The rise and fall of the bus terminal

From CityLab:

Intercity bus travel was born in the 1920s, and intercity bus terminals, as historian Margaret Walsh writes, “were both the core of a systematic service and were architectural features of some repute.” It may surprise the young bus travelers of today to learn that many U.S. bus terminals were once beautiful. In the interbellum bus boom, Art Deco stations in the central business districts of America’s biggest cities were points of civic pride.

Blytheville, Arkansas’ Greyhound Bus Station, built in 1937, is one of the few stylish Art Deco stations left in the country. The station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. (Wikimedia Commons)

Walsh notes that these structures’ opening ceremonies were very much a thing:

The civic opening ceremonies that welcomed bus terminals throughout much of the twentieth century, whether in small and large urban centers, were not simply gestures of public relations towards business or voters. These stations were perceived as notable symbols of progress and commerce. The intercity bus industry brought travelers and trade to the area and stylish terminals were at the core of that enterprise. Sometimes they were more when they became a nucleus for local community activity.

These terminals were stocked with amenities: restaurants and quicker food options, clean restrooms, newsstands, telephones, information desks, and well-lit waiting areas.

The decline of America’s bus terminals accompanied a number of larger cultural shifts. Large, new and modern stations suffered when populations shifted to the suburbs, leaving bus managers with sunk costs that prevented them from following potential riders to the edges of the crabgrass frontier. As city centers transformed into centers of poverty, crime followed, and bus travelers—many of whom were women—began worrying about arriving in downtown stations in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the rise of the personal automobile and air travel made the bus seem unsophisticated.

Read the rest here.

The rise and fall of the bus terminal

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

This is another feature length documentary I’d intended to watch for a long time. It was worth the wait. From the New Yorker review:

One of the hardest reservations to get in the world is a seat at Jiro Ono’s sushi counter, a three-Michelin-star restaurant adjoining the entrance to the Ginza metro station, in the basement of a business building in Tokyo. A meal there, which consists of twenty pieces of sushi served one at a time, costs thirty thousand Japanese yen (about three hundred and seventy dollars), and lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. (By contrast, a meal at Noma, probably the toughest get on the list, takes a good three to four hours). There are only ten seats, there is a set menu (no appetizers or modifications), and there are definitely no California rolls.

The question of what makes this hole in the wall so worthy is the subject of a gorgeously shot documentary opening today called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” directed by David Gelb. Jiro Ono was born in 1925, left home at the age of nine, and has been making sushi ever since. Though Japan has declared him a national treasure, he still says, at the age of eighty-five, “All I want to do is make better sushi.” He goes to work every day by getting on the train from the same position, he always tastes his food as he makes it, and he dislikes holidays. Jiro is described as a shokunin—a person who embodies the artisan spirit of the relentless pursuit of perfection through his craft.

Another Japanese term that came to my mind while I watched the film was kaizen, meaning “improvement” or “change for the better.” The concept is one of process, and it is often applied in business settings, like manufacturing and logistics, to ensure constant and never-ending improvement. Before cooking his octopus, Jiro used to massage it for up to thirty minutes. Now he will massage it for forty minutes, to give it an even softer texture and a better taste. Before a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro, guests are handed a hot towel, hand-squeezed by an apprentice. The apprentices, who train for at least ten years under Jiro, are not allowed to cut the fish until they practice just handling it. One of the older apprentices says Jiro taught him to “press the sushi as if it were a baby chick.”

Read the rest here

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Mistaken For Strangers – a documentary that’s easy to love

I’m catching up with a boatload of great documentaries, and of them all so far Mistaken for Strangers is the easiest to love. If you’ve not seen this film yet, you really should. From the New York Times review:

Placed side by side, Tom and Matt Berninger are as aesthetically harmonious as marshmallow and beef jerky. But physical difference is only the tip of a fond estrangement that began during their childhood in Cincinnati and widened as Matt, the elder by almost a decade, gained recognition as the lead vocalist for the National. Seeing an opportunity to close that gap, Tom — whose main creative output had been microbudgeted horror movies — accepted Matt’s offer of a grunt job on the band’s 2010-11 European tour, toting a camera and a vague plan to make a documentary. What could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it happens. Despite intermittent blasts from the band’s anguished, cerebral performances, “Mistaken for Strangers” isn’t about the music (which Tom, in any case, doesn’t really cotton to). The gold here lies offstage, in Tom’s left-field interviews with bemused band members (do they take wallets onstage, he wonders?) and in barbed confrontations with the highly organized road crew members who resent his laissez-faire work ethic. Chided by Matt for drinking too much (“You’ve got the allergy”) and disillusioned by the band’s aversion to drugs and partying, he visibly wilts; we can sense him recalibrating his notion of perhaps more than just the rock star lifestyle.

