The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Little adjustments (London residency, Day -1)

I've arrived in London after an enjoyable flight and a remarkably speedy trip through baggage and customs. I've also had a shower and a kip, and I'm about to leave the hotel and actually enjoy the city for a bit.

Even though in the Land of Uk "one mustn't grumble," one can certainly make ill-tempered observations:

  • Carrying a heavy bag down stairs is a much different proposition than carrying it up. And the Tube stop at Tower Hill has about 50 steps up and no escalators. As the difference between taking the Tube (£3.80) and a taxi (£75.00) is enormous, I will merely grin and enjoy the exercise.
  • My T-Mobile G1 is not allowing me to connect to any UK mobile providers, including, it must be pointed out, T-Mobile. The phone has three bands and certainly can connect, it just doesn't want to. T-Mobile Online Chat Mechanical Turk "Paison" is "researching the issue," but it means that I'm doing an online chat with T-Mobile rather than wandering London.
  • Once outside the hotel, I have to go to Piccadilly Circus to set up my Oyster Card (a stored-value card that works on the Tube and other parts of London transit) for auto top-up. I could do this online, except their online form doesn't accept international addresses, even though my account is an international account. It's stupid programming. Fortunately I have enough on my Oyster Card to get to Piccadilly Circus, and if Paison can research the issue faster, I can get there before the travel centerre closes in four hours.
  • Should I manage to get my Oyster card working, which requires leaving the hotel, which requires Paison to tell me how T-Mobile will let me give them more money, I have to buy two neckties. Why? Because all of my neckties are in my closet. In Chicago. Because my checklist for things to pack included many things, but even when packing my suit, my Oxford shirts, and even my cufflinks, I neglected to pack ties. Yeah. I'm in the Advanced Program.

OK, while typing this Paison figured out what setting in T-Mobile's computers was wrong, so my phone is working, having mysteriously connected itself to T-Mobile's UK network. I will now sally forth into this alien world and practice speaking the local language...

Quick update: I blamed Oyster's Website for the difficulty I had setting up my card. No, actually, the problem came from my bank's fraud detection department. They saw two charges from the U.K. and just blocked the card, knowing that I'd call them eventually. Keep in mind, my bank processed the charge for the airplane tickets (that included the itinerary, don't ask me why), and processed a charge last night at O'Hare, and could not draw a straight line between these things and a charge this morning for my hotel in London. But, hey, better safe than sorry, especially when you (i.e., the bank) have unlimited liability for fraudulent charges and I (i.e., me) have none. My inconvenience is your loss prevention.

Right. I really am leaving this hotel now.

Quick update redux: Nope, it was Oyster after all. They can't verify my postcode. Off to Piccadilly.

Subsidizing rural folk

The New York Times has a must-read article today about disproportionately small shares of transportation stimulus money going to places that produce disproportionately large shares of GDP. More simply: we in cities are subsidizing rural roads:

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engines.

...[T]he projects also offered vivid evidence that metropolitan areas are losing the struggle for stimulus money. Seattle found itself shut out when lawmakers in the State of Washington divided the first pot of stimulus money. Missouri has directed nearly half its money to 89 small counties which, together, make up only a quarter of the state’s population.

...Obama administration officials, who have called for ending sprawl and making sure that federal transportation spending is cost-effective, say they are looking at how states are spending the money from the stimulus law...

For example, New York, which produces almost 9% of U.S. GDP, is getting 2.9% of the money; Chicago, at 3.7% of GDP, gets 2.6% of the money. Contrast those figures with Kittitas County, Washington (population: 39,000), which is getting $836 per capita to resurface roads.

We don't need more roads. We need repaired bridges. We need trains and buses. Frankly, I also think we need $5 per gallon gas, which I think would lead directly to heavier investment in public transit, but that's a rant for another time.

What I did on my summer vacation

A friend called me up Friday night and asked if I wanted to go on a brewery tour of Southern Wisconsin the next morning. Here's the result: 578.5 km in a little under 7 hours, with Parker, and four breweries (plus a Heidi Festival).

We started around 9 in the morning from Lincoln Park, and by noon we'd arrived at the New Glarus Brewing Co.. For $6 each we got three, 90 mL samples, a self-guided (i.e., wander and look) tour of the brewery, and (for another $5 each) pint glasses. We kinda-sorta liked the beer (I preferred the Fat Squirrel, my friend the Hop Hearty), but we weren't in awe, so we ambled off to the town of New Glarus just down the hill.

Did you know it was Heidi Festival time? As in, Heidi? After a quick snack of bread and cheese for the humans (and half of a charred hotdog that someone dropped on the sidewalk for Parker), we decided to go. We hope the annual play went well for the kids.

We drove a quick 50 km up the road to Madison and the Capital Brewery, where an actual person gave a group of 25 a 15-minute tour of the facility. Plus samples, some free, some not. The brewery is most proud of its Island Wheat right now, but my friend and I both preferred the Pale Ale, for the simple reason that we both have a hop bias[1].

Next stop: Whole Foods in Madison, where the beer distribution cartels of Illinois have no power. Four six packs and much swapping later, we trundled on to Ale Asylum where we heard they might have dinner. And beer.

It was at this point that Parker regressed about two years and, in the oddest canine freak-out I've ever seen, attacked the hop vine growing along the brewery's patio fence. I think he was just anxious that I was on one side of the fence and he was on another, but at the time he started eating hop leaves I was standing next to him wondering why he was eating hop leaves[2].

