April 11, 2007

I woke early this morning for a long ride, checked the weather and returned to bed.

"The good news," I said, "is that it's not raining. The bad news is that there's an inch of snow."

This is supposed to be a high-volume week of training for me, but 30 degrees in April is somehow less endurable than 10 degrees in January. And mentally I can no longer sit through four minutes on the trainer, let alone four hours.

The worst part of this weather is that there's no recourse. Normally when you are inconvenienced or treated unjustly you can write an angry letter or get a refund or ask to talk to the manager. But what can you do when your training plan is shot and you're heading east into a 25 mph wind and the freezing rain is slapping you silly? Pray angry?


April 7, 2007

Three recent moments:



For the second consecutive year I file for a tax refund, once again thanks to sizable capital losses. This is the reward for being a shoddy investor. If it weren't for losing money I'd save no money at all.



Ellen is taking the Blue Line to O'Hare when she realizes she has forgotten the pattern to the baby sweater she is knitting. With an international flight ahead of her, she calls me to lament.

I ask for the name of the book and find it on Amazon. The book has been scanned into Amazon's searchable database, so I am able to locate the pattern. It's blurry but legible, and I take to dictating over the phone.

I squint to read. I'm at work. The last thing I want is for co-workers to hear me giving knitting instructions over the phone. I cup my hand over the phone and furtively look over my shoulder so I can toggle to a spreadsheet should anyone important walk by. I feel like I'm talking to my bookie.

It's jibberish to me. In the beginning I am a kindergartner, stuttering my way through the mysterious code: "Kay one open-bracket kay one pee one close-bracket until end of row. Kay five moss st three parenthesis three colon five colon five parenthesis kay next ..."

But by the time we get to the sleeves -- "Are you sure you need me to read the sleeves? What about a nice sweater vest?" -- I am a pro, translating on the fly. "Now knit three rows. Work nine rows in moss stitch like you did on the back. Knit three rows. OK, now change to your 3mm needles and work 14 rows ...

And this is how I learn to knit.



Ellen and I finally go to the new Hot Doug's (motto: "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend.") We go on what we think will be the last cold Saturday of the year, figuring it's our last chance to beat the summer crowds.

(Hot Doug's, celebrated for its imaginative sausages and its fries cooked in rendered duck fat, has become quite the sensation lately, thanks in part to publicity from owner Doug Sohn defying the city's ban on fois gras. Pilgrims come from all over the Chicago area. Mario Batali was spotted there a few weeks ago. It's the Chicago equivalent of New York's Magnolia Bakery, except unlike the 45-minute wait for a $2 cupcake, Hot Doug's is worth every minute and every penny.)

We are wrong on both counts. Not only is it not the last cold Saturday, but it wouldn't matter anyhow: At 2 in the afternoon the line stretches around the corner.

We wait outside for 30 minutes. Ellen knits. I read. We take turns waiting in the car. Then we get into a vestibule, where we thaw for five minutes. We move into a second vestibule, where we wait another five minutes. Finally we get into the actual restaurant and can study the vast menu on the wall. The "game of the week" is a combination of elk and venison.

We split four sausages and an order of duck-fat fries. It's all outstanding. One of our sausages is a plain Chicago-style hot dog for control purposes. It may be the finest hot dog I've ever had. At $1.50, it's a steal. (This is the real gift of Doug Sohn: He doesn't rush his customers, and he doesn't try to squeeze every last dime out of them, as lesser men would be tempted to do. He may be a poor capitalist but he is a great American.)

As we leave, the line is as long as it was when we'd arrived. In the first vestibule, I say in a whisper loud enough to be heard by all, "I can't believe he ran out of hot dogs!"

It may be the first time people have their coronaries before stuffing their faces with sausage.


March 28, 2007

Belmont Harbor.

Photo taken: March 24, 2007


Sept. 27, 2006

Two recent moments:



The worst part about bouncing down the lakefront path at 20 mph isn't the road rash to your knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, hands and forehead. (Yes, forehead! Even with a helmet!) Nor is it scuffing all your girlfriend's expensive time trial gear. It's not even the embarrassment of having done so all by yourself, without the assistance of cars or other riders.

It's the old man with binoculars who strolls across the grass, hands behind his back, to inspect your sprawled self. "I'm OK, I'm OK," you say, "but maybe I should consider birding instead." He nods in agreement and returns to the trees.



Without breaking stride, the kid descending the stairs ahead of me whips out a black marker and tags "312 Mental" on the wall. I call for his attention, but he pulls his hood tighter over his head and starts walking faster. I have no idea whether he hears me when I yell down Lower Michigan, "You are the coolest guy in the entire world!"


July 25, 2006

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Photo taken: July 22, 2006


July 10, 2006

Photo taken: July 7, 2006


July 5, 2006

Maxwell Street Market. The taste of Chicago.

Photo taken: July 2, 2006


May 22, 2006

Put your index fingers between a rubber band. Spread your fingers as far as they can go. You have just created a model of the Monsters of the Midway criterium course.

I'm slowly coming to appreciate crits (slowly being the operative word) but with its long straightaways and tight spaces between turns, I knew Monsters would be fast and dangerous. Sprints would be inevitable. My only hope, the break, would be a longshot.

As we ate cookies on the curb after the races, Ed asked me a question about the masters race we had done. I drew a blank. What masters race?

Oh, right. That one.

I raced twice: masters in the morning, Cat 4 in the afternoon. Both were harder and faster than any others I've done, but for as much of an impression as they left, I have almost zero recollection. There were some attacks, some chases, some sprints. I was too preoccupied with keeping up and moving up, however, to transfer any details into long-term storage, let alone enough details to contribute to the debriefing.

Perhaps I should take notes during races. A peloton, after all, is a complex system, too complex and too fluid to record unassisted.

Krabbe calls it "the continuosly shifting braid," a rope of a hundred kinetic strands that is woven and rewoven. When a race is as fast and as hard as these were, it's impossible to save enough data to process later. It's like staring at a ceiling fan and trying to count the individual revolutions. One can isolate one or two passes, but then it all becomes a blur again.

That may be what I like best about the breaks. Suddenly the system is simple enough for even me to comprehend. Suck, suck, pull. Suck, suck pull. Suck, suck pull. Smile for cameras. Suck, suck pull.

I know at one point -- I think it was the Cat 4 race -- I was in third wheel and didn't feel the first two wheels were working hard enough to bring back a dangerous break. "Pull hard or pull off," I growled before moving moving forward to do it myself. Then I counterattacked.

I remember being terrified heading into each corner and having a "phew" moment each time I left one upright. I got the jitters any time I rode more than two abreast, which may have been why I worked so hard to string out the front. This was a welcome difference in the masters race: They knew how to ride. With the inexperienced riders in the 4's, each corner would be accompanied by a panicky chorus of "Inside! Inside!" and "Hold your line!" Miraculously, there were no crashes.

In both races I had nothing left at the end and lumbered across the line around 25th place. Teammates later told me I was smiling less than usual and working too hard. I can deny neither accusation. I'm still not smart or patient enough to hang out in the back where it's easier.

I wouldn't have minded if the work had contributed to team results. In the masters race Randy got into the winning break, but it was another team's blocking that made that possible. In the Cat 4 race, I rode tempo near the end, but at a very indecisive moment, and we didn't assemble a good enough train to get the victory. Instead we settled for second and third.

Is second and third a better team result than first and tenth? I say yes, but I bet sprinters would disagree. My co-worker the track sprinter likes to say that second place is merely "first loser."

And that, dear reader, is as close as I'll get to sulking. I see no use in dwelling over missed opportunities or poor performances. I get enough of that at work.

It was a beautiful day not only to race but also to watch racing, from the juniors in the morning to the Cat 5's late in the afternoon.

As I was photographing the Cat 3 race, two Northwestern riders came up to me.

"Are you Luke?"

Urr, yes.

"We read your blog!"

Blush. They'd apparently seen somebody taking pictures when he should have been warming up for his own race and naturally concluded it was me.

One was a Cat 2 racer who looked not much older than my nephew. Once again I cursed myself for not getting into this 10 years sooner. What the hell was I doing in my 20s that was so important?

I had fun watching the Cat 5 race. I'm fond of our new riders. They're almost as adorable as our juniors. In their first few races they are as overenthusiastic as I was -- am? -- and I'm excited to watch as they find their legs. I trust they won't get discouraged when they, as was my fate last year, get lapped and yelled at. This year it was me doing the lapping and the yelling and a little bit of the swearing. Their turn will come.

Photo taken by Sandy Weisz: May 20, 2006


March 1, 2006

Like his predecessors who sojourned in the villages of Africa and the remote islands of the Pacific, a missionary drops into Uptown and uses watercolors to gain entree to the natives' souls. He is met with a combination of gaping and ambivalence, which surprisingly prove to not be mutually exclusive.

Upon seeing this photo Levi writes in to wonder about the status of the Red Rooster, a dive bar that, Levi says, shows signs of being closed. Granted, the best dive bars show nary a sign of being open in the first place, but if it is indeed closed, it would be a great loss for Uptown. Such 7 a.m. bars are like proctologists and lawyers: I hope to God that I never need one, but I sleep better knowing they exist.

Photo taken: Feb. 25, 2006


Feb. 20, 2006

Union Station.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 15, 2006

Union Station, where I catch the Van Galder bus whenever I visit family in Madison.

Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked off a Greyhound bus?

This was in 2002. I was headed to Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. The plan was to take a bus early Saturday morning to Milwaukee, where a cousin would pick me up and drive me to the party.

I've always taken pride in my patience and even keel, but there were a few extenuating details to irritate my temperament on this morning. I'd worked the late shift the night before, so it was on 4 hours sleep that I left my apartment around 6:30 a.m. to go downtown. A few weeks earlier I had broken my wrist and was still in a cast, making it difficult to get around with my bags. And the Greyhound bus terminal? A Zen garden it's not, what with all the winos and the children and the screaming and the Funyuns wrappers, and neither is it a pleasant place to sit waiting to board a bus that is 45 minutes late.

When we finally board I'm worried about my cousin Peggy and whether she'll still be waiting for me in Milwaukee. This is the era before cell phones -- read as, more than five weeks ago -- so I have no way to reach her.

The bus is packed. It's another 10 minutes before the bus driver boards. Instead of apologizing for the delay and getting on his way, he stands at the front of the aisle and in a mournful dirge reads the rules.

"There will be no eating on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no crossing of the yellow line."

He's like "Cool Hand Luke"'s Carr on valium, detailing the infractions that will result in a night in the box, and just like Cool Hand Luke, I'm exasperated. I throw up my arms -- one broken, one whole -- and moan, "Can we go already?"

The driver pauses again. Mournfully. He stares me down. In the tone of a junior high disciplinarean he asks a question that, as the clown in many a junior high class, I knew well growing up: "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us?"

I immediately realize I'm in trouble and that any further dissent is just going to delay us more. "No, no. I'm sorry, sir. Please go on."

And that's when I got kicked off the Greyhound bus. I was in disbelief and continued to apologize, hoping to suck up enough to change his mind. When he motioned for the three Somali security guards it became clear he wasn't bluffing. Together the guards were as intimidating as a coat rack, but I left peacefully, making a big show of struggling with my cast so that the driver could feel guilty about doing this to a cripple.

I'd just started dating a gal and thought about calling to borrow her car, but I didn't want her to think I was the kind of maniac who gets kicked off public buses, so I rented one instead. I got to the party in time and told Grandma and cousin Peggy that I'd overslept.

I've never taken Greyhound since, and the worst to happen on a Van Galder bus has been a corny joke from the folksy, sing-song driver.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 4, 2006

I fell for the shell game once in college. My grandfather had died that week and I was feeling cavalier and careless. Someone else in my frame of mind might have loaded a backpack with textbooks and walked into Lake Michigan, but I took to the Red Line and put $20 on the middle bottlecap. A 1-in-3 shot seemed like a risk worth taking. I hadn't noticed that the pitchman was slipping the ball into his sleightful hand, nor had it occurred to me that 1-in-3 is actually a terrible way to go about doubling your money.

I've never regretted it, however. Instead I've considered it a lifetime subscription to one of the best shows in Chicago. The shell game hustlers are con artists, sure, but artists nonetheless: magicians, actors and emcees. Thus it delights me to see action one or two Saturdays a year.

The con is a link to old Chicago. I'd even suggest that the game is an honest living. The players are not picking pockets, they are not panhandling. They are merely separating fools from their money. Such a transaction, writ large and writ billions of times a day, defines the capitalism that has made this country prosper. Where would we be without fraud and duplicity? We'd be in Canada. At peace, insured and modest. God bless America, and God bless its hustlers.

Either I am developing better street sense or the practitioners are losing their touch. Each time I see the game the confederates -- the pitchman's alllies who "win" in order to show that the game is on the level -- are getting easier to spot. Today's troupe had three: a surly, skinny guy, a jolly fat man, and a toothless woman who boarded the car after the others and put $40 on a cap without even hearing the pitchman run through the rules. She won, naturally, but appeared neither surprised nor thrilled. The pitchman, on the other hand, was in great form, full of wit and rhyme, although not enough wit or rhyme for me to remember any of his patter.

One can interact with the game without playing. Take a picture and hear the pitchman say, "What are you, the papparatchi?" Make the passengers laugh by saying, "Yeah, man, I'm Pavarotti." Or ask one of the confederates, "So how often does someone fall for this?" and hear him say, "Kiss my ass, little man."

And I am genuinely curious in how often the game works. I've seen these same people for years, so obviously it works often enough to make it worth their time and the risk of arrest.

When the game moved to the other end of my car I saw a suburbanite's eyes get big and it looked like they'd reeled one in. After the pitchman and his crew left the train I went down to inquire. No, not even close. The suburbanite and his friends were having a good laugh. "Duh," one wag said. "You'd think that someone with $40 to spend on the shell game would get her teeth fixed first. Ha!"

I got off at the next stop. Walking down the platform I saw that the game hadn't in fact left the train: It had just moved to the next car. I made eye contact with the jolly fat man and laughed. He smiled and waved discreetly through the window, like a child in the school play waving to his parents.

Photo taken: Feb. 4, 2006


Jan. 24, 2006

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be alley cats.

Yes, I am conflicted by the ethics of alley-cat racing. That's why I didn't write much after last week's stage of the Tour da Chicago, and that's why I changed the subject when my mother asked about it. (Hint: If you can't tell your mother, it's time to have second thoughts.)

Scooting through red lights during my commute is one thing. Racing through open streets, however cautiously, is another, and I've had second, third and fourth thoughts since hearing about last week's accident. It didn't happen in my pack, but I understand a rider cracked his hip and a driver cracked her windshield, losses for which all of us racers share blame. Collectively we own this race. Collectively we own its consequences. Organizers passed a hat for the rider, but I don't think the $5 I threw in covers my portion of the responsibility. (No hat was passed for the faultless driver.)

Ideally these alley cats would take place early in the morning and would be no more dangerous than normal urban riding. I gather that's how the Tour went down back in the day. Riders would stay up all night and ride at dawn. The messenger crowd must be aging. This year's events are starting at 9 on Sundays, an hour when the city begins to rub its eyes and traffic begins to flow.

And still I ride. I give in to the thrill and to the fun, risks to myself and others notwithstanding. After all, if I wanted a life without risk I'd live in Naperville. I'd order my meat well-done and use paper towels to open restroom doors.

Sunday's Stage 2 was a three-way time trial, a menage-a-TT: from a Starbucks on Division to Buckingham Fountain to Hyde Park and back to Division, about 20 miles total. Riders picked their own routes. I felt better about a time trial. We'd stagger our starts and, in theory, there would be no drafting. I wouldn't be taking anyone else's chances, and nobody would be taking mine.

For an hour before the race, 60 riders crowded the Starbucks and debated which routes to take. It was a comical scene, like 60 Betty Crockers comparing recipes before a bake-off: Everyone wanted to show off their expertise and creativity, but all held something back, lest their secrets help the competition.

The leg from Buckingham Fountain to Hyde Park caused the most grief. Take the streets, and deal with broken glass, cars and stop lights? Or take the lakefront path, which was safer but less direct and could be sheeted in ice?

Like most riders I took the streets for all three legs. Luck was with me. Traffic was negligible and most lights went my way. I had to stop for only one and cheat through only a few others. My biggest mistake -- other than riding in the first place, that is -- was taking the overpass at Roosevelt and Clark instead of going up State. I don't know what I was thinking. It easily cost me 20 seconds, especially when traffic prevented me from taking the descent at speed.

Nonetheless, I made good time, as my father would always say after a road trip, less than an hour total. My 6th place finish was one spot behind the three-time champion who'd come out from California to ride, and I finished ahead of the 2005 winner. I'm now in 5th overall.

I hesitate to commit to the remaining stages. This may be a race where the most decisive moment occurs before the first stroke of the pedal. The hesitation suggests that indeed I should take a pass -- if something don't feel right, it's probably wrong -- and wait till summer to risk life, limb and bike. At least then USCF points will be on the line and not merely the admiration of messengers. I've already proved I have better legs than most of them. If I have a weaker stomach, so be it.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2006


Jan. 22, 2006

Series leader and teammate Ansgar at Stage 2 of the Tour da Chicago. Race report TK.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2006


Jan. 17, 2006

Chicago pet store or strip club -- can you tell?

  1. Collar and Leash
  2. Doggpound
  3. Puppy Lovers
  4. Pete's Petland
  5. Birds and Beasts
  6. Ruff N' Stuff
  7. Doggy Style
  8. Off the Leash
  9. Ruff Haus
  10. Furry Beastro
  11. Cat Calls
  12. Lucky Horseshoe
  13. Heavy Petting
  14. Tails in the City
  15. Commercial Leather Products
  16. Chicago Eagle
  17. Bow Wow Lounge

Pet stores: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17
Strip clubs: 2, 12, 16
Neither, as of this writing: 7, 13


Jan. 7, 2006

(Ald. Ted Matlak [32nd]) said he had supported the tear-down because the development project proposed for the site would add parking, reduce density and eliminate space for a corner tavern.

