Amazon Go

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When I was in Chicago earlier this month I stayed at the Club Quarters hotel in the Loop at Adams and Clark Streets. After coming back from dinner in the Homewood, IL suburbs one night, I walked past my first Amazon Go store, which turned out to be right across the street from the hotel. I had read about these “cashless” Amazon stores:

Amazon Go is a chain of grocery stores operated by the online retailer Amazon, currently with three locations in Seattle, Washington, two in Chicago, Illinois, and one in San Francisco, California. The stores are partially-automated, with customers able to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or using a self-checkout station.

Apparently this Amazon Go store opened only a few weeks ago. There are just six of these stores so far; three in Seattle, two in Chicago, and one in San Francisco.

On entering, you use your iPhone and the Amazon Go app to scan a QR code and the turnstile swings open. An Amazon Go person greets you and you browse, pick what you want off the well-ordered shelves, and leave. No phone/scanning required at exit; the turnstile swings open for you, and you can grab napkins, utensils, etc. on your way out. Your Amazon account is billed automatically for whatever you picked up.

I don’t know if the plan is the same for all of these, but this Amazon Go location was more of a deli/bodega than a full fledged grocery store. Lots of prepared Whole Foods sandwiches and meals, with drinks, chips, ice cream, etc.

Chicago and Homewood scenes

A few scenes from earlier this month in Chicago, walking downtown into the Loop from River North, later walking to the Van Buren Street Metra station, and scenes from my visit to the Chicago suburb of Homewood, Illinois.

I liked Homewood a lot from the brief time I spent there. Its character reminds me of the Philadelphia suburbs, particularly Main Line towns like Narberth. Though you do not see freight trains and commuter trains coexisting like Metra and freight do in Chicago. Seeing double decker Amtrak trains, Metra trains, and freight on that trip brought me back to my 2011 Amtrak cross-country trips which were a very slow but richer way to travel and really encounter the people and places of the land you’re traversing.

On the ~45 minutes or so on the way out from the Loop to Homewood, I sat on the upper level of the Metra car. A stop or two after Van Buren, a whole crew of construction guys got on and sat around me. I had my laptop and was working, but enjoyed being around them mainly because there was no pretension. They talked openly about their family life, plans for the weekend, retirement schemes, etc. as a few of them nursed beers from their Busch Light six pack. They probably have something like the same conversation every day; at least I took some kind of comfort in being around them for it and thinking so.

Marquette Building and good public art

I’ve written before about what bad public art is for. When I was in Chicago earlier this past week I walked by the Marquette Building at night, and noticed an example of what I believe to be good public art:

I think two characteristics of good public art are, first, that it tells a story worth hearing, and second, that it is particular to its place in some sense. The engravings/reliefs above the entrance to the Marquette Building have these characteristics. They convey something of the rootedness of that particular place, and they convey some of the stories of the people who came before us in that place—in this case, apparently some of the story of “Father Jacques Marquette, the first European settler in Chicago, who explored the Chicago region in 1674 and wintered in the area for the 1674-5 winter season…”

In an arresting way, the Marquette Building does far more to connect the man or woman of the present with the distant past of this particular part of Chicago and this particular part of America than the beautiful but anodyne glass and wood foyer across the street will ever offer passersby of the future.

What I mean is that the Marquette Building offers people like me who walk by with the chance (even if only in the thinnest way) to connect with a bit of America’s far distant past and to encounter, in some sense, the realities of a far different generation of explorers and indigenous peoples. It knits together disparate generations and offers the chance of a sort of spiritual, or at least civic, wholeness.

Notre Dame at Northwestern

I caught the South Shore Line from South Bend Airport to Chicago’s Millennium Station as Notre Dame’s “Higher Powers” conference was close to winding down on Saturday in order to catch Notre Dame at Northwestern’s Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

It was a beautiful day, and the game was close right up until the final few minutes at which point it was raining steadily and quite cold. We caught an Uber back into the city afterwards.

All Saints and All Souls

I’m at Notre Dame for the Center for Ethics & Culture’s 19th Annual Fall Conference. This year’s theme is “Higher Powers”. Since I got into town late on Halloween, and am marking All Saints and All Souls days while here, I thought I would pay my respects to the dead at Notre Dame’s Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus:

Cedar Grove Cemetery provides a dignified Christian burial to members of the Notre Dame community. By setting aside a holy place for burial, Cedar Grove Cemetery offers a fitting environment for full liturgical celebrations. Just as in life, we believe that in death the human body deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We also foster a type of remembering that is enlightened by faith and sees death as a bridge to the Communion of Saints. Our bond with the believing is not broken by death.

We celebrated mass with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. It’s a beautiful time of year to be on campus.

Dramatic Stone Harbor skies

I drove to Stone Harbor on Saturday morning for Gavin and Amanda Keirans’s wedding, which was beautiful. Overcast skies and periodically wet conditions on both Saturday and Sunday ultimately didn’t do anything to dampen the beauty or excitement of seeing Gavin and Amanda, and so many friends, together. Before I left Stone Harbor early on Sunday afternoon, I took a walk through town, picked up a coffee and breakfast sandwich at Coffee Talk, and walked to the 97th Street beach where skies threatened a deluge to come.

Driving back on the Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway was not enjoyable, but the dramatic view over Logan Circle from the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network office was a rewarding sight.

Downtown Steubenville

After visiting Fransiscan University of Steubenville yesterday, I drove downtown and explored a bit before hitting Route 7 South along the Ohio River, marking the Ohio and West Virginia boundaries. Downtown Steubenville doesn’t look to be in great shape, although the relatively recent rehabilitation of historic Fort Steuben was compelling. I didn’t realize Dean Martin was born in Steubenville. The American flag is flying at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

So many towns and communities like this in America’s great middle, some on the track of natural reclamation by the countryside they once cut into, and others somewhere between health and sickness, just waiting for the promise of the Information Age and ubiquitous connectivity to breathe new life into the place.

Visiting Franciscan

I got into Cincinnati yesterday afternoon and will be here for the rest of the week, but on the way out from Philadelphia I stayed in State College on Monday night and decided to visit/stop in Steubenville on Tuesday night so I could visit Franciscan University of Steubenville for the first time. I’ve met a number of Franciscan alumni over the past few years and they’ve all been sober, serious, and remarkable people, so I wanted to see where they came from; or at least where they spent a few years in college.

After my brief visit to campus, I visited downtown Steubenville and its Fort Steuben, which once protected the American frontier. After that I hit the road and completed the remaining four hours or so to Cincinnati, arriving downtown to meet for dinner at Sotto off East 6th and Walnut.

Visiting Palo Alto

After biking around Stanford’s campus on Sunday evening, I checked into Hotel Keen for the night. Explored downtown Palo Alto for an hour or so, grabbed some pizza, etc. Awoke the next morning and walked a stretch of University Avenue and some of the side streets, with views like these:

It’s a beautiful downtown, feeling a lot like a focused/wealthier version of many college towns. After a while, I hopped in my car and took CA-92 west toward the Pacific Coast Highway and its beaches.