Pierced with touching moments of seemingly stumbled-upon clarity, “Strangers” is a shaggy ode to sibling reconnection. As Matt roams an auditorium during one of his midsong walkabouts, Tom scurries behind with the microphone cable before boosting his brother back onstage. The sequence is wordless, but its metaphorical impact is deafening.

Mistaken For Strangers – a documentary that’s easy to love

And now for some photos of colossal statues

From Wired:

Enormous statues have been erected around the globe for centuries, omnipresent memorials to historical figures and events. Fabrice Fouillet’s series Colosses—a collection of photographs of the world’s most imposing monuments—makes these familiar sights downright strange through a simple shift in perspective. It’s not the size and scale that interests him, but their place in the surrounding landscape. The result can be dizzying and disorienting.

“I was first intrigued by the human need or desire to built gigantic declarations,” said Fouillet. “I was not especially looking for the ‘spectacular’ in the series—even if the dimensions of the statues are—but I wanted to explore how such huge monuments fit in the landscape despite their traditional social, political, or religious functions.”

Fouillet frames these sites from the sidelines, capturing the perspective you don’t see in postcards. He frames Dai Kanon in Sendai, Japan, from a few blocks away, for example. Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland, is framed from behind. In some cases, he shoots wide enough to include mundane details of life and the people living in the shadow of these looming monoliths. Laundry flaps in the breeze beneath the imposing facade of Ataturk Mask in Izmir, Turkey, and a Coca-Cola machine sits just down the hill from Grand Byakue Kannon in Takazaki, Japan. Fouillet appears to be toying with our notions of the sacred and profane.

And now for some photos of colossal statues

The meaning of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ by the Pogues

I’ve often wondered about the lyrics to A Pair of Brown Eyes by the Pogues. You probably know the words, but here they are just in case:

One summer evening drunk to hell
I stood there nearly lifeless
An old man in the corner sang
Where the water lilies grow
And on the jukebox Johnny sang
About a thing called love
And it’s how are you kid and what’s your name
And how would you bloody know?
In blood and death ‘neath a screaming sky
I lay down on the ground
And the arms and legs of other men
Were scattered all around
Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed
Then prayed and bled some more
And the only thing that I could see
Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me
But when we got back, labeled parts one to three
There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes
I looked at him he looked at me
All I could do was hate him
While Ray and Philomena sang
Of my elusive dream
I saw the streams, the rolling hills
Where his brown eyes were waiting
And I thought about a pair of brown eyes
That waited once for me
So drunk to hell I left the place
Sometimes crawling sometimes walking
A hungry sound came across the breeze
So I gave the walls a talking
And I heard the sounds of long ago
From the old canal
And the birds were whistling in the trees
Where the wind was gently laughing
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes

A bit of digging unearthed this interview with the man himself, Shane MacGowan, from an interview with Folk Roots in August 1987, published at Poguetry.com:

“It’s just about a guy getting pissed at a bar round here,” says Shane nonchalantly. “He’s getting pissed because he’s broken up with this bird and… you know how it is when you just go into a pub on your own to drink and it’s really quiet and you get this old nutter who comes over and starts rambling on you. So this old guy starts on about how he came back from the war, the First World War. Or the Second. One of them anyway. And he tells him about the ship he had out there and how he got out and came back and this girl had fucked off with someone else, a girl with a pair of brown eyes. Which is the same situation as the young guy sitting there listening to all this rubbish and the juke box playing Johnny Cash and Ray Lyman and Philomena Begley, classic London juke box tracks. And in the end he gets to the stage where he says fuck it, and he goes stumbling out of the pub and he walks along the canal and starts feeling really bad, on the verge of tears, and he starts realising that the old guy has had a whole fucking lifetime of that feeling, going through the war and everything, but his original reaction is to hate him and despise him. I’m not saying he goes back and starts talking to him but you know…”
The meaning of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ by the Pogues