Jan. 5, 2006, Chicago Journal story on the planned demolition of the 1899 Artful Dodger building

Things I would do if I were an alderman and wanted to make my neighborhood suck, and the order in which I would do them:

  1. Add parking, so there could be more cars, thus more congestion, noise and pollution. Also, less safety!
  2. Reduce density, because people shouldn't have to live in the suburbs in order to be isolated from friends and services.
  3. Eliminate spaces for corner taverns, so that drinking and socializing is ghettoized into loud clubs and sports bars.

Jan. 1, 2006

Found in Vogle Park.

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2006


Dec. 31, 2005

Three recent moments:



My back door makes a funny sound whenever it closes with my keys on one side and me on the other. It sounds like a guillotine. I should get that fixed.



An oncoming car doesn't have its lights on, so I give my usual warning: I point at the driver, give him the evil eye and scream "LIGHTS!" as he passes.

It doesn't work.

Across the street there's a police car parked outside the Landmark. Two cops sit idle inside. The driver rolls down his window when I approach.

"You gonna go tell that guy to turn his lights on?"

"We're on a job here."

They appear to be staking out Eatzi's Easygoing Gourmet.

"Yeah, well, you sure look busy."

"So do you, sir."

So do I, sir? Nice comeback, Starsky.

I race down Clark and catch the car at Diversey right before the light turns green. This time the driver hears me. He jumps from oblivious to startled to sheepish in the instant it takes me to yell, "How 'bout some lights there, huh?"

When I return northbound, I give the cops a salute, but with four more fingers than they deserve.



It's New Year's Eve and I've had too much to drink. Water, mostly. Some coffee, some Diet Coke. Ever since a long, hard ride in the morning I've been hydrating non-stop so that during the evening's festivities I'll be able to hold my own and maybe someone else's, too.

As a result, I'm walking to the night's first party and I really, really have to pee, so I stop to discreetly use the open-air facilities in a vacant Winnemac Park.

All the while I expect a searchlight to descend on me. Wouldn't that cap the year, to be arrested for public urination?

And then I think: Plausible deniability. What could they prove? You can't fingerprint pee. Not if I'm careful, at least. And not if I use gloves.


Dec. 27, 2005

Photo taken: Dec. 25, 2005


Dec. 26, 2005

I've never seen the beauty salons of Argyle Street busier than they were on Christmas Day. (Nearby, my lunch of par-pei duck was delicious.)

Photo taken: Dec. 25, 2005


Dec. 25, 2005

At 4 a.m. the El cuts through the Christmas fog. Its windows are dotted with condensation. I'm in the last car, the one I know to be the most convenient for my stop. Normally such a car would be mostly clubgoers and restaurant workers, but not on a holiday. This morning it's 100 percent crazy -- 95 percent if you don't count me.

Across from me a man flicks a lighter behind cupped hands. He wears clean clothes and has a computer bag. I'm about to give the white man's eyeroll of disapproval when I see in the window's reflection that it is not a cigarette but a crack pipe he is trying to conceal.

(It so happens that after all my time in Chicago, this is the first drug paraphernalia I've ever seen firsthand. Either the city's indeed not as wicked or brutal as it used to be or I'm not getting out enough.)

A schizophrenic sits in the corner. She has prim glasses and an explosion of frizzy black hair. She's a regular, as far as Red Line irregulars go. The first time I ever saw her I figured her for a professor lecturing into a hands-free device -- until I realized there was no phone. As always, her misanthropic rant this morning is animated, enunciated and profane.

Near her a man shadow-boxes with the rear window. His dreadlocks bounce with every juke and with every jive.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

This is the last such commute I'll make. In January I change floors and go to a day shift. After seven years working nights, suddenly I'll be able to say yes to midweek social invitations. I'll be able to make plans for a Sunday two months away. Come summer I'll enjoy the decadence of leaving work while it's still light out. The tradeoff is this: When on earth am I going to train? No longer will I be able to sleep in and still ride to Wisconsin and back before my shift. To get my rides in I'll have to start getting up at 6, maybe 5.

From one crazy train to another.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2004


Dec. 8, 2005

Nine inches of snow: nature's kickstand.

My new fixed-gear performed admirably in her first winter test. She was as fast, stable and fun as I'd hoped she would be. Despite the conditions my commute took only a few minutes more than usual, and I didn't slide once.

Once again my co-workers are amazed to the point of mocking that I ride in this weather, and my stock replies -- "My only problem is that I get too hot!" "You know a way to get around that is quicker or warmer? Pray tell!" "The best part is passing the snowplows!" -- are filled with less cheer each time they are invoked.

One colleague in particular doesn't conceal what an idiot he thinks I am. That's fine. Many, many years from now I will be too old and feeble to ride my bicycle through the snow. He, on the other hand, will always be a dickhead.

Once upon a time, I have read, Chicago was a stormy, husky, brawling city of big shoulders. It was a city proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. I'm not so sure anymore. Temperatures in the teens and snow barely to the curb now send people into a cowed, trembling tizzy of fur and cashmere.

Weather whiners. The people complaining about the cold now are the same ones who complained about the heat in June. Look, I want to tell them, it's Chicago. Shut the fuck up and deal. Want to spend 15 minutes on a freezing platform so you can ride the train with the flu-ridden sickies? Fine. Want to spend 15 minutes shoveling your car so you can sit an hour in weather-related gridlock? Fine. Me, I want to go as fast and be as warm and as healthy as possible, so I bike. Now leave me alone.

The winter cycling is no longer just about me showing off. It's about me shutting the fuck up and dealing. My way.

Photo taken: Dec. 8, 2005


Dec. 4, 2005

Illinois state cyclocross championships, Montrose Harbor.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2005


Nov. 29, 2005

I have no idea.

Photo taken: Nov. 26, 2005


Nov. 24, 2005

"You're wearing shorts today."

"It's not so bad in the sun."

And such is my winter strategy: Denial. It's like Bush's Iraq strategy or the baseball union's steroid strategy or an alcoholic's gin strategy: Deny enough times that a problem exists and it will cease to exist. (And it's just as effective.)

I once had a dormmate whose favorite movie was "Top Gun." Midway through each viewing, right before the scene [SPOILER ALERT] where Mother Goose dies, he'd clasp his hands, rock back and forth and say, "This time Goose won't die ... This time Goose won't die ..."

"This time winter won't come ... This time winter won't come ..."

Photo taken: Nov. 24, 2005


Nov. 21, 2005

Three recent moments:



I keep a spare CTA card and $20 in a Ziploc bag that I take when I'm cycling. When I can't find my wallet I use this baggie to go downtown to see if maybe, just maybe I have left it on my desk.

The wallet's not there, so I return home on the train, resigned to having lost it. I'm feeling sorry for myself and calculating the expenses and hassles I'll have to bear. They are not many, relative to the grand scheme of things, but still I'm not in the mood for the deaf panhandler who walks up the aisle, and neither is the mentally retarded man in front of me who angrily points to the "No panhandling" sign.

Likewise, I'm not in the mood for the sick boy across the aisle who is throwing up into his grandmother's lap, but there's no "No vomiting on Grandma" sign for me to angrily point to.



A few hours later there's a message from Visa's fraud-prevention department. I call and talk to a woman who says it was suspicious that my debit card was used to buy gas on the South Side that morning.

That's right: Buying gas is so out of character for me that it sets off klaxons at Visa. As if there were ever doubt, I think this cements my all-important bike cred.

"How did you know I hate cars?" I ask.

I'm strangely relieved to know that my wallet is now stolen and not just hiding under laundry -- if ever I am blessed enough to have a say in the matter, I'd choose to be the shlemazel over the shlemiel -- but it is somewhat alarming how well Visa knows my patterns. Will I get similar calls if I start buying low-fat milk instead of skim or start buying clothes anywhere other than Sears? If I attempt to buy dinner for two, will it go through?



My roommate's wallet is on the dining room table. I look at it with the nostalgia of a pensioner. "I remember when I had a wallet ..."


Nov. 11, 2005

When in February I noted my interest in fixed-gear bikes, I said I was unlikely to get one of my own because I would be a pretender, buying into a niche for the sake of being bad-ass and sexy.

But then I learned about how many roadies use fixies in the winter to improve form and maintain high cadence, and I was keen for a winter ride that would be more fun and faster than the beater mountain bike I've used in winters past.

With those practicalities in mind -- plus, I confess, aspirations for the bad-ass and the sexy; I need all the help I can get, and at 30 I'm beyond caring whether anyone thinks I'm a poser -- I headed to the local fixed specialist.

The shop's owner is a hero when it comes to promoting cycling and servicing fixies and track bikes, and he's generous with his time, knowledge and discounts. But a salesman he's not. In one respect this is refreshing, the indifference I sensed when I announced my intent to buy. Then there were delays in finding the frame I was interested in and getting it built up. In Judaism there is a tradition that when someone seeks to convert, a rabbi refuses them three times to test their commitment. Perhaps that's what was going on. Only on my fourth trip to the shop did I finally sense blessings to own this bike, and that it was OK to convert.

Her name is Marcella. She's a Surly Steamroller, but I'm not a components slut so I can't say much about the rest of her, other than, yes, Mom, there's a brake.

Riding fixed is like learning to ride all over again. I haven't fallen over yet, but I often forget that there is no freewheel and thus no coasting, and when I dismount my legs are bowed and wobbly. Once it becomes second-nature, the fun starts. That's the $900 wager, at any rate.

