Sunday, June 29, 2008


Back in the mid '90's I was in a band called Slavic Projection Folk Ensemble. Slavic Projection, which was a vocal and string-intensive (violin, dulcimer, guitar, bass and banjo...once) band, affectionately known to its members as SPFE, pronounced spiffy, was formed in 1980, but its heyday was the '90's, and particularly 1993 through 1998, before I ruined everything by teaching myself to play the accordion.

The summer of 1996 was particularly brutal, not because of the heat but because of our bad luck. We were scheduled to play at the Ravenswood Manor Concert Series and I had just met a guy I wanted to impress so I invited him to come hear us there. Well, apparently my Russian Gypsy cards, which I consulted about the guy, were right about him. He was bad news. And just to make sure we didn't get together we were rained out. The Ravenswood Manor Concert Series had never been rained out before. So we rescheduled and I made sneaky plans to invite Mr. Bad to our next performance several weeks later. The day started out beautifully. Sunshine, low humidity, a few puffy clouds. About a half hour before we were supposed to play, you guessed it, the rain came down like gas prices before an election. We also had an indoor performance as I recall, later that summer. 5 people attended. Mr. Bad was not one of them.

Late that summer we played an outdoor concert at Valparaiso University in Indiana. We were very nervous about the rain and it did start drizzling the moment we stepped out on stage. It was the other band, a Russian balalaika-based group, however, that inherited the Slavic Projection Curse. They ended up playing in a substantial rainfall, while we were inside, wiping off our instruments and collecting our check.

So, in remembrance of that Summer of '96, here is a rundown of my outdoor performances to date this summer:

May 28, Giddings Plaza. Chilly, but not intolerable. A pushy dude wanted to try out my accordion and play "one song" which sounded like 5 or 6 songs all run together and took about 15 minutes. I didn't share my tips with him.

June 7, Giddings Plaza. Rained out, plus had my tip jar stolen by two thugs. They got about $30. Worth risking jail for?

June 21, Evanston Farmers' Market. Rained out.

June 28, Giddings Plaza. Rained out!!! But here's the thing, I was meeting friends for dinner so I stayed in the neighborhood. As they brought the dessert for my friends, I snuck out and played until 10 p.m. in the rain-free night. Shhhhh....don't tell the powers that be.

I play indoors twice a month at Klas Restaurant, 5734 W. Cermak Road in Cicero. If and when Chicago experiences a drought, I will request to play in their beer garden. Drought over, crops saved.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Saving lives or generating revenue?

Red light cameras have been installed at dangerous intersections in Chicago. Originally this was a safety issue. Two intersections that were guinea pigs for this experiment were Western and Peterson and Western and 55th. At the time, it was a good idea. People used to cruise through those intersections at 40 mph or more, blowing off red lights, sometimes with tragic results.

Like some other originally good ideas (wait for a future diatribe on permit parking), this one has developed into a cancer. You now find red light cameras at relatively calm intersections and if anyone tells you the object is to save lives you can say “saving lives” is spelled “$aving live$”. The object, friends, is to generate revenue. Can we call a $pade a $pade, plea$e? And dispen$e with the heart$ and flower$? Becau$e the hypocri$y is so thick you need a $word to $la$h through it.

The city revealed its double standard when it installed countdown lights, which, in this blogger’s opinion, do save lives, at various intersections in some of the nicer areas on the north and northwest sides. (There may be some in the loop and on the south and southwest sides as well, but I haven't been down there in a while.) If you know exactly how many seconds you have to get through an intersection, you will time yourself accordingly. When you have a red light camera, you’re more likely to slam on the brakes when you see the light turn yellow. That yellow light lasts for a couple sections, then FLASH, you’re busted. $90 poorer. Not to mention the poor sap behind you who just smashed your rear end with his front.

If the city were really interested in saving lives, it would install countdown lights in addition to red light cameras at the most dangerous intersections. That’s not going to happen. But let’s make it appear like we’re all concerned. The object is to $ave live$.