Larry the Ghost crashes CTA train

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Paper Machete is a great live magazine happening every Saturday at the Green Mill in Chicago (with a great podcast as well). Every month the host, Christopher Piatt, hosts an open mic incubator series called The MASH, which I attended again this evening. Below is the piece I wrote for this iteration. For those of you outside of Chicago or didn’t catch it on the national news, the context for this piece is at the bottom.

It was performed in character, so imagine a voice a little bit like Yogi the Bear but more depressed. Enjoy!


Hey guys—my name’s Larry—some people call me L Train—it’s my nickname—but you can call me Larry.

I’m a ghost.

First off, I just want to say, I’m sorry. You probably all heard about that CTA crash Monday morning in Oak Park on the Blue Line, where a train seemingly driven by no one ran into another train sitting in the station: well, that my bad.

I wanted to come out tonight and publicly take full responsibility for my actions. I had no intention of hurting anyone, sure as hell not injuring more than 30 people just hanging out in one of those fresh, almost potpourri smelling CTA cars.

See, here’s what happened: I’d been visiting CTA stations off and on this summer and kept seeing these signs for Ventra, you know? And it was really piquing my interest and everything because I didn’t know if maybe it was some kind of new Starbucks coffee size or some player for the White Sox or new female orgasm tool or whatever, you never know what they’re advertising in there.

But then one night not too long ago I snuck into this woman Sharon’s place. It’s kind of nice over there: she lives in this first floor walk-up and leaves the window open; the fact that she walks around naked really has nothing to do with it. Anyway, she had on that WGN TV station and I heard ‘em say “Ventra”, so my ears perked up, you know, as much as ghost ears can—with about the same ineptitude as my you know what can’t perk up any more either, but that’s another story—but anyway, I heard ’em saying Ventra’s this new way to pay for bus and train trips, and it all starts to come together, you know, just like the end of that movie the Sixth Sense, which I can’t mention here without also making sure you’re aware just how much every ghost hates that movie, because every ghost KNOWS they’re a ghost, from the get go, there’s none of this thinking you’re a person shit that Shamalamadingdong guy pulled on all you gullibles out there. But I digress.

But this Ventra shit sounds kind of crazy, am I right? Do you know all about this? I mean, first it’s run by a private company, which isn’t so surprising here in Chicago where you don’t even own your parking meters, but still, strike one if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself. Then you have the fact that you’re basically signing up for a credit/debit card with this thing, and then you get all the fees for all the bells and whistles the company is planning to charge. And then, if you just want to buy a one ride ticket, it costs $3 instead of $2.25. And there’s not even an option to pay with cash, even on the bus. To all that I give a big BOOOO, if you don’t mind the expression…

Anyway, I got to the CTA station Monday morning, still kind of pissed about all this Ventra stuff—and a bit of an aside, I suppose, pissed is apparently how lots of people riding CTA elevators feel, if you catch my drift—but I decided, what the hell, I’ll jump the turnstile today, who’s going to see me? Ghost joke! Am I right? Am I right?

So I head up to the station and there’s no train around so I just kind of mosey over to the rail yard where they keep all the extra cars and I find one I like and head inside. And I realize I have never been in a train car by myself before, and it’s pretty cool in there. I mean, there’s no one’s ass for me to grab and pretend it’s “because it was bumpy” or whatever, but there’s also no one trying to sell me any candy for their youth sports leagues so it all kind of balances itself out.

And then I’m like “Larry, you should go into the cockpit or whatever that place in front is called where they drive the fuckin’ train.” That is literally the sentence that ran through my head. I’m sorry I’m kind of slow sometimes, but I haven’t slept since 1953 when they demolished my house with me still inside to make room for the Eisenhower Expressway. You all seem like smart people, you all don’t need that history lesson, right? Maybe another time.

Anyway, I head inside the cockpit or whatever and then I got to thinking… “Hmm, what if I, you know, drive this thing?” So I hit a few buttons and before I knew what was going on the train was moving. I mean, I was surprised I could even go anywhere, right, since the crash, I’ve heard or all this stuff that should have stopped me: the breaks, obviously, which would have needed a key to release them, but also—and I know when I tell you this you’ll be all like “L Train, you better not be shittin’ us”, but I swear this is real—something called a “dead man control” which has to constantly be pressed or else the motor shuts off and the brakes are applied. I guess they have that in case a train operator had a heart attack, or, you know, there’s a ghost who wants to operate the train.

