Train Blogging: Back In The Game

This journal entry is for my grandfather whom has urged me time and time again in the past few months to begin writing on this blog again. 

It’s been quite some time since I last posted. Enough time for a baby to have been conceived, gone through the pregnancy process, and come out nine months later as a human being. Enough time for the olympic torch to make its way around Great Britain, and for the games themselves to take place.

With this post that all changes. I don’t think of this as a blank slate that is to be filled with my ideas. Instead its a never ending novel whose plot is only connected by the fact that all this writing is of my own.

What’s really the point of this post? All it is thus far is an acknowledgment that I have neglected to write for the past few months.  After all, this blog barely gets any views it seems silly for me to think that anyone outside of my family and friends knew this blog even existed.

Writing is my outlet on observing the world around me.  Unfortunately my aspirations to become a radio journalist have not panned out yet, so at the present this is the only outlet I have to freely express my observations without any outside interference. It’s nkt that I feel too timid to engage people in discussion. It’s often the case that I let my thoughts run in a circuitous manner that makes my diatribes hard to flow at times. 

I think it’s important to keep a journal of your thoughts even if.the subject is as trite as why one should keep a journal.  After all, when the internet is inaccessible and the radio signals fade, written word is mankimd’s only form of communication. Albeit that is somewhat of an ironic statement considering this journal is hosted on the internet. If you have access to a printer, then these words will become timeless.

Sitting on the train right now everyone is in their own world whether they are tuned into their ipod’s or have their nose deep in the newspaper. The reason why I often blog while on the train is for that exact reason. I choose to express myself and become involved with the world around me through written word.

Then again the downfall of typing this on my phone OS that I give the appearance to everyone on the train that I’ve been typing a text message for the past twenty minutes. Guess you can’t win them all.

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Train Blogging: Clearing the Smoke

One of my duties at work is to load and unload the company van with materials needed for events and broadcasts.  A couple of months ago, the building I work in mandated that anyone loading items into a van or truck must do so by way of the loading dock instead of using the main garage.  In order to access the loading dock you must use a special elevator that is hidden away from the main ones.

In this elevator there is a giant red sign with engraved white font reading “No Smoking.”  In the main elevator there is a fancy video screen offering the news and weather of the day.  When I was using the loading dock elevator the other day I had a thought arise.  If I was a smoker, would my first instinct be to light up a cigarette the second I entered a small and confined space.  At the same time, would I be able to smoke an entire cigarette fast enough before getting off at the tenth floor?

It’s understandable that in public places like bars, parks, and movie theaters there would be no smoking signs. I’ve seen them in enough odd places like classrooms and office kitchens to wonder whether or not a smoker’s first thought when entering a new space is,”is it cool to light one up in here?”  I don’t have the best perspective on this since I am not a smoker, but I would imagine that even though they might be craving one, smoker’s alike have other things to worry about that wanting to light up a cigarette in a loading dock elevator wouldn’t be the first thing on their mind.

Them again I don’t smoke so I could be completely wrong.  To me it seems silly that someone would feel overly disappointed that the can’t have a cigarette in a small, confined area.  Theze signs give off the impression that smokers are eagerly lurking for places to smoke and as soon as they see one of those big red signs, they shrug their shoulders and say “awww shucks!”

Next time your in an elevator, see if you can smoke in there and challenge yourself to finish a cigarette before you get off the elevator.

Train Blogging: Life on the Rails

A CTA Car, Where Dreams Happen

I have to clear two things up before getting into the magic of riding the L train. First of all I’m not writing this on the train so loyal followers of my Train Blogging series will see a more polished and clean cut article. Second of all, I blog a lot about public transportation. To get a better feel of where my attitudes lie regarding public transportation guidelines read this post.

Today’s installment of the Tran Blogging series surrounds the thought-processes that go through my mind while riding the train and what I perceive (just or unjust) to be going through the minds of my fellow passengers. In the recent weeks I have been reading a fantastic biography of Albert Einstein written by the famous Walter Isaacson. Einstein himself has a life interesting enough to fulfill the next month’s worth of blog posts. The book is also part of the reason why I have not made a Train Blogging post in quite some time.

