Archive for the ‘Sic transit’ Category

Hangout, 43rd Street

Friday, July 12th, 2013

White Castle wrappers
on the steps by the church,
cigarette butts and broken glass,
empty Tecates and a green Patron box,
MGD caps and broken glass,
broken glass.

Full NATO freakout

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Here in Chicago, we’ve vacuumed the cat hair off the couch and stashed the empty pizza boxes and beer cans out by the trash so the place looks presentable for this weekend’s NATO conference.

We’ve also taken a few precautions:

  • The street in front of my building has been blocked off for the weekend so it will be a little harder to break the windows of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Likewise, the alley next to my building. The clock outside the building has been wrapped in something protective (kevlar?). I walked by two other plazas at lunch today that were also blocked off.
  • The federal building and post office on Clark Street are ringed by parked Homeland Security SUVs.
  • The Coast Guard has a fleet of small, fast launches in the lake (I saw them being unloaded from trailers earlier this week at Burnham Harbor). It also has at least one sizable ship offshore.
  • There have been military helicopters overhead for days, and today the sound has been almost nonstop.
  • This morning, NORAD held an air drill for a couple of hours over the lakefront. There were supposed to be F-16s and a tanker, but I only saw the occasional helicopter. And yeah, NORAD? Relic of the Cold War? Apparently not as relicsome as I thought.
  • High steel fencing has gone up on the Lakefront Path north and south of the Museum Campus, and concrete barriers have been placed in at least two underpasses on the path.
  • Antennas have been popping up on things that didn’t have antennas before.
  • Police in both marked and unmarked cars have appeared in odd places along the lakefront. Sometimes just sitting there, looking east toward Michigan.
  • Lots more uniformed police downtown.
  • Near total disruption of public transit for anyone headed downtown, especially from the south. And street blockages, too.

Other than that, it’s business as usual around here, but with more weaponry.

I think I’ve seen more protesters on TV than I have on the streets. Last night I saw one group of mostly young people near the federal building carrying banners. This morning I saw a guy on a bike in a hoodie with a bandanna over his nose and mouth, but does that make him a protester? It could just as easily make him a lawyer, since many of us (including in my building) have been encouraged to “dress down” so as not to attract any kind of thump-the-one-percent attention. My pants have had a stain on the left leg (errant Chinese lunch) for a week now, so I’m not worried.

Near the Northwestern station this afternoon, I saw several ambulances parked along Canal Street, along with a few dragooned Enterprise rental vans (they had Fire Department signs in the back windows to identify them).

The NATO freakout has been successful enough that many people stayed away today. Traffic was light, there are far fewer people on the street than usual. And they don’t roll out the full fear zone until tonight. Which means Monday is the day that will really be a challenge for anyone coming to work, since the cloud of dementors isn’t scheduled to lift till sometime in the afternoon or evening.

The weather’s pleasant for either convention or confrontation: 82 degrees and slightly hazy, supposed to be nice tomorrow, showery Sunday and nice again Monday. My plans are for a peaceful weekend: Go to a local garden fair, get vegetables and plant them. Maybe grill something for dinner. But stay away from downtown, and find some backdoor way to get to work (or frontdoor way of just staying home) Monday.

Whether you’re here as part of NATO or to protest NATO, I wish you all a peaceful weekend, too. Welcome to town. Please treat the city kindly, we have to live in it after you leave.

It’s a party

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Spotted in the alley this morning next to the building where I work: an empty 12-pack of Bud Light and a toothbrush.

Amy’s Garden

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Last fall, I noticed people carving a swoopy pattern into a lawn north of the Shedd Aquarium. I couldn’t tell if it was abstract, Arabic lettering, Sanskrit – what? Then I saw people planting bulbs in the carved-out beds, and figured it was a garden.

And so it is. Amy’s Garden, or “Amy’s Blend,” as the little plaque near it says. It’s one of two such gardens (the other is at Mall of America in Minnesota) in honor of Amy Erickson, a former Caribou Coffee employee who died of breast cancer. The bulbs were tulips, and now they’re blooming. It’s a lovely sight, and a lovely way to remember someone. Many of the bulbs, according to a Caribou press release, were dedicated by the coffee chain’s customers. I hope they come to see it. I hope you come to see it, too, since it’s prime tulip weather.

I wish I knew what the pattern represents. If I can find out, I’ll update this.

The Battle of Brooklyn

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

As daybreak came to Brooklyn Thursday, a pall of smoke still hung in the air from Wednesday’s skirmishes and government forces went from house to house to round up the remaining bands of wealthy rebels.

The dissension that exploded into violence may have come as a surprise outside New York, but many natives saw it coming. “The protests over the Prospect Park West bike lane, the Wisconsin governor — it’s all part of a pattern,” said one young cyclist waiting at a red light and thereby drawing gawkers. “Then this Cassidy thing, well — that was like shooting into a crowd if you ask me.”

Demographics are part of the problem. A large young population with high unemployment outside the barista and atelier classes exists uncomfortably alongside a small number of extremely wealthy people in this tiny nation-state abutting Manhattan. Friction is, in some ways, unavoidable, but it was the advent of bike lanes that drove the haves to what one resident called “batshit craziness.”

At a hastily arranged press conference, a dapper spokesman for the nobility said, “Their lordships vow to fight to the last servant for their right to park wherever the fuck they want, and walk across any street without looking.” He described the desolation many had felt at seeing innocent Jaguars and Bentleys set alight by angry cyclists. “These expensive cars harmed no one,” he said. “They are the true victims here.”

Seeking comment from the bike lobby, reporters sought their clubhouse. “Next door,” they were told at one building. “This is the bike vestibule.”

Expecting a large contingent of heavily armed, humorless bearded men dressed as Jacobins on brakeless ancient 10-speed bikes converted to fixed-gear, the reporters were surprised when a harmless-looking man who identified himself as Bike Snob NYC appeared.

“How is a bunch of people agreeing your post was ridiculous a ‘lobby?’ he said. “Everybody thinks Charlie Sheen is crazy too, but that doesn’t mean there’s a sanity lobby.”

“I guess it just took someone like Cassidy to strike that perfect note of stupidity,” he went on, “a laterally stiff yet vertically moronic alloy of pretention and cluelessness.”

Efforts to reach Cassidy were considered but ultimately not made, since if he has any more comments they’ll be readily found online at The New Yorker’s website.

In one of many ironies, the battles have been taking place across the East River from United Nations headquarters, where dithering over Libya may now be replaced by dithering over Brooklyn. Is there hope for a negotiated solution, or is this ancient Dutch outpost doomed to sectarian violence fueled by wealthy insouciance, huddled masses yearning to breathe free and calls for reinstitution of the death penalty because some cyclists run red lights? Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria?

Meanwhile, in Chicago, where dogs and cats have been living together for some time now, our bike infrastructure may soon be enhanced by the Navy Pier Flyover. As you can see, the plan has our dogs and cats at one another’s throats as if we were Brooklynites. God forbid we should spend money on anything that makes anybody’s life better, especially if it’s somebody on a bike who might run a red light somehow, someday, somewhere.

Snow days

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Monday I rode my bike to work. Cold, but no problems.

Tuesday was when the big blizzard was supposed to roll in, so I took the bus. At work, they decided to send everyone home early. We hit the street at 3, and most other offices downtown seem to have decided the same thing. It had been snowing lightly since about noon, but as I waited for the bus I could tell the snow was coming down more heavily, and the wind was picking up. The bus was packed, traffic was slow, and as it turned south on Michigan Avenue, I could see people struggling in the wind. Once on Lake Shore Drive (it was an express bus heading south) I could see how slowly traffic was moving in both directions. Visibility was very bad, just a few car lengths ahead. We crawled. My bike commute is usually about 40 minutes. This “express” trip took an hour.

While I waited for the bus, I counted the number of people in the cars that went by. Overwhelmingly, one person per car.

Wednesday I stayed home. After the storm petered out, I shoveled our walks and then helped neighbors dig out part of the alley. There were three of us with shovels, two with snow blowers. After 4 1/2 hours, my wife came out and asked me why I was still there, since we don’t have a car. Good question, but I was being neighborly. There were chest-high drifts across the alley, and some nearly that high across the sidewalk. When I shoveled it, I was struck by the quiet: no cars, no jets, just the sound of children up the street laughing and squealing, a few shovel sounds, one snowblower a block away.

Thursday I took the bus. Lake Shore Drive was still closed, so the bus went through the neighborhood (47th to King Drive, Cermak to Michigan, Balbo to State). It was slow. Although the streets had been cleared, they were about half their usual width, with huge piles of snow alongside. Side streets were mostly unplowed. Thursday night while waiting for the bus I counted again: Almost every car I saw had two or more people inside. Extremely rare. Bus got on Lake Shore Drive (now open) and, with traffic relatively light, made good time to 47th Street.

This morning traffic was heavy and slow on the drive, and the car/passenger ratio was back to normal: Most of the cars — including big SUVs — had one person. Rush hour, and my bus wasn’t full.

So as I listen to the complaints about Lake Shore Drive and the people trapped on it Tuesday night, I find it hard to blame the city. It’s a consequence of attitudes, and policies, about cars. For 100 years we’ve devoted land, resources, energy to the private automobile at the expense of almost every other form of transportation. Do we teach bike safety, pedestrian safety, anything about public transportation in our schools? No, we teach driver’s ed. The de facto national ID card is the driver’s license. Highways carve up and divide our cities, walling off parks and neighborhoods.

I feel badly for the people who were trapped, and I’m glad no one was hurt. I know plenty of those people left work early, too, trying to beat the storm. But whatever energy we put into figuring out what went wrong that night should be matched by figuring out how to get more people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. And bicycles. I saw cyclists as I waited Tuesday night in the snow, and I saw them Thursday morning from the bus. I’m sure they suffered as much as any motorist or pedestrian as the snow got worse and the roads impassable, but there they were anyway.

And now the loudest complaints are coming from people whose side streets haven’t been plowed yet. A plow made it down my street yesterday, but the only way you can tell is by the snow thrown up against the trapped cars. It’s still a mess. And those piles of snow block the sidewalks, so even the sections my neighbor and I shoveled are inaccessible. People have to walk in the street. And yet our public policy is that the city clears the street, individuals are responsible for the sidewalks. This is what we pay for.

There are parts of the country, parts of the city even, where it’s hard to get around without a car. That’s the world we’ve built. But we don’t have to keep building it that way and we don’t have to keep looking at it from behind the wheel. Yes, let’s figure out how to get people off Lake Shore Drive. But let’s also figure out how to keep them away from it in the first place. There are other ways to get around.


Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

It snowed all day in Chicago yesterday, which made biking to work more challenging than usual. The lakefront path hadn’t been plowed yet when I left in the morning, but there was only an inch or so of snow at that point and the outlines of the path were easy to see. I could even make out the yellow center line through the snow.

When I rode north around the Aquarium and looked at the city, the snow covered the skyline like a veil: only the bottom few stories of buildings were visible, the colors almost entirely white and brown, the sounds of traffic so muffled I could barely hear them. That made the whole ride worthwhile.

By nightfall it was different. The main downtown streets were messy but mostly wet. Side streets, however, were dicey, with snow and ruts. The lakefront path hadn’t been plowed since morning, so navigating was a matter of following footsteps (and the tracks of at least one other bike) and watching for the faint outlines of the earlier plowing. In one spot near McCormick Place the blowing snow and absence of lights made it almost impossible to see the path. And at 39th Street, where the path curves lakeward in a broad, unlighted sweep far from the car lights of Lake Shore Drive, the wind had blown drifts across the path to such an extent that riding eastward I seemed to be heading straight for the lake with nothing to stop me. Meanwhile, there was no sound except the hissing of my tires through the snow.

The last two blocks to my house were ugly. My street hadn’t been plowed, and there were deep, slippery ruts.

My bike was so covered in snow when I got home you could barely see what color it is. Only the part of the top tube that had been protected by my legs showed green. Everything else was white. It was a lovely ride, a winter gift.

This morning it was still snowing lightly. I put snow tires on the bike but discovered the lakefront path had been plowed and salted — even my street has been plowed. So a more mundane ride to work today, and the snow tires reminded me of something a woman told me last year about riding on them — that it’s like riding on Velcro. True, both in sound and added effort.


Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Thanks to my stubborn cold and our frigid Chicago weather, I haven’t been on my bike in a week. We have good public transportation, so getting to work hasn’t been a hassle. Well, except for the wait and the crush. This morning the bus was so crowded the driver yelled “I’m closing the door now” as a bunch of us tried to get on, squashing me and the guy behind me. We weren’t hurt, just squashed.

At the next stop, six of us had to file off to let one woman out. I never got close to the fare box, just jostled along till my stop and squeezed onto the street. Moo.

I saw a woman riding on the lakefront path yesterday when the high was, what, 9? Tomorrow’s supposed to be warmer (24F!), so I think I’ll take my chances.


No, still felt crummy this morning and took the bus again. And it’s definitely a rideable day, temperature not too bad (11F now) and hardly any breeze, sunny sky. Frustrating, but I’ll be riding again soon.

Black like me

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I don’t know who won the City of Lights Sweepstakes, I just know it wasn’t me. I didn’t enter.

Not because I wouldn’t like a free trip to Paris — I’d love one.

No, the contest was sponsored by American Airlines and Not an outfit I was familiar with. The flyer I got in the mail said “The social network is your passport to black travel. … Music, black history, dining—all from a black traveler’s point of view.”

That sounds like fun, but I’d have a hard time convincing anyone of my blackness. I could dye my eyebrows and remaining hair blond and say I had a rare skin condition, or claim that I was a black albino, but the truth is I was born white and I’ve never grown out of it.

I think the invite had more to do with my ZIP code than anything else, which suggests that maybe American and BlackAtlas should have done a little more homework before mailing the thing. Or the outfit they chose to do the mailing, something called Valassis, which claims an address of “One Targeting Center” in Windsor, Connecticut. Sounds like a place Jack Bauer would like.

But I hope whoever won the contest has a great time in Paris, and I hope I never get a mailing from, cause I’d really have to say no to that one.

The bike to nowhere

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Here’s something you don’t see every day. And believe me, you don’t want to.

That’s the downtube on my wife’s Gary Fisher Simple City bike. She’s had it about 2 years and has been very happy with it. She commutes on it (about 7 miles each way), runs errands, and rides for fun. No curb jumping or riding up and down stairs, just the lakefront path and city streets. Sure, we have our share of potholes, but she does her share of trying to avoid them. She’s never had an accident on it.

Tuesday night she said the shifter was acting up, so I looked it over, adjusted it and it seemed to work OK. My first thought wasn’t “hmm, sounds like the frame’s coming apart.” Wednesday morning on her way to work she said it felt funny again, and somewhere on the bike path near Burnham Harbor the bike collapsed. She was very lucky to come away with just a bruise on one leg. Had it happened in city traffic a few blocks later, instead of on the bike path, it could have been very bad.

So we’ll take the bike back to Village Cycle, where she bought it, and see what happens. They told her there’s a lifetime guarantee on the frame, so we don’t expect any trouble. It’s a good shop.

In retrospect, maybe I should have thought “hmm, sounds like the frame’s coming apart,” since the shifter cable is routed inside the downtube. Or I should have taken the bike out for a short ride after adjusting the shifter, instead of relying on how it behaved in the basement. But I’m used to bikes being basically reliable. Lots of parts wear out at some point and are easily replaced. But the frame? On a commuter bike?

I checked Trek’s safety page (although the bike has Gary Fisher’s name on it, Trek makes it), but there are no recalls for the Simple City. So far, anyway.

We actually met Gary Fisher once at a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief (brainchild of SRAM’s founder), and my wife embarrassed him a bit by raving about the Simple City. He was there with a featherweight carbon bike being used by a SRAM-sponsored race team and probably didn’t expect anyone to bring up his retro-look commuter bike. But what the hell, the Simple City is a nice bike.

All in all, more proof of Paul Simon’s lyric, “everything put together sooner or later falls apart.” Also a reminder to take seriously the maintenance advice to check your bike for cracks periodically. I’ve done that on my bike maybe twice in eight years. I’ll do it more often from now on.


The bike shop called yesterday to say they have a new bike for her. We’ll probably pick it up tomorrow night.