Commuting and Errands10 Aug 2008 12:26 pm

My transportation needs have changed from mostly routine to mostly discretionary.

Almost headed into Chicago this morning with neighbors to try for same-day $20.00 theater tickets only to find out that they got sold out fast at 11 AM. Mission cancelled after the confirming phone call, I head back to the house and reschedule a haircut from 6 PM to 4 PM.

The temperature and humidity climb all day, making me debate whether to ride my bike into the Clybourn corridor of the city or take the train. There’s no compelling time advantage of the train given midday timetables, so I bike. Out of deference to my friend and former neighbor who cuts my hair, I take a shirt change. When she tells me to “smock up” she asks if I rode my bike and I tell her “yes” and that I brought a shirt change.

“That’s good, you’ll feel better,” she says.

“So will you,” I respond and she laughs.

Afterward, I decide to prep myself for the hot ride home with a smoothie and make some job calls. That done, I ride home in the afternoon heat with a favorable tailwind and make great time, many times exceeding 20 MPH on straightaways like Elston Avenue and upper Lincoln Avenue. I forgot how jammed up city streets can be at high rush hour because I often rode home after peak in the early evening.

Some tanned middle-aged guys are riding up Kedzie by Thillens Stadium. They are in sleeveless T-shirts without helmets and are on knobby-tired mountain bikes. I pass them but not long afterwards, one of them, tanned #1 man on mountain bike, charges by me at a good clip and goes through the changing red light at Pratt Blvd where I stop. Shit. Is this testosterone at work again? This happens a lot on the bike, even to my wife. I just like to ride as fast as possible but I think some guy cyclists see this as a challenge. Add two more wheels and an engine and you get, ta-da! Road rage! Comforting thought, that.

Tanned #2 man on mountain bike and another different commuter cyclist get caught along with me at the long light at Touhy Avenue. The sun is still high and hot in the Western sky. Both westbound lanes of Touhy are bumper-to-bumper. Eastbound is not much better and gridlock threatens. I find myself engaged by this parade of cars. Tanned #2 man on mountain bike turns with a smile and comments on how long the traffic light is. “I’m glad we’re not driving,” I respond.

I’m also glad to take a shower when I get home.

Errands and Miscellaneous09 Aug 2008 12:15 pm

A romantic drive in the country awaits me today. But first, hell.

The bike is not part of this discussion today. We have to be at Northern Illinois University for the 8:45 AM orientation start but I’m aiming for 8:15 AM because I’m Germanic. We actually hit the road at 6:40 and the western sky is a very dark gray. 65 miles in an hour and a half is do-able, right?

In a past life of consulting, I did numerous projects in the Western Suburbs especially Oak Brook area, so my trip down the Tri-State Tollway I-294 from Dempster is familiar territory. Thankfully, the Dempster southbound ramp is open again and the Tri-State is moving. My son looks to the west and remarks humorously on the sky that is now nearly the shade of charcoal. Blending onto I-88, the sky darkens and begins to fill with some very dramatic forky lightning and soon the rain starts to come down much like the trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan, for whom I-88 is named. And like the Reagan era, things just continued to get worse.

The rain is hard and the traffic is slow and bumper-to-bumper through the extended construction zone almost to Elgin. Only there does traffic begin to clear and we reach expressway speeds with the clock nearing 8 AM. With the drizzle still coming down, we barely made it to NIU at 8:40 AM. I cannot for the life of me imagine a daily car commute under these conditions. Surely I can millions with an Internet business that allows me to work at home without keeping an inventory of valuable overstock.

The campus tour is well-organized and upbeat and led by cheerful, charming student guides. I know they have the Huskie bus lines around campus enabling students to make do without cars. What I didn’t know was that they offer free loaner bikes to students for two-week checkout much like a library book. OK, let’s see if my son takes advantage of that.

The day’s orientation ends around 4 PM and after some calls and administrivia on campus, we head home. I cannot face I-88 again and opt to drop off some borrowed brick samples in Hampshire, Illinois to the north. Despite the detour along two-lane back roads through corn and soybeans, we make good time.

There’s not a bike to be seen. There are more subdivisions cropping up here and there along 47. I think there’s actually a Metra stop near Elburn, though.

It is a pleasant drive in the country, though, and I still enjoy tooling along the back roads.

