The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Monday afternoon links

Busy day today, but I finished a major task at work just now. As I'm waiting for the CI system to finish compiling and pushing out a test build, I'm going to read these:

Finally, we got our first official (trace) snow of the season this morning, even as forecasters predict temperatures over 21°C this weekend. While I'm packing. All day.

Long train running...to nowhere

Equipment problems caused an Amtrak train to break down on a trip from Detroit to Chicago, turning a 6½-hour trip into a 19-hour adventure:

Passengers traveling Amtrak's Wolverine train No. 351 from Michigan to Chicago expected a trip totaling about 6 1/2 hours on Oct. 7. Instead, they endured delays that turned it into a 19-hour ride that left them without power, heat, lights and access to working bathrooms. Some riders, fed up with being stranded, ignored the rules to stay on the disabled train and opened emergency doors to flee and find other ways to reach their destination.

By the time the train made an unscheduled stop in East Chicago, Ind., late Friday night, "you couldn't go to the bathroom, it was overflowing. So this is when everybody really was like, 'I'm escaping,' " said Sheri Laufer, who often takes the Wolverine as she commutes between her home in suburban Detroit and Chicago. Laufer, a business analyst for Crain Communications—the parent of Crain's Chicago Business—said she wanted to know why Amtrak didn't send buses to rescue passengers.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail agency tried. "We work with a variety of bus vendors; we contacted them all and they all said they had no buses available,” he said.

Maybe if we started properly funding our trains as the public service they are, instead of starving Amtrak the way we starve most of our government functions (see, e.g., the IRS), we might actually have a country worthy of its history.

Two brewery closings this month

One of my favorites (and Cassie's), Urban Brew Labs, closed on September 10th due to inadequate beer sales. They ran out of my favorite brew a couple of weeks earlier but I still managed to get there on the 9th to wish them luck.

In a bit of Karmic balancing, Smylie Brothers closed their awful Lakeview location (on my birthday of all things!), for no apparent reason. I mean, my hypothesis would have to include the food and beer, but owner Michael Smylie declined to comment when Block Club Chicago asked about it.

That still leaves almost 140 breweries and distilleries on the Brews & Choos Project list, including 63 I've yet to visit. And I plan to, with somewhat more vigor after I move next month.

Update on the Ravenswood Metra station

The local alderman's office sent me an update this afternoon on Metra's and the Union Pacific Railroad's stupefying 9-year mission to construct a single station platform that thousands of commuters per day would like to start using:

I spoke to the foreman this week who, unfortunately, informed me of further delays on this project. The project is still awaiting a delivery of tiles from the manufacturer who, due to one person catching Covid recently, has informed them that the tiles won't be ready until the end of the year. This is on par which many of the delays on this project, which have been due to supply chain issues.

This pushes final completion of the project closer to March of next year. We are in communication with Metra to see if they might be able to reopen a portion of the station to commuters before that date, as most of it is complete by now.

Yes, of course: the tiles. It took me a moment to realize that the foreman meant the tiles that will cover the walls of the stairwells and ramps from the street to the platform, which I expect will reduce maintenance costs. All things equal, tiles are probably easier to clean than concrete.

Looking across Lawrence Avenue at the yet-to-open platform, though, I would say it just needs guardrails so people don't fall onto the street below.

But when I'm standing on the "temporary" 10-year-old platform across the street in a snowstorm some Monday morning this winter, I'll comfort myself knowing I'm doing it for the tiles.

Strike averted

The President announced this morning that negotiators have reached a tentative deal between the railroads and their engineers and conductors, averting tonight's planned strike:

Freight rail companies and unions representing tens of thousands of workers reached a tentative agreement to avoid what would have been an economically damaging strike, after all-night talks brokered by Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, President Biden said early Thursday morning.

The agreement now heads to union members for a ratification vote, which is a standard procedure in labor talks. While the vote is tallied, workers have agreed not to strike.

The talks brokered by Mr. Walsh began Wednesday morning and lasted 20 hours. Mr. Biden called in around 9 p.m. Wednesday, a person familiar with the talks said, and he hailed the deal on Thursday in a long statement.

“Most importantly, for the first time ever, the agreement provides our members with the ability to take time away from work to attend routine and preventative medical, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures,” the presidents of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers said in a news release.

Excellent news for the unions! And for us travelers, and for us consumers. Whew.

Rail strike more likely

Chicago's heavy-rail commuter district, Metra, started cancelling train service that would extend past the midnight-Friday start time of the planned nationwide rail strike. Well, taking the El to work instead of Metra adds about 9 minutes to my commute, so I'll have to deal with that on Friday, I suppose. Except that commuter rail shutdowns don't even start to illustrate how bad this strike could turn out for the US economy:

[A strike] would cause immediate problems for manufacturers, says Lee Sanders with the American Bakers Association. This is nationwide. And a broad range of manufacturers who get parts, packaging and raw material delivered by rail would be effected.

"If we don't get the ingredients that we need to our plants, we won't be able to make the products that we need to get our wholesome products to the consumers," Sanders says.

So, empty shelves are a possibility. Farmers are worried too about shipping grain. Dangerous chemicals have already stopped moving. Especially valuable goods are next, and passengers are getting stranded too.

Don't forget about coal, either. About 22% of US electricity comes from coal-fired plants, including 30% of Illinois' power. (As it turns out, Illinois has a higher proportion of nuclear power—about 54% of output—than any other state, which gives us a bit more reliability.)

