Monday, July 16, 2012

Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (No, The CTA, Actually...)

The distant echo -
Of faraway voices boarding faraway trains
To take them home to
The ones that they love and who love them forever
The glazed, dirty steps - repeat my own and reflect my thoughts
Cold and uninviting, partially naked
Except for toffee wrapers and this morning's papers

--The Jam, "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight"

On June 24, the Chicago Tribune kicked off a series about crime on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). As you might guess, the results show a mixed picture: overall, CTA-related batteries, robberies and thefts declined the first 5 1/2 months of this year by 22. 31 and 14 percent, respectively, versus the same period in 2011. Police noted that the number of CTA-related crimes remains small (5,800), in the scheme of things (522 million rides). That's one picture.

Here's another snapshot: from 2009-11, police logged 10,759 complaints of crime on CTA trains and platforms, and 5,347 complaints at CTA buses or bus stops. Thefts remain the leading crimes on buses and trains, which rose by 42 percent during this two-year period, the Tribune reported. Police logged 2,000 such complaints last year.

Robberies increased by 69 percent, from 500 (2009) to more than 800 last year, and batteries also rose by 15 percent at bus stops, and 1 percent on trains. The newspaper based its findings on months of examining CTA ridership records and the city's crime database, which doesn't break out such incidents separately.

The Tribune analysis showed riders at greatest risk from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., with 2 a.m. being the peak hour of danger -- because it coincides with a time when the fewest officers are on patrol. No surprises there, right?

Behind me
Whispers in the shadows - gruff blazing voices
Hating, waiting
"Hey boy" they shout - "have you got any money?"
And I said - "I've a little money and a take away curry,
I'm on my way home to my wife.
She'll be lining up the cutlery,
You know she's expecting me
Polishing the glasses and pulling out the cork"
And I'm down in the tube station at midnight

My only encounter with CTA-related crime occurred about 15 years ago.

Friday night passed like any other: I went to a friend's flat, off North Winthrop, to jam out some song ideas with him, play his electric guitar -- I didn't own one at the time, just a kid's acoustic guitar that I'd rescued from my basement -- and shoot the shit, which we did in gleeful abundance.

I was living off my freelance writing, so I didn't have to worry about a schedule, or trying to please some asshole boss; that would come later. I had all day (and all of the night) to do whatever I pleased, which was fine by me.

Around 2 a.m., we called it a night, and I hurried to the platform, which ran (more or less) behind my friend's apartment complex. I didn't have too many profound thoughts, other than how much later I might stay up, once I finally made it home.

The minute I entered the car, I smelled trouble.

(Above photo, from The Reckoner Archives: a tut-tutting from London Underground Limited, urging people not to give money to buskers...which nobody seemed to obey, as I recall!)

I first felt a fist, and then a kick
I could now smell their breath
They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs
And too many right wing meetings
My life swam around me
It took a look and drowned me in its own existence
The smell of brown leather
It blended in with the weather

Don't ask why my brain started pinging like crazy: run like hell, man, this guy sitting across from you is bad news! If you live any length of time in an urban area, you get to the point where you develop a sixth sense for trouble. That's my only explanation.

In these situations, you'd normally sit down, try not to make eye contact with anyone, and grab something to read, listen to your favorite tunes on a Walkman, do anything -- in some way, shape or form -- that suggested you'd much rather mind your own business.

However, my attempts to read a magazine met resistance: the guy kept staring in my direction, flashing an unreasoning, take-no-prisoners look. After some forced attempts at small talk, he said: "You don't feel safe with me, do you?"

My brain started pinging again, just a little bit louder.

The last thing that I saw
As I lay there on the floor
Was "Jesus Saves" painted by an atheist nutter
And a British Rail poster read "Have an Awayday - a cheap holiday -
Do it today!"

My destination (Howard Street) was fast approaching: just three or four more stops, and I'd be rid of this guy...or so I imagined.

Now came the crooked pitch. "Give me your money," he said harshly, "or if you don't...I'll have to ask them."

He jerked his head toward the nearby car, to suggest that the enforcers -- the muscle -- were waiting nearby on the outcome. I sneaked a glance that way, but couldn't really tell if anybody was lurking around.

After the longest minutes of my life, we finally reached Howard Street station, as my predatory companion even swiped at my bag ("Here, let me take that for you"), only to have me foil him by jerking it away at the last second. His expression hardened further.

