Balking at the Bus, Transit Officials Are Riders on a Storm

Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi has something of a revolutionary policy for top brass in the CTA: They should actually ride the city's public buses and trains once in a while.

This is a shift from administrations of the past, when transit executives reportedly took pride in having private drivers and cars paid for by the city.

Despite Kruesi's encouragement, an internal study recently obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times shows that many top transit executives go months without stepping on a bus or train. Robert Degnan, the supervisor of nonrevenue vehicles, has reportedly never ridden the CTA since starting his job a year ago, and David Lozeau, the safety and environmental affairs manager, has ridden five times.

The study was based on employees' January-to-October usage of a free pass. CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said that the study, the second one commissioned by Kruesi during his five years in office, showed high ridership by close to 500 employees of various levels.

"Overall, the numbers are good," she said. "It's important for management to ride so they know what the customers are experiencing. They see how long customers have to wait, if the vehicles are clean. [Kruesi] rides the system, and he expects everyone else to, too."

Kruesi told the Sun-Times: "If people get embarrassed by [such ridership reports], so be it. There's an easy way to avoid the embarrassment: ride more."

-- Kari Lydersen

For Some, 'Beverly Hillbillies'

Is Not a Laughing Matter

A whole heck of a lot people must think "The Beverly Hillbillies" is pretty funny. The goofy series was the top-rated show on television two years in a row in the early 1960s, its re-runs are all over cable and fans still trade tips about souvenir Jethro dolls on the Internet.

But four decades after hitting their ratings zenith, the hillbillies have become radioactive in some circles.

Last month, West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise demanded -- and got -- an apology after the University of Virginia pep band parodied a Beverly Hills-bound hillbilly during a skit at the Continental Tire Bowl game.

Now, a group in Kentucky is hot about hillbillies, too. A nonprofit organization, Rural Strategies, took out ads last week in several major newspapers, including The Washington Post, deriding a planned CBS reality series called "The Real Beverly Hillbillies." The show's producers are searching seven Appalachian states for a poor family to star in the show.

"It's not that we can't take a joke," Rural Strategies President Dee Davis said. "CBS would not do this if some smarmy producer came in and said, 'I am going to the barrio and taking a family . . . and every one is going to laugh when they can't turn on the microwave.' "

CBS spokesman Chris Ender says everyone missed the point. "Watch 'The Beverly Hillbillies.' Who ended up being the buffoons?" he asked. "The buffoons ended up being the citizens of Beverly Hills."

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

At 91, Miss Ikie Shows She Is Both Feisty and Forgiving

Illa Hooper -- "Miss Ikie" to her friends -- is 91 years old, weighs 135 pounds and stands 5 feet 2. "I shrunk up a coupla inches since I had my spinal condition," said Hooper, who suffers from a pinched nerve and a ruptured disk in her back. Her idea of vigorous exercise is puttering around her garden in Stamps, Ark.

Still, she packs a serious punch. Awakened before dawn by an intruder in her bedroom last March, Hooper jumped up, grabbed her walking cane from the foot of her bed and pummeled the man with a few sharp blows across his back. Then she called the police.

Last week the intruder, James Sharp, 21, pleaded guilty to breaking and entering, and received a 15-year sentence. On two unrelated charges of rape stemming from his relationship with a 13-year-old girl, he received an additional 20-year sentence.

Hooper knows Sharp and his family from the First Baptist Church, where she has worshipped for years. So when he wrote from jail asking forgiveness, she wrote back obliging him.

"It's sad and awful, but he's gonna come around all right," she said. "I keep his letter in my Bible, and I do pray for him every day."

-- Lee Hockstader

N.J. Seashore Town Getting

Lesson in the Birds and Beaches

Stone Harbor, a posh New Jersey seaside borough, may put on its greatest charm for the well-sandaled visitors to its beaches and galleries. Federal prosecutors say it overlooked tinier locals: the thin-legged and sand-colored piping plovers.

Last week, prosecutors gave Stone Harbor a week to clean up about seven acres of sludge on a stretch of shoreline where the plover -- a threatened species -- will return in March to nest. They will ask a federal judge to fine the borough as much as $25,000 for every day it violates the order.

Stone Harbor received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers two years ago to deepen the bay channels for local boat owners. Although the borough finished its dredging last January, the leftover and potentially dangerous sediment remains.

"The Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. attorney's office have accommodated Stone Harbor long enough," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. "This is about protecting the New Jersey shore."

Stone Harbor's mayor, Suzanne Walters, said that the silt is safe, and that borough officials had worked with government agencies about turning the dredged remains into a new ecosystem with space for the piping plover.

-- Christine Haughney