How elevators made the modern city possible

elevator_final2

From the Boston Globe:

Elevators first arrived in America during the 1860s, in the lobbies of luxurious hotels, where they served as a plush conveyance that saved the well-heeled traveler the annoyance of climbing stairs. Initially these steam-powered “moveable rooms” were extravagantly furnished with chandeliers, benches, and carpeting, says Lee Gray, a columnist for Elevator World and an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Passengers were expected to sit down and get comfortable before the operator fired up the new contrivance. “It was all about luxury,” said Gray.

It wasn’t until the 1870s, when elevators showed up in office buildings, that the technology really started to leave a mark on urban culture. Business owners stymied by the lack of available space could look up and see room for growth where there was previously nothing but air—a development that was particularly welcome in New York, where a real estate crunch in Manhattan’s business district had, for a time, forced city leaders to consider moving the entire financial sector uptown. That plan came to be seen as unnecessary thanks to the initiative of one Henry Hyde, the founder of a large insurance firm, who realized that by installing a pair of elevators in his headquarters, he could make it the tallest building in the city: seven stories and 130 feet. In so doing, Hyde ushered in a new era. As a writer for Scribner’s Magazine put it almost 30 years later, the passenger elevator turned out to be “a revolutionary agent” that did for modern building what the steam engine had done for transportation.

Advances in elevator technology combined with new steel frame construction methods to push the height limits of buildings higher and higher. In the 1890s, as Bernard recounts in his book, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago; by 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York. Quickly, the modern city assumed its present shape. As Patrick Carrajat, the founder of the Elevator Museum in New York, put it, “If we didn’t have elevators…we would have a megalopolis, one continuous city, stretching from Philadelphia to Boston, because everything would be five or six stories tall.”

The arrival of the elevator upended more than urban planning: It changed the hierarchy of buildings on the inside as well. Higher floors had once been distant, scrubby spaces occupied by maids and the kind of low-rent tenants who could be expected to climb six flights of stairs. The more important people climbed at most one or two flights, which gave brownstone-style homes, for instance, their high-ceilinged parlor floors. While the arrival of elevators didn’t change this right away—the top floor of Henry Hyde’s building was occupied by the in-house janitor—the upper reaches of buildings eventually became desirable. The elevator ushered in the end of the garret and the beginning of the penthouse, as lawyers and businessmen came to appreciate the advantages of having beautiful, bird’s-eye views and respite from the loud noises of the street. Hotel owners, meanwhile, started turning their top floor rooms into their nicest ones. They could even rent out their roofs for garden parties where guests could survey the glittering new city, all without doing a bit of work to get there.

Read the full article here.

How elevators made the modern city possible

The short-lived life of the world’s tallest building

From Chicago Reader:

Thus the Land was stirring and quivering in impulses, wave upon wave. . . . [Chicago] was pushing its structures higher and higher, until the Masonic Temple by John Root had raised its head far into the air, and the word “skyscraper” came into use. –Louis Sullivan, from The Autobiography of an Idea

On a warm evening in the summer of 1892, Edgar Lee Masters boards the night train for Chicago. He is 22 and one year a member of the Illinois bar, but he’d rather be a poet than an attorney. The train carries him northward, away from his home in Lewistown, and Masters sits awake by the window watching for the exact spot where prairie gives way to city. He comes upon Chicago at dawn, and though he does not know it, the first thing he sees of the city is its red-light district.

When he steps off the train, Masters is hungry and tired. His starched collar has wilted, and his white vest is covered in cinders. His enthusiasm for urban life, however, is unabated, and after breakfast at his uncle’s rooming house at 2128 S. Michigan Ave., he asks to be shown the sights. He is shown them.

Forty-four years pass. Masters spends eight of them as a law partner of Clarence Darrow. He publishes one remarkable book of poetry. Of his first day in Chicago he remembers that he especially wanted to visit “the tallest building in the world, from the top of which, according to an old Polonius in Lewistown, one could see Council Bluffs, Iowa. . . . I had to try that out, and Uncle Henry took me to the Masonic Temple.”

