#941: The Romance of the Rickety (Or Elon Musk is the Simpsons Monorail Salesman and You Can’t Convince Me Otherwise)

June 15th, 2018

I don’t like how the train shrieks when it goes around even the slightest of bends.

It shrieks and croaks and I think if one could actually hear metal fatiguing in real time, that’s what going around the Loop in 2018 would sound like.

I don’t like how the corners all smell like pee, how if you do find a quiet nook where you can prop up against a window, sip coffee and watch the tops of trees meander by, you’re forced to wonder what dried where you’re sitting.

I don’t like when the homeless people scream or when I feel like a horrible person for wishing someone away when they just want to find a place to sleep without freezing to death.

But I’d take all the smell, noise and moral ambiguity a thousand times over Elon Musk.

For those reading this story years later in what I can only assume will be a 300-level class or possibly a focus within a graduate English program studying the great 21st-century bloggist Paul Ctesiphon Dailing, yesterday notated tech guru and compiler of journalistic hit lists Elongated Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced their plan for The X, a series of ramped-up racing tunnels designed to take people willing to pay $25 a pop from the Loop to O’Hare in 12 minutes. Instead of the rickety, panhandler-soaked Blue Line, a series of underground tunnels will take 16-person pods at 150 miles per hour to a two-hour wait for a TSA frisk.

I don’t want this to be a post people can point to years after to laugh at the skepticism people had for an earthshaking event. Lord knows I’ve written enough of those. Musk plans to pay for and run the entire thing himself, using our city as proof-of-concept for his new subterranean moleman empire of hyperloops. I think this could happen, even considering the woes Elongated’s car company Tesla is facing.

Of course, I also think as the tunnel is mid-dig and the project hits the point of no return, Musk will cite a bad economy and demand bond initiatives from the city to finish the job, but I’m a skeptic at heart.

So this post isn’t mocking Elon Reeve Musk other than pointing out his name is an anagram for “seek velour men.” Musk and Rahm’s dream of a Chicago public transit system free of the Chicago public could happen.

Musk is noted for his hatred of public transportation because quite literally “there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer.” He dreams of a smoother, quieter future for the city of Chicago, one free of noise, inconvenience, delays, urine and us.

There’s a tendency among people to not realize they’re the ones being looked down upon. If someone talks about the stupid, the poor, the worthless, the dumb, the human impulse is to nod and say, yep, I hate those people too. When people see a velvet rope cordoning off a VIP section, the instinct is to see the other side as desirable, not to question why there’s a velvet rope at all.

No one wants to admit a billionaire looks at us working slobs and the screaming homeless person and sees no distinction. We’re the people he wants to bypass. We’re the ones he thinks might be serial killers. The $25 admission fee isn’t for cost. It’s an economic velvet rope Elongated knows we won’t cross.

But I wouldn’t want to crush a public works project just because apparently our serial-killer-laden commuter class has to convince a man who launched a sports car with a mannequin driver into space that we’re not insane. Who cares that Musk’s an A-hole? Our city and our transit were created by A-holes. Charles Tyson Yerkes, father of Chicago’s unhyper Loop, was pretty much Iago with a sweet 1900s ‘stache. Boss Daley crushed entire neighborhoods to build freeways. Call Lin-Manuel Miranda because the real lyric should be “Total flaming jerkwads: They get the job done.”

But Elon’s plan isn’t in that league. It’s not posing a revolutionary new system. Beyond the ooh-aah glitz glam of futuristic space pods hoisting a cadre of hypothetical travelers back and forth from one-half of the city’s airports, these are cars that take people 16 at a time to a place the trains already go to. The tech is amazing, but at the end of it, it’s a more expensive, nicer, more exclusive version of a thing that already exists.

Some will use it in order to rush faster to security check-in lines, and some of those will be impressed businesspeople of the type who base multibillion-dollar investment decisions on factors like how quickly they can get in from the airport. At the end of that glorious 12 minutes in heaven ride through moleman’s mole kingdom, however, is still Chicago. Underfunded, broken Chicago with streets full of the mentally ill shunted from programs Rahm cut, with a graft-laden City Hall and a police force reeling from scandal to scandal, with schools no Google, Amazon or other tech guru in this age of digital smokestack-chasing would dare send their kids to. Rahm wants to build a faster train, ignoring the destination.

In the end, Rahm and Elon might get their X. And it might be a success, forcing me to place this post alongside my “Trump will never be president” HuffPo article I linked to above. But the trouble with Elon’s Choice is it’s a false one. Luxury for some or squalor for all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And turning our civics over to the dilettantes of tech is the surest way to get a sleek, fancy Chicago meant for everyone but us.

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