Posts Tagged ‘ review

Feedback

Since FYF is soliciting feedback, and since I was going to write something about it anyway, here’s an open letter I wrote to them:

I don’t have a problem waiting in lines. I’ve stood in many before, and I’ll stand in many again. I have waited many hours to be up front at venues in my life. But there has to be a sense of purpose to a line. Things can take time, so I get that aspect; sometimes, it’s because something’s free, which I also get; time is just another way of paying occasionally. It’s problematic when there’s no sense of purpose to the activity, though. That was what Saturday felt like when I showed up to FYF. By happenstance, I walked by the front entrance before finding the end of the line (which, all told, had to be about a half mile of walking by my estimation) and the most disturbing thing I noticed wasn’t the slow pace so much as the lack of movement. No one was going in. As I wended my down the block in search of the end, I couldn’t really understand how this had happened. There were delays at Pitchfork when the scanners didn’t work properly, but I don’t think I waited more than 30-40 minutes the entire weekend across the three days. I eventually made my way to the back of the line, and I waited. We were so far back that we were almost at the VIP entrance. And then I stood there. Again, as luck would have it, after an hour of inching along (I’d gone a few hundred feet at most), people just started going in the VIP area, which led to the same gates as the regular entrance. Like that, after standing in a line that barely moved for over an hour, I was waiting to get through security. I am not sure if anyone encouraged us to do this in an attempt to ameliorate the situation, or if people just started doing it and therefore it was a thing that was happening. After an hour of standing on concrete and pavement in the sun, I don’t think anyone bothered to question it too much. I felt sorry for the people stranded, and it was not the most ethical decision I’ve ever made, but I was tired of standing there without purpose and I also wanted to see Slint, which I didn’t think was going to be a problem when I showed up by 2:45 pm.

The problem with the line was a nice portent to a weekend full of problems. When I got to security, I had to discard my metal water bottle. Because in one part of the information available online it said “non glass or metal water bottles” were not allowed. Which, while lexically confusing, I do understand. Unfortunately, the problem was that was under the list of allowed and prohibited items; elsewhere, in the FAQ, it stated that reusable water bottles were allowed as long as they were empty. I grabbed my bottle from Outside Lands and didn’t think much of it. In a push notification from the app, I was reminded not to forget my plastic water bottle. I think you can see a pattern here. While all the various bits of information were trying to say the same thing (you are allowed one empty plastic water bottle), they all actually different things. Consistency in messaging is important. There’s no reason all three outlets couldn’t have been worded the same. In fact, there’s good reason all three should have been worded the same. While I was having quite the argument with security about this, I decided it’s just a water bottle, something that would make my weekend nicer, but not ultimately something that’s irreplaceable like the time I’d spent arguing about it was. I was also offered the laughable solution by security of going and putting the water bottle in my vehicle. Security seemed utterly oblivious to the nature of the line, a problem they helped create as they they were too busy pulling apart every bag and doing what appeared to be too-thorough gender-segregated searches. I went down the wrong line first (no signage), switched to the appropriate one when I realized what was what, and then didn’t receive a search at all after I got into a shouting match with security about the poor messaging around the water bottles. I am not sure what the motivation was for that level of searching, but it seemed odd. Again, different festival, different circumstances, but no one was cupping anyone’s bra at Outside Lands a couple weeks prior. It looked grossly unnecessary, and even though I didn’t get one it made me uncomfortable, especially after I had already been misgendered by security twice at that point.

You might note I’ve gotten several hundred words in and haven’t said anything about the music. In that case, I hope this experience somewhat replicates what Saturday felt like. I finally got inside, and hoped to grab a map but I didn’t see where anyone was handing them out. This turned out to be no major issue, but I still went the entire weekend without figuring out where anyone got one. I had made it onto the grounds in time to hopefully catch Slint, who was just starting as I got in at 4 pm. The Arena really seemed liked a missed opportunity. It took so long to make your way down to the floor, or to get into it in the first place, that I didn’t end up making it to the stage until 4:20 pm. I watched the rest of Slint, and didn’t end up going back into the Arena for the remainder of the weekend. Turns out it saved me some trouble, as it sounds like it involved more waiting in lines. While I respect the idea of having a stage like that, in reality, it just didn’t work that well. Sure, sound bleed sucks and some bands look better on a dark stage, but one of the reasons festivals are nice is usually you at least have a shot to see everything. The Arena, with its capacity issues, created another frustrating layer in a weekend full of them.

Lines were the theme of the weekend, and the overall festival followed that by having a very linear layout. While it wasn’t too problematic in terms of finding things, it did take quite a while to get from the Main stage to the Lawn stage even though they technically weren’t all that far from each other. And while I didn’t have any issue figuring out where the stages were, there was an acute lack of signage throughout the grounds. I didn’t even notice a posted schedule until the next day, right by the entrance in an area I never went back to after entering, even when I made my way over to the Lawn stage.