From the mosaic floor of its marble lobby to gabled roofs and glass-domed gardens, the Masonic Temple at the northeast corner of State and Randolph stood 302 feet tall. It was, according to Henry Justin Smith, a managing editor for the old Chicago Daily News, “a wonder of wonders. . . . Everything about the building made the city burst with pride, and gave country visitors kinks in their necks.” In fact, the building achieved a notoriety generally reserved for the Brooklyn Bridge and other “marketable” real estate. Vaudeville comics told the story–and Smith went so far as to claim it was an actual “colloquy” frequently overheard in Chicago’s turn-of-the-century courtrooms–of a cop approaching the bench with several con men in tow. “What’s the charges against these men?” asked the judge, to which the arresting officer would reply, “They took money off a rube, your honor, told him they were selling him the Masonic Temple. And when the rube said he liked the building but not the direction it faced, they said for five dollars more they’d turn it around.”

By 1939, however, the luster had worn off and the Masonic Temple was regarded as just another obsolescent and costly giant. Brick by brick, it was demolished from the top down, relegated to Chicago’s sizable scrap heap of architectural gems.

The short-lived life of the world’s tallest building

Why is everyone so damn busy?

Diagram of the balance spring of Christiaan Huygens, published in 1675.

A great essay in the Economist on time, and the apparent lack thereof:

Why do people feel so rushed? Part of this is a perception problem. On average, people in rich countries have more leisure time than they used to. This is particularly true in Europe, but even in America leisure time has been inching up since 1965, when formal national time-use surveys began. American men toil for pay nearly 12 hours less per week, on average, than they did 40 years ago—a fall that includes all work-related activities, such as commuting and water-cooler breaks. Women’s paid work has risen a lot over this period, but their time in unpaid work, like cooking and cleaning, has fallen even more dramatically, thanks in part to dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves and other modern conveniences, and also to the fact that men shift themselves a little more around the house than they used to.

The problem, then, is less how much time people have than how they see it. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems.

Individualistic cultures, which emphasise achievement over affiliation, help cultivate this time-is-money mindset. This creates an urgency to make every moment count, notes Harry Triandis, a social psychologist at the University of Illinois. Larger, wealthy cities, with their higher wage rates and soaring costs of living, raise the value of people’s time further still. New Yorkers are thriftier with their minutes—and more harried—than residents of Nairobi. London’s pedestrians are swifter than those in Lima. The tempo of life in rich countries is faster than that of poor countries. A fast pace leaves most people feeling rushed. “Our sense of time”, observed William James in his 1890 masterwork, “The Principles of Psychology”, “seems subject to the law of contrast.”

Read the article in full here.

Why is everyone so damn busy?

The time a space shuttle was carried on a 747 over downtown

An explanation from NASA:

It’s not every day that a space shuttle lands at LAX. Although this was a first for the major Los Angeles airport hub, it was a last for the space shuttle Endeavour, as it completed its tour of California skies and landed, albeit atop a 747, for the last time. During its last flight the iconic shuttle and its chase planes were photographed near several of California’s own icons including the Golden GateBridge in San Francisco, the HollywoodSign, and the skyline of Los Angeles. Previously, in May, the space shuttle Enterprise was captured passing behind several of New York City’s icons on its way to the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Pictured above, the piggybacking shuttle was snapped on approach last week to LAX as it crossed above and beyond a major Los Angeles street. Now retired, the space shuttles are all museum pieces, with the above shuttle scheduled to be towed along the streets of LA to the California Science Center.

The time a space shuttle was carried on a 747 over downtown

Finding Vivian Maier

I finally watched Finding Vivian Maier. It’s as good as I hoped it would be. I’ve previously posted some of her discovered photos. Be sure to watch the documentary, and to buy the book of her street photography.

Finding Vivian Maier is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later, is now among the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.

Maier’s massive body of work would come to light when in 2007 her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side. From there, it would eventually impact the world over and change the life of the man who championed her work and brought it to the public eye, John Maloof.

 

Finding Vivian Maier

Buildings of New York that should still be standing

I’ve posted about the tragedy that is the loss of the original Penn Station before. The most recent episode of one of my favourite podcasts 99% Invisible by Roman Mars dug deep into that story:

Though Penn Station is [now] a drab, low-ceilinged rat maze of a station, it used to be the opposite. It was vast, light-filled, and gorgeous.

