South Side Century: Denied

Pro Tip: You can click the map to support my Tour des Trees ride!

I’m deep into training for this year’s Tour des Trees to benefit TREE Fund, our annual 500+ mile cycling event that raises funds and friends for the organization I lead. Marcia was attending a conference yesterday, so with a full, sunny, solo day at my disposal, I decided to get my first century ride (100+ miles) of the season done. Generally, when I want a longer ride in Chicago, I head south from our home near the Loop, and I try to stay away from the densely crowded Lake Shore trails, the “Hipster Highway” Milwaukee Avenue corridor, and/or various trail systems north of us that are popular with young couples pushing mega-strollers or pulling unpredictable little dogs along on their strings. I can log a lot of miles quickly with far fewer unplanned or unexpected stops when I ride into areas that are less apt to attract hordes of bike share tourists wobbling around taking selfies as they roll.

Of course, my approach to distance training means I log a lot of time and a lot of miles in South Chicago, which many (most?) of my Loop or North Chicago dwelling neighbors  are apt to immediately declare unsafe and unsound, given crime rates and other demographic factors there. (This same concern applies to and is voiced about West Chicago, which I also ride through if I am heading out toward my office in Naperville). That reaction frankly bothers me, a lot, and I really don’t want to be “that guy” who judges huge swaths of his home city as fundamentally bad without ever entering said parts of the city. I’m not stupid, obviously, and I understand risk calculation and have a good sense of self-awareness and self-preservation, so I keep alert to my surroundings, I don’t go into spaces or places where I could be easily isolated, and if my radar gives me a sense of “unsafe,” I move expeditiously onward, and I adapt my route the next time I’m in that neighborhood to avoid the area that made me uncomfortable. But I do that in the Loop and in Streeterville or River North too, or wherever I am. Common sense rules apply, always.

So at any rate, off I rolled yesterday, and as I have done before, I left the Lake Shore trail systems and cut west on Roosevelt north of Museum Campus and then headed south on Halsted, a quick-moving north-south arterial with good bike lanes in both directions. It was a quiet Sunday morning without much traffic, so I was able to get into and mostly through a good chunk of South Chicago pretty quickly. The map at the top of this article shows (most of) my ride for the day. Eagle eyed observers will note, though, that the green start marker (where I live) and the red finish marker (where I ended this route) are not the same place, and therein lies the heart of the day’s story.

Around mile 28, as I was heading back north and east after riding the Major Taylor Trail out to Whistler Woods and beyond, I hit a sharp pavement cut near the intersection of Vincennes and 103rd with my weigh squarely on my rear bike wheel, which immediately popped (likely a spoke pinch) and went flat. No worries, though, I am a well-prepared cyclist and I had both a spare tube and a patch kit with me, since I know that flats happen when you do a lot of city riding on rough pavement. I pulled over under a nice street tree in a grassy area across the street from Holy Zion Missionary Baptist Church, changed my tire, hydrated a bit, and rolled on.

I really like riding and exploring the weird industrial areas around the far southeast of Chicago, and on into northwestern Indiana. There are some gorgeous bodies of water, lots of parks, fishing, pleasant outdoors vistas abounding, though they are often located cheek-to-jowl with factories, or heavy loading facilities, or landfills, or huge high-speed highway systems. I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday in that area, then headed back up along the shoreline toward home. I purposefully rolled into and along the beaches of Calumet Park, Rainbow Beach Park, and the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, and it was just great to bask in the beautiful day there and people watch, as there were tons of folks out enjoying the weather. Calumet Park’s visitors were mostly Hispanic, Rainbow Beach’s were mostly black, and I liked being there with them all, and didn’t feel the least bit out of place as I cruised through and said “howdy” to other riders or folks on the trail, all of whom were just as friendly to me.

Around mile 80, I was pushing north on the Lake Shore Trail, and an annoying chilly headwind off the Lake was blowing in my face, so I decided to cut back across the city to Halsted again, and then take that back north toward home, doing whatever zig-zags I needed to do to push my mileage total over 100. I cut through Hyde Park and Washington Park, and cruised on West 51st under the large conglomeration of rail tracks west of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Just before I emerged into daylight again, though, I hit a pile of glass that was hidden in the shadows, and my back tire went flat again.

More of an annoyance this time than the first time, since it meant I had to patch, rather than just replacing, the tube. So I rolled up close to the intersection of Halsted and 51st, popped off the back tire, pulled the tube out and pumped it up, and heard/saw several punctures, larger than a simple patch would handle, never mind the slivers of glass that I could feel inside the actual tire, without needle-nose pliers to tweeze them out.

So phooey, there I was at Mile 86, and I figured the riding day was done. I turned off my bike computer, saved my ride (hence the different stop/start points in the map), went into the Citgo Station on the corner of 51st and Halsted, got some chips and a soda, chit-chatted with the folks hanging outside of the station, and called to get a cab home that could handle my bike.

All good. No worries. Everything’s still social and sociable, I’m still feeling fine about the multi-culti glory of Chicago and meeting folks where they are, as they are.

The cab dispatcher took my name and location and said she would post the pickup, and that a driver would call my cell phone when they accepted the fare. Still no problems; there was a bus shelter on the corner so I sat down in the shade and waited for my phone to ring. Which it didn’t. So I called the dispatcher again after 20 minutes or so, and she said she was on it, and a driver would call me soon, honest.

As I write this article 24 hours later, I still have not received that call from a driver.

Soooooo . . . cabs don’t readily go deep into the South Side. I guess I knew that. But, hey, I’m a regular Chicago CTA commuter, never afraid to get on a bus, so I decided I’d just catch the Number 8 line up Halsted to somewhere in the West Loop where cabs would be more common, then snag a ride home. I looked at my phone at 3:45 and it told me a bus going my way should be there at my stop at 3:48. Perfect!

Except . . . not. There was no sign of a bus until about 4:10, when I saw one rolling up from the South. I got up so I could quickly get my bike into the transporter rack, except the bus just rolled right past me: “Not in Service” the message board above the driver said.

Hmmm. That’s weird. Was there a service disruption? Weekend hours? Broken bus?  I figured I’d wait for the next scheduled one (30 minutes later) and see what happened.

A few minutes later, though, a large black car pulled up in front of me and the driver rolled down his window. “Oh, cool, the cab’s here,” I thought.

But then the driver stuck his out and said “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve got a flat bike tire, and I can’t get a cab, so I’m just waiting to catch a bus.”

“I think I should give you a lift out of here right now,” the driver said. “This is not a place where you should be standing for very long. I’m not sure if anyone would target you exactly, but I can tell you that bad things happen on this corner. It’s not a good place for you to stand and wait. Will you accept my ride?”

I realized by this point that I was speaking to an under-cover or off-duty Chicago Police Officer. Since I was planning to meet Marcia for an evening reception and had something of a hard time deadline, I accepted the Officer’s invite in the interest of moving on, tossed my bike in the trunk of his unmarked patrol car, and rolled north with him. He was considerate and somewhat apologetic as we chatted, noting that I looked so obviously out of place in that bus shelter that he knew something was awry, and also noting that he has responded to numerous “incidents” at that corner over the years. Since he presumed I wasn’t choosing to be there, he thought he should offer to help me move on. That’s all. No biggie. Glad to be of service.

He gave me a lift as far as the Halsted Orange Line Stop, where I could catch the El train into the Loop. I thanked him, sincerely, and pushed my bike toward the train station — upon the door of which was a big sign saying “Due to high volume Chicago Pride Day traffic, bikes are not permitted on our trains today. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Goddammit!

Okay, next plan: I know that cyclists are friendly, helpful folks, as a breed. Whenever I see a bike on the side of the road, I always call out to see if the rider needs help, or a tool, or whatever. It’s just what you do. So I walked back to Halsted and turned North, clacking and clattering along in my bike cleats, hoping some cyclist might take pity upon me as I walked next to the bike lane.

Within five minutes, one did: a guy named Ray, who told me there was a bike shop south on Halsted (behind me now) that was open until 5:00, and that he had just come from there. It was about 4:40 now, so I thanked him and said I didn’t think I could make it there in time and that I’d just keep schlepping on toward home. So he rolled north away from me — but then rolled back a couple of minutes later and said a Southbound bus was coming, and he would ride up and tell it to hold at its next stop for a minute if I could quickly walk my bike up there to meet it.

And Ray did that. And the bus driver waited for me. And I told the bus driver where I was going and he actually made an interim stop so I could get into Blue City Cycles with about five minutes to spare before closing time. And they pulled the glass bits out of my tire, got me a new tube, and had me rolling again within about ten minutes.

I had to start a new ride on my bike computer, though, since I’d closed the old one out. I logged six more miles, bringing my total biked for the day to 92, having lost at least eight miles of measurable road time to bus and squad car rides. Dangit dangit dangit!! That’s like planning a marathon and quitting at mile 25. Doesn’t have the same bragging rights appeal or self-satisfaction elements, at all. Grrr.