But you come to FYF for the music. I went three years ago and had a blast. It’s hard to beat the quality of the bands at that price, and now that I live on the West Coast, it’s an easy trip down from San Francisco. I said before the line-up was announced that if any other festival besides Pitchfork had Slowdive, it’d by FYF. I know that you get that caliber of band. Seeing Slowdive again was one of the main reasons I purchased a ticket. And by the time they took the stage, most of my negative feelings had dissipated. They delivered a glorious set, a beautiful dusky wash like the LA sunset behind us. From the thrilling punk of Against Me! to the well-dressed, even better delivered post-punk of Interpol to the wonderfully lit and lively Ty Segall, Saturday was a wonderful experience musically. I already knew it would be. It was almost doubly rewarding on the heels of such a frustrating afternoon.

One of the things I respect about FYF is their responsiveness. This wasn’t just evident on Sunday, when the line process was much smoother, there was free water to assuage those of us who’d lost our bottles the day before, and the Arena was expanded (though the lines still looked like a mess). This was evident in the run-up, in response to artists that cancelled for one reason or another; it’s evident in the responses I’ve seen since. I don’t expect things to be perfect. I understand that executing an event like this is difficult. And FYF seems to have something of a reputation for trying. There is something to be said for being willing to try. And sometimes, failing is a cost. I’m not a big believer in saying I’ll never go again. I still think FYF books the caliber of bands that I will always consider it. Because while it won’t be the Blood Brothers or Slowdive next year, it’ll be someone that’s legitimately worth catching, who delivers that gut punch or that swoon that music has so sorely missed for however long they’ve been gone. On paper, I thought Sunday was the weaker of the two days, but it didn’t show in what I saw, and as opposed to the day before, I actually got in plenty early with time to catch all of Joanna Gruesome’s set. Built To Spill delivered one of the best sets of the weekend, it was fun to catch bits of up-and-comers like Benjamin Booker, and Presidents of the United States of America delivered the type of fun, nostalgic set this child of the 90s expected. By the time I got to the measured lackadaisical headlining set of The Strokes, I didn’t need anything else. I’d gotten everything I came for. Musically, I had a wonderful time, and while all the other aspects of a festival are nice and can enhance the experience, it doesn’t matter how good the food is if the music isn’t.

On things that didn’t quite fit into the narrative, I thought the food was good. There were really good options but it seemed the best stuff had long lines, though I didn’t find I waited too long for anything. As a vegetarian, I was glad to see plentiful options, from the poutine truck to the vegan pop-up to Tony’s. I could have eaten at the Sage truck all weekend. While it was great that there were food options built into the alcohol gardens, I didn’t go in any of them all weekend, so I’m not sure what I missed in there. The free water and charging stations were nice touches, though it seemed the only stage you could take in from the charging stations that I found was the Trees. Again, I never located a map, and I didn’t want to spend too much time poking around on my phone as I wanted that battery power for other things. The fact that there were real bathrooms was definitely appreciated, though as is fairly typical of any festival, the portable toilets were quickly out of toilet paper, and I couldn’t particular figure out the lift in separating those by gender. The passage between the Main Stage and the Trees felt quite constricted at times, and the same was occasionally true of the passage between the Lawn and the Trees. All told, it felt like there was plenty of space, but not where you needed it at times. I never got too close to the Main stage, but I had no problem getting right up to the other stages when I wanted to. Parking wasn’t a huge issue, and getting in and out via car was pretty easy all told. Overall, the festival experience was a great one musically, and an occasionally frustrating one logistically, but it’s still something I’d probably do again. While there are certainly problems, I have faith that FYF will try to remedy them, and many of the problems seem to be the kind borne of ambition, of trying to do more and still deliver an amazing experience that’s fairly economical. The stories of those of us who waited in line will linger, they will eventually be what most frustrating stories become, funny stories that we can tell later, badges of honor, something to commiserate with other festival goers about when it comes up in conversation. And if they keep a few people from coming back next year? Well, at least it’ll be easier to get in, right?

Bike Share

Last weekend, for the first time, I took advantage of one of the city bike programs that seem to be spreading from city to city throughout the US. I never really had cause to use it in Minneapolis and still don’t in San Francisco, as that’s what my own bike is for. I’d thought about jumping on one when the initially unveiled it in the Twin Cities, just to see what those giant green bikes were like, but I guess my curiosity wasn’t worth whatever it cost then. But in Chicago, I had a great opportunity to try them out. At $7 a day with unlimited rides under 30 minutes, it wasn’t much more expensive than trying to take the bus and figure all of that out, and it certainly gave me a good deal of flexibility. Here are some observations based on a couple days of pedaling around Chicago on a Divvy:

The kinds of trips I took were just about perfect for these sorts of bikes. It was about 4 miles from where I was staying to Union Park, where I was going every day, with a direct route down a road that (mostly) had a bike lane. With the 30 minute cap before you incur a fee, that’s seems to be the idea behind it, or at least the intent behind the fees, to keep you from riding too long, to keep the bikes in circulation, whatever. Anything under a mile feels fairly walkable to me (well, that’s not true…everything is walkable in San Francisco). But a bike really helps make those trips between 2-5 miles a bit more manageable. Honestly, I doubt it would have taken me much less time to drive the same distance, especially factoring in parking by the festival. Not that a car was an option I had on the table this weekend. Just comparatively speaking.

