So the last bits of 2014 were great. Which is a bit of an administrative hassle, if you’re the type of person who feels compelled to write a painfully exhaustive review of the year, only to go on and do fun things in that selfsame year afterwards. But still, Pequod’s with Todd and Carolyn was a joy. As was JJ’s games night, where I got to play Cards Against Humanity for the first time, although I do maintain the potentially controversial opinion that it’s not risqué enough.
We also played Catchphrase, during which I had to describe the word ‘penny’, and after saying something like “like a pound, but the smaller British currency unit” (although probably not as clearly as this) a panicked team-mate shouted “kilopound!”. Which was (a) amazing, and (b) a bit sad, because we’re nowhere near as metric as Americans think we are.
Anyway, it’s 2015! And 2015 kicked off at Saujanya’s generously-hosted party, chiefly memorable for its provocatively hot punch (have you ever had your nostrils assaulted by steaming alcohol before?) and a large quantity of champagne as midnight hit Central Time. Later, I courted good luck for the year (at least so Robert alleges) by ordering Hoppin’ John – a Southern New Year tradition – at Michele’s brunch.
Yesterday, to avoid cabin fever during the off-again-on-again holiday break, Randi and I took a day trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin. The chunks of ice on the lake were beautiful, the Wisconsin cheese curds delicious and the mile-long streetcar system – while probably unnecessary from a strictly utilitarian point of view – was very cute all the same. But I don’t want to talk about any of that; I want to talk about the Metra train which we used to get there. Kenosha is the terminus station on the Pacific North line and the cost of a ticket for the two hour ride is a mere $7 (or about £4.50 in real money).
That’s the turn-up-and-go cost of a return ticket – no fiddling about with advance booking and seat reservations. Oh, and you’re allowed to return the next day if you so prefer. The penalty for buying your ticket on the train itself instead of the station? An extra $3. And at no point did we have to endure any automated announcements about taking all our personal belongings with us, either. This is all such absurdly good value from a British perspective, it makes me feel a little ashamed. Railways are in our cultural DNA: how come we get so beaten by a country which couldn’t care less about them?
One other thing I wanted to write about was This American Life, and in particular their programme (part one; two) from 2013 on Harper High School in Chicago’s south side, which I listened to over the break on Katie’s recommendation. Because as much as I enjoy going on my train-based Midwestern escapades, it’s sobering to reflect that I’m effectively cut off from whole swathes of my own city which are just too scary and intimidating to visit. The social problems are, of course, hardly unique to America – but the easy availability of guns adds a shocking level of cheap, fatal violence. In the year prior to this podcast, 29 current or former students had been shot, and the testimony of teenagers who walk home down the middle of the street – considering this marginally safer than the sidewalk – is hard to forget. A highly recommended listen.