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Columnist Neil Steinberg discovered the busway when Cook County Board president Tony Preckwinkle took it as she and Steinberg returned to the Loop from a visit to the county jail. Preckwinkle called it the Magic Road, said Rahm Emanuel called it the Bat Cave, pointed out the exit Richard M. Daley used going home when he was mayor. Steinberg reported the $43 million road was built for convention buses but politicians really take advantage of it. It's gated at both ends, and you need a special pass card to open the gates. Steinberg made all this sound really neat. His story reminded me of the time I was brand-new to Chicago and a Sun-Times photographer racing to a fire plunged us down onto Lower Wacker Drive.
Lower Wacker at the time was over 40 years old. But it was new to me. This is so cool, I thought.
The busway, aka Bat Cave or Magic Road, has been around only since 2002. Practically yesterday. Who can blame Steinberg, who lives in the suburbs, for not knowing it was there? His editors apparently calculated that lots of readers didn't know either, so many that they could get away with blasting Steinberg's story all over page one as if it were an actual revelation.
"It’s intended to speed conventioneers to the Loop, but clout can also get you in the fast lane," said the subhead, adding a helpful dash of political scandal.
Pushing its luck, the Sun-Times kept the story alive on page one a second day. Tuesday's clumsily punny headline (changed online) was Make 'Mayor's Road' Fare, and the subhead was a shameless boast: "After the Sun-Times lifted the veil off a $43 million busway that politicians and contractors enjoy, Ald. Robert Fioretti says the road should be opened to taxis—for a price."
City Hall veteran Fran Spielman did the reporting.
Lifted the veil . . . ?
Some perspective on this veil is in order. Here's "Shortcut clears way to events at McCormick," the article the Tribune's Jon Hilkevitch wrote 11 and a half years ago when the busway opened. Here's an online discussion of the busway three years ago, in which someone notes that Transformers III had filmed on it for a few days. And here is Anthony M. on yelp.com two months ago writing giddily about the "amazing" "secret road" to McCormick Place he'd just discovered.
Reporters who know everything are tolerated at newspapers. The ones who count get as excited as Anthony M. at what they didn't know but just found out.