music better.
So, the whole “Tribute Band” thing seems to be something that has cropped up in the last 15 years or so – bands that specialize in the music of one famous act from the classic rock era – and now starting to extend into the 80s and 90s. Most of these are bar bands, some of them go so far as to basically play characters that are intended to be the original members (can you imagine the arguments? “I want to be Paul Stanley.” “No, I do, I can do the New York accent better.”), complete with costumes. And some even go further than that and play them in different eras. A local Beatles tribute band, Modern English does that – starting out in classic “Ed Sullivan/Liverpool” dress of black suits and skinny ties, morphing into Sgt. Pepper costumes, and then into the White Album/psychedelic era wear and wigs, fake beards, etc.
As I said, for the most part, these are bar bands, or at best, are touring local festivals – like Modern English does all summer in Chicago doing every “Taste of” “4th of July Fest” etc. around.
That got me thinking – is this really a new phenomenon, this “Tribute Band” thing, or is it something that has gone on for a long time – and the analog to it popped up like stepping on a rake – for the most part, most “city symphony” orchestras (like the Chicago Symphony), are tribute bands but are tributes to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. Now that said, really what they are is cover bands – playing the music of others, where truly a “tribute band” does the music of one band/artist, etc. But, it really isn’t something truly new.
So, on to Brit Floyd – so what makes Brit Floyd such a cut above other “tribute bands” that they sell out a 6500 seat theater in Chicago at ticket prices ranging from $45 to $120/seat? Versus going and seeing “Journey to the 80s” an 80s tribute band with a hairy overweight guy screeching out his best Steve Perry falsetto? Quality … and musicianship, through and through. That and these guys WEREN’T playing characters. Were they a band that only played the music of one artist/band? Yes. That’s where the similarity ends.
To give it an analog, Brit Floyd is the equivalent of seeing the CSO play Beethoven’s 9th symphony in its entirety, while some bar band Pink Floyd tributeers might be the equivalent of the local high school’s “B” level orchestra scratching out the first movement. Unbelievably professional musicians, incredible staging and production values, and while they were faithful to the Pink Floyd music, they also made it their own by extending the songs deeply – “Another Brick In The Wall” goes from being a 4:15 album cut or a 3.5 minute radio play to an 8 minute jam with extended/expanded guitar solos, a unique ending, a deep/long beginning that worked into the start of the song, etc. It was like that all evening. And it was incredible.
That was some of the best rock music I’ve heard in a long time. The guitarists were virtuosos – both playing and contributing incredible versions of David Gilmour’s soaring guitar solos. They had two percussionists, an incredible group of female backup singers, etc. And their vocals, while again true to the Pink Floyd genre and sound, were their own voices – they weren’t playing characters, or singing in affect accents or any of the other typical Tribute Band garbage you see in the bar bands.
As I age, and become more and more attached to music as my right brain outlet, both playing and listening, I have often wondered, “what is the future of rock music”? An acquaintance of mine, Dean, who is a professional musician, playing everything from folk to rock to blues to jazz and multiple instruments, has of late been posing the question – “when did music make the turn from professionalism to production values?” He promotes his gigs as “no auto tunes, backing tracks, loopers, or unnecessary electronics – just pure quality music.” Versus seemingly anywhere you go to hear music these days, bands use backing tracks to add additional instruments, people, etc. that aren’t out there playing.
I’ve been thinking about that, and about, “what happens to the music we love when the artists die off or retire (or both)?” Certainly there are these tribute bands in the bars, but I hope there is more “Brit Floyd” level acts forming up to cover and expand and interpret and make their own, the music we all know and love. I, for certain, would pay to hear that.
Much more to come in the next week or two … lots happening.
But the train ride is at an end now, so …
(and pictures are below)
As you were,
In Stephen Covey’s list of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about “sharpening the saw” – which is his euphemism for actively learning. He recommends continually putting yourself through education, training, reading books, listening to tapes, etc. And while one most certainly could say that he included this one just to make sure his devotees had continued motivation to buy his stuff, nonetheless, I strongly believe that continual learning one of the keys to lifelong happiness as well as continued mental health and sharpness.
