Like virtually every other college student in the United States, I got sent home as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and will be taking part in remote classes for the remainder of the semester. After finishing my apartment search, I headed back to Cleveland on Friday and immediately got to packing my stuff. Then, on Sunday I headed back home to Durham, where I will be for the rest of the semester. I likely will not be back to Cleveland again except for visiting friends and hopefully the cross-country alumni meet. It was a bit tough saying goodbye so quickly, since I was before operating on the assumption I would remain on campus with my friends until graduation, so I would be able to hang out with them until the end and we all could say goodbye at the end, but knowing when it was. Instead, I met with some of them one last time at Mitchell’s Ice Cream (which is now also closed), and then first thing the next morning headed out. We’re all still keeping in contact, but it’s not the same. I also had a few more things I wanted to get pictures of, but I guess that was not meant to be. It so happened that my last photo was filling in a missing photo from my post about the changes to the public transportation in Cleveland:
The first week of remote classes is going as well as I can hope. The situation is obviously not ideal for anyone, but we’re getting by. My classes are mostly using Zoom, which seems to be standing up to the likely unprecedented load without any problems I can notice. Since my classes are mostly lecture and project based, I’m in a better situation than the people in classes that are more discussion or lab based, so I’m basically just watching lectures from home instead of in person.
Life at home meanwhile is somewhat boring. I am taking a fairly light courseload for my final semester, so I already had a fair amount of free time back at CWRU. Now that most of the other things I was doing that take my time aren’t happening anymore, I have a lot more free time. Other than schoolwork, I’m also working on other projects, exercising, and making sure to walk outside a lot since the weather is beautiful down in NC.
I somehow managed to time the apartment hunt perfectly. While I was in Chicago, there were virtually no restrictions and it was more or less businesses as usual. Almost immediately after I left, the COVID-19 countermeasures began, which would have probably made apartment hunting much more difficult if not impossible.
Moving to Chicago will be interesting. Assuming interstate travel isn’t banned, I’ll be moving in early May. I have an awesome apartment, which is especially good now that I’ll likely be spending a lot of time there, likely including working from home for some period of time. Time will tell I guess. I also had a lot of plans to explore various things around Chicago and other nearby cities starting this summer, but those will have to be put on hold. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to do all this once this pandemic is over, even if it takes a long time, since I have no plans to leave Chicago.
So today I continued my apartment hunting adventure. As was the case with the past two days, my day started with an apartment visit. This time, it was in Edgewater. Not all that much to say on that front, so I’ll continue to the fun stuff. I had some hot bar food from Mariano’s for lunch, which was pretty good. I will likely be shopping either there or Jewel-Osco for groceries, so I figured I might as well start getting familiar with their stores. Once that was done, I got back on the L and headed towards another barrage of apartment visits. This was the first set I saw not on the Red Line, but instead on the Brown Line, making this my first time taking that line (I also have not yet ridden the Green or Pink lines). I got off at Paulina:
From there, I headed to my first apartment of this set of visits. I then traveled across that part of the city (the realtor driving me between apartments), and visited a number of units in Lakeview and Uptown, but further west than I was before. After that was done, I caught the Brown Line at Irving Park. Due to fairly large the number of people there (it was about 3:30pm at this point, so rush hour was approaching), I didn’t get any photos, and it was cloudy anyway. I headed back downtown and hung out there for a while, then headed back north to get dinner. Since I wanted something light, I took the train back to Bryn Mawr to go back to Mariano’s and get a chicken caesar salad:
After some dinner, I figured I would explore a more remote part of the L system, and figured I’d head to Howard and from there either go to Linden or Skokie, depending on which train arrived first. It just so happened that both were there, so I opted for Skokie for no particular reason. Thus, I boarded the Yellow Line and went out to Dempster-Skokie.
From there, I headed back to Howard, then transferred to the Red Line and called it a night. It’s feeling a lot more real that I’m moving here now that I’m apartment hunting. With any luck, I’ll have a place to live soon. From there, I’ll have a whole new city to explore.
So first, I should mention the concept of cohesion in software engineering. It basically says that everything in one place should be dedicated to one idea. This post definitely is not cohesive. With that out of the way, the past few days have been interesting. They have been mostly dedicated to apartment searching. I have found a few that look great, as well as some that I am going to skip on. Once this search is over I’ll submit some applications and hope for the best. My search is primarily in Uptown, Edgewater, and Rogers Park, all near the Red Line. I ended up leaning towards Uptown and Edgewater since they’re denser and closer to the city, but still quieter than neighborhoods closer to downtown like Lakeview.
Along the way I’ve also been lots of interesting places. On Monday, I started the day with an apartment visit in Uptown, followed by another in Rogers Park. After that I headed downtown to Union Station to meet some friends from CWRU for lunch, where we ended up going to My Thai. It was a really good lunch and also nice to see them in a non-college setting. Along the way, I got off at Clinton on the Blue Line and that was my only set of transit photos for the day since it was raining pretty much all day.