Reality is soon upon me as I re-enter the Tollway system at 47 onto I-90 eastbound. No jams, I’m happy to say. My son comments on the pretty green of the Fox River Valley as we cross over it. Short-lived nature gives way to office parks and subdivisions and vinyl siding and massive electrical towers and swaths of concrete and lawn and fast food and shopping. I bail out at Ikea onto 53 for drive east through Arlington Heights on Euclid and Lake.

OK, good to have some variety. I could never cover this much territory on my bike in this time.

I could never put up this every day.

Errands and Humor and Leisure09 Aug 2008 11:25 am

In a past discussion about transit funding and transit use, a friend used the term, “the transit habit”. He said, “You have to get ‘em young.” He’s right about that and it applies to cars and bikes, too. Get ‘em young and that’s what they take for granted.

We can also change our thinking along the way but like so many changes, it’s harder. Even though I’ve ridden a bike since I was a kid and stuck with it, and likewise public transit, having car access for so long now has made that an assumption. Now with this car-free or car-low exercise, I find I don’t make that assumption as easily.

The rental car is still sitting at the curb where I parked it yesterday. And this is not a monkish exercise in self-deprivation. I’m almost forgetting I have it.

My main need for movement today is a delightful plumbing job I have to figure out: swapping out a crummy bathtub faucet on which the shower diverter no longer works. Since I have to turn off the water to the house, I’m under pressure to resolve this quickly, so I rule out dawdling with the dog to Millen’s Ace hardware store, choosing my bike instead. Good choice because the first trip is investigating what I might need for the job. That requires me to come back to the house, bring the offending faucet and feed pipe information, and return to the hardware store for specific items. The bike worked fine for these trips and as I’m riding, I think about those heavy-duty “Cycle Trucks” still used on factory floors for chasing parts.

Interestingly, an email from my wife also delivers yet another story about someone doing without a car and the assumptions he must dispense with:

Living Without a Car: My New American Responsibility
By Andrew Lam, New America Media. Posted July 24, 2008.

Errands and Shopping07 Aug 2008 11:39 pm

I lash up the trailer to my bike for the now-usual Saturday trip to the farmer’s market. Hooking up the trailer is routine and the routine is comforting. This time my wife rides with me instead of meeting me there. We’ve decided that the farmer’s market is easier as a two-person operation. It doesn’t need two people, it’s just easier but perhaps less efficient.

Walking the bike with the trailer through the market allows you to load up as you go and not make trips back and forth. I’ve done this thing with the car in the past when lugging watermelons or cider just keeps you from buying other produce and makes your arms longer.

That said, it is its own bother. I volunteer to watch both bikes and hold them in the middle of the aisle while Nancy does the shopping. Boring job but somebody’s got to do it. I miss just walking around and looking and smelling and impulse buying tasty things and schmoozing. I’m trapped. Standing in the summer sun is also less than satisfying.

Still, we’ve got another nice load of items and the trailer is fulfilling its workhorse role. Drivers continue to cut me a wide berth as they pass me on the way home. I’m guessing they don’t want to take a chance on harming my little dear ones riding behind me. Would they be so courteous if they knew I was going to eat the little dear ones in the trailer?

I rent a car, too. I haven’t done this in a while and hardly know how to behave. I do it after the farmer’s market. Partly, I figure the temptation to use it would be too strong to resist. They give me the limited options left, namely two compacts for the category I requested. An SUV sits in the lot and I’m not upgrading. I’m sure it doesn’t care about my opinion of it and its ilk.

I need the car for a Monday trip to DeKalb, Illinois, for my son’s college orientation. I’m looking forward to this mini road trip since I’ve never been there before. The rental place is not open as early on Monday as I would need to make it there by 8:40 AM and they are closed Sunday so the only option is to get the car before noon on Saturday. I start thinking of what I could use the car for over the weekend.

I draw a blank. The car sits in front of my house.

Errands and Leisure and Uncategorized07 Aug 2008 11:12 pm

My planned stops in the Loop today are disparate in location and purpose requiring me to not be wearing shorts and other cycling gear. Besides, my brain is filled with disparate things, too, so it’s just better that I take the train in today, which I do, using Metra again.

Metra North Line has been running late a lot lately but I suspect some of that is the midday trackwork, so I guess the 9:26 falls under “midday.” I am a bit late for my 10:00. But even at this modestly early hour, the train is noisy with families heading into the Loop for a day of being local tourists, or should I say in the current parlance, “staycationers”?

I stroll Daley Plaza which is filled to bursting with the buzzing Thursday Farmer’s Market. I have to resist buying things I don’t want to lug around all afternoon or leave in a museum coat check room. Like roll butter from the Amish farmers in Indiana. Tempting, but a bad idea on a summer day, I remind myself. Such a genius.

My own two feet take me north on Michigan with a stop to drop off some docs at a friend’s office. This is about midway to my final stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art where I’m meeting another friend to take in the Jeff Koons show. This refuge of art entertainingly fills the afternoon and my brain with something other than “the search”, for which I am most grateful. It’s also a delightful show. The accompanying show of Chicago artists who inspired Koons is also a delight. But the names and the art and the humor of the Hairy Who are reminding me that it’s been a while since I attended the Art Institute. Let’s just say some memories are coming back…

The rain came down while we were inside but had stopped by the time we came outside after 4:30. David is taking a 147 express north. I’m just not feeling like walking the 25 minutes-plus to Metra so I take bus to the station and make a handy earlier train.

Looking out the window and daydreaming is a nice diversion, too.

Commuting and Errands and Humor and Uncategorized31 Jul 2008 10:44 pm

Being a motorist does not lend itself to a sense of humor. You are in the seat of power, literally. Who’s laughing at that?

Cyclists, on the other hand, are still the underdog in the current US transportation scene. Sometimes we react to that position with rants. Sometimes we respond with a sense of humor. Sometimes both. I saw an example of that today and it made me laugh.

Around 6 while the black beans were cooking, I walked my dog to Kinko’s for copying and faxing. I cut through the alley as usual and there at an old-school grey steel bike rack there’s a well-ridden newer Giant with a blue pickup truck milk crate on the rear rack. A working bike, always a good sign.

On the back of the milk crate is a large white cardstock sign lettered in all caps with wide markers:


OK, in my world, flatulence humor is never not funny. I’m sorry for being so lowbrow, really I am.

I swear I’m seeing way more bikes this summer. My wife says so, too. Bike racks are packed. She said she even had a near miss with another cyclist on blind corner on the bike path in Lincolnwood. It ended cordially without incident but she and the other woman were both not expecting traffic here based on past experience. I’m talking about men in khakis and women in skirts, riding to work or to the train, with bags slung over their shoulders. My neighbor introduced me to his old friend over the weekend and I find out that he commutes to Glenview from my Evanston neighborhood…by bike. He gave me a great route I didn’t know about, too.

Do I like seeing all this cycling?

Do I like lowbrow humor?

Errands and Shopping30 Jul 2008 11:04 pm

I’m a phone bank of one today. Between that and emails I’m pretty much occupied and stick close to home.

When my brain starts to melt down late in the afternoon, I decide it’s time for some errands by bike to get air and exercise. Nothing extensive and all in downtown Evanston.

Did I tell you it is not raining? Believe it, it is sunny and warm.

A trip to Wolf Camera where I roll my bike into the store to pick up some processed film burned to CD. I was inspired by that big digital camera that the Cubbies women on the Metra platform had so I do some browsing with the store manager. Very nice but not on the current budget, methinks. We chat about the article I saw in the DIY magazine Make, about building a camera using an old flatbed scanner for the back. The results look amazingly like the pinhole panorama photos my wife did at the Art Institute. Cool, he likes the idea, I will call him with the issue tomorrow. I almost feel like a photo student once again.

The only other stop was Whole Foods again. I am finally learning the fine art of parsing the purchases so they fit comfortably in my panniers. This takes discipline and means impulse purchase don’t fit the methodology. I have a taste for some wine. Nope, too heavy, I’m buying two half gallons of milk. Balance for the panniers. Cider vinegar and some cheese were on the list. Okay, the brie was not on the list with parmesan but it was not a big weight add-on. And it fits in the top bag on the rack. The cable goes on my handlebars.

Add bacon for the German potato salad for dinner. Homer Simpson would surely find fault with this style of potato salad. After all, that’s what he found in hell and screamed. I still like it, hell has other things waiting for me, I’m sure.

Don’t even stop to ponder the brats. Put back the chicken livers that temp me to make the rice my friend from Trinidad does so well and no one else in my house likes.

Be strong. Besides, it keeps the bill down.

Errands and Shopping28 Jul 2008 03:47 pm

Farmer’s Market again this morning.