The building was the fourth largest building in the world when it was finished.

The original Penn Station in New York City opened in 1910.  It was majestic. Travelers would enter through an exterior façade of massive Doric columns. Inside was a grand staircase into a waiting room not unlike a Roman temple. It was a Parthenon for trains.

The old Penn Station was the brainchild of Alexander Cassatt, head of the Pennsylvania Railroad. For Cassatt, Penn Station would fix a problem that had plagued New York for years—getting between Manhattan from New Jersey. At the time, passengers could only get across the Hudson River via ferry. Cassatt built the first ever train tunnel to run underneath the Hudson River, which was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.

The grandeur of Penn Station would thus crown his monumental achievement.

Newspapers called Penn Station the 8th wonder of the world. Everyone loved it.

Everyone, that is, except for one other railroad family that owned another station across town.

The Vanderbilt family owned Grand Central Station, which was not anywhere near as “grand” as it is now. Not wanting to be outdone by the beauty and grandiosity of Penn Station, the Vanderbilts tore down their Grand Central and built a newer, shiner, Beaux Arts-style Grand Central Terminal. This is the one we know today.

Penn Station was only 40 years old at this point, but already its days were already numbered. After World War II, passenger trains just weren’t as popular anymore. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company couldn’t afford the upkeep of Penn Station’s grandeur. Its glory gave way to grime.

And so it goes. Listen and read more about the story here. As the episode says, Penn Station is the only building in New York that should have been saved from the wrecking ball. Here are a few of the others.

The Singer Building, demolished in 1967
Metropolitan Opera House (39th Street), razed in 1967
Inside the “Old Met” as the Metropolitan Opera House was known
Radio Row, demolised in 1961
Buildings of New York that should still be standing

America’s underground Chinese restaurant workers

From The New Yorker, a brilliant article by Lauren Hilgers on life for America’s underground Chinese restaurant workers.

In a strip mall on a rural stretch of Maryland’s Indian Head Highway, a gaudy red façade shaped like a pagoda distinguishes a Chinese restaurant from a line of bland storefronts: a nail salon, a liquor store, and a laundromat. On a mild Friday morning this July, two customers walked into the dimly lit dining room. It was half an hour before the lunch service began, and, aside from a few fish swimming listlessly in a tank, the room was deserted.

In the back, steam was just starting to rise from pots of soup; two cooks were chopping ginger at a frenzied pace. Most of the lunch crowd comes in for the buffet, and it was nowhere near ready. “Customers are here already!” the restaurant’s owner, a wiry Chinese man in his fifties, barked. He dropped a heavy container onto the metal counter with a crash. “How can you possibly be moving this slowly?”

The senior cook, a lanky twenty-nine-year-old who goes by Rain, had been working in Maryland for almost two months. He stood silently frying noodles in a wok, his loose bangs tucked into a trucker hat with the band name Linkin Park written across the brow. “You’re too slow!” the boss yelled at the other cook, who had arrived only a few days earlier. Rain stayed focussed on the buffet dishes. He was weighing the possibility of getting a cigarette break soon. There was no sense in getting into trouble defending a co-worker he hardly knew.

Read the rest

America’s underground Chinese restaurant workers

Holiday lights seen from space

From Boing Boing:

You might recall an image release in 2012 of the Earth’s lights at night. Called Black Marble, the popular image was generated as a composite image from the best images by the taken over several months by NASA’s Suomi-NPP Visual Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). The instrument, according to NASA’s website, “detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses “smart” light sensors to observe dim signals such as city lights, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight.”

Black Marble is a pretty image. It shows the light emitted by people, but it doesn’t give us a sense of how or why we are using it. So, Miguel Roman and Eleanor Stokes set about creating a dynamic understanding of human behavior at night around the globe.

They took over 3 years of Suomi-NPP VIIRS data over major urban areas in North America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, and developed algorithms to get rid of view-obstructing clouds, correct terrain errors, correct for atmospheric effects, and to remove light contamination from the moon, fire, and stray light. Overall, they focused on daily changes in lighting at the country, city, and neighborhood scales during the holiday season as compared to the rest of the year.

