Good Capitals, Bad Capitals

An apartment search service called “Rent Hop” has declared Chicago the “Rat Capital” of the United States.  Rent Hop did a study of rat complaints and concluded that Chicago received far more rat complaints than other American cities — 50,963 in 2017 alone.  That’s a 55 percent increase since 2014, and factors out to 1,876 complaints per 100,000 people.  Even worse, the neighborhoods with the most rat complaints also tend to be the neighborhoods with the most uncollected dog droppings.

6432106That’s really a lot of rat complaints, when you think about it.  If you’re a renter in Chicago — particularly in some neighborhoods — you’re pretty likely to have a rat encounter.

The Windy City blew New York City out of the water in the Rat Capital race; the Big Apple logged only 19,152 rat complaints last year, which put it well down on the list on a per capita basis.  Second place on the per capita list went to Washington, D.C.  That should come as no surprise, although it’s not clear whether the D.C. count was limited to only four-legged rats, or also included the two-legged variety.

Fortunately, Columbus didn’t make the Rat Capital list.

Cities used to declare themselves “capitals” as a mark of civic pride.  When I was a kid, Uhrichsville, Ohio — where the Webner part of the family hails from — had a sign boasting that it was the “Clay Capital” of the United States.  (I’m not sure any other municipalities were vying for that distinction.)  Akron was the Rubber Capital in those days, and even now on the highways you’ll see corny signs saying that one town or another is the Friendly Folks Capital or the Smile Capital or the Lobster Capital.

I doubt that Chicago is going to put up a sign about the Rat Capital designation.

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Getting “Bumped”

We’ve all been in this situation:  we’re at the gate, waiting for our plane, and the gate agent makes an announcement that the flight is overbooked and they’re looking for “volunteers” to take a later flight in exchange for a travel voucher.  If there are no immediate volunteers, the value of the voucher can go up . . . and up . . . and up.

But what if there are no volunteers, at any price?  I’ve never bitten on any of those offers because I would much rather get to where I’m going.  What if everyone on a particular flight took that approach?  I’ve always wondered about that scenario.

united-airlines-man-dragged-out-of-plane-253x189Now we’ve got an answer, of sorts.  On one overbooked United Airlines flight, from O’Hare Airport in Chicago to Louisville, an airport security officer physically assaulted a passenger who was in his seat on the plane and dragged him down the aisle and off the plane so United staff who needed to get to Louisville could take his seat.  Of course, other passengers had out their cell phones and took video footage of the encounter. The video is pretty shocking when you consider that the man who was mistreated was a ticketed passenger who had paid for the flight, checked in, and followed all of the rules.

United told passengers that four people needed to leave the flight and that it was selecting the people who needed to give up their seats to United staffers by random computer selection.  Three of the unlucky people apparently left voluntarily — but when the one passenger refused, he was forcibly removed.  One passenger said that the man had originally agreed to give up his seat, but rescinded his decision when he learned that the next available flight was not until the next day.

Of course, United officials and the Chicago Department of Aviation say that the actions of airport security were contrary to policy, and they’ve apologized.  United, meanwhile, is dealing with a PR nightmare.  How many people are going to think twice about choosing a United flight if, say, an American flight is available?  And for those of us who fly regularly, it’s an eye opener to think that you could be chosen randomly to give up that seat you reserve because an airline has decided that its staff needs to have that seat instead, and then mauled by airport police if you decline.

“Fly the friendly skies,” indeed!

Crossroads Of The Country


This morning finds me at the Hilton hotel at the Chicago O’Hare Airport.  And when I say “at the airport,” I mean at the airport — as in, right on the airport grounds, so that you see the Hilton sign dead ahead when your plane pulls into its gate at Concourse G.

How many thousands of people have been to meetings at the venerable O’Hare Hilton and roamed its sprawling, gently curving, utterly generic hallways?  It’s the perfect spot for business meetings of people from diverse locations, at one of our busiest airports, with great connections, smack dab in the middle of the country.  For that same reason, a visit to the O’Hare Hilton is the ultimate in transitory experiences.

Last night I flew into O’Hare, walked to the Hilton, and had dinner in one of its restaurants.  Today I’ll go to a meeting in one of its conference rooms, eat the conference room breakfast and lunch offerings, and fly out tonight — all without ever setting foot outside the airport grounds.

When I get back to Columbus and someone asks how my trip to Chicago was, I’ll say I didn’t go there– I just went to the O’Hare Hilton.

The Trump Campaign’s Chicago Shutdown

If you’ve watched the news this weekend, you’ve seen footage of protesters clashing with security forces and Donald Trump supporters at the site of a scheduled Trump rally in Chicago.  The Trump campaign ended up canceling the event due to security concerns.

The MSNBC website has an interesting story about how a bunch of activists — some from the Bernie Sanders campaign, some from other groups like Black Lives Matter and Fearless and Undocumented — organized a massive protest against the Trump event.  According to the story, a few key factors helped the protest gel.

kiro7dotcom-template_1457743926114_3192105_ver1-0_640_360The Trump event was on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus in the heart of the Windy City, where lots of Sanders supporters and activists are found.  Progressive groups were already well organized in Chicago, because they’ve been routinely protesting against Democrat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his police policies for months, so communications networks among groups were already established.  And Trump’s message has so alienated many people that large groups were eager to join in the protest.  The protest organizers came up with a plan, got thousands of protesters to show up and get into the Trump rally, and then when fights broke out the protesters got what their “#SHUTITDOWN” Twitter hashtag suggested — the Trump campaign pulled the plug and Trump himself never appeared.