Speaking of driving time, I think that is one of the most worthwhile aspects to these kinda of programs. I already know that it doesn’t take much longer to ride on those short trips. In many cases it can be shorter. Hopefully more people realize that after some time in these.

The stations themselves were frequent enough that I didn’t have to think about it too much. While it would have been more difficult 10 years ago to implement an idea like this, now you’re a smartphone app away from being able to not only find the nearest station, but the availability of bikes. Of course, you still have to have that smartphone. The stations also do a good job of telling you where nearby stations are if you have issues (no space to park, no bikes, etc.), provided you know the city in question. Each morning, I was able to pick a station appropriately close to wherever I had breakfast, and I even was able to entertain the notion of hopping on one of the bikes to go a bit further to get my breakfast. The access really broadened my thoughts about where I could go in the city without dealing with cars or transit.

Nothing will ever break those bikes. It felt like pedaling a solid mound of stone. But that’s what they are designed for, aren’t they? They need to withstand multiple rides from people in addition to the streets of Chicago. Halsted had some potholes that would put Interstate Park to shame. While I’m sure they do have issues occasionally (and I did pull one that had a seat that would not adjust), on the whole, they are built to withstand whatever abuse you might put them through. Which is good, because I’m guessing they need to be.

You aren’t going anywhere too quickly on them. Because of their weight and their relative simplicity (three gears), you aren’t gonna see anyone whipping through city streets on those. Again, I’m sure that’s somewhat by design. I had to make some minor mental adjustments as I rode because of that; I saw lights that my brain said I could make only to remember that I was not on my own bike and I was not getting this thing through the intersection in time. That is probably okay especially for safety’s sake.

I can’t make a direct line comparison (I haven’t ridden my bike in Chicago), but it’s easy to imagine that other vehicles on the road treated me differently than they would have had I been on my bike. Again, it was just a thought I had. I don’t really have a way to test that, so take that as you will.

The process isn’t that hard, but it still feels a bit long. I get why they need some of that information. I get they have to ask those questions. Perhaps I could have registered some information online to make it quicker. And it wasn’t that much. Just that the menus took a bit more navigation. I don’t know why they asked for my zip code, whether it was to run the card or to run some metrics, or perhaps both. But it also didn’t feel like much more than the CTA asked me when I tried to get train passes. So perhaps I’m just spoiled with my own bike and a Clipper card.

The app is a pretty great thing. It’s nice to be able to look up the stations, and more importantly whether or not there are any bikes there. Unfortunately, it didn’t save me any time because…

I discovered multiple stations in Chicago where the card readers didn’t work. Due to the nature of the system, you have to dip your card (their terminology) every time you get a bike. Which makes sense, but is unfortunate when you find a station that doesn’t work. I had to go to three stations both Friday and Saturday night before I found a bike either due to that issue or lack of availability by the time I got to the next station.

I cannot imagine using a bike like that in a city like San Francisco. Chicago is blessedly flat. I already bike everywhere. I’ve gotten used to the constant hill-climbing that is riding anywhere in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, the payoff on the downhill is nice. But it was a nice change of pace to be someplace where there was almost no climbing the entire 4 miles. On one of these bikes, it just seems like it’d be a slow and tiring affair. That is probably why there only seem to be stations down in the Financial District, SoMa, and such. The converse is they are much better suited for a city like Chicago.

Who compromises the annual user base? I saw a few of them. Or at least, that seemed to be why people could just go up and use something (a key?) directly next to the bike to get one while I dipped my card and waited for a new code. I am mostly curious what the reasons. $75 isn’t that much (which is what I think the annual fee was), but I wonder who those people are. Because if you were doing a lot of riding, it seems like even just finding a cheap beater bike at a local shop or on Craigslist would also be an effective option. Then again, if all the rides they are doing are short distances, and they don’t have the space, and more importantly, they don’t want to deal with the occasional hassle of owning a bike, I can totally see any of that. There are definitely valid reasons for not wanting to own a bike. I feel like they are less extreme than not wanting to own a car (it’s definitely significantly cheaper), but they are still valid. And now I’m just a bit curious. I hope they gather that kind of into to strengthen these programs.

I saw quite a few people on them. This is a good thing. Yes, there are plenty of reasons to not ride a bike, and for plenty of people it’s not a good option. But for a lot of people they are a good option. So if this is something that gets them out there using them more, that seems like a great thing to me. Even with the dipping and the codes and finding the station, it’s a pretty quick to get the bike and get moving. It’s even easier to get rid of the bike when you are done, just find a station and lock it in. Bikes are a great way to get around for short trips. And having a system that makes that easy is a good thing. These systems definitely make it easy.

It’s not like I’m trading in my bike tomorrow. But I can see the appeal of these sorts of programs. And I’m glad to see they are finding users. More people on bikes hopefully helps beget better infrastructure for bikes. More people on bikes hopefully helps those people recognize what it’s like to be a bike on the road the next time they get in their car. More people on bikes is a good thing. I can’t wait to see more of it.

 
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