The result is visually dramatic. During the holidays our activity patterns change. This in turn changes the location of demand for energy services. For instance, in big metropolitan areas, lighting increases in predominantly suburban, residential areas. This is likely because people are leaving work earlier and going home to turn on lights. Also, McMansions require more light to illuminate with festive holiday lights. Interestingly, urban centers increase only slightly when compared to the suburbs, which is probably related to the fact that urban areas are more illuminated at night generally.

Read the rest here

Holiday lights seen from space

Little Green

From Time:

In the summer of 1964, a willowy but pregnant 20-year-old singer named Joan Anderson arrived in Toronto from her native province of Saskatchewan to face a painful decision. Penniless and afraid to tell her parents, she gave birth as a charity patient at a local hospital to a blue-eyed baby girl she named Kelly Dale. The father, a student who had accompanied her to Toronto, was out of the picture, so Joni hastily married folk singer Chuck Mitchell, hoping to make a home for her baby. “I kept trying to find some kind of circumstance where I could stay with her,” she would later tell the Los Angeles Times. But when that relationship foundered, Mitchell reluctantly put the baby up for adoption.

Soon afterward she moved to New York City, where in the song Little Green, from her chart-topping album Blue, she memorialized the loss:

“Child with a child pretending / Weary of lies you are sending home / So you sign all the papers in the family name / You’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed / Little green have a happy ending”

Thirty years later that wish came true. Last week Mitchell and her daughter, a former model and computer student named Kilauren Gibb, confirmed that they had found each other. Their reunion followed years of searching by both women–and put a new focus on the larger issue of access to adoption records.

Kilauren, who had had a happy childhood in a middle-class Toronto suburb, began her search in 1992, after her parents, both teachers, told her she was adopted. Asked in an interview with Toronto’s City TV why they waited so long, Kilauren said, “Because they loved me. They wanted me to be comfortable.” Pregnant with her own child, she filed an application with a public agency to find out who her birth mother was. Then she waited. And waited. Finally, this January she received a brief “nonidentifying” description of her mother. She was a folk singer born in the prairie town of Saskatoon, of Norwegian-Scottish descent, who suffered polio as a child. Encouraged by friends who had heard of Mitchell’s search and who thought that she resembled the singer, Gibb found a Joni Mitchell Website and began clicking off the biographical details she found there: blue eyes, blond hair, long limbs, Saskatchewan.

Little Green

Rick Rubin on the beginning of Def Jam

From Rolling Stone:

In 1984, Def Jam Records, the label that defined hip-hop’s commercial and artistic potential, was born in a very unlikely location: a tiny New York University dorm room. Founder Rick Rubin — now a record-industry legend who’s shepherded the careers of everyone from Jay Z to the Red Hot Chili Peppers — hadn’t returned to that Greenwich Village double-occupancy room in three decades. But for Rolling Stone Films’ premiere documentary, Rick Was Here, he ventured back to Weinstein Hall, room 712, to remember how it all began. “I can’t believe it’s 30 years,” he says. “It’s really trippy.”

In the film presented by MaggieVision Productions and director Josh Swade, Rubin recalls the energy of Eighties New York, the attempt to make records that sounded like the raw performances he heard in clubs and the wild parties he threw in the dorm room listed as the label address on the first Def Jam 12-inch, T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s explosive, drum machine-driven “It’s Yours.” The Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz remembers how he plucked a demo out of a pile in the room and told Rubin, “Man, this is really good, Rick. You gotta check it out.” (The tape belonged to a teenage MC named LL Cool J.)

Once he teamed with burgeoning mogul Russell Simmons, the Def Jam age — and hip-hop as an unavoidable market force — officially began. Rubin started DJ-ing for the Beasties and spent two years working with them on their legendary debut album, Licensed to Ill. “Nothing that happened was intentional,” he tells us. “Everything was trying to make something cool to play for our friends that they would like.”

Rick Rubin on the beginning of Def Jam

Photographs from 1920s Chicago

From The Atlantic:

Chicago was not at its finest at the turn of the 20th century. Heading into the roaring ’20s, the city played host to some of the most infamous criminals. Crime was abundant—which gave photographers from the Chicago Tribune plenty of chances to take striking shots.