Oddly enough I find the rickety clanking noise of the train to be the most comforting environment to read in. While reading the Einstein book I find it humorous that I am able to completely tune out the outside world and become completely encapsulated with this book. I have to give Isaacson much credit for that because his writing style is so clear and imaginative that it is difficult to put the book down. This also speaks on greater volumes about what the period of riding the CTA represents in my day.

My time spent on the train is a period where I’m left alone with my thoughts. This is really one of the only period of time during the day that I can experience this. I don’t want to give off the misconception that I am completely entailed in work and activity the entire day, but as I’m sure you can agree with there aren’t many moments during the day when you can just sit back and think. Reading the Einstein book is definitely intellectually stimulating and I find myself setting the book down at times to try and comprehend what his thought process is like (disclaimer: this is often a useless tactic as trying to understand Einstein’s thought process let alone is physics is seemingly a full time occupation). Point being though that Einstein’s theories and lifestyle often inspires my own thoughts and perceptions regarding different facets of life and the life that he lived.

Even if I spend the train ride listening to music or staring out into the city as we pass through different neighborhoods, I find myself encompassed in thoughts of reflection of the days work, a current issue, philosophy, or why the lady in the black pea coat sitting across from me looks so grumpy. Maybe it’s just her natural facial expression and I am being completely misguided, but that’s the beauty of the CTA. It really stimulates your imagination looking at other passengers on the train and trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Like I said earlier, whether just or unjust it is fun to imagine why someone looks grumpy while the person next to them has a jubilant smile on their face.

While there are many times I get frustrated at the CTA (again read this post to find out why) but I do have to give it credit. It is one of the only times during the day where you can tune the outside world out. I think that’s a healthy thing. It gives you time to recuperate and digest your thoughts. In this world we live in where everything is instant and can be published without much review, it’s good to be able to sit back and take life in. Call it a throwback, but it seems we as a society don’t take much time to sit back and digest information or what’s going on around us. Maybe that’s why some people on the Purple Line Express in the morning look so rushed and frazzled.

Train Blogging: Why Organic Materials Have the Best Marketing Campaigns

I’m sure you’ve all passed by a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats, or any other grocery store specializing in organic foods. Even if you haven’t seen one chances are your local grocery store is selling products that can be found at organic grocery stores. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but even as recent as 10 years ago I don’t remember a whole foods existing let alone having two of them in a five mile radius of my house.

What gives?

If you look at the ingredient listings on much of their food you’ll find that it’s not going to magically help you shed twenty pounds.  Eating a box of Trader Joe’s delicious cookies “Jo Jo’s” is not that much different than eating a box of Oreo’s. 

However, there’s mantra surrounding organic food that it will make you feel better and more natural. That’s the catch.  In one of the most successful marketing campaigns since Jared’s advocacy of the Subway diet, Whole Foods and other organic grocery stores have seen huge amounts of growth. I’d like to think that these establiahments are examples of good old American capitalism.

I can’t help but think though that in some ways these companies had outside help along the way.  Conspiracy theorists look away because that’s not what this article is about. Instead, let’s take a loom at one of the most powerful forms of media, the documentary film.

Documentaries always are more impactful than feature length films partly because they touch on tangible issues through a personalized lens.  Watching a doumentary is somewhat akin to watching a professor act out a lecture. They’re both incredibly informing and entertaining.

With notably documentaries like, “Supersize Me,” and “Food Inc.” gathering much praise in the past decade, it should come as no surprise then that Whole Foods and friends saw a huge spike in business since the beginning of the millenium. Focusing on the abnormalities and inconsistencies within the food industry, these types of documentaries leave viewers wanting their food to be free of anything that is not natural. Or in other words, organic

That’s the buzz word my friends.  Trader Joe’s and Co. were able to take the image of organic natural food and run with it.  By slightly raising your prices over other grocery stores and branding your products as natural and healthy, you’re able to leave the consumer with the impression that they are making the smarter decision.

