June 2008

Errands and Shopping28 Jun 2008 11:02 pm

We head to the Farmer’s Market after another stop and Nancy is pulling the trailer to head off the problem we’ve had on the last few Whole Paycheck visits: too much stuff to put on the bike. Plus, I’m heading off to Chicago for a haircut and I won’t be hauling stuff there and back. Her old women’s bike with the front basket makes shopping handy.

We are no sooner there when someone calls my name: Kelly from tai chi is there, too, shopping with her bike, equipped with the milk-crate pickup bed.

We get some great radishes and chat it up with the farmer.

Quick flashback: a few blocks from our house, Nancy spots a cell phone in the street and we stop to let her rescue it. The owner calls and Nancy arranges for her to come to our house later that afternoon to pick it up. She had put it on top of her car, forgot it, and drove to Northwestern University. She’s very grateful.

My ride to Chicago from the Farmer’s Market takes me on an indirect, inefficient, but interesting path. City streets all the way, jogs as streets jog or end, Clark Street traffic, the community garden at Ridge, other gardens along the Metra tracks on Ravenswood Avenue, Rosehill Cemetery with its castle-like entrance, the Brown Line el heading for the Wilson curve.

CTA Brown Line el at Wilson

I get to my appointment on time…only to be told I’m really late. Hmmm…1:30? No, the desk person had written down 12:30. Oh, well, she’ll still take me but in at least 45 minutes. So I break for lunch and be patient. I chalk it up to slowing down. It’s a good choice.

Gusty winds on the way home generally work in my favor but work against me in one big way: more rain and scary gusts by the high school. I’m wet in no time, again.

But still, when you ride a bike, you’re in touch with other good things: at Emerson, I have to stop for the red light. A Harley with an older couple pulls up beside me for their right turn and I look at them as the wind and rain pounds us three. “Charming weather, isn’t it?” They smile and respond but it’s hard to hear over the storm and the Harley but it’s still a connection.

The rain is over within a few blocks. I’m wet. Oh, well.

Commuting and Leisure28 Jun 2008 10:33 pm

A cyclist beats the traffic by taking to the outside on the Lake Street bridge.

A woman’s voice announces over the loudspeakers in the Metra Ogilvie station as I leave the train downtown this morning, and I paraphrase: because of the Taste of Chicago, bikes will not be permitted on Metra trains starting today through July 6th. She thanked me for my patience.

Of which I have none.

The bike blackout days strike again.

OK, granted, this is not news to me. Two years ago I totally forgot about Taste of Chicago and tried to board the Metra train at Central Street to go downtown for something totally unrelated. The normally very friendly senior conductor, formerly a regular on the old 5:45 pm “Lawyer’s Limited” (my name, can you tell?), was stern and growling, “NO BIKES! NO BIKES!” as he held up his authoritative conductor palm and jammed his fingers on the buttons to close the doors.

Sheesh… two wheels and a helmet caused a personality change in this guy? Where was the friendly, schmoozing conductor on the 5:45?

Of course, I was pissed off, and rode downtown only to be late for what I wanted to be at on time if the train had let me on. BFD: the Waste of Chicago, an orgy of overpriced fatty foods that creates grease stains on the asphalt so profound that crews have to blast it off come Monday morning. Is it fun? Yeah, it’s fun enough, but not without a second mortgage and not every year. Besides, the music fests have a theme and music wrapped around the greasy food and beer. This is just food wrapped around more food.

But I go on. Looks like I will plan on my bike, the CTA, or some combination of the two, this coming week or so.

Well, regardless, the train ride saves me energy for bicycling to my evening tai chi class, which strains both my body and my brain.

OK, so this is not only about riding every day, it’s about…balance.

More on this topic as I go on.

Commuting and Errands28 Jun 2008 10:31 pm

With a minor threat of rain in the forecast and warm temps, there’s no excuse not to ride to work again, so I do.