My bikes are named after whoever enabled their purchase. Charity was a gift. The Colonel was financed by selling my employer's stock. Marcella is named after my friend Marcel, who got me the moonlighting gig that paid for her.

This is different from my computers, for which my naming convention is to choose a virtuous woman from whatever book I'm reading ahead of the purchase. Going back to my college laptop, then, the computers I've known: Phoebe ("Catcher in the Rye"), The Rachel ("Moby Dick"), Madame Psychosis ("Infinite Jest"), Eliza ("Quicksilver") and Petra Cotes ("One Hundred Years of Solitude").

It's true: I may not objectify females, but I feminize my objects.

Photo taken: Nov. 11, 2005


Oct. 25, 2005

Saturday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson Park, where my team was hosting a cyclocross race. I'd volunteered to help set up and marshal the course. For the life of me, however, I couldn't find the damn thing. Jackson Park is big, but all I could find were soccer games and fishermen.

After a frustrating hour I finally saw two guys on cyclocross bikes. Are you here for the race? I asked.

"You mean tomorrow's race?"

So Sunday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson park.

I'd never seen cyclocross, a discipline that combines elements of road racing with elements of mountain biking, but it looked like fun. I liked how the slower speed minimized the effects of drafting. There were no weasels here, and all the huffing and puffing suggested that the riders were working much harder than your typical pretty-boy roadie.

When I compared cycling to poker, I speculated on how one could dress and behave like a Fred in order to be underestimated by one's opponents. I wonder whether that's what this guy had in mind with his hairy legs, gym shorts and vintage basketball jersey. (To understand how this was received, imagine someone showing up at a pick-up basketball game in bicycle shorts and jersey.) If there were any race to attempt such a stunt, cyclocross would be it, since there doesn't appear to be any advantage to form-fitting Lycra. I didn't pay that close attention to his single-speed race, but he seemed to know what he was doing, at least more than what one would guess from his get-up.

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 18, 2005

So this World Series. It's a big deal in my city this year. I'm to understand that its importance rivals the Tour de France, but it lasts two fewer weeks? With each individual contest lasting much less than five hours? With opportunities to sit and eat sunflower seeds? Without much chance of death or maiming? And participants, even the ones shaped like Larry Walker, are still considered athletes?

America! What a country!


Sept. 29, 2005

Ever hopeful.

Photo taken: Sept. 24, 2005


Sept. 24, 2005

Luxury seating is one of the more regrettable developments in baseball, more regrettable than the designated hitter, more than steroids, more than Bud Selig, more than the Yankees.

More regrettable than a juiced Bud Selig playing DH. For the Yankees.

I find skyboxes anti-democratic and contrary to the game's working-class origins. By pushing upper decks even further into the clouds, they degrade millions more fan experiences than they enrich. They are like the modern city's parking garage, which provides convenience to some but is an eyesore to all.

That said, who am I to refuse an employer who offers a free seat in the company box?

The best part of the skybox? It's not bypassing the lines and bag searches at the front gate. It's not the dessert cart or beer fridge. It's not even the dry, warm shelter during the hourlong rain delay.

The best part of sitting in a skybox is looking down on all the little people, huddled and massive, and thinking: "Hello, little people! Don't you wish you had cake?"

And then thinking: So this is what life would be like as a Republican. I had always wondered.

Photo taken: Sept. 24, 2005


Sept. 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



"Addison stop, Addison stop, home of the 2006 World Series, doors open on your left."



A woman is Rollerblading down the lake. She's attractive, but she's not wearing a helmet and she's talking on a cell phone, two qualities that strike me as evolutional disadvantages, like the supermodel whose narrow hips couldn't possible bear a healthy child. It suggests a variation on one of Sandy's favorite jokes:

Q: What's the hardest part about Rollerblading?

A: Telling your parents you're evolutionarily disadvantageous.



It's three months and a week before Christmas and I have already seen my first holiday display, and already a treacly version of "Frosty the Snowman" has made me want to jump in the river. Thank you, Marshall Field's.


Sept. 14, 2005

Sherman Park Criterium.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2005


Sept. 4, 2005

Of all the races I watched or participated in during Saturday's Sherman Park Criterium -- full race report TK -- the most enjoyable were the children's races. They certainly had the most pathos and drama, even more than the Cat 1/2/3 race in which two rivals spent many of their 30 laps loudly squabbling and swearing at each other.

The contestants were mostly neighborhood kids on an array of BMX bikes, mountain bikes and beaters. In the one-lap race for boys ages 13-15, the riders took off like madmen with the enthusiasm and panache I like to see at the start of a race, but around Turn 1 they realized that a mile was much, much longer than they had imagined. Ten minutes later they dragged themselves across the finish line, thirsty and weary. Many headed straight for the water trough to dunk their heads. The rider above splayed himself across the sidewalk, too exhausted to move another inch.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2005


Aug. 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



Bob comes over to help me change the pedals on my racing bike. He feigns shock at all my new cycling gear. "You're gay for bikes!"

OK, so it's true that my bikes rival my friends for my most important relationships in Chicago, and that there's nobody else I currently clean weekly with a Q-tip. But Bob forgets an important fact: All of my bikes -- Faith the mountain bike, Charity the commute bike, the Colonel the racing bike and a fixie I'm hoping to buy this fall whom I haven't even seen but have already named Amanda -- are girls.

I'm gay for girls.



I'm at Johnny Sprockets, my neighborhood bike shop, because I have decided to buy a new wheelset and naturally have decided to buy it right away. I cannot wait to shop around for the best price.

My wheels are there but they're not ready, so my guy at the shop drops what he's doing and starts working to make them true and centered. I sit and listen as he and the other mechanics talk shit. No manhood or mechanical skill goes unquestioned.

My guy carefully spreads talcum powder inside a tire before inserting the tube and putting it on the wheel. We chat about wheels and racing and my bad experience when I strayed and visited a different shop. He asks whether I have a wife or a girlfriend or anything.

"No, just my Jamis."

"That's what I thought, the way you came in here and bought a wheelset without having to consult anyone."

"I've heard of people who are able to do both -- ride and have a girl -- but I've also heard of the Yeti. Doesn't mean it really happens."

It's been an hour and he's still working on the second wheel. There's no way his commission on this wheelset covers more than an hour of labor, let alone labor this careful.

I slip out. Busch Light is the best stuff at the liquor store across the street, so I walk a half-mile to the Jewel and buy a case of Goose Island. When I return, the work is done. I give my guy the beer. "Aw, gee," he says, "you didn't have to do that."

He shows me the boxes with my wheels. While I was gone he had tossed in about $25 worth of tubes, gels and chamois creme. "And you didn't have to do that," I say.

How often does good karma balance itself this quickly?

And that's the great thing about the local bike shop. Even if I could have saved $100 by going elsewhere, my guy does things he doesn't have to do. There are many things in this world that are best measured in dollars and cents, but sometimes things are best measured in beer and chamois creme.



The Cubs are on at the gym. Derrek Lee hits a groundball to first and runs to third, where he is forced out.


Then I realize I'm watching in a mirror, but for a second it made sense: The Cubs have been playing so poorly that a clockwise run around the bases wouldn't be all that surprising.

People know how I feel about color-man Ron Santo, but still it breaks my heart to hear the anger and frustration in his voice. A few days earlier Santo gave his signature "Aw, geez!" -- "Aw, geez!" belongs to him as much as "Holy Cow!" belonged to Harry Caray and "Hey, hey!" belonged to Jack Brickhouse -- when Aramis Ramirez popped out to the infield and casually walked down the baseline, bat in hand. "Does he even want to play?" an exasperated Santo asked.

It would not have surprised me if the next thing I heard was Pat Hughes explaining that Cubs legend Ron Santo had put on a uniform, barged into the dugout and demanded to be put in at third, just to prove that a legless, 65-year-old diabetic could run with more spirit than Aramis Ramirez.


Aug. 13, 2005

While we waited for "The Night of the Hunter," orange-jacketed security shooed several dozen Canada geese that had been calling Grant Park home, often from one patch of trees to another and then back. It was like a giant game of keep-away.

The geese flew in large, panicked flocks, an activity that to those of us on the grass was more disconcerting than had they remained standing quietly under the trees.

"Whatever you do," someone nearby said, "don't look up!"

"At least not with your mouth open," I thought to add.

Photo taken: Aug. 9, 2005


July 30, 2005

What a great Chicago day.

It began with BBQ on the South Side. In the evening, Critical Mass wended through the North Side and wound up at Foster Beach, where the water was warm and the waves were high. Dozens of riders dove in in street clothes, a few in nothing at all. It had been awhile since my last spontaneous night swim. I'd forgotten how fun they are.

Afterward, my friends and I convened at Levi and Stacey's. A man tried to sell us a rubber shark on the way. We declined. We changed into dry clothes and discussed everything from Santorum to santorum over martinis and potstickers.

(Levi has made the martini, forged in a penguin-shaped shaker and served in a proper martini glass with a half-dozen olives, a part of his evening routine. I have yet to acquire the taste for martinis, but I can fathom why one would endure the agony of doing so. What I like is how it mandates patience and lingering. You take a sip, and only after you have forgetten its foulness do you take another sip. An hour later, when you look down into an empty glass, you experience relief and accomplishment. "Well, that's done with, and I am a stronger man for it." (It is also possible that I misunderstand the point of a martini.))

In a few hours I leave for a week in Yosemite, where I'll see my 14-month-old nephew. I imagine that 14 months is an impressionable age, sensory wise, so I'm tempted not to shower. This way can I arrive stinking of BBQ, gin and Lake Michigan and it will lock an association in little Malcolm's mind. The hope is that the next time he ever smells one of the three again -- whether in 10, 20 or 60 years -- he will think fondly of his uncle, and he will follow his nose to the good life.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 29, 2005

At Comiskey a few weeks ago someone mentioned that 35th was the farthest south they'd ever been. "So where do you go for your ribs?" I asked.

In the conversation that ensued it came out that although she worked in Hyde Park, Stacey had never had proper South Side ribs. Today we filled that void in her life. I picked up some ribs, tips and links from Barbara-Ann's and met her, Levi and Sandy on the Midway. She brought Diet Cokes and a large roll of paper towels, and God smiled upon our plans by delivering perfect weather.

A month ago I found one serving to be too much for one person, but two servings today turned out to be the perfect amount for three people and a vegetarian, Levi, who dove into the fries and bread.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 24, 2005

Three recent moments:



It's 97 and not yet noon. I'm reading and drinking coffee on the patio. Neighbors file past and tell me how mad I am to be outside.

"A few more degrees," I tell them, "and I might have to install the air conditioner."

A third-floor neighbor, who says he's looking forward to January as much as I spent January looking forward to today, puts some vegetables on the grill. He asks me to monitor it while he makes a salad upstairs. It needs to be around 450.

"450! Now there's a temperature I can abide!"



On the Clark Street sidewalk, near the shuttered taquiera and the bank that was once a dollar store, there's an empty box of edible underwear. Beneath a hundred footprints the model on the box resembles a 1980s Chippendale. He looks up with a thumb tugging ever so slightly on his shorts.

I wonder how the box got there. Did it get thrown from an apartment window? Did someone buy it just for a snack? And did it belong to the same litterbug as the nearby Ding Dong wrapper?



A girl enters the train at Wilson. She's 13 if she's a day and 80 pounds if she's an ounce. She wears a flowered sundress and carries a Dominick's bag of belongings. A large plastic daisy adorns each flip-flop. She's with a much older, slighly thuggish man in a dew rag.

This is a terrible thing to think and a worse thing to admit, but it speaks to how segregated my city remains: There is something suspicious about a white girl, prepubescent but already world-weary, in the company of a black man.

After two stops she does the most unexpectedly polite thing I have ever seen on a CTA train: She steps onto the gangway between cars to smoke a cigarette. The man is indifferent, but I check back every few minutes to make sure a jolt hasn't cast her down into the abyss.


July 9, 2005

Last Night was the Beverly Hills Cycling Classic, the first event of the 17-day "Superweek," a series of races in Chicago and around Milwaukee. I'm registered for three of them, road races all. If I do well enough, I'll try to squeeze in a few more, maybe even a crit, but I'm not counting on it.

Beverly was a 60-mile criterium for pros and Cat 1's and 2's. The field was a mix of international pros and regional hot shots. This was my first exposure to racing of this caliber, and I was amazed: They were racing at speeds I could probably not even reach, let alone sustain for 2 hours.

I was also amazed at Beverly, a quaint haven of smalltown life on the far South Side. Rolling hills, well-tended lawns, large lots, kids at play, neighbors gathering to gossip, brats grilling in every other driveway -- I had no idea such a diverse neighborhood existed within Chicago city limits. Clean, quiet and pleasant without being overtly upscale or tony. Reminded me of parts of Minneapolis. I almost forgave its many violations of the Chicago grid.

Not that I'd want to live there, or even dine there. I left immediately after the race and hit Lem's BBQ on 75th on my way home. "Your ride all the way here?" said one of the guys behind the bulletproof window, knowing with a single glance that I had come a long, long way. "That's a regular Tour de France. We'll set you up with extra fries for that." Which he did, and which I enjoyed while sitting on the sidewalk outside. (My experience with BBQ suggests that quality is inversely proportional to available seating.)

Photo taken: July 8, 2005


July 8, 2005

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


July 1, 2005

Four recent moments:



A black SUV is parked in the bike lane on Damen. Three men stand on the sidewalk outside new condo construction. As I pass I yell my usual epithet: "I don't park in your lane."

"OK, Sparky," yells the man holding the granite counter samples.

I turn back, only because his response was so smug. (Is there anything less threatening than yuppie smugness?) I ask how hard it would be to park somewhere else. I point out that parking there is illegal and forces me into the middle of traffic.

"C'mon," says a young woman I hadn't seen in the driver's seat. "Can't you just go around for a second?"

Things I could say in response.

  1. "A second is all it takes for me to get killed."

  2. "You're putting me in danger for your own convenience. But that's what SUVs are all about, isn't it?"

  3. "Hey, I didn't paint these lines, but they're there for a reason, and it's not to be a spot for your fat, lazy ass."

  4. "Greedy motherfuckers!"

But because I am slow and dim, I say this instead: "    ."

And go on my way.



A teammate and I are riding through the far-northwest suburbs. We turn onto a country road and are met by a surprising peloton: 20 Holstein cows. They're herded by a stout elderly woman with white, curly hair and a floral-print shirt. She carries a cane in her left hand and a turqouise rope in her right. "Come on," she croaks with each crack of the whip. "Get on up there!" We pace behind for a few blocks at 1 mph, careful to weave through the trail of manure.



It's 11 p.m. It's strange to see a handyman laying out his tools outside a Bryn Mawr apartment building this late. A few steps later I see why he's there: Inside a brightly lit garden unit an anxious woman cradles her cat while a police officer shines his flash light at a broken window and a pile of glass shards.



"Who are you seeing at Ravinia tonight?"

"Mahler's 'Resurrection.'"

"Never heard of them."


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 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 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 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."


May 27, 2005

On Michigan Avenue, another brave soldier resisting the mayor's crusade against public music and streetlife. He played with enviable whimsy, but when he sensed the camera he masked it with a very serious, concentrating countenance. Once he had adopted just the right gravity he beckoned the photographer with his pinky, as if to say, "Here, this is the picture you want, not the one where I am smiling at the little girl."

Photo taken: May 25, 2005


May 26, 2005

Washing the fourth of the 45 floors of the Kluczynski Federal Building.

Photo taken: May 23, 2005


May 25, 2005

A dancer checks his hair before taking the stage at the city's Asian-American Festival.

Photo taken: May 23, 2005


May 24, 2005

At the Foster Avenue Beach basketball court. The players put on a good show, but it was all slop. Took 'em 40 minutes to play to 10.

More at Flickr.

Photo taken: May 22, 2005


May 22, 2005

Summer is almost here, meaning the following scene will be re-enacted dozens of times each weekend: The limos will park illicitly on Michigan Avenue, discharging their passengers into the crowds of tourists. While the drivers stall the traffic cops, the photographers will herd the wedding parties into Pioneer Court and frantically capture every permutation of subject: bride and groom, bride and family, bride and maids, groom and best man, ad infinitum.

Photo taken: May 21, 2005


May 19, 2005

Sith happens.

After work I killed time at Cambridge House, one of River North's last diners. It's doomed for demolition within the year, so as I read and sipped my coffee I took note of all the usual late-night characters. The tourists, the young couples taking breaks from clubbing, the second-shift employees from neighboring hotels picking up their burgers and francheezies. And the truck driver who scolds the waitress for having missed "American Idol" because, Honey, now how is he going to know what happened to Vonzell?

Around 12:30 a.m. I took my place in line at the theater, surrounded by college students and middle-age fans quite amused by the sounds of their own Yoda voices. (The dorkiest of the young dorks had quite fetching girlfriends in tow. WTF? I screwed my fists into my eyes to make sure I was indeed seeing what I was seeing and it wasn't a sleepy-headed hallucination, but it was true: They were hotter than a summer day on Mustafar.)

A dozen screens were in use for the midnight show. It took awhile to flush them out. Then there was a problem with the digital projector. Then there were 20 minutes of trailers. My 3 a.m. show didn't start until 3:50. When I finally got home at 7, my alarm was going off, still set from when I'd woken 25 hours earlier for time-trial practice.

Photo taken: May 19, 2005


May 17, 2005

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Saturday, 8 p.m.

(No, I did not go.)

Photo taken: May 13, 2005


May 11, 2005

I've seen plenty of improv in Chicago, but this weekend I went to my first Second City show.

The sketches were borne of improv but came to the stage scripted and rehearsed. As a result the comedy was polished, smart and very, very funny. And the players clearly understood that the most impor-TIMING!

An unadvertised aftershow featured Second City alumnus Jim Belushi. (Speaking of funnier, more gifted older brothers, Happy birthday, Hank.)

Most of the crowd was from out of town -- the Ed Debevics caps and tank tops gave them away -- and they ate him up. A celebrity! A TV star at Second City! For them it was like going to Wrigley Field and catching a home run, a bonus thrill that all the folks back home will be doomed to hear about. They didn't seem to mind that he was unfunny, flat and possibly a little drunk.

I found the rest of the cast to be much funnier and sharper, so it was strange to see them fawn over him, too. They were the All-Star pitcher and he was the washed-up slugger, and they were letting the ball run through their legs in order to make him feel better.

The final bit was the common improv game of freeze. In it, two players act out a scene. At any time someone on the sideline can call "Freeze!" and then tap a player, assume their position and take the scene in a new direction. Once Belushi got on stage, each cast member in quick succession tapped whichever player was opposite him, all for the sake of briefly sharing the stage with The Celebrity. Meanwhile, he was stuck there like a mannequin -- an unfunny, flat, possibly drunk mannequin.

For the record, if I were to guess who will next make the jump from stage to screen, my money would be on Antoine McKay. I just hope that when it's his turn to return to the stage as The Celebrity Alumnus he acquits himself better. It will help that he has a fantastic sense o-TIMING!


May 8, 2005

Saturday I competed in my second criterium, the Monsters of the Midway down at University of Chicago.

This one yielded a Schmalz Suck Level of 6.

My first crit was a Cat 5-only affair. There were only 25 riders and the pack stayed together the entire race. Saturday, on the other hand, was both Cats 4 and 5 and there were about 80 riders, nearly all of whom had many more seasons of exerience than me.

My anxiety over riding in such a large, fast group proved unfounded when I got dropped early. Suddenly I had all the space in the world. How early I got dropped I'm not exactly sure. Maybe on the first backstretch, when we hit a headwind. I can remember very little about the first few laps. Usually I'm able to replay every turn of a race in my head, but in this case there's an amnesia.

Around the 10th of the 15 laps the main pack lapped me. They screamed by like a train. At least one screamed at me for not pulling far enough to the right.

I wasn't sure if I was allowed to continue after that, but no official pulled me off and the small group I was with kept going. Our sprints weaved through the faster riders on their cool-down lap. I attempted a bike throw at the finish line to contest 70th place -- this is a guess; officials stop counting after the first 30 or so, so I'll never know my precise placing -- but I was just short.

Beyond my inability to sprint or corner, there are plenty of reasons I don't care for crits, fear of death and dismemberment among them. Mostly I prefer the road race because I find it to be a much more honest test of strength, endurance and character. Yes, there's drafting and tactics, but there's no hiding: The wheat will eventually drop the chaff.

A crit tests other things, such as handling, teamwork and acceleration, noble skills all. But it seems that placement hinges most on how well a rider can weasel a good position on the last lap. (I hope this is an honest observation, and not just the sour grapes of someone yet to finish in the top 80 percent of a crit.)

Me, I just want to ride long, ride hard and ride fast. I'll save my bike handling for when I'm dodging cabs on Michigan Avenue.

Riding home the wind off the lake was so fierce I could barely maintain 15 mph. At the Museum Campus I cut over to city streets, hoping the buildings would block the Hawk for me. I was still wearing my team jersey, so I resisted the usual temptation to flip off Hummers, lest I bring more shame to my squad than I already had.

In Uptown I crossed paths with a guy on a 10-speed with a torn-up leather jacket, coonskin hat and big, droopy mustache. (No, it wasn't Bob Conrad.) Attached to his rear rack were two speakers the size of suitcases. They blasted AC/DC. A bright-orange novelty license plate read "HOFFA."

Something told me that if there were a bad-ass cyclist at this intersection, it wasn't me.

As penance for the day, I headed up to Highland Park this morning to do hill repeats.

Photo taken: May 7, 2005


April 25, 2005

He was tethered high above the construction pit for the Trump Tower. It was one of those rare instances where a person could be at ground level and still fall to his death.

Photo taken: April 15, 2005


April 22, 2005

He wore blue jeans and cycling gloves to the Foster Avenue courts and shot from the chest. When younger players made a shot he would squint and give a thumbs-up, but they pretty much ignored him.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 21, 2005

Near Foster and the lake.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 20, 2005

"What's out there?"

"Salmon, I hope."

It took about 20 minutes for him to set up. First he laid out his gear on the rocks: a long net, a bucket, a wooden tackle box and a fire extinguisher(?). He tied his line to a small bell. Then he went to his van to get his dog, Jack, and some lunch. Jack took a leak on the rocks. The guy took a leak into the lake. Finally he was ready to sit down, light his cigar and get to work.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



I drop an open can of coffee on the floor. I quickly grab a dustpan and wonder, Does the three-second rule apply to coffee grounds?



For the fifth time in a week I am downtown and am asked for directions. I don't mind. I never mind. I love showing off my Chicago chops. And much more than extended daylight or flowers peeking through soil, this is the true harbinger of spring: when suddenly there are people in Chicago who care where Navy Pier is.



It's Tuesday, which means speedwork on my running schedule.

It's nice out, which means instead of the treadmill I do sidewalk fartleks: arbitrary distances fast alternated with arbitrary distances slow.

It's really, really nice out, which means I do my first shirtless run of the year. (Neighbors of Edgewater, you have been warned.)

Usually I think of my fartleks as fire-hydrants runs. I'll sprint to one red plug and lollygag to the next. Today I notice my slow intervals coinciding with glass storefronts, all the better to admire myself in. When I run, my belly rolls jiggle in such a way that I can pretend they are abs, and that my man-breasts are pecs.


April 16, 2005

The building behind the Intercontinental has been demolished. For a week a dozen unskilled laborers have been sorting through the rubble and picking out intact bricks to be bundled and sold as antique building materials.

Photo taken: April 15, 2005


April 15, 2005

Where are all the faces?

Chicago is a city of 3 million people, but you'd never know it from its photoblogs and Flickr entries.

With rare exception -- Derek Powazek comes to mind -- we're a timid lot, we photobloggers. We're fearful. We're wary of offending strangers, sensing their nervous looks and desires for privacy. We fail to convey that our cameras are signs of affection.

So instead of taking pictures of people and bringing life to the Web we shoot buildings, quirky signage or, in our most daring moments, the backs of people's heads on the train.

Reluctance to offend or discomfort is a revolutionary concept these days, but it's driving me crazy. The facelessness that results approaches misanthropy, and it gives the false impression that Chicago is a cold, vacant and inanimate place.

I'm as guilty as anyone, but here's my summer goal: More faces and less fear. More smiles, more crying. Fewer parking lots, fewer industrial sites, fewer empty seats.

People are beautiful, and Chicago people are the most beautiful of all. We should show them off.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 12, 2005

I have a routine for my lakefront runs. I carry with me the bare minimum of keys I'll need (four). I put my iPod in one pocket and energy gels in the other. If it's cool I'll throw a T-shirt over my running singlet. Then I bicycle the .75 mile to the running path, where I lock my bike to the Mile 0 signpost and tie the T-shirt to my top tube. I take a minute to pick an album and set my watch, and off I go.

And usually I have remembered to put on sunscreen. Yesterday I did not. Thus, the annual first bad burn of spring.

My next marathon is in seven weeks. Training has not gone so well. I've been sick, busy with cycling and nagged by a blister. I've skipped more runs than I would have liked, including last week's 19-miler.

Yesterday's 20 miles was the year's first run on the path, 10 miles down to Soldier Field and back. It was nice getting reacquainted with the path's characters -- the smelt fishermen, the chess players, the nannies with their strollers -- and my favorite vistas, turns and places to pee.

One good thing about being outside rather than on the treadmill is that it's impractical to quit. Once you're at Soldier Field, the only way home is to run home, especially if like me you lack the prudence to have brought CTA fare with you.

With much consternation I found that not all the water fountains have been turned on, but I still made my time, even with slight cramps around Mile 18. I hope this bodes well for when I'm properly hydrated.

Long runs are good for discoveries and decisions, and on this one I decided that I probably will not run Chicago this October. I'll be missing it for the first time in five years. Instead I'll focus on cycling all summer. It's a tough call: It's my hometown race, and it's the event that first got me into serious running. I know its turns and characters almost as well as I know those of the lakefront. I'd contemplated taking it on as a fun run and not worrying about time, but as my father said to me once or twice growing up -- and by "once or twice" I mean "once or twice a week" -- if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. I'll wait until I have the time and focus to do it right again.

Photo taken: April 11, 2005


April 11, 2005

National anthem at Wrigley Field.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 9, 2005

Cubs 4, Brewers 0.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 8, 2005


Photo taken: March 27, 2005


March 29, 2005

Last summer I overheard some kids talking about Peter Berry, d/b/a King Kiser. He was a graffiti artist who'd fallen onto the tracks in Rogers Park and was killed by a train. A few days later a local newspaper ran both an obituary and a front-page profile. From all accounts he was a decent kid and was well-liked, and since his death "RIP Kiser" tags have been common sights, especially along the Red Line.

But it's one thing to tag alleys and billboards and it's another to mark up beloved community fixtures. It's a shame, then, that Peter Berry's legacy will be the Andersonville water tower and every time someone looks up and says, "What a fucking asshole."

Coincidentally, my building also got tagged this week. It's the first time this has happened since I moved in, which is surprising given our proximity to two public schools. Mostly I was upset that they hadn't taken the time to make it look good. The script was rushed and sloppy, like that of someone whose medium was yellow snow, and I couldn't make out a single word. (Then again, I don't pretend I was supposed to.)

I also grimaced thinking about the money it will cost our tapped condo association to clean it up, but a neighbor tells me that the city has a graffiti clean-up program that has already been notified. Any day now Mayor Daley himself will show up with brushes and industrial-strength solvents.

Photo taken: March 27, 2005


March 28, 2005

It was a perfect morning for an alley cat race, and Payton put together an outstanding course. He called it Tic Tac Toe, though it more closely resembled Bingo or, a propos, an Easter egg hunt. It tested not only a rider's speed and bike handling but also his guile, game theory and knowledge of Chicago geography.

Each rider was given a unique grid of nine squares. Each square contained an address. At each address was hidden a rubber stamp. The objective was to locate the rubber stamps and use them to mark the grid, with points being awarded for each three-in-a-row. There was also a time incentive, so a rider had to decide how many rows it paid to pursue. No good collecting the maximum eight if it took all morning to do so.

The race kicked off with a bonus sprint from Pilsen to 141 N. Wabash, and for me this was the most exciting part of the day. I was riding a proper road bike, not the lumbering winter bike I'd used at the first stage, so I could keep up with the leaders this time. We left Pilsen in a pack of about 15, but when we hit downtown I called "Clear!" at an intersection and was surprised to look back and find nobody there: We were down to nine. I was the ninth.

I fought to hang on. At one point I got dropped -- getting dropped from a paceline is surprisingly emotional, like getting ditched by your friends at the mall, and it invites the same insecurities: I'm not good enough ... They don't love me ... Why am I the way I am? -- but I dug deep to rejoin the group and enjoy the twin benefits of its slipstream and its sense of direction.

We were heading up State near Marshall Field's when the group suddenly stopped: It had overshot the destination, which appeared to be the subway entrance at State and Monroe. The two riders ahead of me dismounted and started running down the stairs with their bikes, shoes clicking and clacking on each granite step. I followed, and sure enough a race official was waiting for us at the bottom. Thus I was third to complete the sprint -- my first podium finish!

In full stride I grabbed a ticket from the official -- the ticket would prove the order of our finish -- and dashed up the escalator to start completing my grid. I'd mapped out what I thought was an efficient way to complete two rows, but I couldn't find the rubber stamp that Payton had hidden at 31 W. Jackson -- I scoured the Red and Blue Line stations but somehow couldn't find the pedway that connected them -- so I ended with four stamps but only one row. Nonetheless, I was the second person to arrive at the finish line, West Town Bikes, so I earned an enormous time bonus, and I finished in fifth place overall.

Great stage, Payton. Now to get Tic Tac Toe added to the Tour de France.

Photo taken: March 27, 2005


March 21, 2005

I'm drawn to the handwritten "going out of business" signs -- or, as in two of the cases here, "business is going elsewhere" signs -- that are so common in a city in flux. Each one hints at untold pathos and drama, and the worse the grammar, the more I am drawn to them.

This first is a favorite. It belongs to a store that sells phone cards and shoes -- talk about synergy -- that had been located a few doors south of Broadway and Bryn Mawr but moved into the corner space when the discount clothing store closed this winter. Now it has moved back, and the move apparently took four hours longer than expected.


Broadway and Bryn Mawr.



4620 N. Broadway St.



5525 N. Clark St.

Photos taken: March 18, 2005; Jan 12, 2005; Nov. 30, 2004


March 11, 2005

From BP Bridge.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 8, 2005

Sears Tower lets off steam at dusk.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 5, 2005

Zamboni time at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


March 3, 2005

Cubs baseball is on the air!

WGN 720-AM, five minutes ago

And Ron Santo is already annoying me.


March 1, 2005

A recent moment:



The mother and husband of a federal judge are murdered a half-mile south of my home. The judge's daughter is a friend of a friend. I met her once or twice.

Around 2:30 a.m. I pass the scene on my way from work. Dozens of law enforcement figures are still active. About 10 reporters and photographers are staked out on Foster. The print shooters have the long, fat lenses common at sporting events and as I pass they rustle to attention. I deduce that the bodies are about to be removed from the house.

I continue home. It's been snowing all day. Fresh salt crackles beneath my tires.


Feb. 28, 2005

For four years Sandy and I have volunteered at the Inspiration Cafe, an organization that provides meals, job training and other important services for those in need in Uptown. The Cafe's major fundraiser is an annual art auction, a gala sale of dozens of juried pieces donated by local artists.

It was at last year's auction that I bought my very first piece of art, an abstract painting of an El platform at sunrise. What's funny is that earlier that day I had helped hang the art and came very close to hanging it upside down. Such is abstract art.

Later, during the silent auction, an older gentleman was looking at it and asked for my help in seeing the El. "I just don't see it," he said. I studied it and suggested where the platform was. A few more moments and I could make out the El speeding by. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. It reminded me of countless Thursday mornings bicycling down Broadway, parallEl, to cook breakfast at the Cafe.

"Well, I just don't see it," he said, "but I like it." He put in a bid at $55. Once he left, I put in a bid at $60 and later increased it to $85 in order to win.

This year's auction is March 18. This weekend Sandy and I photographed all the art to be auctioned. Sandy will put the pictures online. There are a lot of great pieces this year, some of which I'll surely bid on. Perhaps I'll make my second art purchase, though you are encouraged to try to stop me.

Photo taken: Feb. 26, 2005


Feb. 26, 2005

If you spend much time downtown late at night, you will eventually fall for the stranded teen scam. It's like the Spanish prisoner scam, in that a fool and his money are parted, but much less ambitious and not nearly as intricate. I fall for it about once a year.

Usually it's a boy. He flags you down and gives you a convincing sob story about how he was here visiting his girlfriend but now he's $10 short for the train back to Indiana and he's embarrassed to ask but can't you just help him out? And because you are caught off guard and because you are a generous person you give him a few bucks and never expect to see it again.

Tonight it's an older guy, maybe 40. It is just after midnight underneath the AMA Building. He's wearing a construction outfit and a hard hat and is talking frantically on a hands-free cell phone. He's smoking. His hands are dirty.

Once he has my attention he ends the call and explains his situation.

His family owns a construction company, he says. I recognize the name, not just from its signs around town but from reports of its close and thus questionable ties to the mayor. They're doing the demolition of the Sun-Times building. Tonight somebody broke into the site and stole some equipment. He was in the middle of a beer and a sandwich when he got the call and had to come down to deal with it.

Then his truck broke down and AAA isn't covering the tow truck that came to fix it. He has $220 but is $50 short and of course he left his wallet at home. If he can't pay, his truck is going to get hauled to a pound at 60th and State. There are gangs there, he says. He is frantic, but shoves in my face a towing receipt that seems to support his story.

So what the hell. I get ready to give him $50. While I dig around for some paper he keeps talking. Mentions his trust fund, the $58 an hour he earns as a crane operator. Points to a nearby skyscraper he worked on. He's not some bum, I'm to understand. He asks me where I work, says he knows some of the union guys there. I say I just do computer stuff.

I write down my address for him and write down his. He lives in New Lenox, which I gather is a suburb. (I don't leave the city much.) I give him the money. His hands are full so he sticks his cigarette in his mouth in order to shake my hand. His grip is strong and calloused. We hug.

We walk through the plaza. He says how thankful he is and how angry he is "at, I'm sorry, that black guy. The tow truck guy. I'm not prejudiced, but jeez."

At the stairs to the Red Line I give him my hand again and tell him to take care. He shakes but looks at me in disbelief. "You're taking the train home?" he asks, as if we were at the shore of Lake Michigan and I'd said I was going to be swimming home.

He looks down the stairs and sees two black guys talking at the bottom. StreetWise vendors. "You're going to go down there? Alone?" He says he's going to walk me down. I try to beg off. I do this all the time, I say. It's the city. I live here. He's even more frazzled than before but he insists.

We walk past the StreetWise guys. One asks him for his cigarette. "Y'now you can't smoke on the train," he says.

"Well, I'm not riding the train," my new friend says with a nervous growl. He looks like a man who could make a bear cry uncle, but the CTA has cowed him.

At the turnstiles he asks if I really do this every night. Does stuff like that happen all the time? "Hey, it's the city," I say, all the while thinking: "Stuff like what? Stuff like black people living in Chicago? Stuff like StreetWise vendors wishing they had a cigarette? Yes, I imagine it happens almost every night."

I thank him for the escort and shake his hand yet again. A few seconds later he yells after me.

"Hey, guy," he says, "are you married?"


"You seeing anyone?"

Yeah, I guess I am. What, does he want to set me up with his trust-fund sister?

"Well, my dad is going to see that you take her out to a real nice place. I mean it."

I insist that I don't expect anything more than my $50, but he means it. Me, I've already written it all off as a karma deposit. Then he thrusts his grimey paw through an iron grate and I shake it one last time and wish him luck.


Feb. 25, 2005

Two recent moments:



Someone asks whether I'm buying Cubs tickets.

For about five years the Cubs have used a wristband-lottery system to open ticket sales. To receive a numbered wristband, fans spend about an hour in a queue from the former Yum-Yum's all the way to Waveland. After two days of this the team draws a number at random. Sales commence with the corresponding wristband and continue sequentially.