Maybe if they funded the CTA half a shit all those things would have actually stopped me, but the train just kept on barreling down the tracks, and I’m all on the intercom, shouting shit like “L Train in the house!” and singin’ “Peace Train, sounding louder, ride on the Peace Train” all Yusif Islam style and then WHAM! Impact. I ain’t felt that kind of crash since that wrecking ball came through my bedroom window. Anyway, I’m kind of freaked out, realizing what happened, and I just get the hell out of there.

I felt kind of bad, but it’s kind of cool, too; I mean, the Trib even called it a “ghost train”, which is kind of validating for me and Tim and Sparky and all us other ghosts who never get any respect. It took me a couple days before I felt comfortable getting on the train again, but today I decided I’d give it another try. So I was on the Green Line this morning, sitting on some lady’s lap and reading the Red Eye, and I couldn’t help but start laughing to read that the National Traffic Safety Board, who was investigating the crash, had to stop working Monday night because of the government shutdown. To that I say, “Thank you Mr. Boehner!”

So once again, I just wanna say I’m sorry for injuring those people and delaying the blue line for the west side and northwest side hipster riders. It’s hard out here for a ghost. Thank you.


CTA crash likely caused by ‘mechanical malfunction,’ suburban mayor says

Half-mile journey of CTA ‘ghost train’ baffles investigators

CTA: Ventra

Ventra CTA Cards Get Mixed Response

Ventra cards in service on CTA, Pace transit

Paying cash for L ride will cost more under new high-tech system

how to kill a chicken

Friday 22 October 2010

This NY Times article, New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side, talks about two (premium chicken) companies that will be basically anesthetizing chickens before they cut their throats.  If you’re really that concerned about how your chicken dies, maybe you shouldn’t be eating dead chicken in the first place, at least not chicken killed in a factory.

And if you want to spend your energy doing something, why not focus on the continued proliferation of factory farmed chickens and how they live (if you don’t know — it’s not a good life) instead of how they die.

how much are you worth?

Wednesday 20 October 2010

It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago, I watched the last of 33 Chilean miners stranded 1/2 a mile under the surface of the earth emerge from a  cylindrical cage only 28 inches in diameter to greet family and friends he had not seen in over 2 months.

It’s quite a remarkable story: 33 Chilean miners are trapped underground and feared dead; 17 days later, it’s found they’re alive but still trapped; drilling begins to dig a secondary entrance to their space, expected to take up to 4 months to complete; instead, drilling moves faster than expected, and the last miner is pulled to the surface 69 days after the odyssey began.

I stayed up way too late Tuesday night to see the first one, two, three miners emerge, and I couldn’t help but feel anything but sheer and utter amazement at this feat.  But after I slept a few hours, went to work, and returned home to watch the final miners return to “freedom,” blessing their saviors and greeting their loved ones, my thoughts wandered elsewhere…

First, I thought what a great analogy this could be for people of faith, especially Christians.  You have a creator/god (here: the Chilean government) willing to pull out all the stops to save you from this horrible, dark, isolated predicament.  In this situation, you (the miners) are worth doing anything for and will be saved no matter what it takes.  This is the positive outlook.

But then, as my mind often does, I moved to thinking about the subject a little differently.  What DID it take to rescue these 33 men?  On the night of the rescue, I found a report that put the cost at about $10 million dollars, but a more detailed article by the BBC reported estimates between $10 and $20 million dollars.  If we take the middle of the estimates, these miners were apparently worth the equivalent of 1/2 a million dollars EACH!

Before I go on, I must say that the unintentional death of anyone is a tragedy, and if these 33 men would have died, this would have been no different.  And if this event helps to continue improving political relations between Chile and Bolivia, that too would be a positive outcome.  But I couldn’t shake the dollar sign with such a large number behind it.

What does it take to save a life, anyway?  How far would $500,000 (from one miner, or $15 million total) go in improving, or “saving,” the life of a child living in poverty in any number of communities across the U.S.?  What sorts of positive changes could you make for that kind of money to “save” the life of a child, and how many could you save with it?

Perhaps my first question of those three is the most important here: What does it take to save a life?  Part of the problem here is the concrete vs. the abstract.  We know that without our assistance, the miners would die, but if  we’re willing to spend the money to bring them back to the surface, they survive.  No action/$ = death.  Action/$ = life.  It’s much harder to do that same equation with those whose lives are threatened in many other ways where larger change needs to happen, but we’re a society (and world, apparently) that likes to do the quick fix, see the success, and be done.