A tailwind makes riding easy and fast and gives me a few spare minutes to stop along the way and take some pictures.

Another nice thing about cycling is that you see the change in the seasons, even in the city. Vacant lots can be a nice respite from all the building and development. One of my favorites is hard by the Kennedy Expressway where Milwaukee Avenue passes over it. Today, it is filled with the blue flowers of chicory, a coarse weed who flowers are pale, purply, and daisy-like. What can I say? They’re great.

Turning my camera 90 degrees to the west gives another whole image: traffic on the Kennedy Expressway and the Ohio Street feeder ramp inbound.

The ride home starts out fast and nice but far north I see it again: that dark cloud that looms above me to my northwest has the telltale smear of rain swooping down from it. Can I outrun it?

Give it up, George: it gets me around Dempster. Slowly at first. Then more and more. Until I’m soaked to the skin. Can’t get any wetter so I just ride. At least it’s warm.

Can rain crescendo?

A nice courtesy from a woman driving one of the biggest SUVs, a big black Chevy Suburban: at the four-way stop at Lincoln and McDaniel, I stop. She was there first, she gets the next turn.

She waves me through instead. I assume she feels sorry for me as the rain pours down on me. I wave back a “thanks” and pedal on. No cheap shots at SUVs right now.

Can’t get much wetter except on the inside, so I detour into Wilmette to buy beer. By the time I come out to load it onto my bike, the sun is out and highlights the wet streets and blooming roses and a passing inbound Metra train and signature suburban minivan waiting for it.

The beer rides home suspended from my handlebars.

It tastes very good.

Commuting and Leisure28 Jun 2008 09:34 am

213 PACE bus

I’m skipping the bike today: weinie excuse of threatened rain. Plus, Nancy has a long day and that means I should get home on time to take care of the dog. First things first, no guilt here.

Nancy’s trip is a bit more circuitous and involved but ultimately successful. She cycles as usual to work in Chicago but has plans again in Northbrook, starting early afternoon. My advice was to take the el to Davis Street, Evanston, and there board the PACE 213 Northbrook bus with her bike, which she does. One minor miscalculation: every other 213 bus goes to Highland Park, not Northbrook Court. She mistakenly boards the Highland Park bus and asks the driver if she missed Lake Cook Road somehow. Nope but he’s turning around and going back, fortunately with a short layover in Highland Park.

Downside is by the time she gets back to Lake Cook Road, it’s raining and her ride west in traffic is that much more dicey but she does it safely…and “wetly.”

By the time she’s done, it’s 7:25 pm and the bus isn’t due for another 30 minutes. The rain has stopped and it’s a nice evening, apparently with a tailwind, and she gets home before the bus would have. She makes better time, I’m sure, because she braves riding Green Bay Road instead of the Green Bay Bike Trail on the old Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee right-of-way.

Bike and bus to the suburbs: this is making a lot more sense, now.

Commuting27 Jun 2008 02:35 pm

Really, there’s not much to report on this cycling to work day. Weather is nice, tailwinds boosted my ride both ways…I even manage to top 24 mph northbound coming off the long ramp of the Damen Avenue bridge.

I’ve been thinking about what I see when I ride my bike to work so I take pictures today along the way, both inbound and outbound. Not all of my scenery is classically “beautiful” but the joy and beauty and interest are in the subtleties and the connections. My ride is a slice through a few suburbs and a 12-mile cut of Chicago. One end of my ride is an old inner-ring suburb that in some places looks like a classic small Midwestern town that you might find in Wisconsin or Iowa: leafy, pretty, nice old houses. Other parts are more like postwar you find in adjacent Chicago neighborhoods. The first Chicago neighborhood I enter is still largely Jewish, with temples and schools along both sides of the street where I have to watch out for cars dropping off kids and doors opening in front of me. Teenage boys in white shirts and black pants and kippa shoot hoops behind one temple, standard fare boy stuff except for the clothing.

