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So, as I plot this bike trip through the south side, it’s good to know that Chicago’s road quality is ranked neatly between Harare, Zimbabwe & Colombo, Srilanka.

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See also this far more official report from WBEZ on the craptastic state of the Windy City’s roads. Ugh.

Mother Nature is a cruel, heartless bitch. In the last two weeks the weather in Chicago has had averages of 72, 48, 85, & 54, in that order (how’s it goin, Chicago stereotypes?), which has made getting back into the swing of training strange. Yes, the swing. Yes, I lapsed in training. But I’m getting better. As the temperatures continue to (mostly) improve, it allows me to break out my bike, or my new best friend in the world. I’m a little hesitant to profess my love for riding my bike, mostly because I’m not one of Those Bikers. I have to ask for help when fixing problems, & I only just mastered the art of filling my tires with air. I rock my dad’s old Schwinn, not a Bianchi, & I do not get off on the idea of having my body reduced to a bloody smear on the pavement – something that seems to drive fixed gear fans who, by & large, intimidate the crap out of me.

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For all the elitist, stuck-up bikers out there though, there’s a whole lot of all-embracing bike love happening in out here. I wish I knew Stacey Earley better, because she’s one of the nicest bikers I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet (she moved a friend’s entire apartment via bike!). Cycling Sisters aims to get more women on bikes, & Sewing Pattern (aka Angie Ma) just released a spectacular album completely devoted to the two wheeled wonder. Times are good for bikers – which is good news for me as I prepare for the other Assignment #12: biking from where I grew up to where I live now.

I’m actually going to do this one in reverse, heading south from Chicago to Midlothian, the suburb where I grew up. In theory, this ride will be pretty easy: Midlothian is directly south of my current home in Humbolt Park, and Kedzie Avenue, one of the larger streets in Chicago, extends all 20 miles down to my home town. On the map below, I’ve used the California Clipper as my start point & St. Stephen’s Church as my finish so you can see my travel plan:

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It’s roughly 21 miles, which will be the longest bike ride I’ve ever taken in my life. It’s a little intimidating, but I keep telling myself it’s really not that big a deal; about four years ago, my mom & dad (who are Of A Certain Age) rode their bikes from Madison to Milwaukee in the dead of summer. If they can do that, then I should be able to ride to Nashville & back without breaking a sweat! Right?!

…right?

I love riding my bike down Western Avenue. It’s like staring Death in the face. Then calling Death a wise guy, poking him in the eyes & pedaling away going “WOOOP! woop woop woop woop woop woop!”

When we were dating, Jerry would sometimes throw out physics riddles for me to solve. So it makes sense that Jerry would have assigned me to run a 5k, as he was clearly put on this earth to cause me pain.

Not that he hasn’t been a great coach – Jerry’s been sending me links to possible races & running tips via text message. Having someone who genuinely wants me to succeed is a terrific motivator.

The trouble is, I’m awful. I am not one of those people who run five miles “for fun”. I am not someone who “feels great!” after a jog. I’m someone who runs about eight blocks then stops because her lungs are clawing their way out her throat. I crawl back into my apartment & splay out on the floor, panting & praying to sweet God that my death rattling won’t wake up my sleeping boyfriend – not because I value his sleep, but were anyone to see me in that condition I’d probably have to gouge their eyes out so it would never happen again.

There’s a surprising amount of shopping you can do when looking for the 5k you want to run. Jerry, again, had several suggestions, but I finally settled on the Athletes United For Peace Spring Chase, taking place at the Hearland Cafe on May 24th. I like the AUFP runs because they’re supportive of all skill levels, they’re local, & their mantra of “friendship, respect & trust through athletic activities” is one I can get behind. Also, it is free.

Until May 24th, though, I have quite a way to go. You see…I run in secret. I wait until most people are at work before I even think of lacing up my sneakers. I wrap my face in scarves & wear big, floppy hats & when I finally do take off, I run as far away from civilization as I can. With a Chicago Public High School on one side of my home & a StreetWise Youth Media down the block, escaping the cruel ridicule of teenagers is much more easily said than done. Slowly – very, very slowly – I trudge through alleys & near parks, avoiding the busier streets, tucking my head down whenever I near a dogwalker. I loop around the nearby cathedral & look down at my legs as I go, silently yelling “WHY? WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME? DO I NOT LOVE YOU? DO I NOT LAVISH YOU WITH CREAMY MOISTURIZERS & TENDERLY SHAVE YOU DAILY? DO I NOT MASSAGE YOU EVERY NIGHT, PRESSING OUT ACHES IN SCREAMING MUSCLES I DID NOT EVEN KNOW I HAD? REALLY? I MEAN, COME ON. HOW CAN THAT PART OF MY THIGH HURT? WHAT IS THAT? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN DO?” until, stumbling, I make my way to the gate & crawl in the door. Falling into the house I pause, listening for signs of boyfriends, crooks, evil ghosts, anyone who might spot me sucking in air with great, audible force, then walk around with my hands on my head for a “cool down”, trying to understand how anyone, anywhere, could ever call this “fun”.

I’m goin’ to grad school! 

Look out, world. Another kid with a silly MFA is headed your way!

We are immoral by design, and so when we act evilly, we are only revealing our most basic selves, the simplest, most convenient action, to fend for oneself and oneself only. To do right – to act justly, to put the needs of someone else above your own – now that is an act of true mystery. It is completely unnatural – a gigantic step beyond the jungle instincts of man and a leap into the unknown wisdom of silent grace which lurks, harbored in the small vessel of mankind, within us all.

the boy detective fails
Joe Meno

This is one of my favorite passages by one of my favorite authors. I’ve got a huge writer crush on Joe Meno, which might be cute/funny if I didn’t do things like appear at his book readings in both Chicago & New York. He’s publishing another novel soon, which I will read obsessively & probably push onto everyone I meet. Color me excited.