However, while we can’t assuredly say spending $500,ooo to put 10 young adults through college would “save” their lives, creating wells for families without clean drinking water or supporting sustainable agriculture in areas where thousands die of hunger and malnutrition would certainly save lives — and here I mean literally save lives — at a much better ratio than 500,000 to 1.  But we don’t see it to use our money that way, to share our money that way, with “those” people.

I’m sure you know at least some of those people who need saving, maybe even personally; it’s about time we changed our culture to create a world where the money trail shows that every person’s life is valued.  As long as there are still those with money to spare and those who still need saving, we haven’t made it there yet.

no-risk money making

Monday 18 October 2010

In lieu of any writing I’ve done in the past few months, here’s a little animation about how large financial banks make money without putting themselves at risk (from the NY Times):

A Financial House Advantage

tax day!!!

Thursday 15 April 2010

As hopefully my readers in the U.S. are aware, 15 April is tax day!  Because it falls on a weekday this year, you won’t get any extra days.  If you still haven’t filed your taxes, you should do that!  Even if you’re late, it’s OK.

I, personally, got a few refunds this year (based on my locations of employment), including a nice bonus from the federal government!  I still paid taxes, mind you, in terms of medicare and social security (not to mention sales taxes all the time!), but I was part, as an article I read notes, Nearly half of US household escape income tax (if  you can call me a “household”).  I’d make some comments about this fact, but I think it’s already been done well at another blog called the “Hillbilly Report,” for all you rural progressives out there, apparently c:

Instead, I want to talk about what all those income taxes that are collected are used for!  Perhaps one might say that only those 53% who pay income taxes should decide how they are used, and that might be an interesting way to go, but until that day, I’ll have my say.

There is a nifty little chart/flyer put out by FCNL that shows how income tax revenues are distributed.  As we continue to think about health care, we should not be surprised to see that 17% (or $532 billion) of such taxes go to health care costs (and that doesn’t include medicare!) — as the flyer notes, this “Includes Medicaid, public health, Indian Health,
National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and related programs.”  We also know that tax money goes toward things like transportation, education, and other “basic needs” we have in the lives we live.

However, what gets me is that 1/3, or 33%, or $1 trillion (also written as $1,039.5 billion) goes toward Pentagon spending for current and past wars!  That far exceeds the minimal 1%, or $36 billion, that goes toward “Diplomacy, Development, and War Prevention.”  And actually, the “war” percentage is lower than usual because we spent so much money on the bailout and government economic relief — that number was 43% a year ago and is expected to rise to 38% again in two years, even with our current President Obama.

What we see here is continued belief that what makes the U.S.  safe and secure, not to mention a country not to be trifled with, is our military strength.  They say “fences make good neighbors,” but I think having friends around you is even a better strategy in the end.  Instead of spending (wasting) money on wars and war machinery, we need to transform our country into one working for peace and reconciliation with countries around the world, recognizing that our differences need not mean hostility and war.  Especially in these tough economic times, we need to reduce war and military related spending and step into the world of diplomacy and peacemaking.  If not now, when?

the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 2)

Sunday 21 March 2010

OK, so if you haven’t read pt. 1 yet, please do that now…

Ready for part 2?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news the past two weeks, I’m sure you’re at least semi-familiar with this whole U.S./Israel “spat,” “feud,” or whatever you want to call what’s been happening these past couple of weeks.  In case you’re not (or to get you back in the mood), here are two options:

The situation in news articles (I’m big on the AP and NY Times these days) (please click at least one — it’s time consuming to link all these articles!):
Tues 9 Mar: As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements (NYT)
Thurs 11 Mar: Biden to Leave Mideast Amid Unease (NYT)
Fri 12 Mar: Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing Announcement (NYT);
Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement (AP)
Sun 14 Mar: Israeli settlement action ‘an insult’: Obama aide (AP)
Mon 15 Mar: Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S. (NYT);
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress (AP)
Tues 16 Mar: US envoy cancels Mideast trip, Israel feud deepens (AP) ;
US, Israel try to back away from the brink (AP)

Fri 19 Mar: Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves to Ease Tension ‘Useful’ (NYT)
Sat 20 Mar: UN Chief says Israeli settlements must be stopped (AP) (OK, so this one is a little off topic, but still in the vein of all the rest, perhaps the best to read!)
Sun 21 Mar: Israel: No building restrictions in east Jerusalem (AP)