Sandwiched in here is the Indian and Pakistani shopping strip of Devon Avenue, where a stop to buy samosas is always a thought. Ponder the latest movie posters or shop for saris, your call. The Russian book store is still here and farther west, a good Afghan restaurant with fresh bread and friendly service beckons. Some older Jewish businesses and delis remain on the western stretch, holdovers from the days about 30 years ago when they dominated Devon. Cities change with changing populations and needs, and that keeps cities interesting and challenging. I often mourn a loss but I also embrace the change.

Older city neighborhoods appear south of Foster and two-flats, three-flats, frame four-squares, apartment buildings, and new condos mix it up. Hey, nice: the Lincoln Square Farmer’s Market is in business on Summer Tuesdays and people are there before getting on the train at the Western Avenue el station.

My old neighborhood of North Center, just south of Lincoln Square, is booming with condos and younger owners, but still has a nice neighborhood feel. One of the best places I’ve ever lived, still stay in touch with my friends there and keep many a fond memory of it. Try living in a friendly, walkable neighborhood sometime where houses are modest and the lawns are small. You actually get to know people and they help each other out. Ad hoc parties just happen on summer days, or drinks on the porch and hanging out. No need to send a gilt invitation or an eVite. Just do it.

The low-rise, brown brick WWII-era housing projects at Diversey anchor the west side of Damen Avenue as I approach the big bridge. Not as infamous as Stateway Gardens or Cabrini Green, these projects still remain off-limits for outsiders, reminders that race and class are still with us and remain a dark side of Chicago’s past and present.

My ride continues over the modern and fairly new Damen Avenue bridge, which swoops up and over the North Branch of the Chicago River, affording a panorama of the Loop skyline and the industrial corridor in between. Elston Avenue is the main line of this corridor and its bike lane is one of the first in the city. Not a pretty route but fascinatingly urban and a speed strip for cyclists. Generally these days the auto drivers respect the bike lane although only once since I’ve been riding it have I seen a cop pull over a guy for driving in it. I believe he was surprised.

Stanley\'s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

What bad can you say about a guy smoking a pipe and piloting a flying watermelon? Nothing, I thought so. Stanley’s Fruit Stand at North Avenue is a local landmark and his brand is memorable: it always makes me smile, I love it.

Looming large is the Morton Salt warehouse with graffiti’d railroad hopper cars of salt parked on the siding behind the chain-link along the sidewalk. I still like the old advertising of the girl with the umbrella and their billboard directs you online to see her changes through the years. I still have yet to do it.

The stretch into downtown via Milwaukee Avenue and Grand Avenues takes me past upscale and downscale places and concrete ride over the Ohio/Ontario feeder ramp of the Kennedy Expressway. Sometimes it moves, sometimes it crawls, always I’m glad not to be driving on it.

The ride home takes me on a slightly different route most days, partly because of traffic and bike lane configurations in my old North Center neighborhood, where staying on Damen just makes sense and is safer in my opinion at this time of day.

I ride straight west on a street called Berwyn, a pleasant residential street with speed bumps that are no big deal for a bike going 15 mph. I rejoin the Lincoln Avenue speedway north of Berwyn, which takes me past the last of the old motels with bad reputations that remain from when this was a main route to Milwaukee. I take this north across another speedway, the 6 lanes of Peterson Avenue, and head north on Kedzie. Kedzie has a bike lane some of the way but is a wide, less-traveled street that parellels the Sanitary Canal’s east bank. This gives a wide green space on my left most of the way to Howard Street. My favorite landmark on this route is Thillens Field, a mini-version of a real baseball park but one in which Little Leaguers and other kids’ teams play.

I even announced a game there once when my son played at the field. Not Harry Carey but fun.