After lunch I headed back north to Edgewater for another apartment visit. As part of the tour the property manager described the neighborhood, including the restaurants. One of the restaurants was Francesca’s, and it was apparently National Meatball Day, so that became my dinner. A very good dinner, though also a lot of food.
Tuesday saw some improved weather. It was colder, but also mostly sunny. I started the day with another apartment visit in Uptown. I then went to the Chicago History Museum and spent a while there. The museum was really interesting, containing an exhibit about a narrative of the history of Chicago, including a 1892-built L car. It also had an exhibit about Lincoln, Muslims in Chicago, modern design, and a few other things. Then from there, I headed downtown to kill some time before getting lunch. I bought my very own Chicago flag along the way, which I’ll hang up in my dorm or something for the rest of the semester. Also, I got some pictures from the LaSalle Street Bridge over the river:
While at lunch, I got an email from CWRU informing me that classes are cancelled next Monday and Tuesday, and will be conducted online for at least three weeks after that. As a TA, I immediately emailed my boss about what to do, and we’re going to be hosting lectures and discussion sections online via Zoom, so that should be fine. I wonder how my other classes are going to happen, and it’ll be interesting seeing campus become a quasi-ghost town since the email also encouraged students to go home if at all possible.
After lunch, I headed back north to Howard on a Purple Line Express for another apartment tour back in Rogers Park. I got there early, so I first tried to get some pictures at Howard, but too many people were there for me to get one without being disruptive. Instead, I got on the Red Line and went one stop back to Jarvis, and got a few pictures there. I also got a shot of the empty interior of a train before we left Howard. Since it was later in the day, I was limited in what I could do due to the sun.
I still had some more time before the tour was scheduled, so I headed over to the lakefront.
Then, I went on the tour and went back to the place I’m staying. Later on, I got dinner at Asian Station, an Asian fusion place right by the Morse station. That was also a very good meal.
Tomorrow is the last major apartment hunting day, then Thursday is a bit more relaxed, and I’m going back to Cleveland Friday. It’s getting a lot more real that I’m moving to Chicago now that I’m touring apartments.
Since I’m moving here soon, I need to find a place to live. My plan for this trip was to scope out neighborhoods, tour apartments, and do other things necessary to get ready to live here.
To start with, my journey was an interesting time. I had a flight from Cleveland to Chicago-Midway scheduled at 4:25pm. Since there was work being done on the Red Line between East 55th and Tower City that took that section out of service, I needed to budget extra time. Also, to avoid a train-bus-train combo, I took the HealthLine to Tower City instead. Being the paranoid person I am, I left at about 12:30 after a quick lunch from Panera (which is conveniently located right next to the East 115th Street HealthLine stop). That gave me four hours to get to the airport, which was less than 20 miles away. Anyway, from there things went without any problems. I made it to the airport and through security with over two hours to departure. Thus, I killed some time at the airport waiting for my flight. My flight then went without any trouble.
The fun began when I actually arrived in Chicago. The place I’m staying is very close to the Rogers Park Metra station, but somewhat further from the L. I normally wouldn’t mind walking, but I had a suitcase and didn’t want to be walking through a city more than I absolutely had to carrying a suitcase. Therefore, I planned my trip so that I would catch the Orange Line to Washington/Wells, then transfer to Metra at the Ogilvie Transportation Center. One catch: I was cutting it close. I had to get from the gate to Ogilvie in under an hour, and that included picking up a checked bag. The instant I got my bag off the carousel (which conveniently was one of the first ones), I made a mad dash for the L. Of course, I just missed the train, so I had to wait a while for the next one. While all this was happening, I was constantly eyeing my watch for how much time I had left to catch Metra, seeing how much time I had. Soon after another train pulled in, but it didn’t leave for several more minutes. Eventually, my train left and headed in towards Downtown Chicago. The L went pretty smoothly, but I still knew I was basically playing Tetris with train schedules. I got to Washington/Wells at 5:38, and I had to be on board the train at Ogilvie by 5:45. Thus, I got to make a mad dash across Downtown to catch Metra. I was sprinting with a backpack and suitcase across Downtown and being as opportunistic as I could with stoplights. After finally making it to Ogilvie, I had a new challenge: how on earth do I actually get in? There were a bunch of doors, but most were for adjacent shops. The actual entrance wasn’t exactly clear it was for the station, since it had a bigger sign for a restaurant. Anyway, I finally found my way in, ran as quickly as I could to the platform, and boarded the train with two minutes to spare. From there, it was a pretty uneventful journey. I got to Rogers Park right on time and quickly got to my lodging.
On Sunday, since I had a Metra weekend pass from the day before, I decided to go the Museum of Science and Industry. The Metra Electric District left Millennium Station at 10:10 and 10:40 on Sundays, followed by a very long gap. I caught the Red Line at Morse, hoping to make the 10:10 train. I ended up missing it (due in part to an unexplained delay at Loyola), so I instead caught the 10:40 train. That whisked me right to the museum, and I had a fun time. The museum remains very cool, and is absolutely giant. They have a model railroad of Downtown Chicago as well as a bunch of freight/intercity stuff across the country. They also have U-505, a captured German World War II submarine.
