Commuting and Leisure and Uncategorized07 Aug 2008 11:14 pm

For a brief moment I entertain the illusion of a normal commute: I’m heading downtown on a morning train.

I’m hoping to spend only half the day cleaning out my office, tying up loose ends, and saying my goodbyes but I should know better: I end up taking a rush-hour train back home after I do the old routine walk across Wacker Drive. The old normal is the new abnormal.

They’ll send me a box of stuff from my office that I don’t want to carry on the train. I discover once again that you can carry emotional baggage on any vehicle.

The weather’s warm but mostly sunny so I willingly take the bike to tai chi this evening. We’re past the Summer Solstice and the long days are not quite as long, I note as the dusk begins to assert itself around 8 PM. I’m cycling home with LEDs on as darkness falls by 9 and the mild night is filling with my favorite evocative sounds of cicadas and crickets. The vegetation is lush and so are the evening smells on the quiet side streets.

Sigh. I go through the same imaginary deal-making every July and August: can’t we just hang onto this combination of warmth and light and smells for longer than we have it in Chicago?

Or, is that just what makes it so sweet?

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.

Leisure and Miscellaneous and Uncategorized30 Jul 2008 11:39 pm

I feel like a bike ride and damn it, I’m going to take one before it gets too hot, and I do. After yesterday, my butt needs some exercise. And other things need it, too. I head up the Green Bay Trail to Ravinia.


There are remains of the abandoned Indian Hill Station of the North Shore interurban with its art deco concrete. Metra still uses this station.

indian hill station

I ride in a tunnel of trees:

Wildflowers are blooming. Queen of the Prairie is stunning in Glencoe:


The teasel, introduced by Europeans to tease wool, is tall in all its spiky glory:


It’s a great day to be on a bike. Plain and simple. The final picture tells you why I’ll probably be guaranteed to ride my bike more, regardless of weather:

subaru on towtruck

This evening, the tow truck came by to pick up the old ‘90 Subaru Legacy that we donated to charity. We are a bit sentimental about this car, we both admit. It took the kids from Chicago to a lot of swimming lessons in Skokie and Deerfield. It took us to a vacation in Door County and a July 4th wedding in Iowa one year. And numerous trips to Pittsburgh down the Turnpikes and Toll Road. We even drove back from a family party in Rockford with the back filled with horse manure for the garden, my wife’s idea. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the smells generated by some occupants of the car over the years, let me tell you.

Antonio was a nice driver. He addressed me as “Jorge” when he called to tell me he was on his way. He indulged our sentimentality and took a picture of us both by the car and then drove away with our family history trailing behind, orange four-way flashers blinking goodbye in the night.

We watched until he turned out of the alley and was out of sight.

The garage has more room for bikes. Where’s that garage door opener?

Leisure and Socializing and Uncategorized28 Jul 2008 03:59 pm

We return to the city for yet another party. After the Venetian Night experience last night with Metra, we decide not even to try to bring our bikes and just ride it down to Clybourn, where we will catch an Ashland bus back north to our friends’ house near Wellington and Racine.

At Davis, two women cyclists in bike lycra with road bikes get off the car ahead and walk past our car. What? Bikes on the train today? More cyclists get off at downline stations. Damn, we could have taken our bikes after all. Nancy engages one getting off with us at Clybourn and grouses about Metra but the cyclist defends them as coming a long way. Is the train half-empty or half-full?

I urge Nancy to drop this line of discussion and run with me to the northbound Ashland bus waiting in traffic at the light. We just missed another one as the train rolled in and I don’t want to miss this one. The driver opens the doors for us. The ride is brief to Wellington where we walk east through our old stompin’ grounds and size up what has changed. Little Bucharest is long gone with its heavy food and flocked wallpaper and layered creamy tortes. I remember an old party at an apartment she shared on Racine. It’s a nice memory.

This party is fun, too. We see parents and teachers from the old grade school. We tell stories and catch up and meet the handsome young men who used to be little kids my son played with and went to Cub Scout camp with. I drink Margaritas with no guilt whatsoever: I am not driving and I am not cycling, so there. This is freedom you don’t get with a car.