How to react to people ripping up signs, throwing punches at political rallies, and shutting down a campaign event?  My reactions are decidedly mixed.  There’s no doubt that a lot of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is inflammatory — intentionally so — and he and his supporters shouldn’t be surprised when his strong statements provoke equally strong reactions.  If Trump wants to lash out against immigrants, or Muslims, he’s got to expect that, in some quarters at least, he’s doing to be harshly criticized as a racist and a demagogue and he’s going to encounter lots of protests against his positions and statements.

At the same time, I hate to see violence erupt and political events canceled because of security concerns.  The protesters had every right to advocate against Trump’s message, but Trump and his supporters had every right to speak, too.  One comment in the MSNBC piece was a red flag for me:  a protest organizer said, “We wanted to show Trump that this is Chicago, and we run Chicago, and we’re not going to take this.”  Some other commentators have said that Trump was to blame for the clashes because his campaign dared to schedule an event on a college campus in an urban area.  Such comments suggest — very uncomfortably, in my view — that there are “safe” areas and “unsafe” areas for campaign events to be held, depending on the political views and party affiliation of the candidate.  That’s a dangerous, precarious viewpoint in a country where the Constitution guarantees free speech for all, even if the speech is deeply offensive to many.

One other interesting point about the Chicago clashes is that the Sanders campaign seems to have tapped into a strong vein of anti-establishment feeling on the left side of the political spectrum that cuts across racial lines.  If you are disaffected — whether you are African-American, Latino, Anglo, or other — you’re going to notice that it was members of the Bernie Brigade, and not Hillary Clinton supporters, who helped put together the anti-Trump protests.  It will be interesting to see whether this development, which could seriously cut into the support Clinton expects to get from African-Americans and Latinos, changes the political calculus as big states like Illinois, Ohio, and Florida vote on Tuesday.

 

Paying In Advance For A Restaurant Reservation

Cancelled reservations are a curse for restaurants.  Reservations get made, the diners-to-be never appear, and a perfectly good table goes empty on a busy night while people wait impatiently at the bar or in the foyer, or leave altogether.

One restaurant in Chicago, called Next, decided to address the problem by replacing reservations with tickets.  You buy your ticket in advance for a table at a particular date and time, and the tickets are non-refundable.  Next’s website explains that “[u]nlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices.”

Requiring diners to buy tickets dramatically reduced the number of no-shows; Next experienced only five full table no-shows last year and the number of tables where the full party didn’t come fell sharply, too.  Other restaurants are beginning to adopt the practice, so it may be coming soon to a restaurant near you.

I would be perfectly happy with this system at high-end restaurants on busy nights.  If I like a restaurant, I want it to succeed.  If cutting out the lost profits from reservation no-shows helps a great place to stay in business, I’m all for it.

I also think, however, that the reservation/ticket process should be a two-way street.  Kish and I aren’t the no-show types — our problem is showing up at the designated time and having the restaurant tell us that the table isn’t ready yet.  We had a bad experience at one restaurant where we waited for a long while and the hostess just shrugged it off.  If we buy a pre-paid, non-refundable ticket and the table isn’t available when we arrive, we should get a free drink and a significant discount.

Another Really Great Story

Richard continues to hit it out of the park in his internship for the Chicago Tribune this summer.  His most recent story is a really great piece about how the recession hit the South Side of Chicago especially hard and that, years later, the development efforts in South Side neighborhoods still have not recovered.  The piece includes a well-done and easy to use interactive map that allows you to look at the impact of the recession on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

IMG_2349This kind of story is really good reporting for two reasons.  First, it addresses a topic — the status of rich neighborhoods versus poor neighborhoods in America, with the impact of crime and teetering city finances thrown in for good measure — that is not frequently addressed in the media. It’s not a pleasant, or easy, story to report, but it’s essential to cover if we are to get a true sense of economic reality.

Second, it involves real shoe-leather reporting, which often involves digging into public records like construction permits and figuring out boring topics like tax increment financing districts.  It’s easy to call the head of a development agency, get his or her spin in a pre-packaged quote, and stop there; it’s much more challenging and time-consuming to sift through documents obtained from a municipal office and do the kinds of painstaking, but powerful and irrefutable, comparisons that Richard has done in this piece.  People might pitch things to advance their agendas, but the construction permits don’t lie, because without the permits nothing gets built.

Forgive me for a little proud bragging — although what’s a family blog for if not for a little parental boasting? — but I greatly admire Richard’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and tackle some of the tough and challenging issues found in the urban areas of America.  He has become a really fine reporter.

Farmers’ Markets Without Farmers

Richard has another good story in the Chicago Tribune today.  This one is about farmers’ markets in the Chicago area that don’t have enough participating farmers.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “urban food deserts” — that is, entire sections of urban areas where it is claimed that only fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores sell food, and those outlets don’t stock fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy eats.  As a result, the theory goes, people in those areas eat only crummy, salty, fatty, processed snack foods like chips and soda rather than green beans and peaches.

In Chicago, some people have tried to set up farmers’ markets to address the issue.  The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough farmers to go around.  Farmers want to go to places where there will be lots of traffic and not too much competition for sales of the goods they will offer.  Inner-city farmers’ markets often lose out in the cost-benefit analysis, and offering incentives might not make up the difference.

It’s surprising that Chicago is having this problem, because once you get outside of the Chicago metropolitan area Illinois is primarily an agricultural state.  You would think there would be lots of farmers, cheesemakers, and other food artisans willing to load up their wares and take them to the big city for sale.  The fact that it isn’t happening suggests that addressing the “food desert” issue might be more difficult than people think.