July 2008

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?

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?

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.

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 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 Socializing28 Jul 2008 03:36 pm

I have another late afternoon Metra ride into the Loop, this time to have dinner with a friend and former colleague at 5;30. This means missing Critical Mass again but I hope that the summer night’s crowd will forgive my absence and two wheels.

This is an odd but interesting change of pace for me, riding inbound trains in the afternoon when they’re light in this direction. Too bad I have no confidence that Metra will ever let me on the train even when they say they will. More on this rant later.

I had a nice time catching up. I have definitely had the pleasure of working with some really good people who are real professionals. We talked more personal than professional, which is fine by me.

After dinner, my friend and I get to extend the conversation as we walk across the loop to the Ogilvie station, he for the 8:40 PM West Line, me for the 8:35 PM North Line.

I appreciate my community.

At home, my wife reports she has worked out the details of donating the old car. We just have to do it. Stay tuned.

Commuting and Uncategorized28 Jul 2008 03:29 pm

No reason to go in this morning as I would usually. I think you’re starting to get the picture.

I do have a reason to go in late in the afternoon but not to the usual place. Thankfully, I saw some of this coming.

I will have to be a little circumspect until later, so bear with me. I’ll focus on the transportation aspect for now.

The days are warming as the week progresses and I see lots of cyclists out, which is good. I’m just not one of them, which is bad.

I take the Metra train down for a late meeting for which I have to be presentable, and for which I will not be able to tote clothes and the other things I need to carry on a bike. Too much to focus on.

After the meeting, I take another pass at my desk. This load is heavier than yesterday.

I have lots of things to think about.

Commuting and Uncategorized28 Jul 2008 03:20 pm

I want to ride my bike today. It’s not raining. Really. It’s sunny, dry, and cool this morning.

I suit up but my wife warns me she’ll be gone all day and into the evening, leaving the dog alone the whole time. I get it: if I take my bike, I’m usually home at least an hour later than if I take the train, for multiple reasons.

Off with the bike clothes, I’ll take the train. Transportation is a family affair especially without a car. I don’t like to leave the dog alone that long, either. Nancy’s transit today is a repeat of the earlier trips by bike to work in Chicago, back to Davis by el, and from there to Northbrook by PACE bus, and home how the mood strikes her, by bus or bike. Last time she was brave and rode down Green Bay Road instead on the Green Bay bike trail.

Interesting how the day ends up working out.

I’m called into a meeting. Looks like I’ll be cleaning my desk out.

I carry home more than would fit on my bike anyway.

This is going to be a family affair, too.

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: http://ctabustracker.com/bustime/home.jsp

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.

Commuting and Uncategorized25 Jul 2008 01:51 pm

This summer? On a bike? Nah.

I wake up wanting to ride my bike to work today.

The black clouds in the west and the blacker clouds in the south say the same thing to me: “If you ride your bike today, we’ve got something for your butt, George.”

I ride. The clouds were right. Can’t say they didn’t warn me. About two miles from my house, I feel the first drip. Soon it is a steady rain. For about 14 miles.

Here’s the good news: I have a tailwind. The temperature is perfect. The bike traffic is light but the car traffic is heavy and I have numerous chances to bypass the stuck cars. I make really good time. I put all my electronics in plastic bags before starting out. I get a parking place on the bike rack right by my building, which never happens on a nice day.

Here’s the bad news: I am wet to the skin. I am dirty with street grit. I did not pack my change of clothes in plastic. I did not bring extra socks.

Note to self: pack some fresh, uh, “delicates” in a good plastic bag next time, you dope. Socks, too, dope.

The hair dryer in the building’s gym makes my shirt presentably dry. The AC takes care of the rest. I don’t get goosebumps. My socks are wet the the whole day. I think of my feet as big pink raisins within them. This turns out to be true. Ewwww.

Thankfully, the weather has cleared by the time I have to ride home around 5:50 PM. Auto traffic is clearing from the loop and again I catch up with a cluster of bikes at Milwaukee, Grand, and Halsted. At our own pace we mostly head up the bike lane on Milwaukee but I alone cut off for the trip up Elston. Not a tailwind but not a headwind and I make good time getting home on a nice summer evening. I cannot wait to take off my shoes.

And those pink raisins in my shoes? Yep, sho’ nuff. Ewww, again.

Showers are good thing when they are warm and don’t last 14 miles.

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