Which brings me to my topic – “Sharpening the Axe” – of late, I started taking guitar lessons again as part of my rededicated devotion and focus on playing my guitar (hence the “axe” reference) and music in 2014 that I shared in my post around the New Year. Since the start of the year, musically anyway, I have …
- Rebuilt and reorganized my home-grown guitar songbook into something far more organized and scaleable. I also printed 15 copies of it, with one designated as a gift for my pal Professor Troutstream, who is also getting his strum on again.
- Created a much more musically-inclined space for myself in our newly-remodeled basement, with all my guitar gear there, space to sit and play both by myself and with others, and also playing along with music on the surround sound stereo system down there.
- Bought one of my “dream guitars” – a candy-apple red Fender Stratocaster. Now I’d love to say it’s an American Custom Shop Stratocaster that cost $2500 or more – nope, a Standard, built in Mexico. (For those that care about this stuff, maple neck, 50’s style headstock, three single coil standard pickups with a hot bridge pickup.) And red stratocasters have been played by my guitar idol/icons for ages – guys like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughn. Looks perfect and plays like an absolute dream. Best value in guitars around – great action, sound, sustain, etc. Not sure why I waited so long to get this. But I love it. Here’s Pete with his:
And me with mine as I was unpacking it from the shipment box:
- And, in the last four weeks, I started back up with guitar lessons.
Over my lifetime, I’ve probably had 40 or so guitar lessons – I took guitar classes back in Jr. High from Mr. Elliott at Central JH in Newton, IA – I think that was 7th and 8th grade. Mr. Elliott taught me the basics but he also taught me to love the instrument and for that, I’m lifelong grateful to him. After that, I took a handful of lessons here and there from various local folks, both officially and unofficially, and also my bandmates taught me stuff while I put down the rhythm with my bass guitar – amazing what you can learn just by watching.
About 15 years ago, when I picked guitar back up, I immediately started with lessons and quickly found that even though I was coming off a nearly 20-year hiatus from playing, that I was close to a better teacher than the teacher. I gave that up, dabbled around in guitar books and such and online bits and pieces, then went through two more guitar teachers trying to find the right match. One guy is a really accomplished Jazz teacher and well, he teaches Jazz guitar, which isn’t what I wanted, and another guy just really didn’t feel like much of a match. A bigger issue is that I was struggling with articulating what I really wanted from this.
Finally, after thinking about it a lot, I figured it out – the handful of things I really wanted to learn were:
- finger style right hand picking on an acoustic guitar
– jazz and blues form rhythm guitar chord work and additional voicings and forms for chord work
But most important:
- how to solo as a blues and rock guitarist.
THAT, my friends is my holy grail. I knew the basics – I had learned improvisation as a bass player back in high school at the hand of Mr. Omanson at Newton High Sschool. It’s all just scales. I even more or less knew several of the scales – minor and major pentatonics, minor and major straight scales, mixolydian scales, etc. But I didn’t know how they translated to actually making a guitar solo sound good and sound coherent. Little things like root notes, bends, riffs, transitions from one pattern to the next, pattern extensions, etc.
I found a teacher near me by searching online, and read his website. Accomplished Blues and Rock player. Good. You Tube videos of his playing, great! Flexible schedules? Now we’re getting somewhere! “I’ll teach you what you want to learn”. Winner winner chicken dinner, ladies and gents! I sent him an email describing my situation and he emailed right back – he thinks he could help – and the first lesson is free as he wanted to see if we had a match.
Well, happy to report we have a match. I learned more in that first 45 minute free session than I learned from all the guitar teachers I had since picking this back up. I just had my third lesson last night and already he had me playing a solo over him playing along to a blues “jam track”. DAMN! Now this is progress! I feel so energized by the learning, I’m having such a blast playing. I play at least an hour a day as much as I can, and for the first time, I can hear the music in these scales. Blues songs are running on my mental iPod on a continuous 24 hour loop.
