The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Quick hits

Lots to do for the next, oh, 17 months, so I thought I'd get started. My first Duke box arrived today, containing 6 kg of books, course packets, handouts, and more books, all of which have to be read by August 15th. Fortunately I have a few extra hours each day to do all this (I use them to sleep right now, so they're kind of wasted).

Just a couple news stories of note today:

  • President Obama gave an hour-long press conference yesterday in which he spent 50 minutes discussing the single most important domestic-policy issue in the U.S. right now, health care. Since health care policy is complex, full of compromises, difficult to understand, and absolutely imperative to fix, the network talking heads spent all their time today discussing a stupid Cambridge, Mass., police officer who made an ill-advised arrest Monday. This, in turn, is why network talking heads are useless. I can't wait to see Jon Stewart's take.
  • Mark Buehrle, who plays for the other Chicago baseball team, threw a perfect game this afternoon, the 2nd club history and only the 16th time ever in the major leagues. (A perfect game is one in which none of the offensive players gets on base by any means.)
  • Finally, Gidget the Chihuahua, aka the Taco Bell dog, died yesterday at 15.

Back to work...

Baseball takes a breather

Heaven knows some teams need it.

With baseball taking a three-day break for the All-Star Game (tomorrow night in St. Louis), we take a moment to reflect on how much worse things could be for the Cubs. They wound up exactly at .500, with 43 wins and 43 losses, tied with Houston and 3.5 games behind St. Louis (49-42).

The real story, though, has to be how the Washington Nationals haved lost 61 games so far, the second time in a row they've dropped 60 before the break, putting them on course to lose120 games by the end of the season in October. It won't be the worst season in history (the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134), but it would be the worst showing for the Nationals.

There's hope. Last year they pulled out more wins in the second half, ending with a 59-101 record.

The Cubs, though: looks like perfect mediocrity, once again.

Update: Mediocrity, certainly; but possibly also bankruptcy, according to reports.

Cubs in Detroit

My cousin turned a very large round number on Wednesday, so, being cruel, I took him to the Cubs game in Detroit. I'll have a rare back-dated entry about that in a little bit, with some kvetching about Amtrak; for now, just some pictures of the game.

But first, a non-sequitur: via Paul Krugman, today is the 35th anniversary of the UPC bar code.

Anyway. The game. Yeah, we didn't see this coming:

Unfortunately, that's what happens when you strand 13 baserunners and go 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Sigh.

The park, also, didn't seem to have any character, bad or good. Wikipedia puts Comerica Park in the "Retro Classic" category with AT&T Park and Camden Yards, but somehow it just didn't have the character of those two. Something about the late 1990s just didn't work with baseball parks. I mean, does the baseball park need a merry-go-round? Really?

Even the scoreboard is boring:

And one last thing: I still think my phone is extra-special-cool:

On modern (!) rail travel in the U.S.

I love trains. I always have. All things equal (or nearly so), I'll take a train.

As a frequent visitor to Europe and the Northeastern U.S., not to mention living in Chicago, I have plenty of opportunities to ride efficient, clean, fast, punctual trains. (Take out "clean" and the El still qualifies. Return "clean" and take out "fast," "efficient," and "punctual" and the London Underground qualifies.)

Take the Acela: for about the same cost as an airline ticket, you can go from the U.S. Capitol building to the Empire State building in just under three hours, door to door. To do the same on an airplane would take significantly longer and cost more. Figure the time and expense of getting to National Airport and from LaGuardia or Newark, plus security lines, baggage checking if applicable, and traffic delays into the LGA-JFK-EWR nightmare, and now you're at 5 hours and significantly more money.

I'm writing this on the Amtrak Wolverine from Chicago to Detroit. Just a few minutes ago I read a recent article in the New York Times (Jon Gertner, "Getting Up to Speed," 14 June 2009) that discusses the planned high-speed rail connector between San Francisco and Los Angeles (and, ultimately, San Diego and Sacramento). It mentions, implicitly, the train I'm sitting on, as this route is one planned to get high-speed rail sometime in the 21st Century.

Right now the scheduled trip from Chicago to Detroit (383 km) takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes. Add in getting to Union Station (20 minutes, $2.00) and a cab to Comerica Park (15 minutes, $10), and the trip takes almost, but not quite, as long as traveling by plane. Of course, it's far cheaper; even in Business Class my round-trip is $74, compared with $179.20 for the lowest airfare I found in Coach (21-day advance purchase on both Expedia and Southwest).

Only, as of 2:45 pm we're only about 16 km past Battle Creek, Mich., 177 km from Detroit and two hours later than scheduled.