Then, I grabbed some lunch at the museum cafe, having a chicken caesar salad. After that, I caught the 2:10 Metra Electric back to Millennium Station.
Once back downtown, I caught the Red Line and headed up to Belmont to begin checking out some of the apartments I will be touring and get a feel for the neighborhoods.
From there, I explored the Lakeview, Uptown, and Edgewater neighborhoods. I found that Lakeview is probably a bit too happening for me, but Uptown and Edgewater looked like good matches, since both of those are within easy access of Lakeview (I still want to be able to access all the things happening in Lakeview, just not necessarily be living right there) and a bit quieter. They also have the right kind of density for me. I will be touring several apartments in that area over the next few days, so here’s hoping.
Anyway, after walking up to Thorndale, I caught the train up to Rogers Park to see what’s up there.
From there, I headed up to Jarvis to look at the neighborhood there. Tonight I’m going to get dinner somewhere in Chinatown, so that’ll be nice.
Chicago definitely has the right feel for a city for me, and I think I have found where I want to live in it (that is, Edgewater or Uptown). The L makes it very easy to get around, and the Red Line runs super frequently, even on Sunday, which is very nice. Here’s hoping I can find a good apartment. My tours begin tomorrow, so stay tuned.
My interest in photography as a way to document the world matured during my time in Cleveland, and as my time there comes to a close, I have begun to think about the change that occurred in my relatively short time here.
My first experience with transit in Cleveland was in February 2015 as part of a campus visit to Case Western Reserve University. Some photos from that trip are available in my previous post explaining the evolution of my photography. One photo I didn’t include in there was the interior of the train:
I first experienced the new fleet when I did a prospective student visit after being admitted. I took the train back to the airport and experienced the renovated interior for the first time. It looks a lot nicer, with better-looking seats, brighter lights, an easier-to-clean floor, better color scheme, etc.
Little Italy Station
In early 2015 when I first visited Cleveland, the two stops near CWRU were Cedar-University and Euclid-East 120th. The latter would cease to exist before I returned, being replaced by the new Little Italy-University Circle station a block away later that year. Not long later, the original Euclid-East 120th Street station would be demolished.
Tower City Track Replacement
Starting around the time I came to CWRU, the RTA began replacing Track 8 (the main westbound track) at Tower City. The original track looked something like this:
For the time it took to replace the track during the first part of my freshman year, westbound trains were diverted to a non-revenue track separate from the main station. This temporary station had its own fare control and everything:
Eventually, late in 2016, the project was completed and the new westbound track completed, and service was restored to the main station for both directions. The new track used ballastless track, a major improvement over the original. Take a look:
Now, in early 2020, they’re performing similar work on the stub tracks on either side. Since both through tracks are still in service, service isn’t affected and trains simply don’t terminate directly at Tower City for the time being.
During the second half of 2016, the Warrensville-Shaker station on the Green Line was replaced. I don’t have any pictures of the original station, but I do have some pictures of the new one:
In 2017, the RTA replaced the Lee-Shaker station. It was a basic median streetcar station on Shaker Boulevard, but was at a particularly high-traffic location and thus could use both a modernization and ADA accessibility. I actually was (according to Google Images) the first person to post pictures of the new station online.
The Brookpark Station saw a complete replacement during my Freshman year. The station that existed in 2016 was a “temporary” station that had been in use for about ten years.
I first came to Cleveland during the reconstruction process, so I saw the platform shortened so it only fit one car plus one door on the other car (before this construction project started, the platform could fit a full train). However, the platform was one of only three wooden platforms on the system (the others being East 79th and East 34th, and only East 79th is still wooden now). The headhouse also was on the opposite side of the westbound track from the island platform with no tunnel or bridge, requiring passengers to cross the track to access the platform.
Throughout my freshman year, construction activity was going on. I was impatiently waiting for it to be done, constantly looking for press releases. I distinctly remember taking the train out to the airport very early in the morning with an operator who seemed like he had just started his shift and was very enthusiastic, and he said “Next stop: Brookpark! The new station is coming very soon, folks…” The time I was waiting for finally came around in April, when trains began stopping at the new platform. The new station was a much more modern station:
In all, the new station looked much more modern and was more functional than the one it replaced. I was quite pleased with the new results. Interestingly, this removed the only grade crossing on the Red Line for a time, but another one would open later at East 34th Street (read on…)
East 34th Street
The East 34th Street station as I first remember it was a fairly outdated and run-down station. It was a simple island platform (with a low section for the Blue/Green lines and a high section for the Red Line) accessible by a single set of stairs from East 34th Street.
My sophomore year, the renovation project began. I did my best to come down to the station when I had the chance so that I could document the change.
Then, as I went back to North Carolina for the summer, work continued. I came back in the fall to see the work mostly completed:
The new station also looked much more modern and fresh, giving a nice upgrade to the Campus District. It was also renamed “Tri-C – Campus District” to reflect its proximity to Tri-C.
