A Couple of Rainy Day Thoughts on How We’ve Altered the Landscape

Image result for chicago rain

It’s been a gloomy rainy sort of day here in Chicago. The White Sox opener has been postponed, which is fine. I don’t mind delaying this 95-loss season another day. It’s not spring yet, anyway.  It’s the sort of April rain that feels like the lingering of March, the whole month of which felt gray and wet, a Smarchian sort of slog.

You look out the windows and see the dull and lumpy sky wrinkle itself in a thousand plinging puddles, and watch the puddles grow and slink off toward the sewer, and its hard to remember that it’s only been a few hundred years that rain has been allowed to land that way. It used to fall on the ground, and slowly make its way across whatever basin it found itself in, if it weren’t used up or simply evaporated, reimagining its particles into invisibility so it could fall again.

But that’s not the way it is, anymore. It’s a profound change, and the short-term effects have been, in some ways, disastrous. To build our cities, we’ve altered to way water has distributed itself around the world. We’ve paved over floodplains and changed rivers. We’ve manipulated drainage.

Look at a very minor example, the North Branch of the Chicago River. Patti Welti of DNA Info has the story.

A total of 1.67 inches fell, a record for March 30.

It wasn’t enough to push the North Branch of the Chicago River to flood, but the water did rise more than two feet during the morning and early afternoon.

How does less than two inches translate into more than two feet?

Before the Chicago area was extensively settled, the river meandered across a marsh-like geography, dispersing water over a greater space. Precipitation was absorbed by vegetation and stored in the ground, wetlands and flood plains, according to the report.

As the area became more urban, green space was paved over, wetlands were drained and the river was straightened to better collect runoff that would have previously seeped into the ground. The result is a watershed with very little stormwater capacity, the report explains.

So much of urban history has been about how to drain marshes and swamps. There were enormous struggles in England in draining The Fens, which led to political upheaval, revolutions, and other intrigues. These were enormous marshes, the “sink of thirteen counties”, as Daniel Defoe described them. But the English managed to straighten the rivers and turn the Fens into farmland.

 

Or one could look at the Great Black Swamp that used to cover much of Northeast Ohio, a terrible oozy wasteland that slowed down water flowing into Lake Erie. This was a swamp that was nearly impassable by anyone who didn’t know exactly how to transverse its deep sludgy waters, and was frequently a refuge for natives, who could get through it faster than European-Americans could get around it. Draining it was an enormous accomplishment that led to the creation of cities like Toldeo, not to mention millions of acres of farmland.

Funny thing, though. It turns out the swamp helped keep Lake Erie clean, serving as a natural filter for whatever came through the basin’s rivers. The enormous runoff that resulted, combined with chemicals from the regions farms (which the swamp would have filtered) is one of the main reasons why Lake Erie has died several times. The swamp helped keep away the algae blooms that have decimated the lake.

So we don’t know. We don’t know how these experiments will end. The Chicago River was slow and windy, often more marsh than river. It wasn’t meant to be a straight channel. Maybe straightening it was the price of the city. Maybe paving over its wetlands is how we were built. And maybe it will be fine.

But a rapidly rising and fast moving Chicago River, devoid of any drainage, is, in a very literal sense, unnatural. The short-term effects of how completely we’ve altered our landscape are only beginning to show. The long-term effects are unknown. But, with the rushing clarity of a springtime flood, we know one thing: water always wins.

Advertisements

Guaranteed Rate Field: The Nadir Of White Sox Fandom

 

Image result for konerko grand slam

Just think of this and be happy.

 

 

It’s been a rough year to be a White Sox fan. It started with an unbearable redneck muppet who could barely find the Mendoza line complaining that his kid wasn’t allowed to manage games, and somehow went downhill. The actual season started out great before collapsing into just another mediocre year. Another in a long string of middling and plodding seasons for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008 and, in that time, only came actually close once. Another year where in June you could squint your way back into contention, but every two or three game streak was followed by a bad week. The emblematic moment of our season was when one of the best pitchers in the game, and one of the best we’ve ever had, cut up the 1976 throwback jerseys because he didn’t want to wear them. That hurt for reasons I’ll explain in a second. The fact that the Cubs are the best team in baseball, with the brightest future, and who are doing everything right, and are genuinely likable, just makes it worse.

But there is a new low now. This is worse than Disco Demolition (which was awesome). This is worse than the Ligue boys (who were Cubs fans). This is way worse than the grand Comiskey name being changed to U.S. Cellular Field. I can’t…I can’t even type it.

BREAKING: Guaranteed Rate has purchased naming rights to U.S. Cellular Field. Will be known as Guaranteed Rate Field thru 2030.

This is just…it’s the worst. It’s the worst name. Worse than Enron, probably, because when the Astros stadium was first named that no one knew that they were a country-wrecking band of criminals. Some shady third-rate mortgage company with a terrible name? It’s disgusting. I like Jerry Reinsdorf, and I get that parks have to have naming rights these days, but this is abhorrent.

Worse, it is embarrassing. Being a Sox fan always means eating some crow, which for many turns into bitter anger and misplaced aggression. We have to listen to fans of a team that hasn’t been in the World Series since the end of WWII talk about how we don’t matter, and for the most part, they are right. Sports aren’t entirely about success. They are about the trappings of fandom, and our trappings aren’t glamorous.

And for the most part, that’s been fine. Many of us actually like it. We have our insularity, and we have our weirdness, and we have our quirks. Our history isn’t illustrious, and it is frequently grimy, but in a cool, late 70s, early 80s sort of way. We like it. We like bad fashion and dumb jokes and an owner who created an exploding scoreboard. We like being the weird cousin that no one cares about. There is an aggressive tribal attitude to it, sure, but there is also a sense of family. We have our family history, and that includes terrible choices, like those 1976 throwback unis. They were dumb, but they were fun, and they were ours. That’s why Sale cutting them up was such a blow. Our best player isn’t one of us, like Beuhrle and Konerko and Jermaine Dye and even (especially) Ozzie were. And more to the point, he shouldn’t be. Why would he? We’re not relevant, and just middling. That’s why this season is so hard.

And now this. “The Cell” was at least a decent dimunitive. US Comiscular was fun to say. There’s nothing here. It’s bland and insulting and a disgrace. No one can ever– ever!– say “let’s catch a game at Guaranteed Rate Stadium” without rolling their eyes. Everyone has every reason to make fun of us. They always made fun of us anyway, but we had our defenses. Now, year by pathetic year, and terrible business decision by terrible decision, those defenses are being stripped.

I’ll always be a White Sox fan, until the day I die, and will be passionate about them. I’ll always love going to the ballpark with my family. I’ll love our traditions.  I’ll still mostly call it “Sox Park”. But others won’t. It’s even more of a joke. This really hurts.