Oh well. When it was done, I had a lovely evening with Marcia (it was our 29th wedding anniversary yesterday, which we had celebrated the night before at the sublime Topolombampo) and saw some good friends from Albany who were in town for the conference Marcia was attending. But as I went to bed last night and rode my bus and train to work this morning, I found myself reflecting on four takeaway points about my Denied Century Day:

1. It reminds me how nice and important it is that the Tour des Trees is a supported event; the riding days go quicker when you have friends on the road with you, and our Tour Director, Paul Wood of Black Bear Adventures has a great team behind him, so that in the case of a small incident like mine, or God forbid a bigger one, support is never far away on the route, with multiple vehicles and multiple teams ready to respond to riders when needed, never mind the great snack and lunch stops along the way.

2. It really hammered home for me one of the great social inequity issues in our City in terms of how difficult it is for folks in the South Side to depend on public transit or use cabs to get around, with the corollary factor that this makes it even harder for them to get good jobs outside of their immediate neighborhoods, no matter how much they want them, or how hard they work to secure them. We so take for granted our ubiquitous cabs, buses, trains and other instantly available forms of transit in the “nice” parts of the city. Not everyone in Chicago is that fortunate, though, and that’s both a shame and a structural failure of planning, economics and imagination, in terms of serving all of the city’s citizens, no matter where they live. We all deserve that, right?

3. The day made me more committed, not less, to riding smartly in the South Side. People were good to me. They were kind and pleasant. Nice things happened. I was not afraid. I had some enjoyable conversations and saw some interesting community sites, as I almost always do. I understand and appreciate the police officer stopping to check on me, though I know some folks might take umbrage with his actions or even my acceptance of his ride offer. But I think that our exchange was less indicative of any nefarious underlying racism, and more indicative of the fact that if other riders from “my” part of the city weren’t afraid of riding where I ride, then I wouldn’t have looked so obviously out of place to an officer who works that neighborhood on a daily basis. I hope that some day the area around the Citgo station on 52st and Halsted features more folks who look like me, or look different in different ways, on bikes, on foot, in cabs, whatever. We’ve got all sorts here in Chicago. The more we regularly interact comfortably together in all of our neighborhoods, the better off we’ll all be.

4. And finally, okay, I will carry multiple bike tubes with me from now on. In decades of riding, I’ve never needed more than one (plus the patch kit) in a single riding day, but now that those odds have finally broken against me, I’ll suck it up and add another one to my kit each day before I ride.

So, all in all, a good day with a good ending and some good lessons learned and some good things to think about.

But, dammmmmmmmnnnn . . . . 92 miles!!! CENTURY DENIED!!!! So close, and yet, no credit, son. Pack it up and try again. Do not pass go. Game over. You lose.

Oh well. I will likely ride three century days on the Tour des Trees itself this year, so if I don’t get any in before then, I’ll have no shortage of them once we make it to Ohio!

Spitfires, Ducks and Cups: Catching Up

1: SPITFIRES.

Marcia and I got back to Chicago (me) and Des Moines (she) yesterday after a great nine-day trip in England. We did the Battle of Britain Tour with Back-Roads Touring Company, who also guided our 2016 tour to Tuscany. On both trips, we were the sole Americans in the groups, which were otherwise composed of Australians and New Zealanders. We enjoyed that facet of the trip very much.

We saw lots of planes (World War II and Cold War era, primarily), had the chance to fly in a 1936 Dragon Rapide, and also got to see a pair of Supermarine Spitfires (the sexiest plane of the war, if not the most effective) take to the air. Also saw ships, tanks, bombs, submarines, cars, memorials, monuments, code-breaking equipment, museums and so on, while having the chance to amble and ramble about London, Cambridge, Woodhall Spa, Lincoln, Winchester and Portsmouth. Among many highlights, I think Marcia and I would both agree that a private dinner in the Squadron Mess used by the legendary No. 617 “Dambusters” RAF Squadron in their wartime barracks in Petwood Hall was a most unique and rewarding experience. Over 40% of the young men who participated in the famous Dambusters raid against German hydro-power facilities died along the way, and those numbers were not atypical among the aviation units of the day. It was good to spend time where they did, and to remember their amazing stories.

One powerful theme that reoccurred throughout the trip was hearing from folks about their family connections to World War II  and its aftermath in Central, Southern and Eastern England. One of many examples: a bearded, long-haired older gentleman named Mike at Thorpe Camp near Woodhall Spa, who has given of his time, talents and resources for over 30 years to preserve a bunch of old buildings that the Royal Air Force had abandoned to first squatters and then council housing after the War. Why did he see them as being worth so much work, and so much care? We asked Mike what fueled his passion for the project, and he said he still sleeps in the bedroom where he was born near the Camp, and that the other men and women who lived (and died) in and around Thorpe Camp “did not want forgetting.” He was committed to saving the buildings that housed and fed them and their families, and telling those community stories in the exhibition space he and his fellows created, keeping the global story local, as it were.