Whether organic grocery stores intended to develop this image is one thing, but it is hard to deny that their success didn’t benefit from outside sources.

Train Blogging: Political Propaganda of the Past

The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University just finished up a three and a half month exhibit called, “Views and Re-Views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons.”  Although I did not get a chance to view the gallery myself, I have seen a plethora of advertisements for it and likely a good chunk of the exhibit. The posters and cartoons themselves are all in Russian so I can’t understand a single word they are saying. By viewing the pictures though, you can infer pretty well the message the poster is trying to send.

To a Westerner, more specifically a generation x’er and older, it paints a familiar picture of the old Communist state of the Soviet Union.  As an individual born at the tail end of the Cold War, I find the posters and cartoons to be quite funny. Every time I look at them I imagine funny caption bubbles.

Not growing up during the Cold War and being immersed in the paranoia of Communism works as an advantage and disadvantage to me. There’s an all too common notion amongst us that with the benefit of hindsight, we would all act in a different manner.  It is safe to say that this is the case when it comes to Western views of the USSR. That entire situation stemmed more from a military stand point than a political one.  I think the US saw the expansion of Soviet Russia and their ever increasing military presence around the globe as more dangerous than the idea that Communism was going to politically enslave people.

With the recent death of Kim Jong Il, the question of how Communism is viewed in the modern day seems to have answered itself. People do not seem to feel threatened by it anymore. Outside of North Korea, Kim Jong Il was viewed as a heinous dictator brutally abusing his authority. At the same time though, there was little fanfare surrounding his death in comparison to other villains like Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

Communism simply does not have the same fear attached to it that it did even as recently as 20 years ago. Imagine what the public reaction would have been like had the United States successfully assassinated Fidel Castro in the 1960’s.  I reckon it would have put the Osama celebrations to shame.

What used to arouse feelings of fear and danger have now been replaces by curiosity. What exactly was it about Soviet political posters and cartoons that instilled a curious sensation instead of an apprehensive one?  I believe it is an understanding of the institution of Communism that allows us to remove the fear of it and actually study it and even view its propaganda from an artistic point of view.  It makes me wonder whether we will see a similar exhibit 20 years from now surrounding the portrayal of Islam as a political entity.

In theory it seems backwards that we fear something and then try to understand it without bias. At the same time though it makes perfect sense. When an issue or idea seems threatening to us, our initial reaction is not to try and understand it. Most of the time we raise our guards and create defense mechanisms against it.  Out of this grows misconceptions of what the threat actually is and often times ideas are confused with actualities. 

It isn’t until we look back at the situation until we can truly assess why it progressed the way it did. With Communism it wasn’t so much that the system itself led to a severe denial of human rights and poor living conditions. It is more that the system lends itself to authoritarian type figures who will establish methods to ensure a long interrupted reign of power.

Does this mean humans are inherently prone to oppression? Maybe, it does mean though that we have a tendency to be defensive against the unknown as opposed to studying it and understanding it. Usually it takes a long period of time before we can truly look at an issue through a non-biased point of view.

Unfortunately this leaves society stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Train Blogging: Riding Public Transit

I think it’s safe to say that living in a busy urban environment exposes you to people outside of your usual social circle. It really is quite the phenomenon and I’ve had the pleasure (or misfortune depending on how you view it) of being a frequent participant in the public transit system.

I’m not going to spend the time bashing the CTA, there are already plenty of blogs dedicated to that. Instead I want to highlight a few characteristics of public transit newbies that make them stick out like a sore thumb. Trust me, nothing is worse than the cynical sigh or eye roll that you’ll get from a public transit regular than being identified as the guy on the train that has no idea what the hell is going on.

Rule # 1: Know where you’re going.

I don’t care if the bus or train has a map on it, never look at it for more than a period of 5 seconds and definitely do not ask the person you’re riding with what stop you get off at. The snarl you’ll get from fellow passengers will be immediate and everyone will associate you as the dude that has no idea what’s going on.  Don’t even try and defend yourself, the hole is already too  deep.

Given the technology we have, you can figure out your route before hand. You can even pretend like you’re texting and look up directions to your destination.  For the love of God, do not look at the map though.