For a long time, East 105th-Quincy was known for only opening the front door of the front car of each train due to the platform being too short. Needless to say, this was a cause of a lot of confusion for riders not familiar with the situation and delays for everyone else. Riders in the second car had to go between cars if they wanted to get off, and the single door slowed everyone down.
Beginning in late 2017, work began to lengthen the platform. Not only did they lengthen the platform, but they also opened a second entrance, maknig this one of only two stations in the entire system with two entrances, the other being West 65th-Lorain.
As of September 2018, the platform had been lengthened to the point where a two car train could open all of its doors.
However, that was only one part of the project. Next, the new entrance was to open in 2019.
East 116th Street
East 116th Street also saw a major renovation, going from being a fairly old station similar to what East 34th originally was (especially the staircases) to another modern station.
Then, the renovations began! The temporary station in place during the renovations consisted of two wooden platforms and a fairly basic entrance located further down the block to allow work on the new station to proceed unobstructed:
Then, the new station was built mostly over the summer, so I wasn’t able to document it. So, let’s jump to the big finish:
The new station, like the others, was a major improvement. It fit in nicely with the surrounding neighborhood, was ADA accessible, and was generally just much nicer-looking.
Blue Line renovations
I was notified on Wikipedia that the RTA was performing some upgrades for various stations on the Blue Line, so when I got the time and clear skies, I went out there to document the upgrades. The upgrades appeared to be new signage and shelters, with the platform structure itself remaining unchanged. The first station where I saw such upgrades was Avalon:
A lot changed in four years, and I was glad to be here to document it. These renovations gave me exciting material for photography and always gave me an excuse to get out of University Circle for a while. They are in keeping with Cleveland’s city motto of “Progress and Prosperity” (even though one of the stations was in Shaker Heights) and helped modernize the city. It looks like I’ve seen the last major project that will be completed before I leave here in May, but I know there’s plenty of work going on in Chicago that I will be able to photograph as well.
I first got my feet wet with regards to photography in about eleventh grade. My first time going out by myself with a camera was on the Los Angeles Metro. I was meeting some family at LACMA while coming from Beverly Hills, so I arranged that I would get dropped off at Culver City, take the Expo Line (now alternately known as the E line) to 7th Street/Metro Center, then transfer to the Purple Line (now also known as the D line), take that out to Wilshire/Western, then meet everyone else there, and we’d drive the rest of way to LACMA, at Wilshire/Fairfax (which will be on the line in a few years, but definitely not in 2013).
Along the trip, I just took pictures of basically anything and everything, not really bothering to pay attention to my subject matter or the quality of the photos. I knew nothing about photography other than you point the camera at something and hit the button. I didn’t even have a camera of my own, I borrowed someone else’s. Here is a sampling of a few photos I took:
That was my first foray into photography. Obviously, those weren’t exactly the world’s best photos, but that’s what got me started.
Cleveland and Chicago, Round 1
Later on, in February 2015, I toured colleges in the Midwestern United States, specifically Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve (which I ended up attending), and Northwestern. This was my second opportunity to try a bit of railroad photography. In Cleveland, I wanted to explore a new transit system, so I took the Red Line from Cedar/University to Tower City to grab lunch there. I forgot to ask to borrow a camera for this one, so I got my pictures with a cell phone. I got some pictures along the way there too:
Later on, after my tour of Northwestern, I ran from there to Millennium Station (about 13 miles) for my long run that week, and then then took the South Shore Line back to South Bend (where I was staying). Once I got to Millennium Station, I took some more pictures while waiting for my train:
Travels in 2016
I traveled some along the way (still using borrowed cameras), to places like Boston…
…and New York City…
My own camera
Then, as I graduated high school, I got my own camera, a Canon Powershot G9X, about the size of a deck of cards. I definitely got familiar with that camera over the next few years. Back in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, I had my first real rodeo with that camera:
Cleveland, Round 2: a whole new city
Then, after that summer was over, I started college at CWRU. I immediately set out to get pictures of all the train station around Cleveland. Here are some of my preliminary efforts:
Speaking of Tower City, I revisited that station. They were performing maintenance on one of the tracks, so they opened a station on one of the non-revenue tracks:
Definitely some progress was made in the meantime. I was able to better choose subject matter and get it in the frame. The quality was also better, with the pictures being clearer and better focused. However, the alignment was still pretty haphazard, with a lot of the pictures not level at all. I also didn’t really appreciate the importance of lighting just yet.
My next big breakthrough was in alignment, when I went out to Lee-Van Aken. I realized I could line up the camera with reference lines in the picture (in this case I used the power poles), and as a result my pictures were actually consistently level.
I also got to apply these skills elsewhere traveling to Charlotte for a day…
…and New York City again…
…and Los Angeles again…
Around this time, I also got interested in taking pictures of buildings in addition to transit systems.
With that, I felt much more confident in my photography skills. I had definitely seen some improvement, my pictures were clearer and more level. Still, I was missing some things.
