Monday, June 23, 2008

Rogers Park: Grifter Alert

This guy is still around and still going strong. I exchanged words with him at Sheridan and Pratt this morning at about 9:30 am. I'll try to grab a picture next time I see him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Stan Properties / SPSuites @ 1137 W. Pratt

A friend of mine came to visit a few weeks ago. We thought it would be fun to set him up at 1137 West Pratt – which is very near to home. We had previously stumbled across the fact that they run part of the building as a hotel, having run into the occasional college student or international traveler on the street asking us where they go to check in.

Investigation turned up a web site with more information and online booking. It was a bit of a risk, not knowing what the building was like inside, but we decided to go for it. The location was perfect, and it was significantly cheaper than a hotel room.


I booked a room online and let my friend know. The first snag was, I booked it for the wrong long weekend. I called Stan Proprties and talked to a very helpful woman named Cera, who helped me update the dates to the right ones. She was supposed to call me back and tell me when it was complete, but did not. I did receive an email from their automated system indicating that the date was updated per my request.


Then, the day before he arrived, I noticed that the date was off by one day. He was arriving on Friday, but the “hotel” reservation started on Saturday. This was partially my fault; I simply had told Cera to move the dates up a week, and I didn't double check the dates. If I had, I would've more quickly found that the date was only adjusted by six days, not seven.


I figured this out on Thursday evening, just before bed, so, first thing Friday morning, I called Bogdan at Stan Properties. He wasn't sure if anything could be done. I said I'd be willing to pay extra to upgrade to a more expensive suite, if it would help things. He told me he would figure out what could be done and call me back. That was about 9:40 in the morning. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, I called back. Bogdan indicated that it would be no problem to check in today instead. I asked if I should call back around 4 pm (check-in time) to get the keys, and he said yes.


So, I called back just after 4pm. A different person answered. (Sadly, I didn't write her name down, though I ended up talking to her a half-dozen times that day.) She said the room hadn't been cleaned yet, and that she'll find out where the cleaners are and let me know. I said that was fine, because they were doing me a favor changing the reservation, and my friend wasn't in yet.


While I was standing outside the building – I saw the setup for obtaining the keys. They have 3 or 4 “realtor-style” key-holding padlocks attached to the front gate. These are the kind of thing a real estate agent would use to get into your house to show it to prospective buyers. They give you the code for your key box, and inside you find your keys.


It seems pretty straight forward. But, like I said, we've run across people trying to “check in” here in the past, and those people have always been confused. I think if I didn't live nearby, and already know how this worked, I'd likely be really confused. Case in point, while I was there, I saw a woman sitting there with luggage, looking forlorn. She was visiting from Ireland, with her fiance, and had a reservation here. They didn't see the key boxes and didn't know what to do. Her fiance was off somewhere figuring out what to do, so I called Stan Properties back and helped her get her key out of the box and get into the building. She was very grateful. I certainly don't blame her for not easily understanding how this process works – it's very uncommon. Visitors expecting a typical “hotel style” process will find that it is anything but.


The woman from Stan Properties informed me that the cleaning people were downtown, and it now being rush hour, it'd probably take them a couple hours to get up to Rogers Park and get the room cleaned up. Knowing Chicago traffic, that seemed truthful. I hadn't yet picked my friend up from Union Staiton, and even afterward, we were just going to hang out and then have dinner, so there was no real rush to check in.


After I picked him up and we grabbed a cab back up to the neighborhood, we dropped his stuff off at our apartment, and went out for dinner and drinks.


I was disappointed that the woman from Stan Properties, who promised me with absolute certainty that she would call me back when we could check in, never called me back. They're now zero for three on returning phone calls. I realize people are busy, stuff is happening, but this is a problem. It takes no effort to return a phone call and say “hey, still working on it, sorry for the delay.” I do this myself, via phone or email, when working on a particularly tricky and urgent problem for a client.


Anyway, I called Stan Properties back just after 8:00 pm to find out where we're at with getting the keys to a clean suite. The call was received by an answering services, who took down all my information, and assured me that they'd page somebody. They did, and that person called me back about fifteen minutes later. It turns out that nobody had come to clean the room and drop off keys. They paged somebody else, who came up there to clean the room. A couple more phone calls later, they said it would be very soon now, and we'd be all set.


We stopped in a neighborhood bar for an after dinner drink while we waited. After we were done there, nearing 10:00 pm, we decided to give them one more try before giving up and checking my friend into the Hilton Garden in Evanston instead. I walked over to the gate just as somebody was fiddling with the key boxes on the front gate. He was the Stan Properties employee setting up the room, and he had keys for us. Finally, all set.