As soon as the train stopped, I jumped, swinging from the metal pole that held my seat in place, practically shoving the doors apart as they slid open, and ran, ran, ran like hell before my inquisitor could get up to follow.

I still heard his voice, loud and clear: "YOU'RE A DEAD MAN! YOU'RE A DEAD MAN! NOW YOU'RE DEAD!"

I just flew down the stairs, my elbows extended at 45-degree angles. I became made a human battering ram as I pushed people aside, nearly knocking someone over here and there, skipping those never-ending stairs three and four steps at a time, like we did in grade school...anything to gain those precious few seconds of head start that I'd need.

Once I'd cleared those stairs, I dashed across the station lot, more or less empty of life -- this being 2:30 a.m.-plus, on the North Side -- then huffed and puffed to freedom, on Touhy Avenue.

When I'd caught my breath, I finally dared to turn around and look, but nobody was behind me.

That made sense: why waste time chasing me, when my tormentor could ride the CTA till hell froze over, looking for his next catch of the night?

I glanced back on my life
And thought about my wife
'cause they took the keys and she'll think it's me

I finally stumbled home, which lay three blocks away, this time trotting at a jogger's pace...just in case somebody else entertained any similar ideas.

I felt good about how I'd reacted, though; my pants pocket contained $100, everything that we had in the world...that would somehow have to last until my next writing check arrived.

I never reported the incident, which isn't unusual, according to the Tribune article: CTA-related crime arrests have fallen from 53 percent (2001), to more than 40 percent (2009), 38 percent (2010), and 35 percent (2011).

Police made arrests on just 29 percent of all battery complaints last year; 15 percent of thefts; and 4 percent of robberies. In fairness, police noted that those figures don't reflect arrests they could have made later.

According to the cops, the motivation for many incidents is straightforward: robbers want the cellphones, iPhones, iPads and other cyber-spoils of our increasingly hard-wired civilization, which they can hock for easy cash.

Many of these gadgets were just a gleam in somebody's eye during my Chicago heyday, but such niceties would have been lost on my potential assailant: in a society with income gaps not seen since the 1920s, where being "on the make" far outpaces the other ideals that we claim to espouse, we should hardly feel surprised when some CTA train bandit takes that famed phrase ("life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness")just a wee bit too literally for comfort.

(Above, from The Reckoner Archive: A street preacher works the crowd outside Camden Town tube station.)

And I'm down in the tube station at midnight
The wine will be flat and the curry's gone cold
I'm down in the tube station at midnight
Don't want to go down in a tube station at midnight

I rode a CTA train just once more, during a bitterly cold January, to a job interview with an Evanston newspaper that didn't pan out.

During our last couple years in Chicago, my wife and I resigned ourselves to shelling out money for cab fares. We felt more in control of our situation, and we enjoyed being around the drivers, who always seemed to know how to tell a good story.

My favorite drivers tended to be the older black guys in their 40s, 50s and above -- "because they've seen it all," as my wife agreed.

About a month after the incident, I recounted all the grisly details for one such driver, working up an almighty rant as I did so: "Why do I feel like everybody's trying to kill me around here? What the hell's going on with this place, anyway?"

The driver smiled, glided to a stop at the light, and turned around to inform me: "Oh, man, don't feel too did the right thing."

Even now, I can't help but laugh when I remember that line. --The Reckoner

Friday, July 6, 2012

Too Poor To Prep!

The Reckoner isn't into prepping as much as the Squawker. I am what could be called a WANT TO BE PREPPER. I believe there are major chances of total economic and other collapse looming over society. Even our scary weather, whether from would be rogues and their chemtrails if you believe that way or from "climate change" seems to be now bringing a monthly disaster to America. Some surely are old enough to remember when a thunderstorm was just a thunderstorm and didn't mean millions had the electrical grid collapse for weeks such as the East Coast is having happening now.

To be frank, I almost froze to death while on a long distance trip in a blizzard. Yes, it did get that bad, and my food amounted to some crackers I had with me for days. Thankfully a Andy Griffith like friendly sheriff rescued I and a friend from a stuck car but while we were given shelter in an falling down hotel, there was no heat. The days of being wrapped in blankets on the bed, as a trail of freezing tears will be ones to never be forgotten. I also know the me of today in poorer health never could survive another go-around.

Another time if not for a friend with an outdoor wood heater, that would have been the end, three days, seeing my breath before me, with an entire small town, with the power out including the hospital in the dead of winter after an ice storm. Freezing to death is not a pleasant outcome. These experiences told me that civilization has a thin veneer and stayed with me.