I have a lot of sympathy for the engineers and conductors, whose schedules seem even less predictable than even fast-food workers. I hope the railroads agree to better scheduling and time-off provisions before Friday, or we're going to have a major economic disruption while we already have high inflation. Not a good combination.

Good thing there's an El

My commute to work Friday might get a little longer, as Metra has announced that 9 out of its 11 lines (including mine) would likely not operate if railroad engineers and conductors go on strike Friday. Amtrak has already started cancelling trains so they won't get stranded mid-route should the strike happen.

In other news:

  • Cook County tax bills won't come out until late autumn, according to the County President, meaning no one knows how much cash they have to escrow when they sell real estate.
  • The Post has an interactive map showing everywhere in the US that hit a record high temperature this summer.
  • US Rep. Marjorie Taylor "Still Smarter than Lauren Boebert" Greene (R-GA) has come up with a climate-change theory so dumb it actually seems smart.
  • US Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), another intellectual giant of the 117th Congress, proposed a Federal abortion ban, demonstrating a keen command of how most people in the United States view the issue.
  • Robert Wright explores "why we're so clueless about Putin."
  • Block Club Chicago explains why my neighborhood and a few others experienced massive geysers coming out of storm drains during Sunday's flooding rains.

Finally, right-wing lawyer Kenneth Starr died at age 76. No reaction yet from Monica Lewinsky.

Writing to alderman and newspaper gets results

Every time I commute to work from the Ravenswood Metra station, I get annoyed. Metra has yet to finish the inbound platform after almost 10 years of delays. So I emailed the alderman to ask why, and CC:d Block Club Chicago, the local news outlet. Reporter Alex Hernandez called me the next morning, and ran this story today:

The Ravenswood Metra station overhaul that began more than a decade ago is hitting yet another bump. 

The $30 million project to renovate 11 bridges along Metra’s Union Pacific North line was announced in 2010. Construction of the western side of the Ravenswood station, 4800 N. Ravenswood Ave., was completed in 2015 — but the rest of the project is ongoing.

Previous delays to the project were caused in part by a polar vortex in 2014 and cuts in funding to Metra in 2010. The work was fully funded in 2020, and officials planned to begin the final phase of the eastern portion of the station in the spring.

But now it’s supply chain issues that are delaying work, Metra spokesperson Meg Reile said. 

“It’s still up in the air because of supply chain issues,” Reile said. “That’s what’s holding up the end of this project.” 

Reile did not provide specifics about what items crews are waiting for, but she said the goal is to complete the eastern side of the Ravenswood station by the end of the year.

Good to know. My conversations with Hernandez Wednesday and yesterday were enlightening to both of us. And today, I actually saw someone in a hard hat and vest working on the platform, though I have no idea what he was doing.

Will the platform open by year's end? Will the Cubs lose 95 games this season? Will any former presidents get indicted this fall? No one can yet know the answer to any of those questions.

Banging Gavel Brews, Tinley Park

Welcome to stop #77 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Banging Gavel Brews, 6811 Hickory St., Tinley Park
Train line: Rock Island District, Tinley Park
Time from Chicago: 35 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 100 m

The owners of Banging Gavel Brews opened a beer garden at the historic Vogt House in Tinley Park to get people interested in their beers while they restore the house. Since they have an abbreviated beer list at the moment, and they expect to open the brewpub proper next spring, I have an abbreviated review, and will revisit the place since it doesn't require walking through suburban hell. (More on that later this week.)

I had only one of their beers, the Prop 65 West Coast IPA (6%). The joke, if you haven't seen it before, is that California's Proposition 65 requires a warning when the environment contains cancer-causing chemicals. Whether this beer causes cancer I can't know for sure, but I thought it was OK, if a bit thin.

Regardless of what I think of Tinley Park (at least the suburban hellscape west of Harlem Ave.), they have a decent train station just a few meters from the brewery.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Partners with the place next door
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes, when they open the full brewpub

Soundgrowler Brewing, Tinley Park

Welcome to stop #76 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Soundgrowler Brewing, 8201 W. 183rd St., Tinley Park
Train line: Rock Island District, Tinley/80th
Time from Chicago: 37 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 1.4 km

When I visited Hailstorm Brewing in March 2021, I really should have gone to Soundgrowler next, as they're just a short walk from each other and I'd never have to go to their industrial park in Tinley Park again. They're both great in their own ways, don't get me wrong; but now that I've visited and walked through the west part of Tinley Park twice, I'm in no hurry to return. More on that in a future post (or if you prefer, one from 18 months ago).

Soundgrowler bills itself as "Beer, Tacos, Metal," which I can confirm from my visit. To the mellifluous strains of Thou's "Inward" and other much-beloved death-metal ditties, I had a flight of excellent beer and two satisfying tacos.

I started with the Small Poems Vienna lager (5%): smooth, malty, with a clean finish; well-done. The Jaguar Elixir APA (5%) had a hazy, light-straw color, lots of hop but not overwhelming amounts, and a refreshing finish. I'd drink that one on a hot day. The excellent Orange Haze West Coast IPA (7%), their flagship beer, burst out with fruity hops, and lingered with a long, malty, citrusy finish. I ended with their limited-release Bending Blades West Coast Imperial IPA (8%) and its big-ass hops and a citrus-without-Citra flavor. I'd get any of them again.

I'll go back at some point, possibly if I ever need to visit the south suburbs for some other reason, and I'll get more delicious $3 tacos.

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? Outside
Televisions? No
Serves food? Tacos and other Mexican food
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes