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.

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