Again, my friend and I liked the beers we sampled—Ambergeddon and Hopalicious—and again we liked them differently. What to do? Buy one six-pack of each and swap two of them. Problem solved.

By now it was 7pm, Parker was beyond tired and behaving like a beyond-tired 3-year-old, we were tired, and a thunderstorm loomed to the west. So we headed east down I-94 and got about ten minutes from Madison before deciding, what the hell, Tyranena is just off the highway in Lake Mills, so why not do one more?

Talk about the last shall go first. Mmmm.

For $10, we got a 9-beer sampler of everything they make. We sat outside in a big tent, big enough to shield us from the rain when it finally found us, sipping these delightful beers, while Parker slept almost soundly[3] on the grass next to our table.

We're probably going to go to Tyranena again. They have a do-it-yourself attitude towards everything but the beer, including a grill patrons are welcome to use and a laissez-faire attitude towards dogs and food.

Which beers, though? Bitter Woman Ale, certainly; and Bitter Woman in the Rye, their current "Brewers Gone Wild" selection. We both really liked the Chief Blackhawk Porter and Rocky's Revenge brown ale, with the usual caveats about my friend's IBU floor lying just a scooch below my IBU ceiling. The Stone Tepee left us confused, the Fargo Brothers Hefeweitzen didn't get finished somehow, and we agreed that the Three Beaches Honey Blonde exists only so that people who think Coors Light is beer will have something to drink when they get dragged to Tyranena[4].

So: sometime in July, we're going back on the road. If to Wisconsin, we may again plan to end the day in Lake Mills. Otherwise, it turns out that Western Michigan has a bucket load of breweries....

[1] Actually, I have a bias, she has a fetish. But don't tell her I said this.

[2] Hop leaves aren't harmful per se, but actual hops themselves are very dangerous to dogs. If your dog ever gets into your brewing supplies, make sure you call your local emergency vet line or poison control. If your dog goes on a rampage and eats a few dozen hop leaves without eating any buds, just bring an extra bag on your walk the next morning.

[3] Somehow, though, he managed to notice every bit of pretzel that landed near his nose, almost as if he had an automatic tongue. He wouldn't even twitch his ears or open his eyes when one landed near him, he'd just extend his tongue and the pretzel would disappear. Dogs are amazing that way.

[4] Three Beaches is, however, a real beer, so we did finish the entire sample. It just wasn't our favorite of the nine we tried.

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...

Net Saver Fares

I'm in Durham, N.C. today, having pounced on a delightful airfare American Airlines released on Tuesday. The fictional supernatural personifications of travel were with me yesterday, from the 35-minute (door-to-door) trip from home to O'Hare, to the upgrade, to my friend taking advantage of my visit to bring her boyfriend and me on a Segway tour of downtown Raleigh.

The last counts as travel because I learned how to ride a new vehicle. We looked like a string of electric ducks following the tour guide (photos likely tomorrow), but we learned a lot and had a great time gliding around nonplussed Carolinians. Somehow, I have no idea how this could have happened, someone figured out how to turn off the governor on my Segway, so I managed to get it up to its top speed (20 km/h), a few points above the top speed the tour company programmed into the machine (14 km/h).

Tonight: friend of host's birthday party. Tomorrow: obscenely early flight home, the only bad part about weekend last-minute fares.

Are cities lonlier?

I love finding cool articles after four random clicks (here to here to here to...here). Apparently, cities aren't so lonely—something I and my friends already knew but possibly wasn't common knowledge on the other side of Howard St. (or the Hudson, or the Charles, etc.):

Of all 3,141 counties in the United States, New York County is the unrivaled leader in single-individual households, at 50.6 percent. More than three-quarters of the people in them are below the age of 65. Fifty-seven percent are female. In Brooklyn, the overall number is considerably lower, at 29.5 percent, and Queens is 26.1. But on the whole, in New York City, one in three homes contains a single dweller, just one lone man or woman who flips on the coffeemaker in the morning and switches off the lights at night.

These numbers should tell an unambiguous story. They should confirm the common belief about our city, which is that New York is an isolating, coldhearted sort of place. ... In American lore, the small town is the archetypal community, a state of grace from which city dwellers have fallen (thus capitulating to all sorts of political ills like, say, socialism). Even among die-hard New Yorkers, those who could hardly imagine a life anywhere else, you'll find people who secretly harbor nostalgia for the small village they've never known.

Yet the picture of cities—and New York in particular—that has been emerging from the work of social scientists is that the people living in them are actually less lonely. Rather than driving people apart, large population centers pull them together, and as a rule tend to possess greater community virtues than smaller ones. This, even though cities are consistently, overwhelmingly, places where people are more likely to live on their own.

In Chicago the proportion of single-individual households is smaller, but in my ZIP Code, the average household size is 1.7 (cf. New York, 2.0, or, say, New York Mills, Minn., at 2.18.)

Kyiv at night

I can't remember exactly where this is—I think it's Kontraktova Square—but I remember it was beautiful. Note the chestnut trees in full bloom on the right. That's Kyiv in spring for you.

The Lavra

No one should visit Kyiv without seeing the Kievo-Percherska Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра), the Monestery of the Caves, founded in 1015:

We didn't go into the caves (and I couldn't have photographed them anyway), but we did explore the grounds. (For what it's worth, Lonely Planet recommends getting there early and going straight to the caves. Next time.)

Complete view of the main entrance to the upper Lavra:

Dormition Cathedral: