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June 30, 2005

How hot is it? Hot enough to take a plunge in street clothes at dusk? OK, good. Then it's almost as hot as I like it.

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


June 29, 2005

I finally had a good criterium experience last night at the practice races in Matteson. I felt much more in control of my bike and my position in the line. In all three races I stayed with the leaders -- which I guess made me one of the leaders, fancy that -- finishing fourth, fourth and sixth, but came in last in each sprint, each time banging a fist on my handlebar as I got passed a few meters before the line.

Satisfaction was muted by what I took to be the tacky tactics of one rider, a teammate with whom I'd never ridden before and who finished ahead of me each race. He didn't take a single pull the whole night, instead sitting in until the final 200 meters. When he could have blocked for my flyer, he didn't. When he could have worked with me on a breakaway, he didn't. When he could have finished a race without laughing at me afterward, he didn't. In contrast, two South Chicago Wheelmen worked together admirably, sacrifice that I think paid dividends for both.

Such is the criterium. If the time trial is the race of truth, the criterium is the race of guile. It's the road race, my preferred format, that like life itself is a combination of both. But until I can move to Europe, where road races are more common, I'll have to deal with it.

I discussed this with Bob on our training ride this Sunday: Even if it is not always requited and even if most teammates don't yet know me from Adam, I have in three short months developed an intense love for my team, not just for its riders but even for its uniform and what it represents. (Yes, I'm crushing on laundry.) When I see a teammate, any teammate, I swell with admiration and a desire to put their needs above my own -- true love, in my book.

On the bright side, the wheelsucker finished the night with a Cat 5 tattoo, and I did not.

It's unlikely I'll get to Matteson again this summer -- if I ever have another Tuesday night off, it will probably be spent at Chicago's Outdoor Movie Festival -- which is a shame. The guys who run the races are fun and generous, and I enjoy the atmosphere of racing around an active paint factory. It recalls the old "Mortal Kombat" video games where the hero battles the boss in some industrial setting busy with pipes, barrels and explosions of steam.

As a result of the racing, however, my legs felt heavy this morning for the monthly time trial my team runs as a fitness check. I finished 35 seconds slower than my last outing, a slowdown of 2 percent, strange considering I feel like I'm in the best condition of my life.


June 28, 2005

Sandy putts the 27th hole in Baraboo, Wis., a tough par three that I triple-bogeyed, costing me the game.

Photo taken: June 20, 2005


June 27, 2005

A thousand bicycles, their riders wilting from the heat, stream through a gushing fire hydrant.

A panhandler sitting in the shade, his shirt piled on top of his head, accepts my full water bottle on my way into the grocery but still asks for change on my way out.

I yell "Eamus catuli" to the Bridgeport Sox fans and they smile and I am a half-block away before they translate.

A staggering, shirtless wino politely watches our volleyball game. He is confused about a great number of things, most immediately why none of us is subbing out to let him play.

A single loud fan keeps cool the all-night taqueria where the tacos al pastor reveal faded chinese writing on the plate beneath.

These are the moments of a Friday evening in summer. These are the moments for which I choose Chicago as my home. These are the small, satisfying moments I spend all winter looking forward to.

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


June 26, 2005

Madison Mallards 5, Lacrosse Loggers 4.

My cousin Mike, at bat above, plays for the Mallards of the Northwoods League, a summer league for college players who either haven't been drafted yet or haven't been drafted high enough to justify leaving college.

It so happened that he was playing in Lacrosse while I was camping nearby, so I took in a game. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run that turned out to be the difference.

A few days earlier I had seen him play in Madison and he went 4 for 4, though it was hard to tell with all the loud music, promotions and sound effects, apparently designed to distract fans from any baseball that was going on. I felt like I had gone to Mancow's Morning Madhouse and a baseball game had broken out.

He is the third generation on that side of the family to find success in baseball, all beginning with my grandfather, who coached amateur ball for decades. Thus I found something natural and comforting in seeing "ROHDE" on the back of a jersey, like pulling up to your driveway after a long absence and seeing your name on the mailbox.

Photo taken: June 21, 2005


June 25, 2005

You see things vacationing on a [cycle] in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Robert Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Two summers ago I took a camping and cycling trip that stopped in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The best roads I found were along the Mississippi north of Lacrosse, Wis., so after a few days camping with friends at Devil's Lake, western Wisconsin is where I returned this week to spend my vacation time.

Once again the riding was sublime. The shaded hills were mean but beautiful -- conversely, the locals were homely but very friendly -- and for every car there were a hundred cows, for every cow a thousand cornstalks. It's here, in the valleys along County Road G, that I will build my training facility once I win my lottery or marry my heiress. (Candidates for the live-in masseuse(s) may submit applications and schedule interviews now.)

Base camp was at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wis. A train parallels the river every thirty minutes. At the Wildflower Cafe, where the French toast is as thick as a bible, the old-timers crowd the counter each morning to, as they were doing two years ago, complain about local government and wonder how bad this drought is going to get.

When I wasn't riding I was reading, watching amateur baseball and enjoying the light of solstice. (Also: swatting mosquitoes. Shaving my legs yesterday was like running a slalom course.)

Even on the most perfect vacation, however, I get solemn. For years I've had a Kundera-like aversion to kitsch, but it gets exaggerated on a trip once I remember that the freedom and relaxation are temporary, that the hours that seem so endless are indeed running out. On a vacation I become sad not only because I cannot forever live this life -- napping with aplomb, riding without a destination, dining without a budget -- but because nobody can. While functional people are enjoying a sunset, vista or other supposedly fun thing, I am quietly exhaling sighs of regret and nostalgia. I know, it's sick, but If ever I seem like I'm not having enough fun, know that it's likely because I'm in fact having too much.

Photo taken: June 22, 2005


June 24, 2005

I'm back. Trip report TK.

Photo taken: June 21, 2005


June 16, 2005

Sylvia sits down on the wooden picnic bench and straightens out her legs, lifting one at a time slowly without looking up. Long silences mean gloom for her, and I comment on it. She looks up and then looks down again.

"It was all those people in the cars coming the other way," she says. "The first one looked so sad. And then the next one looked exactly the same way, and then the next one and the next one, they were all the same. It's just that they looked so lost. Like they were all dead. Like a funeral procession."


The cars seem to be moving at a steady maximum speed for in-town driving, as though they want to get somewhere, as though what's here right now is just something to get through. The drivers seem to be thinking about where they want to be rather than where they are.

I know what it is! We've arrived at the West Coast! We're all strangers again! Folks, I just forgot the biggest gumption trap of all. The funeral procession! The one everybody's in, this hyped-up, fuck-you, supermodern, ego style of life that thinks it owns this country.

Robert Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Another Chicago bicyclist was killed two weeks ago.

Alicia Frantz fell from her bike during the morning rush and landed in the path of a truck. She died on the spot. It was her 32nd birthday.

I never met her, but she was the friend of acquaintances and an acquaintance to my friends, and I'm not the first to say she sounds like the kind of person I'd have liked to have known.

Whenever a car kills a pedestrian or cyclist I am sad and angry for days, and I am doubly so this time. Sad that a bright light was put out, angry that she was doing the right thing and died for it.

The crisis is that this happens every few days around Chicago. (Now you understand why I am sad and angry all the time.)

As a yearround bike commuter, I worry that the lesson taken from Alicia's death is that she'd be alive if only she hadn't been on a bike. I prefer to think that she'd be alive if only the driver had been on one, too.

The trendy bumpersticker a few years back was, What would Jesus drive? Mine would have read, Would Jesus drive? Would the Buddha? Would they even carpool? Or would they take their bagel and coffee to the train platform and wait with the rest of us?

After the accident I submitted some strident, self-righteous thoughts -- even more strident and self-righteous than this -- to the opinion page of a local newspaper. It had the good sense to reject them without comment. And now, two weeks later, I have in my pocket the keys to a car I will be borrowing for the summer, this after suggesting that all drivers, even the careful ones, share responsibility for Alicia's death. It's hypocrisy writ large, insofar as one can at once be unpublished and writ large.

The goal, then, is to go the summer and use the car for fewer than 10 non-bike-related trips. So far, so good, and it's about to get better: Tomorrow I leave for a week in Wisconsin with my bike, a tent and a bag of Clif bars. Seven days away from this hyped-up, fuck-you style of life.


June 14, 2005

At 31st Street Beach.

Photo taken: June 9, 2005


June 13, 2005

Suzie was having trouble feeding Macolm yogurt without a spoon when I remembered an anecdote Hank told more than 10 years ago. He was at a baseball game where a boy nearby was having the same trouble, so his father whittled a spoon from a carrot. Problem solved.

I asked Hank whether he remembered this. Of course he did. And this reminded Suzie that there happened to be a bag of carrots in the cooler.

So like the pretty girl at the bar who ties a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue, Hank put a baby carrot into his mouth and a minute later withdrew a baby spoon. Voila.

Photo taken: June 11, 2005


June 9, 2005

Yesterday I rode down to the South Side for some ribs and hot links at Barbara-Ann's, a carry-out BBQ joint reputed to be one of the best. I'm not expert enough to judge, but I know what I like -- SWM, 29, spicy, tender and messy, seeks same. Smoking OK. No fatties. -- and I really liked this.

But something unusual happened: I was not able to finish my order. I'd met my match. The thought of another bite made my head hurt. Five bites later my head really hurt. Five bites after that I was ready to pass out.

It was 90 degrees and humid. I sweat profusely as I sat against a Dumpster, the remnants of my meal between my legs. My eyes floated heavenward in defeat and exhaustion.

Five elderly men pulled up in a late-model sedan. One of them looked at me with a look of grave concern. He motioned to his mouth. It took a second but I finally understood: He thought I had been beaten up and left for dead. "No," I mumbled as I waved him off, "it's OK. It's only BBQ sauce."

Photo taken: June 8, 2005


June 8, 2005

Four recent moments:



On the train a young woman is reading "He's Just Not That Into You." She pulls a pen from her purse and underlines a passage about why the titular he should absolutely not be called or e-mailed, no matter how tempting. She writes a check mark in the margin.

Something tells me she's having a rocky week.



A jet ski enters the lake from Diversey Harbor. He is going too fast to avoid being obnoxiously loud and loathsome. He also is going too fast to avoid getting tangled in the line a fisherman has just cast into the waterway. "The catch of the day!" I yell from the bike path and give a thumbs-up.



A fire truck arrives at the El station the same time I do. As its crew walks through the station, two young women at the fare machines leer over their shoulders and ask to be hosed down. Casually and jovially the firefighters make their way up the motionless escalator, at the top of which is the biohazard that they have come to clean up: a small pool of blood.

It's not messy enough for a shooting -- not that I would know -- so I presume it was a stabbing, but I can't find any information to say one way or another.



On the return trip, four college girls board at Addison. It's an hour after the game and they are dressed in Cub red and blue. A redhead among them has two Band-aids in an "X" above her left eye. One of her friends peels back the bandage to inspect the wound and confirms that, yes, she's going to want to go to the hospital to get this checked out.

The tears begin. She blubbers about how she's not crying because she's hurt but because she's ruined the night for everyone and she can't believe she has to go to the hospital and who will pay for that? Insurance? Really? All of it?

As I wonder whether she was hit with a foul ball she makes a tearful, incoherent call to her mother. The friend who has been rubbing her back and saying kind things takes the phone and translates: "Hello, Mrs. M--. This is Molly's friend Laura. Molly was at a club and somehow she fell and hit her head and she has a small cut above her eye, but it's really not that bad. It's really not as serious as she thinks. She's going to be fine."

It's hard to tell whether this is the whole story or if there was more mischief involved than Molly would want her mother to know about.

The two other friends are behind me and are getting impatient. One whispers to the other, "I want to fucking slap her so she'll stop crying."


June 6, 2005

You've come a long way, Sweet Baby Malcolm.

Photos taken: June 5, 2004, through June 5, 2005


June 5, 2005

Photo taken: June 4, 2005


June 2, 2005

Following the Monona, Wis., Memorial Day parade.

Photo taken: May 30, 2005


June 1, 2005

The South Chicago Wheelmen run a Tuesday night criterium series that is popular for developing riders and others looking to fine-tune their racing skills. Seven dollars buys entry in up to three races on a 1km course. It's loose and informal. Riders are free to get lapped or drop out and jump back in.

This week's races fell less than 36 hours after my marathon, but it would have been a shame to let a rare Tuesday night off work go to waste. I figured I'd go and at least see what it was all about.

I couldn't find a ride, so I joined a few teammates for the bike trip down. We took Kedzie through the length of Chicago, then through Evergreen Park, Merrionnette Park and Alsip. And Blue Island, Robbins and Midlothian. And Oak Forest and the Tinley Creek Forest Preserve.

Three hours and 39 miles after I began, my nose caught the sweet, sweet odor of fresh paint. Finally we were at our destination, the Matteson Ace Hardware paint factory where the series is held.

Of the 65 total laps, I raced only 25 in deference to my aching legs. Though I still hate crits, even limited participation was good practice. I definitely learned a thing or two about tactics and protocol.

The ride home was a delight, especially going through the forest preserve as the sun eased over the horizon.

I got home around midnight. My odometer read 93 miles. It was still pleasant out, so I dropped my heavy bag, ate a banana and headed down to Belmont and back to make it an even hundred.

Photo taken: May 31, 2005