You know you’re primed for the learning experience when you can’t learn it fast enough. That’s me right now.
Coming back to the central point and theme of the post here though – you’re never too old to pick up something and learn it. Whether you’re just starting as a rank beginner, or you’re doing as I’m doing and going from a medium level to a more advanced level of knowledge or skill, there is no substitute for learning and for getting the learning from a competent educator or other source. Your mind expands with every bit you learn.
Think about it. What do you want to learn? Go learn it.
As you were,
Kind of a tough topic, this one. Not exactly a toe-tapper for a Friday, but appropriate given the week. We’re very good friends with our next door neighbors. He happens to also be our Rabbi, she happens to be wonderful, and their two sons are great young men and we’ve forged equally strong friendships with them. Not too often you find friends like this. Since I try not to name direct names in Stew’s Brew, other than my own family, I’ll just call them Rabbi, the glassblower (for son #1, since that’s his profession), Miami (son #2 goes there to school) and for the wife, who defies all description, I’ll just call her The Most Interesting Woman in The World. (And those that know her, will laugh, as will she!)
The Rabbi’s dad died on Monday of this week – he had been stricken ill by a catastrophic stroke at 81 years old. Generally, he had been in great health up until late fall, when he had what seemed like a smaller version of this and had fallen and hit his head, but he was rebounding from that and coming along well. And then … well, G-d was merciful and swift.
The funeral was yesterday, Rabbi spoke, his sister spoke, Rabbi’s uncle (brother to the deceased) spoke, and the glassblower spoke. All of them had such eloquent words to say about their departed dad, brother, and grandfather. Funerals are both wonderful things and terribly sad things. When attending funerals such as yesterdays, I find myself thinking a couple of thought streams – one, “what stops us from saying such wonderful things about the living?” And two, a thought I have when I don’t know the deceased well, “I sure wish I knew him better.”
The things I already knew about Rabbi’s dad were that he was a nice man, he was always impeccably dressed whenever I saw him, even if the dress was casual, he had a very close relationship with the two grandsons I knew, the glassblower and Miami, (Rabbi’s sister also has three kids, and there’s more), The Most Interesting Woman in the World thought he was a wonderful grandpa and father-in-law, and loved his wife, and he was very proud of his son, the Rabbi. I also knew that his first wife had passed some years ago, but I wasn’t sure how long, and that he had found someone and remarried, and she is a wonderful person too. But honestly, that was about it – we’d been around him and his wife for events where their family was present, and sat across from each other at a few Shabbat dinners but that was about it.
What I learned about him at the funeral is that he was a quiet, steadfast guy, who immensely loved his family, worked exceptionally hard his whole life to provide well for his family, that despite having a son in the rabbinate, that he wasn’t a terribly religious guy, although he loved watching his son do the work, and that when he remarried late in life, he became Grandpa and “Dad” to his new wife’s whole family as well. We also heard so many wonderful and often humorous stories as each person spoke. There was much love in the room in this funeral.
I wish I had known him better, for sure. I do know first hand the emptiness Rabbi and his sister must be feeling, having lost my Dad 21+ years ago. There’s no moving on from that. The ache gets replaced with warmth, but the hole in your life is never refilled.
This takes me in a different direction. Since embracing Judaism, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the Jewish grieving process. First the burial process is even different. If geography, family arrival, etc. all align, the tradition is to have a funeral no more than two days after death, and ideally, the following day. They don’t embalm the body, and in traditional ways, the bodies are never left alone from death until burial, nor are they dressed in street or fine clothing but instead are lovingly washed and then wrapped in a simple linen shroud. The casket is all wood, and is placed in direct contact with the earth. The funeral services are somewhat similar, but the graveside is quite a bit different, and well, comforting. You literally watch as the crew lowers the casket into the grave, and then at the end, the tradition is for each mourner to shovel three scoops of dirt into the grave on top of the casket. And after that, the tradition is to wait until the crew fills the grave with dirt.