One of the Moms offers to ride us to the Ravenswood Metra as she goes home with her son and daughter. Her old Saturn has over 140 thousand miles on it with no rust, she says. This is her contribution to the environment, she says. I’m OK with not treating cars as mere disposables after three years.

At Ravenswood, we have time to spare, over 30 minutes, and plan to read on the spartan platform on this pretty summer late afternoon. Before I sit on the comfy asphalt, a woman on the southbound platform yells across the tracks, “Are you going to Chicago?” “No, where are you headed?” I ask her. “Lake Bluff.”

“Come on over to this side,” I say, and direct her down the steps and under the tracks to our steps.

I’m on the platform as she and her three friends come up. They are in a good mood. They are wearing Cubs shirts and hats. She compliments me on my Converse Skulls and I thank her. She offers us an Old Style and I accept only after asking her if she has enough for her friends. “Nah, she’s already over-imbibed so I’m cutting her off,” she says, indicating her friend sitting on the platform with her head down. But they are chatting and laughing and teasing each other, sometimes coarsely. “Those are some real cankles you got there, bitch,” says one woman looking at another’s legs.

I drink my beer and we chat and my wife laughs. They take pictures of each other a nice digital and I offer to take some of the four of them. They cluster and hug and smile and look very nice in the viewfinder. Zzzttt-click. They are pleased with the photos and laugh reviewing them.

Party on a platform.

This is what I like about riding transit, remember?

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.

Errands and Leisure and Shopping22 Jul 2008 01:13 pm

It’s raining again. Hard. I saw a duck waving a white flag.

No I didn’t. But I did steal a line from Bob Hope.

I have plans to meet Nancy at the Farmer’s Market and this time, I’ll pull the trailer to get the “full” experience. By the time I head out around 11:20 AM, the rain has backed off to a slow drizzle. It eventually stops while I’m at the market, thankfully.

We load up big time on this trip and then Nancy heads off to Whole Foods for some smaller items she can carry on her bike.

Here’s what fit in the trailer today:

  • 6 pints black raspberries
  • 2 pints red raspberries
  • 2 pints, in bags, blueberries
  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 2 bunches of snapdragon
  • 1 jar of bread and butter pickles
  • 1 bunch sweet white onions
  • 1 bunch red onions
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 bunches of white and red radishes
  • 2 bunches of orange radishes
  • 2 bunches of dragon carrots
  • Nancy’s rain jacket and rain pants

And on my bike:

  • 1 jar 5-cheese garlic spread in glass
  • 5 fat portabella mushrooms
  • 1 free issue of Edible Chicago magazine

Pulling the trailer was better than loading up my bike like a Model T heading to California from the Dust Bowl. I got up to about 15 mph a few times so the trip home was easy and fast.

I did not get a flat tire.

At 5 PM, I returned downtown for entertainment at the Ethnic Arts fest. As I was readying to push off from the alley, I noticed a water strider in a big puddle by my feet. No joke this time. This has been a wet summer.

Along with an enthusiastic crowd, I take in the bright and brassy enthusiasm of the Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar, a father-son Serbian brass band whose roots are in Gypsy (Roma) music and which draws from funk and jazz and other traditions.

The rain was gone and I got a good seat. People danced by the stage and cheered in Serbian from the seats.

My bike ride home included a CD.

And a satisfied rider.

Commuting and Leisure and Uncategorized21 Jul 2008 12:57 pm

Back to work means deciding which mode today, bike or train. I choose the train, reasoning that I again have the laptop, the day is shaping up hot and muggy, and they are predicting rain.

Or I’m lazy and lame-o.

Chicago seems like the wide open spaces compared to DC. On one hand, Washington appeals to me for its southern-ness, warm and green and rolling, with trees like crepe myrtle that seem downright exotic with their crenelated pink blooms. On the other hand, runaway growth both in-town and suburban have made it a very dense place to live. Not that Chicago is not heading in this direction but it doesn’t seem quite so far along yet, for some reason, and we don’t even have the green spaces like Washington does.

But in DC I feel the weighty oppression of the automobile everywhere, perhaps because suburbia dominates DC area so much closer in to the central city. Washington, like its northern neighbor Baltimore, has what I call “suburban speedways”, wide multi-lane local roads divided by a green strip that are hostile and downright deadly for cyclists and pedestrians. In a climate which would supposedly facilitate year-round cycling moreso than Chicago, road design helps to squelch that option, at least outside the District.