We met folks like Mike every place we visited: older women volunteering in replica NAAFI canteens because they did so as girls; a distinguished older retired Avro Vulcan engineer who (as a volunteer) wore a crisp suit and perfect tie to walk us around a collection of V bombers, sharing their quirks and secrets; an enthusiastic docent at the new Bomber Command Memorial in Lincoln who noted how often she cried as family members came to find the names of their loved ones and share their stories, etc. It seemed like everyone we met was touched somehow by the war and service to it, via family members or direct personal contact as veterans or survivors of the bombing of England during the Battle of Britain. We do not really get a sense of that magnitude from our side of the pond. We also saw that there are active efforts around the country to increase the remembrance as the last of the soldiers, sailors and flyers of the era are going on to their collective great rewards. That’s a good thing, and I am glad to have that perspective from this visit.

As always, we snapped lots of pics. Click on the image of the Dambusters’ Mess at Petwood Hall below to see them all:

2: DUCKS.

Well, “Duck,” more precisely. Or “Tree,” more relevantly. The latest edition of our TREE Press newsletter just hit the (virtual) news stands, and I copy my monthly article below. Which discusses a duck. And also a tree. You can read the whole issue here, including our new quarterly research report, which goes into deeper detail on a project of particular interest and relevance among our portfolio. The inaugural edition of this report features Dr. Kathleen Wolf of University at Washington, who’s doing exceptional work on the economic impact and value of urban and community forests.

Here’s my feature column . . .

My father was a career Marine Corps officer back in the days when “unaccompanied tours” (i.e. family members not included) were more the norm than the exception, often for long periods of time. During those times when he was overseas, my mother and I often lived with my grandparents in Ridgeland, South Carolina, in a small cinder block house that my grandfather had built himself. There were lots of cats and dogs around my grandparents’ house, along with an ill-tempered duck named Twiggy who lived on the roof and dive-bombed visitors, and an amazing (to me) tree, right smack in front of the door to the house.

It was a classic Low Country longleaf pine, and it was older than the house; I have pictures of my grandfather and uncle during its construction, and you can see that they tried to preserve as many of the existing trees on the lot as they could, even that one that crowded the front door stoop. And if that wasn’t inconvenient enough, my grandmother later planted wisteria around the tree, and its vines grew huge and thick, completely surrounding the bole of the pine – which is why I loved that tree so much as a little kid, because I could just pop out the front door, stumble over the root-buckled stairs, and use that knotted network of vines to climb to a favorite perch, high enough that I could even see Twiggy on the roof! Perfect!

I claimed that as my very favorite tree for much of my childhood and beyond. Of course, I know now that all the decisions my grandparents made about it were wrong – though they made them with good intentions, hoping for shade, pretty wisteria flowers, curb appeal, etc. The last time I was down that way, I drove by the old house and, not surprisingly, that tree and its choking vines were long, long gone. I suspect removal was an expensive and complicated job, given how knitted into the house that tree must have been when it finally wore out its welcome.

We all teach and preach “right tree, right place” when planting, but I suspect many of us might make the same sorts of mistakes my grandparents did when it comes to building around and in established urban forests, because at heart, we love our trees, and we want to save them all. This is why we seek to cover the full life cycle of trees in our cities when we award our wide spectrum of research grants, recognizing that with rigorous science behind us, we can make better decisions about what goes in, and what comes out, and when, and why.

dickdel1

My Great Great Uncle Dickie and my Grandfather Delmas building the house mentioned in the story above.

3: CUPS.

Well, again, I suppose the singular would have been more apt, since I am discussing the Stanley Cup here . . . which my much beloved and long-suffering Washington Capitals won while we were in England. Huttah!

I’ve been following the Caps since elementary school days in Northern Virginia when they played their first season, and it should come as no surprise if you know them, me, and/or this blog that Caps Fandom has been, well, complicated throughout the years. As I noted more than once here on the blog, they are really the team that I love to hate, or hate to love, more than any other. They have been truly maddening, year after year, losing series after taking 3-0 or 3-1 leads, capturing individual honors by the score while the team wallows in mediocrity in aggregate, doing well in the playoffs when they barely squeak in as #8 seeds, and tanking when they roll in strong with the #1 conference ranking.