Rule # 2: Use your Inside Voice

This rule is amplified by 200% if you are riding public transit intoxicated. Nobody around you cares if your boyfriend got jealous that your ex-boyfriend asked you out to dinner.  I can’t believe how big of a dump you took either bro, my train ride just got that much more stimulating now that I know you had problems letting the chipotke burrito leave your system before hopping on the brown line (pun somewhat intended).

As your first grade teacher used to tell you, “when we are inside, we use our inside voices!” Such a marvel to see that in a cramped enclosed environment the concept of an “inside voice” is lost. 

The golden rule if you are drunk is for every funny thing you say, you say five things that should never have been said. Chances are people around you will understand why that brunette at the bar didn’t  come home with you tonight.

Rule # 3: Be Engaged

Nothing pisses me off more than people who aren’t aware of their surroundings. If you have your cool chrome bag and listening to vintage Thurston Moore on your iPod on the way to your  hip bike messaging job, do not be standing in the middle of the train when people are trying to exit. Same goes for listening to music.  Keep it in your headphones, that Young Jeezy track sounds a lot better through your iPod headphones.

Be aware of they people around you. For Christ’s sake if there is an old lady standing up on a crowded train let her have your seat. Same goes for your bag, it’s not a human, it doesn’t need a seat. If you packed something so precious that isn’t a baby or an elderly person, then it doesnt need a seat.

Public Transit can be a beautiful thing. Gaining the ire of your fellow  riders never works out for any party involved.  And for the record I’m writing this while on the purple line. Ironic? Hypocritical?  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Train Blogging: Meeting People at Concerts

This past Saturday found my good buddy Jared and I at the Aragon Ballroom dancing our asses off to the Chicago prog-rock/funk/whatever you want to call them kings Umphrey’s McGee.  I could write this entire blog on how dirty Umphrey’s made the Aragon get, but instead I want to focus on one aspect of concert-going that I think can apply to pretty much any type of show you attend.

I’ve never seen any other gathering of people that produces the ease of conversing with a complete stranger than at a concert. I’ve been to a countless number of shows by myself and found people to talk to whether or not the music is playing. 

Even attending shows stone cold sober, it isn’t that difficult to pick up a conversation with the person next to you.  So what gives? When people are gathered together in the library you seldom hear, “hey bro that Ernest Hemingway novel is sick wait till you see what the old man does when he’s stuck out in the middle of the sea.” And at other mass gatherings like Occupy Wall Street rallies or Tea Party shindigs people are too pissed off to talk to complete strangers unless it’s yelling at them that it’s Obama’s agenda to destroy the very fabric of America.

First of all everyone attending a show is always in a good mood. Even when I saw the biggest dude’s pounding bottles of Captain Morgan like it was gatorade at Rage Against the Machine, they looked happy on the inside.

Hipster concerts are no exception either. Even though they will stand still, look at the floor, and act like they are too cool to be there, they secretly live for moments like that. Plus, you can always find a depressed looking Hipster at a show and talk about how great the band was before they sold out and started playing coffee houses instead of tea houses.

Still it really is a spectacle to experience. Try going to a show by yourself and you will instantly be able to find at least 5 other people that are there on their own as well. The easiest way to approach someone at a show is obviously talking about the band that’s playing. Even if you don’t have any knowledge about the show you’re attending, you can bond with someone over people watching at shows.

For those that have yet to attend a music festival (and I mean a real music festival not Lollapalooza) there’s a term to describe people that you only see at these events. Their called “festy kids” and they usually have long unwashed hair with a flat billed baseball hat, a backpack, and some crazy shirt on that you would never see anyone wear outside of a concert/college party.

I guarantee you pointing out the various outfits you see will have you wrapped up in conversation in mere minutes.  Chances are that you’ve already seen a good 30% of the people you’re discussing at other shows also.

Of course the exception to all this is a skrillex show. You can’t talk to people at his shows. Try having a conversation with your mother while a blender is going and an overstuffed laundry machine is violently shaking and you’ll understand why.