Of course, I can’t say I’d want to ride a bike on Route 59 in Naperville or Golf Road in Skokie, either. I guess the architects and politicians of suburbia long ago cast their vote along with the residents. May they enjoy their fossil-fueled victory.

The drizzle holds up long enough for me and Andy to walk to the Metra station after work. It’s hot and muggy but not like we left in DC and yes, the AC on the train feels good in the reconditioned older coach in which I ride home.

The rain also holds out for me to ride to tai chi but decides that I need to be watered on the way home. Yellow jacket goes on, lights go on, and I just take an easy ride home in the drizzle.

I really should get a front fender.

It’s a really nice ride home.

Leisure and Uncategorized21 Jul 2008 12:55 pm

A handsome young professional ponders his tranportation choices, and probably a tasty DC lunch, on a poster in the Falls Church Metro station. My chest puffs with pride. Everybody’s promoting this “car-free thing”: http://www.carfreediet.com/

Well, if not everybody, at least Arlington County. If you go to the site above, I’m very happy to see that Bicycling and Walking are the first two transportation options listed http://www.carfreediet.com/transportation_options.cfm

We decide to squeeze in a short trip to one Smithsonian Museum, the Sackler. My conditions are simple: by a Orange Line Metro station, don’t have to transfer trains, don’t have to walk far. Excellent choice. We mainly look at one exhibit, Muraqqa’: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. See it.

We make it back to Dave’s house and he drives us to Dulles. It takes only 20 minutes. The flight is on time and we head to our own Orange Line at Midway. I miss the Metro already.

This time things are better, though, and we handily make a connection with the 5:43 PM Metra North Line train home.

We spring the lonely Collie and open up the stuffy house. Dinner? I vote for Chinese carryout from Tsing Tao in Wilmette which my wife concedes to. I offer to pick it up on my bike, which I do.

The owner greets me as I wait in my helmet with my bike cabled outside. “Nice night for a bike ride,” he offers. I tell him I’m trying to avoid using a car this summer.

Animatedly, he responds, “We drive too much. We have to go one mile, we jump in the car and drive there.”

He adds: “I bike to work.”

“How far?”

“Only about a mile and a half,” he gestures roughly northeast.

“Hey, that’s great. One less car,” I say to encourage him.

I find hope in this dialog. The food was good, too.

Commuting and Leisure and Shopping and Socializing and Uncategorized21 Jul 2008 12:51 pm

My wife and I have separate missions at different times in The District today but we both start the same way: walking to the East Falls Church Metro station. The scenes along the way remind me I’m someplace else where the issues remain the same. Take a look:

Not the Beltway but related: the ubiquitous HOV lane signs to expressways that let the buses ride the shoulders at rush hour at 25 mph.

The encouraging bike lineup at the Metro station. Can’t say I approve of the motor scooter in there. Park in the parking lot, dude, save this for bikes.

Not quite clear why they taped over “Covered” and “In Bus Area” but at least I know that there is “Bicycle Parking Along Wall.”

And the Metro, of course. Not perfect but they key to the kingdom when I visit DC. The outsides are looking a bit tatty these days with faded brown paint. The insides have some dingy carpeting but carpeting alone on a transit vehicle still intrigues me, coming from Chicago.

In Georgetown, where I walk from the Foggy Bottom station, plenty of people are on foot. Some cyclists are out, too, in the increasingly hot and muggy morning. A cyclist on a road bike is powering up the hill in the bike lane on Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Natch, a big black SUV gets a big idea to make a big fast move to the right to get around a car in front and almost hits the cyclist but stops in time.

Doesn’t the SUV driver know yet that no one is first in traffic? Oh, and bikes are traffic, too. There, I said it.

I’ve arrived at Georgetown in a little less than an hour door-to-door and I’m early. I forgot how much I like Georgetown and the C&O Canal and the commercial energy.

We won’t talk about the prices for now.

I walk back to the Foggy Bottom Metro to meet up with my wife for an all-too-brief visit to the Afghanistan treasures exhibit at the National Gallery. By now the DC heat and humidity is living up to its reputation. The escalator is not working but I’m at least going down.