No, I say, I will not be buying tickets this year, and I describe how it used to be, before the lottery, before the Internet, before the scalpers and speculators, before the Cubs' owners sapped almost all the joy and fun out of being a fan.

I was in college right before the Cubs hit their tipping point, when bleachers were still the cheap seats. You could get walk-up tickets to most games, but if you had a popular game in mind -- Opening Day, for instance -- you could camp out at Wrigley Field the night before the first sales. It would be cold and miserable and you would wish you had brought more socks, but people would be friendly and would chat about the pitchers and catchers who had reported that week. And it was good. A fan could earn his tickets, rather than depending on luck (via the lottery) or wealth (via scalpers, may they burn in hell).

In 1997 I waited overnight and didn't even stick around to buy. I had to go take a test. I waited with Stacey until we were finally inside, in a carpeted waiting room where the Cubs had laid out coffee and Ann Sather cinnamon rolls. I stuffed my pockets with rolls, gave Stacey a list of a few games I wanted and high-tailed it back to Evanston for my test.

So, no, I tell this person, I will not be buying tickets this year. And I feel like the old man who, when invited to the movies by his grandson, declines and instead rhapsodizes about the first talkies, when cinema was good.



Why I am not an accountant, or perhaps why I should be one: I don't think of the soda machine as selling Diet Cokes for $1.25. I think of it as selling three laundry quarters for $2. The Diet Coke is free.


Feb. 14, 2005

At the Grand stop on the Red Line.

I was not aware CTA stations had men's washrooms. Nor Ejector Rooms within them. Nor valves that I should turn on in case of fire.

I'm trying to imagine what the Ejector Room is like. I'm thinking it's an escape pod that CTA employees can climb into during emergencies, like the one R2-D2 and C-3PO use to escape from the Imperial boarding party. Perhaps the Ejector Room blasts the pod thousands of feet into the air, high enough for a parachute to be activated, allowing the CTA employees to float down to the safety of Lake Michigan. And of course there is a valve, a valve to be turned on in the last moment before ejection, a valve that releases millions of gallons of water into the subway bowels to put out any fires.

Note to self: Get condo board's permission to build an Ejector Room.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2005


Feb. 13, 2005

At the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Feb. 12, 2005


Feb. 11, 2005

This is one of my favorite murals in the city, on the back of the Hotel Intercontinental, of all places. The adjacent building is being demolished, and I presume the condos that will rise will obscure the whales.

The mural was one of my first impressions of downtown Chicago. This was spring of 1998. Some friends and I were going to a taping of "The Jerry Springer Show." Ivan was an intern there and had gotten us tickets. We parked near NBC Tower, and I remember looking up to see this. "What a great city," I thought. "Whales! Up a building!"

Photo taken: Feb. 10, 2005


Feb. 9, 2005

There were many reasons why California disagreed with me. One was the absence of fire escapes. And by "fire escapes" I mean to say "fire-escape parties."

Once a Chicago party has crested, people invariably head to the fire escape for some quiet time and some air. This is my favorite part of a Chicago party. It's a self-selecting group, but usually it's the people I came to spend time with in the first place.

Some will smoke. Some will lean on the railing and peel at their beer labels. And a pretty girl will sit on the step below you, point to her shoulders and use her eyebrows to say, "Rub, mister?"

It's a moment impossible in a flat land without fire escapes.

Photo taken: Feb. 3, 2005


Feb. 5, 2005

The skyline, from near Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Feb. 2, 2005

Near Lawrence Avenue.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Feb. 1, 2005

Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 29, 2005

Basketball court at Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 28, 2005

Foster Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 26, 2005

The Optimus water tower, at Grand and St. Clair. I'm not aware of any other rooftop towers left in River North, and there are few left anywhere downtown.

Photo taken: Jan. 23, 2005


Jan. 25, 2005

Outside the Esquire.

Photo taken: Jan. 3, 2005


Jan. 14, 2005

One of downtown's last great dumpy hot dog stands, near State and Chicago.

And that's pretty much what I told the proprietor, a beefy man of indistinct ethnic origin whom I hadn't seen smoking outside, when he came over and asked why the hell I was taking a picture of his dumpy hot dog stand.

Photo taken: Dec. 30, 2004


Jan. 13, 2005

I have high tolerance for Chicago's winters. I don't mind the cold, the darkness, or the long, drawn-out suffering. It suits me as a sort of Lenten balance to summer, and it's all worth it if it keeps the Californians and Floridians where they belong (in California and Florida, respectively).

I don't complain. People know it's cold. They don't need me to point it out. God knows I don't need them to point it out.

But I can't deny one complaint: The itchy skin. The red, throbbing, itchy and scratchy skin. It's the only aspect of winter I can't abide. And I don't know whether this is unique to me, but all my itchiness is confined to my sides and behind. Feels like I'm wearing sandpaper underwear. If I had a wooden ass -- like, if it were the 18th century and I'd had my butt blown off in the Revolutionary War and had to carve a prosthetic posterior from a cherry tree -- I'd be a walking fire hazard.

And the answer to your question is, no, I don't know why the whole world needs to know this.


Jan. 10, 2005

In interviews with riders that I've read and in conversations I've had with them, the same thing always comes up: The best part was the suffering ...

After the finish all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature's payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses: People have become woolly mice ... Nature is an old lady with few suitors these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms she rewards passionately.

That's why there are riders.

Suffering you need; literature is baloney.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

Upon reading "The Rider" this fall I decided that 2005 would be the year I started racing. In the book, the narrator starts his career at 29 and finds it isn't too late to have success. Having just turned 29, I took this as a sign.

My racing career started sooner than I expected when Bob invited me to the prologue to the 7th Annual Tour da Chicago, a multistage alley cat race.

The first heat was an 11-mile out-and-back from Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square to Kopi Cafe in Andersonville. Of 51 riders, 26 would advance. I was riding Faith, my mountain bike -- I don't allow Charity, my road bike, out in winter -- and didn't expect to advance past the first heat. Indeed, I got dropped immediately. A half-mile from the checkpoint I passed a 12-strong paceline going the opposite way on Foster, meaning that after only five miles, I was a mile behind the leaders.

Just about everyone had a better bike and more experience, but knowledge of far-north geography -- stoplight patterns, which streets were likely to be plowed, which streets were one-way and in which direction -- was an advantage unique to me. It probably earned me two or three spots in the results.

There was a moderate headwind on the return trip. Four of us drafted together down Damen and Diversey, though it wasn't nearly as organized as a proper paceline. By the time we got to Logan we were down to three. A sprint -- not my strength -- appeared imminent. On the final turn to Kedzie, however, we found ourselves looking into the business end of an Econoline van. We halted at the curb. I got to a slower restart than the other two, but after they both wiped out in the slush I was able to be first to the finish line.

In the picture the race coordinator is reading off the names of the 26 riders who would advance to the second heat. My name would not be called, sending me flashbacks of various game-show and middle-school basketball team tryouts.

I recognized a reporter and photographer from a local newspaper. Bob lamented their presence. "They did nothing to build this, yet they seek to benefit." His position is at once correct and untenable. The media did nothing to build the Tour de France or the Super Bowl, either.

Still, he's right: There is the danger that once the newspaper validates the coolness of an alley cat race, the next stage will attract the city's squares, trendoids or, worse, cops. I myself would not have been there had I not read about it in the Reader last year, and I was well aware that surrounded by messengers and mechanics I was The Square in the Room. (If I were ever not TSitR I might have been uncomfortable.) But at the next stage I will be there not because I'd read about it, but because I was at the last stage and it kicked ass.

Photo taken: Jan. 9, 2005


Jan. 8, 2005

This don't be that place ... I tol' you, this don't be that place.

A server at the Wiener Circle

Three guys from nearby public housing were flirting with her and had asked whether this was that place where the wait staff yells and cusses at the customers. By the time their dogs and fries were ready she had conceded that this indeed was that place, but that the yelling and cussing didn't start until 8 p.m.


Jan. 7, 2005

Light was bouncing off a skyscraper and casting an interesting pattern on Bloomingdale's.

Photo taken: Jan. 6, 2005


Jan. 6, 2005

Hancock Center.

Photo taken: Jan. 3, 2005


Jan. 2, 2005

The human body loses heat in three areas: the groin, the armpits and the head. Submerging all three (in Chicago, the head must be dunked for the plunge to be official) can cause hypothermia, leaving the victim drowsy, confused and uncoordinated. It also leads to a massive spike in blood pressure.

Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 2, 2005

This was my second time doing the North Avenue Beach polar bear swim. I don't remember there being ice in 2004. To get to the water this year we had to walk gingerly across four feet of jagged, icy shoreline. It was, ho ho, the polar opposite of walking barefoot across hot coals.

Sandy agreed to be my caddy, and it's a good thing he did. Coming out of the water I was disoriented and couldn't find where I'd left my things. I was frantic. But just when I thought my feet had become solid blocks of ice and I'd never tap-dance again, I saw Sandy waving my towel, like a battle flag rising out of the fog of war.

Drowsy? Check. Confused? Check. Uncoordinated? Check. But that's how I spend the first few hours of most days, so I don't know if the water is entirely to blame.

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2005