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Steinberg: What a cute card! What’s its name?

The CTA has restored fare options while it waits for vendor thruns Ventrincrease number customer support workers. | Sun-Times

The CTA has restored fare options while it waits for the vendor that runs Ventra to increase the number of customer support workers. | Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2013 12:17PM



Nothing like pending loss to make a bland plastic card into something nostalgic. With all the hoopla over the CTA’s new Ventra card, suddenly my old “Transit Card,” with its magnetic strip and nipped corner, is as romantic as Riverview.

Despite this, and despite the press lovingly documenting problems with the Ventra changeover — customers with hundreds of cards jammed in their mailboxes, long phone waits, frustration — I figured I’d better jump in. Otherwise, I’d look up and it would be December and I’d be stranded at some remote L stop on a frosty night, uselessly poking my antiquated card at a sealed slot. Better master this now. So I bought a Ventra card at the Merchandise Mart L station.

It was that easy, if you aren’t tying it to your bank or your old CTA account. You buy one like a regular fare card. I slid a $20 bill into the machine and it spat out a cool gray Ventra card.

The first catch: It only gives $15 in credit. To get the five buck ransom back, you have to go online and register. No doubt a stumbling block for some, but also a fairly simple process: name, address, email.

The second catch stopped me cold. “Nickname for Card.” It was required. I had to give my card a name. There was no explanation. I was baffled. Did I miss something? Had society changed? Is this common?

See, this is why old people are ready to die when their time comes. The world changes in baffling ways. I know that coyness and computers go together now — Apple’s calculated simper. But shouldn’t I be able to ride a train in Chicago without being forced to anthropomorphize a plastic card?

The first nickname I thought of was “George,” as in “Orwell” for the Orwellian menace at work here. But that seemed obvious. Then I thought of “Butch.”

In 1996, Giga Pets were introduced, little electronic keychains containing a virtual animal you had to constantly feed and walk and play catch with or it would die. I named my electronic dog “Butch;” it seemed a fitting name for my new CTA wallet pet, too.

That done, I couldn’t simply let the matter rest. I had to know: Why name the card?

“So the nickname . . . ” began Lambrini Lukidis, a CTA spokeswoman. “You can have multiple Ventra accounts. So you can have one, and give cards to your wife, your kids.”

The idea is, name the cards in order to better keep track of them. OK. Why not point that out? Let us in on the secret.

I mentioned the confusion surrounding the rollout. “These are active accounts tied to people’s bank accounts,” Lukidis said. “We’re actually transferring money. We have to take precautions.”

As do I. So I’ll name the card, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to play catch with it.

Email: nsteinberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @NeilSteinberg



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