The air conditioning is not working in the Metro car I take one stop to Gallery Place from Metro Center. It is oppressively hot.

We get the boot at 5 PM. Dag.

Off to Bethesda for dinner with other friends. A hot walk back to the Metro. On the way, we stop for a traffic light and a cyclist powers his way up the grade as we wait. These DC cyclists seem to be favoring light road bikes and lycra. Makes sense with the hills and the heat. New bike, George? I’m banned from wearing lycra, though.

A stop for flowers in Friendship Heights means finding them first, but a pedestrian points us to the nearby Giant store. We cannot find the entrance at sidewalk level. Nancy is wise: find the parking lot. Which we do. Up the hill. In the heat. I’m losing it and she suggests a cab to our friends’ house for dinner. Great idea and we do it.

The evening is fun catching up but I’m paying for last night’s late catching up. The prospect of a night walk to the Metro and two trains back to Falls Church is daunting but I’m determined to do it.

Greg offers to drive us home. We want to protest but not really. We’re happy for the ride.

The ride to the Beltway takes us past the revived Glen Echo Park, a “streetcar park” once served by the DC Transit system and like other streetcar amusement parks, built to generate traffic on car lines and boost revenue for equipment otherwise idle in off-peak hours.

The neon glows like a beacon over the streetcar they have parked in front.

The old rail right-of-way is a bike trail now.

I can live with that. Sweet dreams, indeed.

Leisure and Socializing and Uncategorized21 Jul 2008 12:47 pm

I’m not Jimmy Stewart and they did not make a movie about me. But I did go to Washington with my wife.

We made it to Midway without a car or taxi but it took a while and it took some planning.

We lined up neighbors with keys and instructions on the pets and the plants. We gave both pets and plants attention this morning and earmarked the 9:26 AM Metra train as the one to catch. Without too much stress or scrambling, we made it.

It was late.

It’s entrance to the station was dramatic, though: very fast. So fast, it looked like he was going to breeze us all at Central Street. Only when the first car or so was at the platform did I hear the burst of air indicating a brake application. With the acrid smoke of brakeshoes filling the air, the train finally stopped far to the south, with about a car and a half beyond the end of the platform and a conductor keeping running passengers from running to the open door over the Lincoln bridge.

His stops at subsequent stations were considerably slower, I note to my wife.

We got downtown and headed up two blocks to the Green Line el station where we waited a little while before the train came. Just one stop and we were off again waiting for the Orange Line train to Midway.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Pink and Green and Brown line trains paraded by.

This is not too impressive airport service, methinks. I’m glad we had extra time built in.

The Orange Line train finally squealed through the junction at Lake and Wells, rounded the corner and picked us up. It poked and poked and poked through the Loop and the South Loop and Chinatown. This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Finally, it picks up speed and gets us to Midway, where we walk and walk and walk to the terminal. Looks like the cab and bus companies made sure the train was not convenient to the terminal. Keep yourself in good shape for this walk.

After all this, we are through security at 11:04 AM for an 12:08 PM flight. Time for food and reading material.

The Southwest flight is on time and is hosted by a lead flight attendant named Scooter who is a small woman of mighty comedic proportions: she is flat out the funniest flight attendant I have ever had. Great lines, great delivery. We arrive on time in Dulles.

Never been to this one out in the boodocks. Dave has already volunteered to pick us up by car. My wife didn’t realize that National (don’t tell me to call it “Reagan”) is the close-in airport with a Metro stop. Oh, well, this happens. She knows for next time.

While waiting for Dave, I notice intercity-size brown buses marked “West Falls Church Metro”. File these away for next time. Dave drives us to his house by the East Falls Church Metro station. Ah, that’s better: we’ll need that tomorrow for sure.

Dave needs to stay close to home to be around his aunt so he can’t go out to dinner as we offer. So, we offer instead to do carryout car-free and walk up the hill to the gigantic Vietnamese plaza with the gigantic parking lot to find dinner.

We have great success. Even buy a six-pack of Vietnamese beer, heartily recommended by the man at the cash register.

It was indeed a fine accompaniment to Vietnamese dinner as he suggested. We head home burdened with out booty. It is a downhill walk mostly.

I stay up way too late talking but hey, I’m on vacation and it’s fun catching up.

I pay for it tomorrow.

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