LINCOLN PARK — Like plenty of CTA riders, Alan Linic feels like he got his pocket picked when he switched to the Ventra Card.
"It charged my credit card every time I used it for like a week before I noticed," Linic says.
And that wasn't the worst of it.
"I had to call and leave three messages and sit on hold for like a year and dispute the charges with my bank to get them reversed," he says.
"It was an absolute f------ nightmare. I heard stories about other people having trouble, but this is one of those things that you don't know how frustrating it is until it happens to you."
Even though he got his money back, Linic couldn't shake his frustration.
So, the 24-year-old Lincoln Parker did the first thing any self-respecting comedian would do in his situation — he took his fight to Twitter.
"I've learned to avoid phone calls with companies that are pissing me off. I take the fight right to social media because they respond 10 times faster that way," Linic says.
"So I started tagging Ventra in a lot of Twitter posts about how they were f------ me over and a bunch of people joined in. … Started hearing stories from other people all wondering the same thing. How's it possible for an entire city to be up in arms about something and no is doing anything to correct the problem?"
When Linic's Twitter war hit a stalemate, he knew that he had to do something epic to fight for public transit fare reform — or at least get in a good jab at Ventra and the CTA.
"And clearly the best way to do that — the only way, really — is to write a rap," Linic's improv comedy buddy Ollie Hobson says.
Hobson teamed up with Linic — their rap duo name is Scratchet — to do just that.
Hobson, a 28-year-old bartender at Tiny Lounge, resurrected an old hip-hop beat he composed in college, and together with Linic, wrote rhymes lambasting their corporate transit card nemesis, CTA President Forrest Claypool and even Chicago’s boss himself, Rahm Emanuel.
When it was was done they posted the CTA-diss song, “V.E.N.T.R.A.” on the Internet.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” says Linic, who works in “online ad-trafficking” for the Chicago Tribune.
Admittedly, the original version was crude. So, the Scratchet boys cleaned up the dirty language and put out a “radio-edit” version suitable for ticked-off CTA riders of all ages.
“V.E.N.T.R.A, the newest way to a headache on the CTA ,” the radio-edit chorus goes.
The rap song starts with a parody of the Ventra voicemail system that Linic became all too familiar with while fighting bogus charges to his credit card.
“You’ve reached customer service. The number of responses has made us nervous. We’re afraid to pick up and won’t call you back. So if you’re trying to ride the train/ you’re on the wrong track,” the song goes.
After rattling off a few choices, “Press 1 if 80 cards were mailed to you/ If you were over charged go ahead and press 2. … You can press 5 if you so elect, doesn’t matter any button will disconnect for quality we quality we record what you say but we can’t and won’t help you so have a nice day.”
They go after Rahm — “the King of Chi-town," they call him — for taking a "system that's worked for years/ and change it to harvest ya'lls tasty tears." The mayor has said he, too, is frustrated with the Ventra rollout.
They parody Claypool, too.
"This is CTA bossman, Forrest Claypool/ 'bout to drop some knowledge up on top of you/ There’s reasons the old way had to go bye-bye/ And the biggest one of all is --- you that’s why."
I tried to tell the guys that the Ventra card deal was negotiated by former Mayor Richard Daley's administration, not Emanuel's.
And that I've always known Forrest Claypool, as much as he’s on the hot seat over the Ventra mess, to be a good public servant and decent guy.
But that didn't seem to matter much to Linic and Hobson.
"Look, the only way to really make an entity or a government or politician fear for its image is to speak about it or display it in a public place," Linic said. "In an age where everything is Googled, the last thing anyone wants is for 10,000 people to go online complaining that they suck."
In fact, Linic thinks that Ventra, and even Rahm and Claypool, should take their rap as a challenge to do a better job.
"It's an opportunity for them to fix things and win you back," he said. "And then it's visible for everyone to see how well they handled our problem."
When I called the CTA to get a comment about the rap attack on Ventra it must have been a bad time.
Before I could even ask a question the normally helpful CTA representative on the line said, "Oh, I can't talk to you right now," and abruptly hung up.
Then I sent a link to the song up the food chain, hoping to get a reaction. Nothing.
I made more calls Wednesday morning, and just when I was about to start my own rap beef, I finally heard back: "No comment."
But I was reminded that starting Friday, Claypool will be giving weekly updates on progress made toward fixing CTA's Ventra troubles.
So, there's that.