The Sanitary Canal cuts a straight swath north from the Chicago River through Chicago, Lincolnwood, Skokie, and Evanston until it does a slight dog leg northeast into Wilmette and to Lake Michigan. But get one thing else straight: the water flows from Lake Michigan into the canal, not the other way around. This gigantic public works project was part of the reversal of the Chicago River to keep sewage from flowing into Lake Michigan. Of course, this meant that it went the other way, down to the Mississippi basin. I’m sure those folks were thrilled to get this news.

Despite this and the musky bouquet emanating from the canal, it is a greenway of parks and wildlife. Last year my wife got close to a beaver chewing down a tree when she was riding her bike home. She had no sooner noticed a number of felled trees when she spotted the perp working on another.

I can’t claim that on my bike but one night I did catch a coyote in my car headlights diving into the brush at Bridge Street and heading towards the canal.

I’m glad I haven’t encountered a local coyote in my after-dark bike rides home from work.

Coming Up: more photos on the ride home.

Commuting24 Jun 2008 07:06 am

So my trip today is uneventful: I take the train despite the clear, sunny day. Hey, I’m carrying the laptop and I don’t want to jar it on the bike. I’ve already had two hard drives fail in the last few months. So there.

My wife has more adventure and some luck on her bike ride.

The thumping sound she hears partway to work is not the road surface. She pulls over in south Evanston to see a would-be inner tube aneurism about to form at the bead, causing the thumping effect. She lets some air out of the tire to relieve the pressure.

She manages to deliver some garden plants to friends in farther south in West Rogers Park. After that, she was pondering what east-west street has a bus that will do the deed to speed up her now slower bike commute.

At Lunt and California, an eastbound 96-Lunt bus appears as if on cue and delivers her two blocks from work, where she rides the rest of the way and gets there pretty much on time.

After work, she nurses the bike east to the CTA elevated station at Loyola, where she rides the train to Howard for a change to the Purple Line shuttle to Davis Street, which gets her within spitting distance of the bike shop. She recounts her tale of woe with this troublesome tire and they fix it, again.

She squeezes in a stop at Whole Foods for fruits and vegetables.

Overall, not too bad. She lucked this round trip.

This time.

OK, that still counts.

Errands and Miscellaneous23 Jun 2008 11:31 pm

What else do you take for granted with a car, aside from time, comfort, and ease?

Hauling capacity.

A recent BB shot through a back window in my house eventually cracked into a full-blown broken window, which my wife secured and decorated with some lovely duct tape. This needs to be fixed and today is the day.

What are my alternatives? The closer hardware store or the nearby glass shop are both closed on Sundays. The one that is open is walkable but a hike with a wood casement window. The window won’t fit the bike trailer. Wait until Monday for the closer stores are open and miss some work to deliver it?

Nah. It’s raining on and off today and leaving the house unsecured with a missing window is not a good idea.

With some guilt, but not very much, I decide to use the unsold old car to haul the window up and back. The hardware store repairs the window as promised by 1 PM and I pick it up two hours later. Despite some rain in the meantime, none gets in the house and I remount the window with my wife’s help after she comes home.

I assuage my guilt by running my tire pump errand at the bike shop using my bike and then going to tai chi. I get rained on both ways but nothing serious.

And the window job got done. When that car is gone, chores like this will be different.

More planning, I guess.

Errands and Leisure and Miscellaneous23 Jun 2008 04:10 pm

My transportation needs today are minimal, by choice. I just don’t want to go anywhere.

Neighborhood walking accomplishes what I need: a morning walk with the dog includes a stop to buy coffee beans. On the way, another “Lassie!” exclamation nets me a pleasant conversation with a woman coming from the bakery. She is a fellow dog owner and my stop to talk helps us both wait out the showers under the awning of the food store.

Late in the afternoon, a walk to Dominick’s recharges the fish needed for a reprise of fish tacos.

