Quick Hits – August 24, 2023

Quick Hits – August 24, 2023

With no single story capturing my attention this week, let’s catch up on a few things.

Bomb threats are back in the news

Forgive me for being a little foggy here, but as we’ve previously discussed, my Beacon- and Courier-News columns vanished from the Net when the Tribune took over those former Sun-Times properties. So, of course, I can’t refer back to them. But I believe I covered the suddenly strident student propensity to close Tri-Cities area schools with bomb threats back in 2011.

Those old-school, but no less effective warnings generally came in the form of a note left in a vacant classroom or restroom. That meant school administrators had to close the building because they were understandably unwilling to take any chances. The problem was, each time a bomb threat successfully sent students packing, it solicited the very next bomb threat.

My theory was, unless the warning came from a known terrorist or radical group, school districts needed to ignore them because, in my 65 years on the planet, I’ve never heard of anyone following through on a random bomb threat. Not one!

It’s the unhappy people who don’t make threats that you have to worry about.

Since nothing ever seems to change, particularly when it comes to the way in which perpetually offended people operate, last week, a number of suburban libraries received bomb threats through their website chat feature shutting them down until the police could sweep the buildings. The public libraries affected were in:

  • Park Ridge
  • Morton Grove
  • Wilmette
  • Oak Park, and
  • Warren-Newport Public

And while I can understand why they closed those facilities, I can’t begin to fathom why the Glencoe and Glenview libraries shut down after they’d received no such threats. Talk about giving the terrorists what they want! Once again, every time some overly entitled and offended idiot manages to get their way, it only encourages them to be a bigger overly entitled and offended idiot.

Another fascinating facet regarding this spate of online chat revelations is that none of the “chatters” made any demands. Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias chalked the bomb threats up to:

…a troublesome and disturbing trend that has escalated from banning books to harassing and criminalizing librarians and now to endangering the lives of innocent people. We must join together to stand up to fringe elements that resort to threats of violence and seek to destroy the fundamental freedoms that our nation was founded upon.

But “join together” how? Again, unless it’s a credible threat, the only response that’ll put an end to the BS is to ignore them, because unless they do that, last week’s “successful” library closures won’t be the last.

And speaking of rank stupidity, don’t these idiots realize that, even if you shut a library down, you can still get virtually any book on Amazon for a rock bottom used price?


Metra for errands?

Finally facing up to the reality that post-pandemic work and commuting habits have been irrevocably altered, the fine folks at Metra realized they’ll have to reinvent themselves to remain relevant, but “Metra for errands?”

Bolstered by landmark events like Taylor Swift concerts and the downtown NASCAR race, Metra ridership ticked up to 2.9 million passenger trips in June. While that’s a decent number, it’s a far cry from the 6.4 million riders that took advantage of those trains in pre-COVID June 2019. And that massive 55 percent decline cannot be sustained by Metra as it stands now.

Metra director of communication Michael Gillis said, “We feel the need to really market ourselves to attract new riders,” describing his vision of suburbanites using Metra for non-work trips, such as “running errands or visiting destinations like Brookfield Zoo.”

Brookfield Zoo makes sense, but Metra for errands? That transit system – and its fare structure – are specifically set up to get commuters into and out of the city of Chicago as quickly as possible, not for short sojourns one or two suburbs over. Most Collar County denizen’s errands consist of short one-to-three-mile trips, like the 0.9-mile average distance to the grocery store.

The furthest I’ll roam in search of specific comestibles is the 6.5-mile jaunt from Geneva to South Elgin’s Caputo’s super grocery store. The longest dry goods distance I’ll travel is the 3.1 miles to the Batavia Target. My wife and I will also make the 10.1-mile drive to Aurora’s Riveredge Park to see a concert about once a month, but none of those “errands” are amenable to a Metra ticket.

The only possibility I can think of is taking the train to Elburn’s Ream’s Market to obtain my prized jalapeno cheddar sticks, but that doesn’t make much sense, either. The short 7.5-mile trip takes ten minutes by car and uses about a-third of a gallon of gas. Meanwhile, it would take five minutes to drive to the Geneva Metra stop, five more minutes to wait for the train, $4.50 for a one-way ticket to Elburn, and then it takes 18 minutes to get to there with another five-minute walk to Ream’s.

Then I’d have to wait for an hour for the next train back to Geneva.

Street cars and trolley lines once dominated the urban errand scene, because they were defined by short distances between frequent stops. The glory of Metra is their express trains running on specific straight-line axes (plural of axis) in and out of the city making infrequent stops, which doesn’t lend itself to errand running.

But even if Mr. Gillis was right about their capacity to reinvent themselves and attract a slew of errand runners, it wouldn’t begin to make up for those 3.5 million missing monthly riders. And when the RTA’s COVID emergency funds run out in 2025, the CTA and Metra are going to face the kind of reckoning that’s will forever change the Chicago public transportation paradigm.


Ken Ramsey was one of a kind

I was saddened to learn of former Kane County Sheriff Ken Ramsey’s August 19th death at the age of 75. Ken was elected Sheriff in 1994 serving until 2006, my first official year in journalism, which would explain why I didn’t write about him all that much.

Considering how his military background had a huge influence on his unique brand of running that office, I’m sure I covered a couple of stories involving him, but again, without those early columns, I can’t be sure.

The two things I do remember about Ken is, though he was frequently accused of corruption, I always thought it was more of a propensity to do things his way to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Like when his successor, Pat Perez, had the temerity to run against him in 2000, and having lost, found himself relegated to midnight desk duty. Ken eventually relented under press pressure, but you always knew where you stood with him because there was no middle ground with Ken.

But my favorite recollection is former KC chairman Karen McConnaughay was afraid of just two people. Yours truly and Sheriff Ramsey. She’d call Ken on that County boardroom carpet, threatening to cut his budget and force him to behave, but Ken would have none of it. He’d basically tell her to bleep off and leave his budget alone – and she would!

I only recall talking to Ken only a couple of times and he was gruff and to the point. They certainly weren’t the kind of in-depth conversations I had with so many other elected officials.

Much to many folks’, but not his close friends’, amazement, Ken became a Holy Cross Catholic Church deacon at the age 66, serving in that capacity until his various ailments started taking their toll. To say that was quite the career shift would be quite an understatement.

As you might imagine, I’ve covered quite a few political characters in my 17.5 years at the keyboard, but Ken was one of the most fascinating. For better or worse, they don’t make them like Ken Ramsey anymore.

From someone who’s similarly lived life on his own terms, all I can say is, rest in peace Ken.


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