The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I will travel from state to state in a recreational vehicle

Poor Commander Borodin, the executive officer on the Red October, who never got to live his dream:

Only it turns out, during a pandemic, it's not such a dream:

“Most R.V.s are not set up to be disconnected from utilities for extended periods of time, so as a result, when a shelter-in-place order is issued, it creates a nationwide game of musical chairs for people trying to find a spot to hunker down in,” said Shawn Loring, chief executive of the Escapees RV Club, one of the country’s oldest and largest groups for R.V.ers.

While people can set up on “dispersed” public land — open grounds without utilities — most are still in need of R.V. parks that offer connections for power, water, septic tanks and Wi-Fi, among other services. Leigh Wetzel, co-founder of Campendium, an online resource with 27,600 campsites in its database, said that as of March 20, 9 percent of those sites were closed. A month later it was 46 percent.

Some R.V. advocates have been lobbying to get these parks recognized as essential services. “Local governments don’t understand, only a very small percentage of R.V.s are equipped for off-the-grid living,” said Curtis Coleman, chief executive of RVillage, an online community with about 216,000 members. “They think campgrounds are gathering places and are not thinking they provide an essential service for the full-time R.V.ers who are now displaced.”

Imagine being in a 18 m² room with someone for weeks, and nowhere to go, because you can't get (or unload) water. One shudders.

President of the Continental Congress

The only president this country has right now massively trolled my party and my state today:

As talk in Washington has swiftly moved to the next coronavirus relief package, President Donald Trump on Monday questioned whether federal taxpayers should provide money of “poorly run” states and cities run by Democrats, specifically citing Illinois.

“Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?” Trump asked on Twitter.

Controversy over federal help to states was magnified when Illinois Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park earlier this month asked the state’s congressional delegation for more than $41.6 billion in federal aid, including $10 billion for the state’s vastly underfunded public employee pension system.

The state’s five GOP congressman rejected the request as an attempt to use federal money to paper over decades of mismanagement, including the pensions which have a $138 billion unfunded liability.

Well, why not? We've spent decades subsidizing Republican states for their unconscionable mismanagement of schools, disaster planning, highway construction...basically, we've subsidized their low tax rates and massive inequality. (Also, density in places like New York actually saves more lives every year than the pandemic will take this year.)

Obviously it's stupid to Balkanize the US. We are one nation. And we have been since 1789. Seriously, Republicans, if you don't like the Federal system, then let's see you pass a Constitutional amendment giving states the right to secede. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the nation has seen about 15,000 excess deaths in the past month, suggesting massive under-reporting of Covid-19 cases. And New York State has postponed the Democratic Party primary election from June 23rd to possibly just before the party's convention in August.

First Covid-19 casualty of Brews & Choos

I suspended the Brews & Choos Project after March 7th as the state closed restaurants and bars to slow the spread of SARS-COV-2. I had planned to continue the project as soon as things opened up again, knowing the economic pause would certainly change the roster. Sadly, it already has, with the permanent closure of Argus Brewing on the city's south side on March 28th:

Since launching in 2009 in a former Schlitz horse stable — a relic of when beer was delivered by hooves — Argus always hovered at the edge of the beer drinking consciousness, a curiosity few Chicagoans ever saw, tasted or even discussed.

While other breweries of its era grew into Chicago icons — Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution — Argus sat quietly at the city’s far south end, miles from both its competitors and the city’s best-known beer bars.

Argus founder Bob Jensen acknowledged that his brewery had long been teetering at the edge of collapse. It was never profitable, and in December, reduced head count from 16 to 11 employees. Jensen considered pulling the plug for months. The COVID-19 pandemic made him pull it.

Earlier this month, the Brewers Association said coronavirus may be catastrophic for the nation’s small breweries. Nearly 60% of surveyed breweries predicted they couldn’t survive three months of social distancing.

For Argus, the decision was made in less than two weeks. About three-quarters of its business was draft, an arena that dried up literally overnight after bars and restaurants closed March 16 to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

But Argus’ demise was rooted in years of not being able to turn a corner, even as a $29 billion craft beer industry grew around it. Argus grappled with its far-flung location in the Roseland neighborhood, questionable commitment from its distributors, growing competition, failure to open a taproom, buy-in from bars and stores and, most important, making quality beer.

On March 1st I went down to Flossmoor Station on the Metra Electric line, but didn't stop at Argus because they didn't have tours on Sundays. I had planned to go down there in warmer weather so that I could not only see their operation and taste their beer, but also so I could walk around the Pullman Historic District nearby.

I really hope brewpubs and taprooms can reopen soon.

How crude

Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)

Meanwhile, in other horrific news:

Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.

I filled my tank today, oh boy

Remember how I love my car? I love it even more today, and I'm a bit spooked by its costs.

A new filling station opened up about 1500 m from my house, and they have the lowest gas prices around. Even though I last filled my car on November 24th, in Indiana, and even though I've driven 1,623 km since then, I still had half a tank of gas. So for $10, I put 21 L of regular into the tank, which means my car cost me 0.6¢ per kilometer to operate over the last 144 days, and I got an average of 1.3 L/100 km fuel economy.

I have not paid that little for fuel—47.5¢/L—since January 2004. (In fairness, the car I owned then used premium gas.)

That said, I have not seen that fuel price in real terms since 2002. In fact, back when I bought my first car in June 1989, regular gas cost 32.5¢/L, which would be 67.6¢/L adjusted for inflation.

We live in very strange times.

He just can't help it

Today's Covid-19 news roundup highlights how no one in the White House should go anywhere near this crisis response effort:

All of this, and we still have an hour to go before lunch.

There was one bit of good news, though. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this week that said air-transport fatalities dropped by 75% between the 1983-2000 period and 2001-2017. One expects that Covid-19 will reduce those numbers even further.

17 million unemployment claims in 3 weeks

Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:

After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?

Ten million unemployed

More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week (including 178,000 in Illinois), following the 3.3 million who filed the week before. This graphic from The Washington Post puts these numbers in perspective:

Hotel occupancy has crashed as well, down 67% year-over-year, with industry analysts predicting the worst year on record.

In other pandemic news:

Finally, unrelated to the coronavirus but definitely related to our natural environment, the Lake Michigan/Huron system recorded its third straight month of record levels in March. The lake is a full meter above the long-term average and 30 cm above last year's alarming levels.

Something to do when the sun's out

Chicago Tribune architecture critic offers an alternative to sitting on your couch and bingeing Netflix:

Here’s a suggestion: Go out for a stroll and take in some architecture.

Walks are allowed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. You just have to be sure to maintain the social distancing that public health officials say is essential to halting the spread of the deadly virus.

If you know where to look, you might come across something fabulous. Not too far from where I live, for example, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frank J. Baker House, a Prairie style head-turner in the 500 block of Lake Street in Wilmette.

There are minor gems out there, too, like the Chicago Transit Authority "L" station in the 1000 block of Central Street in Evanston.

To get you going in the right direction on your walks, it helps to have a good guide. The one I highly recommend is the American Institute of Architects’ “AIA Guide to Chicago,” which, despite its 550-page bulk, is easy to tuck into your coat pocket.

I have this book, and I may go for a walk later today. Because my office, as entertaining as it is, has begun to feel cramped.