After that, the tradition moves to “Shiva” which is gathering at the home of the mourners – and do what folks do in that sense – eat, schmooze, reminisce and tell stories of the deceased. It is somewhat like a wake, but takes place after the funeral. Very traditionally, it is a week-long time – but most cut that to a few days at most. The Shiva period I think is very unique as it allows the mourners to sort of “ease back into life” from the shock of death and the rawness of the funeral. By being around friends and family, having others attend to things like food and drink and housework and cleaning, the mourners can concentrate on remembrance and healing. It’s a good tradition.
My own observations are interesting. The first time I was confronted with the dirt shoveling thing, was at a friends’ brother’s funeral and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t do it. Since then I’ve come to terms with it, and I feel it is very much like “putting someone to bed” for the last time. At a time when that person can no longer take care of themselves, we on this side of the spectrum, take care of it for them. Make no mistake though, it is I think the moment of a funeral when the grief is the most raw. And after that’s done and you walk away, it is time to start “coming back. If you look at grief as an upside down bell curve, the bottom of the curve is that moment.
While I don’t know anyone that “likes” going to shiva, the process is wonderful to watch – it’s a bit like a party, wake, family reunion, etc. all rolled together. It is traditional to have a brief service each day, and the rhythm of it, I truly do believe, serves the needs of the bereaved. The mood seems to get progressively lighter, until by the last day, everyone is just ready for it to all be over so they can get on with life.
So anyway, a melancholy blog post to end a melancholy week. The weather was weird and gray, and miserable and this happened too. Ugh.
As this went on, I was reminded over and over this week of the passing of my own dad in July of 1992, and much of the same things were said about Rabbi’s dad as were said about mine. “He was a great guy.” “He was all about his family.” “He never met a stranger.” “Everywhere he went, he always knew someone.” “He was always helping others.” That made yesterday both a very tough funeral for me, and a very, well, enjoyable one as well. And, as I said before, I wish I had known him better.
As you were,
Living in the Chicago suburbs and working in downtown Chicago, I’m fortunate in being able to utilize one of the better commuter rail systems in the country to make my 40 mile trek to the office every morning. That said, with this winter’s incredibly severe weather, with extreme cold, constant snow, etc., the commuting experience has been challenging. At the height of the Polar Vortex mess in January, the trains were barely running – on one afternoon, Metra was so screwed up that they cancelled half their schedule, and the part that remained, only 30% ran on time. On my line that day, the North Central Service line, there are only six trains – four during rush hour, and two more. The hour rush hour trains were all combined into one – the 5:31 departure, which “sailed” at 10 minutes until six.
Yesterday was another very cold day and I had a commute that could only be described as “a series of unfortunate events” – borrowing from the movie and book title a few years ago. I decided to catch the 5:31 departure, which means I need to be out the door of my office by about 5:00 PM to catch the bus to the train station. I arrive about 10 minutes before departure and the outbound train hasn’t arrived yet. Not a big panic, this happens fairly frequently – the train will pull in about 5 min before departure time, everyone gets on, and off we go. Well, 5:31 comes and goes, and no train – Metra, who has been accused of poor communications is over-compensating now, but most of the communications are useless. For example, they often have circular logic “your train is operating 10 minutes late today due to the train operating late” or something like that. Useless. And yesterday was no exception – all they kept saying was “the 5:31 North Central Service train will arrive on Track 5 and depart shortly after”. Ooh, thanks for that. How about the one thing we all want to hear? When? When indeed. Read on.
The train arrived at about 5:35, and the crowd piles in. Thankfully, I was at the head of the line to board and was able to grab one of the plumb seats that people don’t expect you to share. These are on the upper level against the bulkhead and are a full-sized seat, but no one but couples ever share those. So a lucky moment there. And we sit. 5:40 comes and goes and no announcement. Finally at 5:45 the conductor comes on the PA and says that we’re late due to a mechanical issue that they are fixing on the locomotive, and that the same issue was the cause of the late-arriving equipment. He comes on again at 5:50 and says “Ok, we’re close, should be leaving in a minute or two” – and we did.
So … 20 minutes late. Not a trainsmash (RIMSHOT), but not ideal. We roll along, making our usual stops and as we’re gaining speed coming out of the O’Hare Airport Transfer stop, suddenly the lights and HVAC in our car goes out and the train starts coasting to a stop – silent. Normally, even on a very long train, you can feel the rumble and thrum of the locomotive. There’s no rumble or thrum. Just the dim emergency lights. Uh oh. We roll to a stop and … sit. For a solid 8 minutes we sit with no updates from the crew or anything. Finally the conductor comes on the PA and says “Well folks, the issue earlier with the locomotive was that we were getting a warning light that there was a problem with the water pumps on the engine. We checked and everything seemed to be OK, so we thought it was the computer. We finally were able to clear it and go. And just now, that same warning flashed on and less than a minute later, the engine just quit dead. The computer won’t let us attempt to restart it. I guess the computer wasn’t kidding around. So, sorry about this, but we’re working on a “plan b” for you here.” REALLY?
Thankfully, plan B departed the station just 10 minutes behind us – the 6:00 PM train. After about 5 minutes, the conductor came back on and said that the 6:00 would come up behind us, they’d couple the trains together, and would push us. He estimated it would take 15 minutes to get the two trains together. We heard the train roll up behind us (I was in the last car, so you could hear the engine), and the conductor made another announcement that there might be some jolting as they hook up the trains. Well, jolting indeed. It took them three tries to get connected due to the cold affecting the couplers – the final try had them bring the trains together quite hard. Thankfully, they warned us. That all took 15 minutes. After that, they had to hook up the brakes, and well, that didn’t go so well. I would presume the cold was affecting this as well. After the big jolt that got the trains to couple up, the conductor said “ok, we need just a few more minutes to get the brakes connected and we can roll.” Well fully 15 minutes later he comes on and says “folks, we just can’t win tonight – we’re having difficulty getting the brakes connected. We hope to have this resolved soon.” And another 15 minutes and they did. So … now, it is about 7:20 PM. I was supposed to be out to dinner with my son Brian at this point, enjoying my second beer and watching the Olympics in a sports bar.
We start to roll, and only go for about 8 minutes, quite slowly, and then roll to a stop. You can hear a huge collective groan ripple through the train. We sit for a solid 5 minutes and finally the conductor comes on and says “folks, there’s nothing wrong – we’re holding here for some other trains to cross on the UP tracks in front of us. Due to our delayed status, we have no priority through this intersection.” Which seems backwards to me but … I’m not in charge.
Finally we roll again and we’re homeward bound. Because the train consist was now two seven-car Metra passenger trains and two locomotives long, we’re much longer than what will fit the train stations, so at the first two stops, only the last two cars of our train opened – the conductor was great about urging people to come to the back cars if they were planning to get off the train. And those stops were fairly short.
At Buffalo Grove, where I live, a large number of folks board and exit every day – it’s the single biggest stop on this line. At least half the train gets up and leaves there. And the last insult to all the injury happened here. At most train stations, there are two tracks and two platforms. And the inbound trains run on one track and the outbound run on the other. At Buffalo Grove, I think to help serve freight traffic there, normally, we both depart and arrive on the same platform – the one closest to the station. At stations where they use tracks, usually, you have to wait for the train to leave before you can cross over and walk to your car. At this point, I’m done, I want to be home, go to dinner with Brian and be done. It’s 7:45 PM. And so, time for the final screw up.
For whatever reason, they brought us in on the opposite track, and at this station, they wanted everyone that wasn’t staying in BG to get off our broken train and get on the good one so they could completely shut down the dead one. Which meant everyone that wanted to just go home in Buffalo Grove had to stand there for another 20 minutes because the great big train was blocking the tracks while everyone got off one train and got onto the other. Ugh.
Finally at 8:05, I was in the car and headed home.
So after-analysis: I do believe that the quality of service of Chicago’s suburban rail service has become worse and worse. This agency has been part of political scandals, personal scandals (the head of the Metra board was being investigated for corruption and just before he was to be removed from his post, he stepped in front of a Metra train and committed suicide – this was about 3 years ago), there are budget shortfalls, political patronage scandals and more. Thankfully, they ARE trying to raise their game – the communications are getting much better, they are starting to use technology more, etc. But there’s getting around the issues that their rolling stock is antiquated and crumbling, their track infrastructure that they control is a mess, and the parts they don’t control they are an afterthought from CN and UP when those cooperative deals were sold to the public as Metra having priority.
And I have to rely on it to get to work.
It is what it is. Beats driving. But not by much anymore. I know the guy who wrote the tagline “Metra, The Way to Really Fly”.
Well, not so much anymore.
As you were,
Polar vortex. Historic cold wave. Subzero. Dangerous wind chills. Coldest in 20 years! Flesh will freeze! Auuughhhh!
Ok, yeah it is f’ing cold out there. Yup, it really hasn’t been this cold in 20 years, I guess. (Hello all you global warming naysayers, there’s a data point for you …) That said, I really don’t like to play the “well when I was a kid” card, but hell … when I was a kid …
… I remember it routinely got to -20 in Central Iowa during January. We were sort of proud of it! “Booyeah! 20 Below!” If it was promised to hit -20 and it “only” got to -19 or so, we were disappointed.
… We weren’t horrified of the cold, we were fascinated by it. Different things happen when it’s that cold. One of my friends always liked to say he could feel the boogers freezing in his nose. If you wore a scarf over your mouth, you’d get a “frost beard” on your scarf by the time you got done walking to school (yes, we WALKED to school!). You’d do things just to see how cold it was – spit on the sidewalk, pee in the snow (“Really, I swear it froze into an icicle on the way down!”), and of course the continual dares to lick the flagpole, although I don’t ever recall enacting that famous scene from A Christmas Story.
… Never, EVER burned a snow day on cold weather that I remember. Didn’t happen.
… I can remember heading out to ski and sled in the back yard of our second house when the temps were below zero. You just wore extra clothes and came in a bit sooner. And the hot chocolate tasted that much better.
… Growing up, in our first house, we had an ice rink in our back yard – so much fun skating around back there. Every night my mom would go outside with a bucket of water to groom the ice – no Zamboni – just pour fresh water on the ice. On below zero days though (which were common …), sometimes the water would roll out across the ice and stop – creating a bumpy surface that sucked for hockey … but it’s just what happened. No one thought much about it.
… Remember cars had carburetors back then? That’s when you really had to worry about the car starting. Carbs don’t like cold – the engine running right depends on fuel atomization into a mist, and that little process doesn’t work well in below-zero temps. Nowadays? Fuel injection and computers – turn the key, start cranking and when the computer senses things are at the right conditions, it squirts the fuel in and bang – no problem. Biggest thing you need to worry about is keeping a full tank and a good battery.
… I remember my dad’s cold weather routine with the cars – both cars had engine block heaters that you’d plug in at night, so we had cords running all over the driveway – both were plugged into an outlet that was controlled by a switch in the kitchen. For some reason, my dad thought it wasn’t smart to leave them plugged in overnight or he was just too frugal for that, so he’d wake up super early – 5:00 AM or so, and go down and “flip the switch” to turn on the engine heaters. The mantra was if you had to wake up to pee in the middle of the night, then you needed to go flip the switch in the kitchen. If it was going to be colder than 20-below, then the routine was modified to go outside and start both cars about 10 PM and let them both run for 20 minutes to come to operating temp (ah, cheap gas …) before going to bed.
… the other big, important thing was to go get the milk from the milk box (remember those?) before it froze. The milk man from Anderson-Erickson dairy would deliver our order every other day (1 half-gallon “homo” – I don’t think they use THAT term any more for whole milk – 1 half gallon “skim”, 1 quart Tropicana OJ) at about 5:00 AM and on 20-below zero days, the milk would start to freeze pretty quickly, so immediately after “flipping the switch” you needed to get to the milk box by the door to bring it in.