We grab my friend's luggage and take it on over. The lobby of 1137 Pratt is nice and clean. After a bit of confusion, we find the elevator. (It looks to be about an eight floor building; it better have an elevator. My friend is older and stairs would kill him.) The elevator is very, very old, and missing a couple of buttons, but it gets the job done. We exit on his floor and note that the hallways are very small, and a bit beat up. Definitely could use some sanding and patching, plus a new coat of paint.


The room itself was actually very nice. It was a very small studio. Very small. It had a twin bed. (Or was that a double? It was pretty small, so I'm thinking it's a twin bed.) But just about everything in the room is brand new. It has a perfectly serviceable little bathroom, and kitchenette. It had a flat screen TV and ethernet cable for internet. Everything is clean and nice.


My friend couldn't get the TV or ethernet to work. He rarely watches TV, and he has a Sprint EVDO modem for internet, so these weren't really issues. Nothing worth complaining about. (And it's hard to say if there is an issue with the TV, or if it's just too complicated to wrangle.)


The stay itself was uneventful. No problems with electricity, heat, water, any of that. There were no loud noises, nothing disturbed him, nothing made him feel unsafe. It worked well for my friend to stay so near, and he got a good night's rest at the end of each day of adventuring. It did just what a tourist needs a hotel room to do -- give one a quite place to relax when not exploring the city.


Kate and I are always trying to get friends to visit – so this was a bit of a “test run” to see if we'd be comfortable with other friends, or my parents, staying here. Was it a successful run? I'm not entirely sure. I'm a bit irked about the company not returning various phone calls throughout the process. That, plus it taking until nearly 10 pm to get the keys, makes me worry that they might be the kind of people to just “tell you what you want to hear” to get you off the phone, even if it's something they can't do anything about. I hope that's not the case.


This really could be a deal killer. Thankfully, I have my platinum card. Sometimes stuff happens and you just have to throw the credit card at it to make it go away. Eating (or disputing) one hotel charge while having to spend more on a last minute different, more expensive hotel charge, is something I can do in an emergency. Hell, that's why the good lord invented the platinum card. So if I were stuck, if this ended up not working out, it would have been irritating, but not the end of the world. I wonder, though, about other people that stay here, that don't have a backup plan, don't know the neighborhood, don't know where else to look for a hotel. That would not be a good situation to be stuck in.


And the building hallways and elevator need some TLC. The building age isn't really a problem; I live in a similarly aged building, and my place in Minneapolis was even older (having been built in the 1880s). So, I'm not put off by the potential limitations of an old building. But at some point you can't just add more coats of paint to something; it actually needs to be sanded and patched. (And elevator buttons replaced.) It reminded me a bit of the hotel I stayed in when I last visited New York for work. (A little old, a little beat up, bring your cell phone with in the elevator just in case, but everything ended up working out just fine.)


Also, a lot of the communication issues were driven by me originally booking the suite for the wrong dates. If I booked it correctly to begin with, and they had been able to work through their normal schedule, to get the room ready by 4:00 pm the day of check in, would any of this been an issue?


The room itself was fine. The location was great. The price was a bargain compared to usual hotel prices here in the Windy City. And it was probably a lot nicer than the Super 8 on Sheridan Road.


So, depending on who next comes to visit, we may try this again. It's worth giving another shot, and if everything comes together, the process and property would work out fine. We shall see.

Sprint EVDO Woes (Maybe)

I'm writing myself a quick note in this space, so that I'm keeping track of my various discussions with Sprint regarding my EVDO coverage.

Seemingly, since I replaced my EVDO modem, I'll have periods where the connection will work fine for a few minutes, then slow down to a very slow speed, then drop completely. Often the Sprint Smartview app will say I'm connected, but I'll have no actual connectivity.

It feels to me like a dead zone (poor cellular signal) or internet issue, perhaps relating to what tower I might be connected to, or related to my physical location (Sheridan and Lunt, Chicago). But, I'm not an expert.

Today, I tried to login to Sprint's website so that I could email my concerns to Sprint support.

Their website says I have to prove who I am...all over again. Even though I'm a registered user. I have to identify myself via one of two ways:

1. Text message to my Sprint phone. I don't have a Sprint phone. I have an USB Mobile Broadband modem. I have no clue if it receives text messages. I assume that it does not.