So far, the trip has entailed:

  • A 30-minute delay at Union Station for an (ultimately unsuccessful) air-conditioning repair;
  • A 15-minute delay just 1 km outside Union Station to let another train pass;
  • 10 more minutes in Indiana, waiting for an oncoming train that would not have delayed us had we left on time;Half an hour in Battle Creek for the same reason;
  • When we are moving, track so old and rickety that it feels like...well, not to put too fine a point on it, but: the El; and
  • Do you remember how the air-conditioning repair did not succeed entirely?

About that last point: My G1 and Weather Bug tell me it's 36°C at my present location (Marshall, Mich.). So if the air-conditioning fails completely—it already has in one of the four cars on this train—we're going to melt.

In sum: while we wait until the launch of new high-speed rail service between Chicago and Detroit (2020? 2025?), the existing rail service between the two cities, like much of Amtrak's network, bears entirely too much resemblance to the rail service in the 1870s.

Matt, my cousin, with whom I'm seeing tonight's Cubs game (the reason we're going to Detroit), took Megabus. He has texted me at several interviews to mention how comfortable and on-time his bus is. Sure, I've got more room to walk around, but who wants to do that in a car with a failing air conditioner? Oh, and he has WiFi. Somehow. On a bus.

At least the power outlet works...

Economics 201 and baseball

Via my college friend D.M., the New York Mets and Yankees have discovered the Intro to Microeconomics lesson of the effect of higher prices on quantity demanded, a.k.a. "overcharging:"

OK, so neither the new Yankee Stadium nor its counterpart in Flushing can handle the capacity of their predecessors. Fine. But where are the 53,070 people who came nightly to the old Yankee Stadium in 2008, and where are the 49,902 who showed up every night in the final season of Shea Stadium?

So far, the Yankees are averaging 44,636 in their new crib, the Mets 38,806. If baseball is so popular in this town and Yankees and Mets games truly are must-see events, as both clubs insisted throughout the offseason, why aren't there 10,000 people milling around outside their ballparks every game night, trying to buy up every last ticket in the house, and the rest going home empty-handed and disappointed?

One of the reasons, of course, is simple and self-evident. It's the economy, stupid. But in a metropolitan area that certainly has more than 83,442 people - the combined average attendance at both parks - wealthy enough to buy their way into these exclusive clubs dressed as ballparks, there has to be something more to it.

So how high are the prices at Citi and Yankee? High. But hard to break down easily. For today's game against the Marlins, fans have 29—yes, twenty nine—price levels, from the $19 "Promenade Reserved" section near LaGuardia, up to the $375 "Delta Club Gold" section sitting on a diamond-encrusted golden throne in the Mets' dugout. The seats I would look for, upper deck box seats in the infield (Citi sections 406-428, the "Promenade Box") are $35.

Wrigley, today, has three price levels left (because the park is nearly sold out), $56 for upper deck box infield up to $90 club box infield. (Good seats, though--the $56 seat is right above home plate.)

I should point out, both the Mets and Yankees are in first place today, and the Cubs...well, they're not, but they are at least one game above .500.

So is it just the price of going to the park that is keeping people away from New York baseball parks? Or is it something else?

Tampa Bay at Athletics

While in San Francisco for the weekend, I decided to continue the 30-Park Geas by seeing what the Oakland A's were up to. Last place, it turned out; but then, so were their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays.

From the moment you get off the BART, you know you're not going to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Wrigley, for example, has less concrete and barbed wire:

Of course, Wrigley has fewer "World Champions" banners, too, but we'll skip that for now.

Not a bad game, on balance. The home team won, it turned out my Cubs hat was acceptable to the crowd (my brother had warned me that wearing the wrong hat in Oakland could result in ejection from the park...by the fans...over the railing), and my seat completely failed to suck:

The only bad parts, other than the park resembling in architecture and style (and, some might say, purpose) a medium-security prison: I forgot my camera, so I had to use my mobile phone to snap photos; and I couldn't find a score card. Oh well; still a fun game.

Fifteen down, 17 to go.

Quick hits

I'm returning from San Francisco this afternoon, so tomorrow I'll have photos from Saturday's A's game and, if I get my very own YouTube account, a video of my sister's dog. I'll leave that for now.

This morning, just a link: TheExpiredMeter.com, of interest to anyone who deals with the Chicago parking system. I found it because I discovered only yesterday that, sometime today, my car will get a parking ticket. I discovered this when my alderman's office sent a notice of street sweeping yesterday saying they'll be sweeping the block my car is on today. A little more notice might have helped. Welcome to summer in the city.