The start to 2018: Lighting
The next big improvement in my photography was lighting. Before I didn’t really even think about sunny or cloudy, or where the light sources were indoors. As a result, the colors often didn’t look quite like I wanted or the wrong objects were emphasized. With a renewed emphasis on lighting, I continued my work. In the winter of 2017-2018, I went to San Francisco, with my first vacation that had a really high emphasis on photography:
The improvements definitely showed themselves in San Francisco. Having a photography-oriented trip also was a good opportunity to see for myself what worked and what didn’t. With that, I felt much more confident going forwards. I continued my photography along Cleveland and other places I went. I did my first internship at TransEnterix that following summer as well. Since I didn’t want to take any time off work, my travel opportunities were somewhat limited, just going back to Charlotte for a day (this time trying to aim for a sunnier day) and taking an afternoon trip to Raleigh. However, I had a few days between my last day at the internship and when I had to get back to school, so I took advantage of that to take a quick trip to Washington, DC.
After DC, I felt pretty solid in my abilities. I definitely had the alignment thing down, and I was getting a lot better at lighting.
Richmond and Philadelphia
My next big photo adventure was a day trip to Richmond, Virginia in late 2018. I picked a day with perfectly clear skies, and basically spent all day walking around the city with my camera taking pictures of anything and everything that interested me:
With those two pictures, I began to feel that the limiting factor in my pictures was my camera and no longer the user. In particular, for the nighttime shot, I was having trouble getting the focus where I needed (my camera didn’t have any options beyond five meters other than “infinite distance”) as well as the lighting settings. I also was starting to use manual mode, which was really cumbersome on that camera. I took a mental note that a new camera was in order. Still, I continued on with what I had, and later on went to Philadelphia:
I really gained an appreciation for lighting after this trip. I only had one sunny day, the first one (and I got there late in the day, so I was only really able to get that one skyline photo). I also learned that SEPTA, in contrast to many other subway systems, is very well lit. This made photography much easier and let me get higher quality pictures.
Chicago, Round 2
Over spring break that year, I traveled to Chicago. I returned to Millennium Station, and my new photos were definitely an improvement:
I also got many pictures of the L:
I also got some pictures of buildings and stuff…
That ended up being my last major expedition with my Canon. I had a few minor ones later on, including a brief trip back to Charlotte, a quick trip to Downtown Durham, as well as a trip to Greensboro, which turned out to be my last expedition with that camera:
Transition to a new camera, Atlanta, and beyond
Then, I got a new, more powerful camera: an Olympus E-M10. To take it out for a test drive, I took some pictures around Durham:
The camera felt way more powerful than my previous one. It took me a while to get used to all its features and how to use them, but I knew this was a major step forwards. In the middle of the summer, I took a solo trip to Atlanta, and that is still to date my most successful photography expedition:
I definitely was still getting the hang of the whole exposure/ISO/F-stop thing, as evidenced by the lighting in some of these photos. Still, these photos were clearer than anything I had done before, and I felt much more in control. It was also awesome traveling solo for photography, which gave me a ton of practice.
For my final fall break I decided to travel to Pittsburgh with a friend. It was only for a few days, but I still had plenty of opportunities for photography:
I had gotten a better feel for all the settings on my camera this time, so my pictures came out looking more or less how I wanted them.
So, since I took up photography, my skills have improved dramatically. It wasn’t a sudden shift, but something that happened over time. I’m moving to Chicago soon, and that will give me a whole new city to explore. I look forward to what I find there, and hope my skills continue to improve. The future holds exciting things, and I can’t wait to see (and photograph) what they are.
Many Wikipedia articles on mass transit stations are fairly lacking, since often there are many stations in one system and most editors don’t find individual stations except for the major ones all that interesting. In particular, the photos have often been limited to non-existent for many stations. Since I have learned so much about transit systems from Wikipedia, I always feel compelled to offer my own expertise and photography to improve the information for others out there.
One example is the East 105th – Quincy Station, located fairly close to where I am now in Cleveland. For a long time, the platform was very short and only the front door of the front car of each train opened. Starting in late 2017, a project was undertaken to extend the platform to fit the length of a full three car train and open a new entrance. Once the project was completed, nobody had updated the article to reflect this. Since I live less than two miles from there, I waited for a sunny day and took a brief trip out there with my camera to update the article, and now the article accurately reflects the history of the station, complete with pictures of the results.
Over spring break last year (March 2019), I traveled to Chicago for a few days since I had never really gotten to know the city all that well. Chicago has a very interesting transit system, and the Metra Electric District was a particular object of my fascination. One station along the line that seemed interesting but had almost no documentation on Wikipedia was McCormick Place. I was interested in that station because of its underground-ish nature (I knew McCormick Place was built on top of it, but I wanted to see how enclosed it was) as well as its unique design being integrated into McCormick Place.
To see for myself what was going on at McCormick Place, I went there. The final destination was the Museum of Science and Industry, located on the same line near the 55th-56th-57th Street Station. Since the museum didn’t open until 10am and it was before 9am and I otherwise had nothing to do, I headed down to Millennium Station and boarded the next outbound Metra train. I jumped ship at McCormick Place to see for myself what was going on there. Of course, I got some photos, a few of which are here:
After getting those pictures, I waited around for the next train. Since it was a Saturday, they only ran every 30 minutes, though I took my time taking those pictures. On schedule, the train arrived and I continued down to the Museum of Science and Industry. The museum was super cool, but that’s a topic for another time.
Later on, I improved the Wikipedia article with my knowledge from the photos I took. I specifically added a better photo of the platform to the infobox and described the basic layout of the station.
Over this most recent winter break (December 2019-January 2020), I further improved the article since it was still lacking sufficient information. In particular, I described the rail service patterns in more depth and included some information from Metra press releases about some recent renovations and more planned in the future.
While I covered the current state of the system as well as I could have hoped (there’s always room for more depth, but I think I got the point across), I was unsatisfied by a complete lack of information about the history of the station. The only source I could find was on Subwaynut.com. The information presented there definitely was interesting, but I couldn’t find any authoritative sources to back it up. On and off throughout January, I searched all over the internet for information about the 1996 opening of the station or the previously-existing 23rd Street station and found nothing other than that same page.
Finally, this most recent week, I had a breakthrough. All of my previous searches were searching for Metra’s 23rd Street station, while the line was originally owned by the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). Once I changed my search to include the IC instead of Metra, I found something authoritative: a JSTOR archive of an article by an IC employee about the history of the IC. In that article, I learned a lot. The station was originally at 22nd Street and served both long-distance trains as well as commuter trains. Also, after the Great Chicago Fire inflicted major damage on the main station downtown, 22nd Street was the closest station with full service (such as buying tickets and checking bags). Then, in 1926 the station was moved a block south to 23rd Street, its current location.
Once I hit that point, I still couldn’t find any sources about the redevelopment of the station in conjunction with McCormick Place. With some creative Google Searches, I eventually found one source giving me the information I needed: an article in Plastics News about attending an event at McCormick Place and how Metra made it easier to get there. While it was a somewhat improbable source, it was something commercially published, giving me the missing link in the history.
This ends my monthlong search for articles about the history of the McCormick Place Station. It certainly took me a lot of interesting places around the internet.
Update: Later on I noticed that the Metra article showed the picture I used in the McCormick Place article as its headline picture in the infobox. I looked up the editor who did it, and it was some anonymous editor whose IP traces to Homewood, which happens to be on the same line. I first posted that picture on Wikipedia back in November, but the edit to the Metra article appears to be on February 5, just before I made the history edits to the McCormick Place Station article described here. Interesting.
I have been a major figure on the Scratch Wiki for a long time, though since coming to college I have been much less active due to other commitments. I first joined the Wiki on March 9, 2012, and have gained a lot of experiences in my time there.
My Beginnings on the Wiki
I first joined the Wiki in 2012 as a regular editor back in the days of Scratch 1.4, with my main intention just being to improve the article on Mod Share (a project on which I was a developer at the time). I made my necessary edits, and then also started editing other articles where I saw potential for improvement. I remained in that capacity for a while, until the release of Scratch 2.0.
Scratch 2.0 and user registration
When Scratch 2.0 was released, the existing account registration system (which depended on a user verification API in Scratch 1.4) no longer functioned. The Scratch Team announced that at some future date they would implement OAuth to allow other websites to link their account systems to Scratch’s, but did not give any specific date to expect it. Meanwhile, over at Mod Share, we had the same problem, also depending on that API. After discussing the situation with LS97 (the other Mod Share developer), we figured the best solution would be to verify users by having them comment a verification code on a project and then checking if they posted the comment. Once the system was successfully implemented on Mod Share (my code quality has improved since then, I promise), I contacted the Scratch Team asking if they would like me to implement a similar system on the Wiki. They ended up agreeing, so I got my hands dirty with developing a MediaWiki extension. I ended up modifying an existing extension, ConfirmAccount by Aaron Schulz, adding the comment verification to it (GitHub link). This allowed the Wiki to maintain the existing system of requiring users to request accounts while verifying (automatically) that users requested accounts corresponding to their Scratch accounts. As part of the implementation, I was given a new title, Experienced Wikian (developed specifically as a result of this new extension). In a nutshell, I had elevated privileges over normal users (most importantly being able to process account requests), but was below an administrator.
Becoming more active
With my role in implementing the account request system, I became much more active on the Wiki. I processed the majority of account requests to the Wiki for a while, and also was fairly active in maintaining the quality of the articles as well as the community. As time went on, the other active staff members mostly moved on to other things, and I became a de facto leader.
As I started college, I knew I wouldn’t have as much time for the Wiki as I did before. I continued to help in the capacity I could, but knew time was coming to pass on the reins to someone else. I am proud to report that the Wiki still continues on and is going strong.
In the winter 2018, the Wiki was officially transferred from Scratch Team ownership to being an independent project. This gave us a lot more freedom, especially the ability to install extensions and otherwise modify configuration ourselves as well as more moderation powers (specifically blocking users). While before all of these requests had to go through the Scratch Team which often took a while, now we could act unilaterally as necessary. In this time, many software improvements were made and all of the Wikis in different languages became part of a single ecosystem.
To this day, the Wiki continues to be an active community maintaining high-quality articles describing Scratch. To have continued this through over a decade and through several rounds of leaders is a testament to the spirit of the project.
I have certainly learned a lot over my time on the Wiki. It is a very unique kind of project, maintaining fairly high quality standards while largely being maintained by people in the 10-15 year old range. The most important lesson I learned was the importance of remaining calm and civil. One core policy of the Wiki is assuming good faith. In essence, that means that unless there’s obvious evidence to the contrary, assume that a user’s actions were made with an intent to help, or at at the very least, without the intention to harm the Wiki. Thus, while it is easy to endlessly criticize users for violations of Wiki guidelines, such as making articles about users, editing others’ userpages, creating duplicate pages, among a million other things, it was more important to help them. Almost every user (including myself) received a talk page message in their first few edits explaining that one of their edits had been undone or a page deleted because of some violation of Wiki guidelines. Rather than treating that as a warning, it was important to treat those as opportunities for improvement. In fact, I wanted to encourage users to be bold with their edits, since the best way to learn is by doing.
We also managed to maintain a semi-democratic system on the Wiki that has worked surprisingly well. The guidelines explicitly state that the Wiki is a collaborative effort, and we did our best to maintain that. I viewed my job (most of the time) as facilitating a discussion rather than making a decision myself. While I did have the final say, I rarely invoked that and instead went off of community consensus and established guidelines (which were also largely community-developed). Whenever possible, I tried to act as a normal editor rather than an administrator or authority figure (the one significant exception being in handling account requests, where that wasn’t really possible).
We did have a number of incidents on the Wiki, but compared to most other online communities they were fairly uncommon. I attribute this to a few things:
High barrier to entry: users had to submit an account request to join, and in that request they had to put forth a significant amount of effort (see the next paragraph)
High level of commitment: the community was based on maintaining high-quality articles, so most users who were not committed to that left on their own
Collaborative effort: we all were working towards a common goal and helped each other out wherever possible
Evolution of the Account Request System
The account request system changed dramatically throughout my time on the Wiki. When I first joined, the system essentially just required users to somehow describe how they would help on the Wiki. We then changed the system somewhat to require that users name specific articles they would improve and how they would improve those articles. Still, many requests did not meet the requirements, and we had little success in changing the requirements to join in such a way that more people would read them fully.
Eventually, Turkey3 had the idea of radically changing the account request system in a way that would be clearer. Instead of requiring users to search through the Wiki, we required them to look through an example article with a number of mistakes and then provide suggestions on both what mistakes to fix and also what they would add to the article. The quality of requests generally increased after that point, and we have maintained that system ever since.
As I continue on my journey in life, I am very proud of the work I did for the Scratch Wiki. I am also extremely proud of all the contributors who have helped maintain the project and continue to do so. It is an extremely valuable resource for helping kids learn Scratch and also helping more advanced users expand their capabilities. It also serves as a place for the Scratch community to collectively store its knowledge, even as individual members come and go, allowing anyone to learn about ideas that no active user may be able to help with.
For my final winter break of college, I went to visit family in Los Angeles and also traveled to San Diego. The family visits were pretty standard and not exactly the kind of thing I post here, but I also got some amazing photographs.
After getting over the jet lag (to some degree), we traveled to the Getty Center on the first full day in Los Angeles. I am personally not one for art museums, but the Getty Center has both interesting architecture and amazing views. While the rest of my family looked at the artwork, I went around photographing the buildings and the views. The museum is also at the top of a mountain, which is traversed by a tram, affording me an opportunity to photograph a unique rail system.
Wilshire Boulevard and Century City
I have pictures of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline from previous trips, but Los Angeles does not have a single high-density urban core the way that most cities I travel to do. So, I set my sights on Wilshire Boulevard. After a bunch of scouting out locations on Google Earth (which was no easy task when all I had was my cell phone), I concluded that the parking garage at the Westfield Mall in Century City would be the best vantage point. The view did not disappoint. While the first time I tried was a cloudy day, the weather forecast revealed that the next day would be sunny. And sunny it was:
However, that was to be outdone later that day. Thanks to some help from my family, I was able to get access to the roof of one of those buildings on Wilshire and photograph Century City. Los Angeles requires helipads be on the top of tall buildings, and that is exactly where I was standing. This gave me a nice 360 degree view of the Westside of Los Angeles.
That was a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. It’s not every day that you can access the top of a skyscraper in the middle of Los Angeles, and I am extremely grateful for my family and the property management for letting me up there.
Exploring the Metro (a bit)
I had a free afternoon and nobody had any specific plans, so I figured I would take the opportunity to explore the Metro some more. I have always been a fan of the Los Angeles Metro since it’s such a new system and serves a metropolitan area vastly different than most other rapid transit systems. Nothing new had been opened since I was there last (though a whole lot is coming very soon), so I didn’t have any obvious candidates to explore. I thought about it, and decided maybe I should go to Boyle Heights since it has the only two underground light rail stations outside of Downtown (until the Crenshaw/LAX Line opens in a few months). After a long trip in from Westwood on the Expo Line, followed by short trips on the Purple Line and Gold Line (once the Regional Connector project finishes, this entire trip will be a one-seat ride), I got off in Boyle Heights at Soto. The design of the platform was pretty standard in keeping with the heavy rail stations on the Red and Purple Lines, but the entrance design was unique and well-incorporated into the local community.