I plan to meet my wife there after her yoga class when she will call me. I hook up the Burley trailer to my bike: I’m getting much faster at this. The trick is unthreading the knob on the retaining clamp so the jaw is wide enough for me to first hook under the horizontal bar and then maneuver on the retaining clamp on the diagonal bar.

I head across the alley to consult pro-bono with my neighbor on his website. Hey, this is what I do even if I’m not doing it at the other place.

My cell rings and I excuse myself for the Saturday produce run. Not quite like the old Bat signal going off and my roaring out of the cave. Instead, I roll up the garage door by pressing a button, pull my bike and trailer, lean the bike against a neighbor’s garbage can, and close the garage door. Somehow, this is just not heroic.

I get over it and get on my way. My wife has already snagged the garage door opener from the old car and takes it with her on her bike. The gal travels in style, I tell you.

The sun is getting hotter and I get to a crowded Market. The cider is already sold out on a nice day like today. Last week one farmer noted the lack of foot traffic due to the rain. Once the trailer is well loaded and we’re sick of thinking about what else to buy, we head off together. Actually, pulling the trailer is not so bad. I notice the load, for sure, and I run for the few little “hills” like I learned to do riding a bike in Pittsburgh.

Cars have been giving me the wide swath, too. I’m thinking they assume I have a sweet little offspring in that trailer, ready to grow up and ride a bike like its Daddy. Awwww, that’s so cute, even if it’s not true. I like the courteous drivers, though.

Mission accomplished until later in the afternoon when a block party in the old Chicago neighborhood calls. We decide to ride our bikes but my wife wants to go later, so I head out on my own. Here’s the consideration riding your bike to a potluck: do you carry something the whole way or buy it closer to the party? This time, as a few other times so far this summer, I opt for buying it closer to the party. Especially beer or watermelons, of which I buy neither this time.

Despite temps in the 90’s, there’s a cool breeze from the lake even in as far as California Avenue. Traffic is really light on the street and the breeze seems behind me mostly. I get to the North Center neighborhood in about 45 minutes.

As I was approaching the home stretch on Lincoln Avenue passing under the Brown Line el and feeling pretty good about my time and riding there, a thought occurred to me. Don’t get complacent, George, almost every near-accident you’ve had has occurred within blocks of your house or destination. I get alert in just enough time. At Wilson, a guy in a Chevy Blazer just starts to make a left turn west in front of me.

His window is open. I yell with great profanity and tell him to stop. He does. No hard feelings, just learn to drive. Sheesh.

The party’s fun and my wife rides down about an hour or so later. She also decides to leave earlier and heads off to catch a Metra train at Ravenswood because she wants more time at home. I consider doing the same later and keep an eye on the time as conversation winds down and we start to clean up and devolve into watching the Monty Python Bavarian Restaurant skit on YouTube on Kevin’s laptop.

After goodbyes and teasing about how geeky my well-lighted helmet is, I head off half-heartedly for the 9:48 PM Metra but I know it will be tight. I decide to try at Damen and Lawrence and start to head east. In the streetlighted distance I can just make out the locomotive starting to pull northbournd out of the station. I turn around and ride my bike north on Damen.

The police are very busy tonight: a dark unmarked Crown Vic is aimed into first side street north of Lawrence. A couple younger guys are leaning with their hands down on the hood. Seems about three big plainclothes cops are milling around, obviously calling the topics in this friendly dialog. Off in the distance, I see blinking blue lights by Amundson High. This is not the CPD security camera blue lights on poles by the school, it’s a regular squad car that has pulled over a Murano that’s illuminated in the squad car’s spotlight. I pass another squad car up by Bowmanville at the cemetery and the office just looks at me from his open window as he passes. Constantly observing.

The ride is nice and fast and cool and uneventful, except for a cabbie who has to blare his horn behind me as he passes on Ridge. Get a life. Those LEDs on my butt are not spelling, “Honk if you hate cyclists.”

I don’t let him disturb my peaceful night ride home.

At home, I tell my wife I missed the Metra train. No loss, she reports: the conductor would not let her on because it was…Venetian Night.

She rants and I agree: Metra hates bikes and looks for any reason to keep them off the train.

She said the conductor was polite. OK, that’s good. We just cannot depend on Metra to let us on with a bike. That’s hardly a reliable mode.

Commuting and Errands and Uncategorized25 Jul 2008 02:09 pm

A nice day for riding a bike but I don’t. Maybe dry weather traumatizes me. Maybe I just don’t feel like it.

