Holidays, schmolidays: Along with the good, things that need improvement

As a holiday column, perhaps this offering is expected to express some gratitude, offer a charitable thought for the less fortunate, reflect on a significant event over the past 12 months or invoke an appropriate religious thought. A widely read column might concisely accomplish all four.

Something such as: “This holiday season, as the World Series trophy continues its triumphant tour of the city and its environs, Cubs fans should pause celebrating the Holy Trinity — Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Joe Maddon — long enough to remember long-suffering franchises like St. Louis without sight of a World Series trophy in the last half-decade.”

This column, however, generally trends in a different direction. Because expecting wide readership while writing a Page 5 column for a trade newspaper in an era of blogging and tweeting feels a bit like expecting to play “Pokémon Go” on a flip phone, traditional holiday offerings are not contained herein.

Instead, looking back at 2016, a year marked by Brexit, the Zika virus and Russian hacking, permit the release of a little steam built up during 2016. Here’s my year-ending half dozen vents:

1. Grammar. As the season is ushered in, there is unquestionably much to be thankful for, but so too is there much to dismay over. Before the Law Bulletin editor swoops in to correct that last sentence’s close, the death of the rule against ending sentences with prepositions should be acknowledged.

Without much doubt today, prepositions are acceptable devices to begin or end sentences with. Editing these sentences would not challenge my work, it would instead comprise an affront to Winston Churchill, who famously referred to the rule as “the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.”

2. Food trucks. Prominent among the points of dismay is Chicago’s treatment of food trucks. The city’s vast overregulation of this enterprise, including by imposing unreasonably short hours of operation and excessive licensing fees and by declaring far too much of the Loop off-limits forces the trucks to charge uncompetitive prices.

Coughing up as much or more for a food truck’s output as the same meal costs in a nearby restaurant remains hard to stomach. Restaurants pay rent, employ a stable of workers, keep longer hours and provide tables and chairs, air conditioning and heating, washrooms and other accoutrements.

Without bearing such overhead, food trucks can and should charge less. Faced with stringent rules not found in other big cities, however, they simply cannot.

The novelty of eating an overpriced meal off the backs of trucks will soon wear off without sweeping change and their largely millennial consumers will return like salmon swimming upstream to the long Chipotle lines from whence they came.

For all those who enjoy fresh Jamaican soul food, barbecue dim sum or Acapulco fish tacos, look for City Hall to loosen its grip on mobile meals in the new year.

3. Golf. Spending an entire column releasing frustration without some mention of golf is not possible. After spending much of the summer on the driving range and braving a few par-3 courses, I’m new enough to golf that I still like it. Alas, golf doesn’t seem to particularly like me.

Not yet capable enough with a driver (or 7-iron, 5-wood, sand wedge or putter) to take potential clients on a fairway — not without seeing any plans to develop business veer off course faster than my tee shot — I want to believe that 2017 will lead to respectability. Surely the frustration of golf can’t continue into a second summer.

4. ‘Extra’ trains. A particularly idiosyncratic concern not only around these holidays but many others throughout the year is the asserted Metra habit, as announced with pride by the conductors, of “adding” afternoon trains. The need for extra routes to take Loop workers home early on the eve of a holiday is very real, and Metra ably accommodates the schedule change of its ridership. But it does not add trains.

Following every announcement that 3:24, 4:07 and 4:41 trains are “added” is news that the 5:05, 5:29 and 5:50 trains “will not operate.” This fine print of the announcement amounts to rescheduling, not adding, trains. Claiming to add trains today while running the same number as yesterday is misrepresentation, but one riders gratefully accept in the spirit of each and every holiday.

5. Inability to (successfully) multitask. Speaking of trains, few mornings begin in more frustrating fashion than when arriving commuters impede passage by exiting, cellphones in hand. Never mind all the inbound time they had to set their music, text and Facebook; for many, these activities seem reserved for the platform, oblivious to the hundreds alighting behind them.

The hazards and thoughtlessness of public cellphone use is not an original observation. Plenty have blogged or published, for example, on the inconvenience of waiting for the car with its lights on to vacate a coveted parking space, only to discover the driver will not back out until finished texting or the injuries that result from driver/biker/skateboarder encountering pedestrian while one was distracted.

My singular focus is on the far more benign clogging of the narrow artery between train car and station revolving door. This senseless arrival practice is badly due for a change in 2017, even though those guilty of it are surely too busy on cellphone social media or Spotify to read such calls on Page 5 of a trade paper from one of the many attempting to scurry past them.

6. Robert De Niro. This one really hurts. Robert De Niro starred in some of cinema’s legendary hits. From “The Godfather Part II” to “Taxi Driver” to “The Deer Hunter,” he was one of Hollywood’s biggest names. He then showed off his range in such outstanding films as “Raging Bull,” where he took home an Oscar for best actor, “Midnight Run,” “GoodFellas” and “Cape Fear.”

Disappointingly, De Niro more recently seems willing to accept any and every script sent his way. Starting roughly with “Meet the Fockers,” De Niro appeared in a series of forgettable films, including “Hide and Seek,” “Stardust,” “What Just Happened,” “Limitless,” “Red Lights,” “Machete,” “The Big Wedding” and “Dirty Grandpa,” diminishing memories of his strong performances as young Vito Corleone and Jake LaMotta.

In the spirit of the season, De Niro’s forgettable Christmas movie “Everybody’s Fine” will not be grouped in this mix.

If this column seemed a bit too Scroogelike, just wait till next month when on Jan. 29, we celebrate Curmudgeons Day. For real. Feel free to Google it on the train platform. Happy Holidays!


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