2. Answer a bunch of weird and invasive questions. When you lived on Columbus Avenue, what kind of car was registered there? Uh, I never lived on Columbus Avenue, and I have no clue. It asked about six variations on things like that until it locked me out for giving wrong answers. It's clearly getting data from a consumer credit report -- and it's confusing me with my father, based on the data it's displaying. And I have no idea what year Lincoln he had when he lived on Columbus. FTW.

OK, so I call in to Sprint instead. A explain to the rep that I can't access the Sprint site and that it's asking me for personal information that doesn't actually relate to me. He very slowly confirms this for himself by logging in as me (I have to give him my password over the phone, very high tech). He says there is a system issue and it will be fixed in two hours. Okay, that's balogna, but I give up for now.

I explain my problem holding a Sprint EVDO connection. He keeps saying there is a problem with the Sprint website and it will be fixed in two hours. Dude, I'm not talking about the Sprint website, and a problem I've been having for days-to-weeks has nothing to do with whatever issue is currently being experienced with the website. We go around and around on this, until I give up, and I ask him to transfer me to another rep. He can't/won't/whatever, and keeps telling me to try again in two hours. I hang up and call back.

Next rep -- helpful, polite, clueless. Tries to help me troubleshoot the connection. Her script refers to some version of Sprint software that I do not have. She keeps asking me to click on buttons that don't exist, menu items not found in that application, etc. She finally admits that I'm not crazy, we really are working on two different versions of an application, and she escalates it up a tier.

The third rep -- polite, knowledgeable. But, has to run me through all the lame troubleshooting stuff one does with PCs. Reboot. Uninstall. Re-install. Clear DNS cache. Re-activate the modem. OK, can't harm anything, maybe something will change. We'll see.

I'm up and running after all of that, though it cost me 59 minutes and 24 seconds of my day, spent on the phone with Sprint. And who's to say if something actually changed, or if things are just working fine for a while (as they do) then start crapping out again.

We'll see.

Plans for the future include calling Sprint every time the connection gets fussy, to make sure that stuff is logged, in case I want to ask for a credit later. (Or if I want them to wave the ETF later, if I want out of this contract.)

Hmm. AT&T is a no go in my neighborhood in Chicago. Sprint is driving me nuts today. What's left? I wonder if Verizon has good coverage here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Liquor License for RoPa? Yes, Please!

We received this notice in the mail a couple weeks ago regarding RoPa, the new restaurant going in where Cafe Suron used to be. (I should have posted it sooner but I am a travelin' fool lately.) My take is: Yes, we want RoPa to have a liquor license. I would most definitely enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with some delicious Mediterranean food. BYOBs are a pain in the rear, as bringing a bottle of wine along requires planning and forethought that I lack.

Date: 5/23/2008

The following is information on a liquor license application which has been submitted to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Licensing:

Date of Application: 5/23/2008
Name of Applicant: TAS ENTERTAINMENT, L
Address of Applicant: (not posted by me)
Business Address: 1146 W PRATT BLVD
License Type/Description: Incidental

If for any reason you have an objection to the City granting this license, submit your specific written complaints or comments to:

MaryLou Eisenhauer, Acting Director
Department of Business Affairs and Licensing Local Liquor Control Commission
121 N. LaSalle, Room 805
Chicago, Illinois 60602

Pursuant to section 4-60-050 of the Chicago Municipal code, the city is required to send public notice of a new package goods, tavern, or incidental license application to all legal voters within 250 feet of the proposed location. All objections must be received by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing/Local Liquor Control Commission within 40 days of the date of the application shown above. If received by the 40th day, your comments will be taken into consideration by the Mayor's License Commission before any decision is rendered on the issuance of the license. In the event a hearing is commenced in this matter, you may be required to provide testimony in person to support your complaint or comment.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Reading at Quimby's Books

My friend Paula Cisewski will be in town on June 23rd to read at Quimby's Books at 1854 W North. For more information, click here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

White MacBook Wrist Rest

If you've ever seen a used white MacBook, you know how grimy the wrist rest gets. Just gross. Whatever spongy rubber they use on the white ones wears down, gets sweat and goo caught in it, and no amount of Windex can bring it back to life. My girlfriend has one, and it was yucky looking.



So instead, I replaced it with the wrist rest/keyboard assembly from a black MacBook. She ordered it from this place. It was as advertised, seems to be the real OEM part. Took a handful of small screwdrivers and some patience to install. Now it's working great, and her computer now has a unique look.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

AT&T Wireless Internet Coverage

Turns out AT&T's 3G wireless broadband service doesn't work that well here in Rogers Park. I tried it at my home, my office, and Ennui, and if I can get any sort of stable connection, it's much slower than comparable service from Sprint. Read more about it over on my gadget blog.