I take the train and take it easy. This can be a nice thing, just like dry socks. I also have a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment so I decide that I would rather just take the bus there.

Which I do after checking the CTA Trip Planner online. Door-to-door service using the 151 Sheridan to Diversey. It comes right as soon as I leave my building. I can tell that the driver has too much time in her schedule when she kills a light on Michigan Avenue and dawdles through Lincoln Park. I’m still early.

Afterwards, a westbound Diversey bus shows up as soon as I walk out and I get on, asking the driver if the Diversey El station is open or not because of the Brown Line reconstruction. She doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care. I’ll figure it out myself when I get there. It’s open and I have to kill a little time before the first Purple Line shows up northbound at 3:40. It comes on time and gets me to Central Street before a 201 bus is due.

I decide to wait for it with some other folks and not risk it passing me up halfway home like it seems to do so perversely when I decide to walk. It comes a little late but nothing serious and I’m home easily.

I truly wish all bus connections were like the ones I had today. More people would appreciate this mode more.

Maybe bus tracker will help:

For a web guy like me, this is a hopeful sign: yet another way to connect with buses.

Postscript: One last observation comes from Nancy as we recap the day. She told me that in a two-block stretch of Clark Street south of Newport (for you non-Chicagoans, this is just south of Wrigley Field in the core of commercial Lakeview), all but five parking meters had bikes locked to them. That’s a lot of cycles on this dense street.

Errands and Leisure and Shopping and Uncategorized25 Jul 2008 01:42 pm

I’m on a roll with my Slavic heritage this weekend.

The Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival pulls me back with the first two music acts of the day on the main stage: The Polkaholics and the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. The Polkaholics are 10 and Maxwell Street is 25. I’m neither one of those numbers but I still can plop my sorry self on bike to see these bands play.

I ride along the lakefront through Northwestern’s campus. Surprisingly empty for noon on a very nice Sunday but some people are enjoying it, walking or sunning themselves. I make a mental note of some black-eyed Susans growing among some seagrass along the trail. Those need to give up some seeds for me later in the summer.

I’m running a little late but I resist the urge to speed through the pedestrians and a dog or two, and remind myself that a hard turn at speed on sand is going to net me some road rash. Good thinking there, Ace, you’ve learned something after riding a bike all these years.

The Polkaholics are firing up with their wacky brand of humor and amped-up guitar polkas. There’s not an accordian in sight, unlike some of the weddings I’ve been to in my life. Their answer is simple: they took guitar lessons when they were 10, not accordian lessons. Duh. Makes sense to me

Did you know that both “kielbasa” and “kishka” are sausages that begin with “k” and end with “a”?

Thank you, Polkaholics. These guys are fun and they are having fun. The play Too Fat Polka. They play Beer Barrel Polka. They play the Existentialist Polka. I never heard that one at the VFW.

Of course, I never heard klezmer music growing up, either, but my past Russian language study and travel mixes with the joyful music and makes me happy again to hear Maxwell Street perform fine pieces like, “Odessa.”

These folks are pros. I’m also thinking I could maybe look cool in a fedora and a necktie. Maybe this bikeshorts style needs to be revisited. I still won’t be able to sing or play the violin or clarinet. Next life. Maybe.

I catch the end of an altiplano group at the other stage as I’m leaving and I stop my bike to listen. I can’t play the pan pipes or the charango, either. Damn. They’re fun to listen to. Definitely not Slavic. I’m am so proud of my powers of observation.

I make a quick stop to buy some liquid things at Whole Foods. What self control: olive oil and dish detergent. I’m learning to parse out the heavy stuff. Again, I’m learning.

Ironically, because of a bike event, I cannot make my other desired stop at Wolf to pick up my photos. The sidewalks are cordoned off for a bike rally and I can’t cross the street. Could be worse, could be NASCAR on the North Shore. There’s a vision for you: silver-haired men in polo shirts splashing martinis cheering at speeding Porsche Boxsters, tanned blond at each driver’s side.

I have a little over an hour so I do a car thing with my bike: I ride my bike home instead of waiting downtown, walk the dog, and ride back downtown for tai chi, which manages to kick my butt despite its calm pace. I ride back home again.

The bike gives me this flexibility but I’m also getting tired from the day’s transport. That’s what happens when you use your own energy to get around.

I sleep well and the music is still in my head. Too tired to think of North Shore NASCAR.

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