Today is also the anniversary of the last run of a streetcar in Chicago, June 21, 1958. The Chicago Tribune carries a story about it: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-chicagodays-laststreetcar-story,0,5968955.story

and two days later, so does the Sun-Times:


Under pressure from the city, the Chicago Motor Club, and others, the Chicago Transit Authority’s surface lines went all rubber tire on this day, a combination of propane, diesel, gas buses and trackless trolleys to serve the dense street system. A headlong rush to modernity, supposedly. Ridership on the CTA still continued to drop with the expansion of the expressway system and the easy access to the suburbs. The buses rattled over streets that temporarily got smoother with asphalt instead of cobblestone-paved streetcar tracks but potholes and the hard lives of transit vehicles resulted in rattly, bumpy bus rides, worse on some of the harsher vehicles like the legendary vibrating propane buses.

Fast forward to the rebirth of light rail systems in the 80’s. Never as dense or comprehensive as streetcar systems but a far cry forward in terms of comfort and ride. Try it sometime in a city like Pittsburgh, San Diego, Toronto, Minneapolis (below) or many others. Steel wheels on welded steel rail makes for a nicer ride by far. Nice touch: the Minneapolis Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) have bike racks inside them by the doors.

A Minneapolis LRV rolls down the Hiawatha corridor, above. Below, the historic cars of the Lake Harriett line show what was lost in 1954.

Twin Cities Rapid Transit streetcars

I ponder the loss but enjoy the Summer Solstice, a long and lovely day in Chicago. A great long day to walk or ride a bike or just sit outside. A day that many people have wasted in a car.

Their loss.

Commuting22 Jun 2008 02:25 pm

My “excuse” is a client meeting today so I have to dress up a bit and can’t risk being late. Besides, I am bushed after the last two days of riding. And they’re predicting thunderstorms. Which happen, by the way. Ah, vindicated. Nice train ride, I listen to the iPod and daydream out the window. Try that in your car…safely.

Not much to say about this commute today but I have energy in the evening to bike to tai chi. I want to make it to a neighbor’s opening at a gallery showing her really nice figure paintings but figure it will have to come after class. Just not enough time to blast out and still walk the dog and get a snack for myself.

Bike to class only to find it is cancelled tonight. Dave’s at a boxing event. OK, so I ride to gallery after all and lock up out front. I’m not in my gallery finest wear but I’m here and I still have some wine and snacks and see her paintings.

An easy ride back home before dark makes me feel accomplished and allows me to enjoy another nice evening. I run into all the car, charter bus, and pedestrian traffic as Northwestern’s graduation lets out. I’m still glad I’m on my bike, folks.

Commuting and Errands and Leisure22 Jun 2008 02:17 pm

Conversation Starters

Definitely not as easy as riding the train or taking a car: I’m tired starting out today but make good time in good weather to work. Still, I always feel good after the ride and it takes the edge off a sedentery office job.

Cycling to work is a great conversation starter. Multiple people engage me about it, curious how far and how often I ride. I make no big claims here since I don’t do it every day. People seem to admire it but assume it’s impossible for them to do the same. I always encourage them to try it.

Nancy’s Northbrook Trip

Nancy decides to take a yoga class in Northbrook, a real suburb with lots of cars and traffic and subdivisions at the north edge of Cook County. Her unreliable rear tire forces her to choose an alternate bike and opts for the old brown women’s bike with front basket over her fixie. She’s gone by the time I come home and start dinner. As the fish tacos come together and the light starts to fade around 8:30 pm, Nancy comes home and puts her bike away. Perfect timing, it is.

Her trip was a success. She took the Green Bay Trail to Lake Cook Road and rode west on that. She points out that crossing on/off ramps to the expressway is dangerous: drivers are just not expecting to see a bike after doing 80 mph on the Edens Expressway. Big surprise. It took her an hour but her planning gave her a half hour of cushion before class.

After class, she gets out to Lake Cook Road and the 213 Pace bus comes along, conveniently enough. She puts her bike on the front and gets home in 20 minutes. Northbrook by bike and bus? It can be done with some planning.

The fish tacos turned out great, if I do say so myself. I think I eat more when I cycle.

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