For years, I have read Backwoods Home magazine, like others have read Vogue and fashion magazines to dream of an unattainable self-reliant life. With poor health and low money, the walking cane and prescription drug set living in a small apartment without land aren't exactly able to follow what these magazines detail. The problem? Most everything COSTS MONEY, the tools, the canning jars, the special pots, and you need LAND to pull it off. What if you have none of it? The Reckoner and I lack all of the above, included needed skills.

I feel a sense of guilt in not having been able to prepare. I pray that God will look out for me and leave it that. However all these years, I have discussed with the Reckoner, switching to another way of life, but we were forced even out of our more remote small town from economic forces. With every month a marathon even to obtain food and the basics of living, what extra is there to prepare for societal collapse outside of some solar flashlights, extra meds and a few silver coins? Perhaps that was a bad decision, but when you can't pay rent or buy food, who wants to live in someone's basement? I've had enough homeless and other friends to know that is a situation not always easily rectified.

When I watch the Hutterites on TV, I feel ENVIOUS.  They have community, food they grow and make themselves, and skills to survive. They have others around to help them. The Amish share these things too though they are not allowed electricity and modern tools like the Hutterites who live more communally--every family in a private home but with shared meals and resources. I wonder if shows like this and ones on the Amish are growing so popular now, because people see a way of life that was lost. Not only are we enslaved to debt, working as worker bees, going nowhere, we have lost everything that has made life matter, community, religious connections, close access to our family, ties to the land and more. The only time I get to visit with my family is on a social website, some of whom I have not seen in 7-8 years. Somehow photos and written lines isn't doing it anymore, but very few seem to understand the loss I speak of. One asks what is it all for just to work and enjoy nothing else?  For those who are disabled, isolation seems to be a normative price in this society.  If healthy I would consider what of these lifestyles and one can tell even modern preppers in their own way aspire to it. I have realized that I am not happy in "modern life", but with poor health feel somehow 'stuck" in being able to change it. If anyone has any ideas about that write me here.

Suburban upper middle class life in my case, prepared me for nothing. I even had to learn to live as a poor person in the beginning because I simply did not know how. When your parents never lacked for groceries, finding alternative sources of food, does require knowledge, such as how to approach a food pantry. Today that is the worse part of being poor, the feeling of being on the abyss, knowing it wouldn't take much to knock the whole jerry-built contraption over. Of course here, prayer helps, but you wonder about the stress, of what modern life has done to us. Out of touch with everything but at the same time bombarded with fear, endless disasters and more. The preppers even if some think they are crazy, and many do, are the people preparing ahead of time, sniffing the wind of a culture that even now speaks of it's own collapse. What is that Zombie Apocalypse meme about? What do you all think of a country now where everyone is so worried honestly seeing the rising signs of decline with their eyes open, that so many people desire to have entire bunkers full of food and survival supplies? This is not a sign of a healthy cohesive society but one that is coming apart at the seams with people knowing it is!! Whatever your beliefs, even if you think these prepping people are 'crazy', and I don't, there is a reason so many Americans feel the need to do this now. 

That said, prepping does cost money.

Look at this guy, he is probably an average prepper, how many thousands of dollars did this prepping cost? How many folks would have this guy's extreme mechanical skills? He has the land, the resources and much more to pull off the prepping self- reliant life style

He admits at the beginning of the video, that he spent $6-7,000 dollars for the food stores. What of the families who do not have this type of extra expendable income? I do believe if someone feels so led, they should prepare as much as they are able. We are in the days now, where having a few extra days of food around is not a bad idea, but then with so many stuck in the week to week lifestyle, barely able to even keep the needed daily groceries in the house, it is a serious problem.

I don't have the answers for this one, it is just something I've been mulling over. There are different websites out there that do give advice.

120 Powerful Pieces Of Advice For Preppers

How to Start Preparing for Hard Times on a Very Modest Budget:Part One

I guess at the end of the day, a person can just do what they can, if you are poor enough everyday is a "survival run".--The Squawker

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Are you a slave of the system?

"Are you a Slave of the System"?