I then traveled back towards Downtown, not sure what to do next. I remembered along the way that the Little Tokyo/Arts District station will be demolished and replaced with an underground station as part of the Regional Connector project, so I decided to get off there and grab some pictures since I had no idea when I would be back next and I may never get a chance to photograph that station again.
From there, I took the Gold Line back to Union Station, then the Purple Line to Wilshire/Western, and the 720 bus back to Westwood.
Traveling to San Diego
After a nice time in Los Angeles, I headed down to San Diego. I traveled on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, getting on at Los Angeles Union Station:
The train trip itself was pretty uneventful. Everything went smoothly, and we arrived at San Diego Old Town station right on time. The view from the train was somewhat varied. The leg from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano was just industrial backlots, going through pretty gritty areas. However, from there on to San Diego was absolutely beautiful, going right by the ocean.
After getting off the train and meeting everyone else at the station, we drove downtown and spent a few hours at the Maritime Museum. The museum was pretty cool, containing a bunch of old boats and two submarines. We started off on the Star of India:
While I normally get a lot of skyline pictures when I visit cities, the prospects weren’t all that promising in San Diego with the time and resources I had available, so my only ones were taken from the Maritime Museum:
We also visited a few of the other boats and submarines:
San Diego Trolley
I had the opportunity to explore the San Diego Trolley system on the second day there, so I made sure to do that. I had done no planning whatsoever, so I just figured I’d go around randomly and see where it took me. I started at Santa Fe Depot and figured I’d head inbound.
So, I caught the train and took it to 12th and Imperial where I had the chance to transfer to the other lines. To my surprise, the Green Line ended as a single track and reversed from there, rather than the double track setup common at most termini.
I then headed over to the other lines:
Without any real idea where I wanted to go, I figured I’d hop on a Blue Line train. I rode it inbound to the end of the route at America Plaza, which at first I didn’t realize put me right back at Santa Fe Depot where I started.
I then walked back to Santa Fe Depot and hopped on an outbound train to see what the line was like further out from downtown. I wondered if all the stops were fairly close together like they were downtown, or if they were much further apart like I experienced in Charlotte (which, by the way, operates the same type of vehicle). It turned out it was the latter, with my phone informing me we hit speeds of up to 50 MPH. I was on the lookout for any particularly notable stations, and ended up deciding Stadium fit the bill. It was a rather bizarre station, having both an island platform and side platforms and being designed to look like the stadium it serves.
After leaving Stadium, I was planning on heading out to Grossmont and transferring to a train back to downtown. However, I was much surprised to find ourselves going underground, nowhere near downtown. An underground station on an otherwise above-ground system is too interesting to pass up, so I jumped ship at San Diego State University.
I then continued on my way to Grossmont and turned around there. Turns out I just missed the inbound train, so I had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. Oh well. I busied myself with photography in the meantime:
Eventually, my train came and I headed back inbound. For whatever reason, 32nd and Commercial really caught my attention, so got off to get some more pictures:
I then continued on my way back into Downtown, with dusk approaching. Once I got back Downtown, I took pictures of a bunch of the stations there:
The trolley really interests me since it’s an old streetcar, but also has a pantograph and LED destination sign. Interesting renovations.
After that, I met with everyone for dinner.
The next day, it was time to return to Los Angeles. I decided to take the Coaster up to Oceanside while everyone else drove in order to give me another photography opportunity. It went well except for one tactical error: it was Saturday. I lost track of the days and thought it was during the week, where the Coaster leaves Santa Fe Depot at 9:18am. The clock hit 9:18, and no train. To make sure I got it right, I looked at a posted schedule and then checked my watch to make sure I got the day right. Turns out I got the day wrong. Oooooops…
Anyway, the weekend train left at 9:35, so it wasn’t that bad of a delay. The train arrived as expected and I boarded.
The train ride went fine. I got another beautiful view of the coast heading back north to Oceanside. The train arrived in Oceanside, then I got off and met up with everyone else, and we drove the rest of the way back to Los Angeles.
With that, we returned to Los Angeles, and the next day we flew back home.
All in all, this was a pretty nice trip. I spent some time with family but also got plenty of time to explore and photograph on my own.
So I suppose since I have this website built on a platform designed for blogs, I should post something here.
I was recently hired as a Solutions Engineer at BlueBolt Solutions in Chicago! I will be working there starting in June-ish. I still have one more semester of college to go in the meantime, but have a plan now.
I really look forward to working for them, as their work seems really interesting and the small business environment offers me room to grow as well as a much more individualized job. Chicago will also be an awesome city to explore.
The picture below is the current wallpaper on my computer in anticipation. I took this picture on a trip to Chicago during spring break last year, which was what sparked my interest in the city in the first place.