The Tribune‘s new collection, titled Gangsters & Grifters, features a collection of photos of Chicago’s most colorful characters in said time period. The book goes far beyond the Capones and the Dillingers; even two of its editors, Marianne Mather and Erin Mystkowski of the Tribune‘s current photo department, were surprised at how much they learned in the compilation process.

“For me, I grew up in Chicago,” Mather said. “Seeing the history come to life of the city I grew up in has been a lot of fun. And I also think it broadened my perspective on what was happening in that time period.”

Photographs from 1920s Chicago

Mobile screens vs. windscreens

It seems pretty obvious that a lot of people would rather look at their smartphone screen than look out of their windscreen, and so it follows that as technology allows it the next generation will quite happily forfeit the whole idea of driving altogether. Perhaps hitting the open road will one day be reserved for weekend pursuits on private land.

From Futurist:

The self-driving car will, I think, have a profound impact on the future of transportation. It is well known that young people in the U.S. have demonstrated a declining interest in driving and in auto ownership. Given a choice between a smart phone or a car, they will chose the phone. Millennials have contributed greatly to the global move to urban areas, where alternate transportation from transit to walking to Uber is more readily available. This generation notes that time spent commuting alone is generally time wasted, and would prefer to transport themselves in a way that enables continued productivity. Driverless cars, capable of at least taking over while a car is on the highway or freeway, will enable people to turn to their phones and their tablets and to continue working or to engage in socializing. Will this lead to more cars in the commute, and a return to a desire to own a car? Perhaps.

Mobile screens vs. windscreens

How American highways got their numbers

From CityLab:

The government stayed out of the highway business at first, but rising car ownership (over registered by 1930) and inconsistent road maintenance from trail to trail quickly changed that. In fact, some trail promoters failed to keep their roads in good condition on purpose, under the assumption that the Feds had plans to turn their route into a national highway.As the Federal Highway Authority explains, businesses along these routes typically paid dues to the trail associations, which meant routes weren’t always laid out to give drivers the quickest route, but instead to collect the most dues. There were over 250 such routes established by the mid-1920s.

As the Federal Highway Authority explains, businesses along these routes typically paid dues to the trail associations, which meant routes weren’t always laid out to give drivers the quickest route, but instead to collect the most dues. There were over 250 such routes established by the mid-1920s. […]

In 1925, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHO) asked the Secretary of Agriculture to work with states to replace all trail names with a unified highway numbering system. Most of the trail associations disapproved, but after negotiations over which routes got which numbers (for the most part, north-south routes got odd numbers, and east-west routes even numbers), the new system became official a year later. Reduced to nothing but a number and often dependent on government assistance for upkeep, the booster organizations behind the trails quickly became irrelevant.

Ever since then, an iconic black and white shield (modified slightly over the years) has been telling drivers where they are and where they’re going in the simplest way possible. Thirty years later, of course, the Interstate Highway System debuted, meaning not only a whole new set of numbered roads, but much better ones too.

An American Automobile Association map of the country’s many automobile trails in 1918. (Library of Congress)
A 1926 map of the final version of the approved United States Numbered Highway System. (Wikimedia Commons)
How American highways got their numbers

How the Victorians invented the future

From Aeon:

It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.

The new technology of electricity seemed to be made for futuristic speculation. At exhibition halls in London, such as the Adelaide Gallery or the Royal Polytechnic Institution, early Victorians could marvel at electrical engines that promised to transform travel. Inventors boasted that ‘half a barrel of blue vitriol [copper sulphate] and a hogshead or two of water, would send a ship from New York to Liverpool’. People went to these places to see the future made out of the present: when Edgar Allen Poe in 1844 set out to fool the New York Sun’s readers that a balloon flight had just made it across the Atlantic, he made sure to tell them that the equipment used had been ‘put in action at the Adelaide Gallery’.

Bringing the future home, Alfred Smee, then surgeon to the Bank of England, told readers of his Elements of Electro-Metallurgy (1841) how they would ‘enter a room by a door having finger plates of the most costly device, made by the agency of the electric fluid’. The walls would be ‘covered with engravings, printed from plates originally etched by galvanism’, and at dinner ‘the plates may have devices given by electrotype engravings, and his salt spoons gilt by the galvanic fluid’. It was becoming impossible to talk about electricity at all without talking about the future.

Read the rest here.

How the Victorians invented the future