Slavery does not always have to involve whips and shackles. There are many other forms of slavery. One dictionary definition of a slave is "one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence". I really like that definition. Today, millions of Americans are slaves of the system and they don't even realize it. Debt is a form of slavery, and millions of Americans having become deeply enslaved to our debt-based financial system. When someone enslaves someone else, the goal of the master is to reap a benefit out of the slave. You don't want the slave to just sit there and collect dust. Today, most Americans have willingly shackled themselves to a system that systematically drains their wealth and transfers it to the very wealthy. Most of them don't even realize that they have been enslaved even as the system sucks them dry.

Just think about it. Where is the "big money" in the United States today?

When asked that question, most Americans think of Wall Street.

Well, who controls Wall Street?

The bankers do.

The borrower is the servant of the lender, and they generate massive amounts of wealth by lending us money.
Ever feel like you feel like they are squeezing us harder, burying us under an endless line of rules, regulations, and more? Well you are not imagining things, they are. And the interest rates, penalties, and other PUNISHMENT principles are getting higher and more onerous. I imagine if America was a high school, we just got the meanest principal in the land putting each of us in detention for the littlest infraction. Combine this with the police state, and the endless debts--debts one even is forced to take just to meet the basic demands of society, can anyone really say this is a FREE COUNTRY anymore? I always wondered why swift punishment could come for things that were not your fault such as a job lay-off. Mercy and compassion is little out there. One way to stop being a slave is to actually "see" the prison bars surrounding you. --The Squawker.

Proverbs 2:27  
The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant [slave] to the lender.

Those who believe those on Welfare are LAZY

I had an old church member post a screen shot on a social website of something with the same sentiment, it wasn't as nasty as the second one. I told her, why don't you question why they have sent all the jobs overseas? What jobs are people supposed to go get? On top of this, you have the people who are of the "they could find a job" if they could school. I lived in a small town, for a time, where even a job at the local McDonalds came near and dear, and definitely they were more apt to hire more wiry and faster young people. Most would rather have a job then be on welfare.

But forgotten with sentiments like this is MANY PEOPLE ON WELFARE ARE WORKING. Hey that was my experience, pre-disabled life, scrapping together at the bottom of the temp world barrel, and piecing together jobs. I often worked over 30 hours a week if not more, but the pay was so low, I couldn't even support myself. If one even looks at minimum wage and what it will buy, it doesn't cover basic rent in most places anymore. What are people to do?

Of course welfare is likely for those who have lost a job, or become underemployed. But to be honest how many working for low wages at Wal-mart are forced to be on welfare? How many people who have been forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a job, have been paid so little, especially with the many companies who refuse full time hours to save on benefits that they can't even meet substinence living levels?

The numbers of people on welfare in this country is skyrocketing, I do not think it is because they are lazy. Are there some who have abused the welfare rolls via generational welfare? Yes, but they were on welfare before and the history of that group of people losing jobs, started even earlier. Were there so many ghettos before they closed all the factories? Think about that one. Someone those lucky enough NOT to be on welfare are busy condemning those who are on it, and refusing to look at the big picture. I don't think 50 million Americans decided to wake up one day and be "lazy". I think they sent the jobs overseas, they dismantled the manufacturing base. I look around at towns now, even small ones and think so many people, so few jobs, what are they all supposed to DO?

Being a poor person, I know the stigma all too often. I hear "Why don't those poor people get off their butt?". So and so "works so hard" and succeeded, they don't like it when I point out that person had the OPPORTUNITY to work in the first place.--The Squawker

The Poor Are More Charitable?

I've known charitable better off people too, but in some of those cases, they have been poor or known people who were poor and knew what it was like. Also one thing that has happened in America, is the media is full of decrying the poor, telling those who are better off, that the poor are lazy, undeserving, etc. So many buy these notions and do not question them. Many of those who are not so generous or compassion have forgotten what it is like, or have not even experienced it. Another thing we are finding in America, is rather then a mixing of social classes, we are ending up with a country where every socio-economic class is divided by zip code.  This isolation helps add to refusal to help: "out of sight-out of mind"!

Studies try to find why poorer people are more charitable than the wealthy

Kraus said people with lower income are familiar with resource scarcity and how vulnerable it makes them. They worry about all the external factors that can immediately affect their lives. There is no cushion. There is no emergency fund.
People who have a lower income are always wary of possible threats to their precarious position, Kraus says. They are always on the lookout for negative emotions.
But such awareness makes people more generous. "Because you notice other people in need a lower class person may say, 'I know what it is like to be in need. We need to help those other people out. It is wrong to turn a blind eye,'" Kraus says.
And without the constant threat to financial, social and familial survival, middle and higher income people just don't notice things.