… on super cold days like this, we’d have school, but we’d have indoor recess, and that was always fun – you’d head to the gym and basically have a free-for-all – it was like disorganized gym class. Occasionally, they’d organize something for recess like a show, or music, or something and you’d have to go sit in the gym, which sucked, because the point of recess was that we had been sitting too long and were needing to jump around.
So, as I sit on this empty train, and it’s a chilly -10 outside with a -35 wind chill, I think, would this train have been empty 40 years ago? Nope. We didn’t have 24×7 news cycles, The Weather Channel, social media, You Tube videos, etc. all telling us that hell is officially freezing over. So we just soldiered on.
Maybe we need more soldiering on in this world.
As you were,
Ah, the ritual greeting of the New Year. The calendar turns. You have to get used to writing a new date on checks (although who the hell writes many checks anymore what with e-banking). Celebrations are had – champagne popped, fireworks shot off, Auld Lang Syne is sung, etc. New laws are announced. And people make New Year’s Resolutions. That are promptly forgotten.
I put on my Facebook wall yesterday that I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions. My feeling is if you’re going to commit to something, commit to it. Why do you need a big milestone to do so? That said, I made a rough list of things I want to do more and less of … that’s here:
- more guitar playing and singing. Perhaps some lessons too!
- more time spent on reading, less time on social media (yes, I said that.)
- more investment in learning to cook more inventively and more healthy cooking
- more eating healthy meals, less crap. Dabble in vegetarian/vegan meals.
- more talking and joking about bacon. Per above, less eating it.
- more exercise, less sloth.
- more time spent with friends I don’t see often
- more time spent with family I don’t see often
- less worrying, more positive planning, less stress, more action
- NO big DIY home improvement projects (three were enough for 2014 – sheesh!) instead, finish all the little details on things that I’ve been wanting to finish.
And as I hopped on the train this morning, I thought to myself … and more writing in my blog.
As you know, my muse has been sparse to visit me this past year. I think after the challenges of 2012 I had with health and all, and then my focus in spring of 2013 of making a career change – something that found me but nonetheless took a ton of energy and more than 5 months to close the deal, I was sort of out of topics. I hope that changes this year. I’m going to make much more use of the features of WordPress to be able to post interesting content – photos, quotations, reposting of other blogs and more. I’ll post more about food and cooking, and of course will use my observational capabilities to your enjoyment. There’s quite a few folks on my train still to introduce you to, plus I’m commuting by bus from the train station to the office right now and that’s a bit of it’s own trip. So, more “railroaded” posts to come. I’ll also be traveling a ton for biz, so that’s a good ripe topic to mine as well.
A quick bit of observation for you this morning – it started snowing in Chicago the day before yesterday and it hasn’t let up yet. That’s 36 hours of straight snowfall, and it might go all the way to 48 hours what with this lake effect thing that has kicked in and is just POURING snow from the sky. That observation on its own isn’t remarkable. We live in Chicago. Snow is what happens here in the winter and the lake effect is part of it.
But what is remarkable, always, is how Chicago just sucks it up and deals with it. Living in Iowa growing up, it snowed there too of course – and pretty much the streets were covered with packed ice and snow from mid-December through mid-February. Highways would often be “tracked” versus clear, and well, that’s how it was. They weren’t very effective in making it go away. Here in Chicago on the other hand, fates of Mayoral careers (hello, Michael Bilandic, it’s Jane Byrne calling!) have hung in the balance. It snows here, and by G-d the city just keeps on going. Plows are rolling by constantly and a dried ocean of salt is poured on the streets to keep them from icing up. Usually, within 4-6 hours of the end of a snow storm, the streets are completely clear of snow and ice from curb to curb. The expressways generally only get wet and slushy during a snow – only when it’s really cold and therefore, the salt isn’t working well, do they get badly snow packed. It takes an immense blizzard to stop this city.
And it just gets more beautiful with a layer of snow. I can’t wait to be downtown today and look out at the city from my office windows.
So … Happy New Year, my dear readers. Have a great day. Here in Chicago, we’re having a snow day, but it’s not a Snow Day.