Just letting off a little steam

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Micro-opinions, notebook nuggets, and pedestrian peeves that need to be periodically vented:

Workers I feel sympathy for: First and foremost, the kids at the Lake Theatre who have to clean up the incredible mess left at the end of each movie. I usually stay till the end of the credits, so the lights are often on when I depart. The place looks like a war zone. And this is Oak Park, where people tend to be more socially aware. Movie theaters seem to be the last receptacle of guilt-free littering. The Lake staff must have a pretty low opinion of us. Carry out your crap, folks. Give these overworked kids a break.

Speaking of overworked: During the May 26 CAST fundraiser, I tag-teamed with Angela, a Triton student who waits tables at Winberie's. I was one of the "celebrity" waiters (they define "celebrity" pretty loosely) paired with real servers — an excellent reminder that being a waitperson is not an easy job. If you're the type who gets testy about "service" in restaurants, try doing this for an hour. It will significantly amplify your patience.

Cheap wine, inflated prices: What I don't have much patience for is the wine mark-up at most restaurants. This doesn't apply only to Oak Park and River Forest, but it does apply here. I'm familiar enough with wine to recognize the labels, and I know that most of the selections cost $7-10 per bottle at Famous Liquors in Forest Park (possibly less if restaurants buy in bulk). This is not high-end wine. It ranges from adequate to tolerable. The higher-end wine they sell only by the bottle, presumably because by the glass is not cost-efficient.

I understand the necessity of "mark-up," but each glass is sold for $7-10. Given the notably stingy portion that goes into each glass, I'm figuring five glasses per bottle. You can do the math to figure the mark-up.

I wouldn't care so much if the wines were any good, but it's mediocre at best. Oddly, the same restaurants typically sell above-average microbrews and craft beers for less than a lousy glass of wine. There is clear beer favoritism at work here.

Winberie's is the only one who gets points for creativity with their Friday Night Flights promotion.

Face time: Non-digital public clocks add some visual charm to our business districts. But when the clocks keep the wrong time, it sends an uncharming message: We don't pay attention to details. We don't care.

The faces on the venerable old clock at the former Marshall Field building, corner of Harlem and Lake, have been fading for years. Now they're also inaccurate. The same is true of the pedestal clock outside U.S. Bank at Oak Park Avenue and North Boulevard where it always seems to be 10:45.

People notice. At any rate, I do. How about a little timely maintenance?

A daunting challenge: At a recent public event at Unity Temple, Emily Roth, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, said they're trying to raise $20 million to restore Wright's masterpiece. That's a lot of money, especially in a bad economy. If Unity Temple needs $20 million worth of restoration, it's in much worse shape than we thought.

Knife fights in the park: Where is the most violent place in Oak Park these days? Austin Gardens, where on any given night, swordfights are likely to break out. The perpetrators appear to be thespians, recreating the life and times of King Henry IV, but it's still disconcerting to stroll through on a balmy June evening in the middle of a melee. You can check out the mob action (in period costume) each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the foreseeable future, courtesy of Festival Theatre.

The Brach Casino: Our award-winning Austin Weekly News columnist Arlene Jones has advanced an intriguing idea. If Chicago ever gets the go-ahead for a land-based casino, why not build it on the site of the Brach Candy Company, just off Cicero, just north of Lake Street in Austin? The site, which provided employment to generations of Oak Parkers and River Foresters, has been abandoned for years. They even blew up one of the buildings during the filming of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight.

Transportation is better than you might think. The site is serviced by the Green Line el; the Metra slides right past (a station could be built); and long-unused tracks that run north and south along the east side of the building could perhaps be extended to connect Midway and O'Hare airports). And the Eisenhower Expressway is just a few blocks south on Cicero.

Maybe the city could spend some of the TIF funds that seldom find their way to the West Side to make this happen. Skeptics say people would never go to the West Side to gamble, but they used to say the same thing about Indian reservations. I think it's an idea worth exploring.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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