What brought about the curious events of the past two weeks was simply an announcement of  a planned building project that occurred when Joe Biden was visiting prior to planned mediated peace talks scheduled for last week.  Then Biden, upon hearing the announcement, condemned the plan, and the spat began.  Members of Congress and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. criticized the criticism, and the back and forth began.  When you break down this whole fiasco, though, it really comes down to the issue alluded to in that last article: Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Just as the West Bank was land Israel took control of during the Six-Day War in 1967, so were the lands we currently refer to as East Jerusalem.  While most people can understand and accept that Palestinians living in the West Bank desire this land for a future state.  However, the issue of Jerusalem is definitely much murkier, specifically because it’s hard to think of a city being divided between two countries, as it was between 1948 and 1967.  However, it is also unacceptable for either Palestinians or Israelis to give up what was under their control during that 20-year span.

However, this quote speaks volumes:

“As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv” and there would be no restrictions, Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Later in the article we here this:

Netanyahu has always opposed compromise over Jerusalem. Israel captured the city’s eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognized by any other country. Over four decades, Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods around the Arab section of the city.

Jerusalem may, in the end, but the one sticking point that can’t be overcome.  One past plan included Jerusalem being an “international” city, belonging to no country in particular but under unified control by a body such as or similar to the United Nations.  However, with Jerusalem the current capital of Israel and East Jerusalem usually declared the capital of any future Palestinian state, we seem to have a problem.

The question is whether, knowing this and all the other issues needing to be resolved, the U.S. will show some force in using its power of influence politically and monetarily (or withholding money from Israel, as the case may be) to make true change happen.

I have more to say, but since I like to keep these pretty short, I’ll hold off for a part 3.  Before I close, though, I wanted to pull a few quotes from a NY Times feature, “Room For Debate,” which features multiple people talking about a particular subject.  In this case, the issue was titled, “Israel’s Challenge to the U.S.”  Read on, and click the article title link here for more on this topic.

From Amjad Atallah

The United States has been sending its messages with carrots and great diplomatic restraint. The current Israeli government, in stark contrast, has been responding like a petulant child, outraged that it hasn’t been able to get U.S. acquiescence to its own short-term political strategy.

There is a great deal at stake in this public and private dispute between Israel and the United States. President Obama should consider responding in a similar manner, by creating his own facts on the ground, and ending all forms of U.S. cover and support of the settlement enterprise and other policies that sustain the occupation.

From Daoud Kuttab

All attempts to appease and reward Israel for its acquisition by war has resulted in pushing peace away. If President George W. Bush truly believed, and President Obama truly believes — as they both publicly stated — that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement built on Palestinian territory forcefully taken in 1967 will not be tolerated.

Once America regains its resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.

making babies, pt. 2

Monday 4 January 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote a little blog about what I called “manufacturing babies,” the idea of using surrogate mothers for having a child, purchasing maybe the egg or sperm, or sometimes both.  I cited a NY Times article about some of the ethical quandries of this practice.

Then last week, the NY Times featured the issue in its “Room for Debate” Blog, getting together a few people to talk about the issue.  Read that posting here.

It was interesting to me that all the authors were essentially debating whether there need to be standards on who could have a surrogate child.  After all, there are many things that have to happen for parents to be able to adopt a child, so why should surrogacy be different?

Alas, that is an issue I care not to discuss today (read the blog above to hear some thoughts), but it did get me thinking how there may be many requirements for adoptning, and one day surrogacy, but outside of those processes, anyone with the biological ability can make babies “the old-fashioned way.”  Why is that?

It’s true we have child welfare laws that will take a baby away from those parents deemed unfit, but that may not stop any of the issues that have resulted prior to such an event.  Why is this different?

I am certainly not trying to suggest things like forced sterilization or abortions, but it’s interesting to me how we, as a society, like regulations of some things but not others.  As the NY Times blog noted, adoptions historically were done more with family relations being used (anyone seen Little Orphan Annie?), but that has since given way to other processes.  Also, the blog noted that it is a constitutional right for anyone who should so choose to have a child.  If we agree with that, how do adoption and surrogacy and other forms of obtaining a child fit into that right?

I’m a question poser, to be sure, someone who likes to get the convresation going in a new direction.  How does all this strike you?

(On a side note, the NY Times also linked to an article regaring a judge’s ruling that a surrogate mother is the legal mother of two twins she birthed, even though she is not genetically related to them