The Pittsburgh Penguins (who came into the season as the defending Cup champs) have been a particular nemesis for the Capitals, so it was exciting to see them come back from being down against Columbus, then gutting out a win over the Pens (finally!), then blowing a lead, but recovering from it against Tampa Bay, then surviving a rocky first game loss to move into dominant mode, dispatching the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

I haven’t wanted to jinx them here along the way by writing about all the games I’ve watched and fingernails I’ve gnawed while doing so, and on some plane, it was probably a good thing that I wasn’t able to watch the final games, since that might have been completely unnerving for me . . . but, at bottom line, they got it done, and that ends their long, hard reputation as not-so-loveable losers. I’m pleased and proud to have supported them so long, through so much, and happy as I can be for the them as a team, especially Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström, who have 24 years between them with the Caps, including a lot of sad, bad, and disappointing finishes that they were blamed for, mostly unjustly.

I think there’s dynasty potential here, now that they’ve exorcised their demons. Plus it will be nice to wear my “Rock the Red” t-shirt, and not have it seen as an ironic statement anymore . . .

Senators_Capitals_Hockey_07994.jpg-e8c41_c0-103-3391-2080_s885x516

Good job, guys . . .

Best Albums of 2018 (First Half)

I posted my 26th Annual Albums of the Year Report just after Thanksgiving 2017, as is my usual practice. This means that late May of 2018 should be the regular time for my annual six-month report on the subsequent year. But it’s a dreary Saturday in Chicago today (again), I’m getting back into a more regular travel mode in a couple of weeks, and there’s a wealth of goodness to cite for the five-plus months behind us . . . so today seems a good day to get the list out, even if it’s a couple of weeks early.

So behold! The 18 albums that have moved me most in 2018 (thus far) are listed below, alphabetically by artist. No full reviews for now, but each link will take you where you need to go to explore the artists and albums in question. I see a few in here that have the scent and gravitas of “Album of the Year” material about them, but we shall see what the next six months bring. One thing I’ve learned over the years in doing and documenting these sorts of things is how much my opinions can change in a six month period, as early faves wear out their welcomes, or things rise up the ladder due to repeated listening. Happy listening to each of these discs now, in any case!

Beach House, 7

The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.

Che Guevara T-Shirt, Seven Out, Pay the Don’ts

The Damned, Evil Spirits

Jonathan Davis, Black Labyrinth

Drinks, Hippo Lite

Ezra Furman, Transangelic Exodus

First Aid Kit, Ruins

Goat Girl, Goat Girl

Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic

HOGG, SELF-EXTINGUISHING EMISSION

Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu

Ministry, AmeriKKKant

Napalm Death, Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs

No Age, Snares Like a Haircut

Shriekback, Why Anything? Why This?

Sons of Kemet, Your Queen Is a Reptile

Xylouris White, Mother

O Stinky Tree, O Stinky Tree, How Horrible Thy Branches . . .

Note: Here’s my latest “Leading Thoughts” article from the new edition of TREE Press, the monthly newsletter of TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO.

I live in downtown Chicago and work in Naperville, Illinois, with about a 70-mile round-trip home-to-office commute each day. I cover most of that distance on trains, but there’s about six miles each day that I do on foot. While the weather is (finally!) halfway decent this month, my walking experience is still not exactly optimal, since I’m trudging through the funky smell (somewhere between cat urine and spoiled tuna) of the flowering Bradford, Cleveland Select, and other ornamental pear trees, typically high on the “worst trees” list for arborists and urban foresters.

They are everywhere in and around Chicago, both in planned locations (I look out from my condo over a sea of them in Grant Park, and there are lines of them at Naperville’s train station) and in unfortunate, unplanned sites; the supposedly-sterile invaders have gone feral over the years, cross-pollinating with other pear trees, their often-thorny, always-brittle spawn popping up aggressively as weeds, to the detriment of other species. I grew up in a part of the country that was devastated by kudzu, and there is an increasing awareness that Bradford and related ornamental pear crosses may be an even more disastrous and expensive-to-mitigate plague than the creeping vines that ate the Carolinas.

And yet: in the past year, new sections of the Chicago River Walk have been completed near the confluence of the North and South Forks. I watched the construction and was pleased to see many of the scientific planting principles we espouse being deployed in the preparation stages – only to be disappointed when they ended up putting in ornamental pears! The developers of these new municipal assets must be aware of the fact that they are planting “bad” trees to get a few weeks’ worth of pretty flowers each year, but somehow their life cycle arithmetic and aesthetic considerations still point to ornamental pears. And that’s just wrong.

TREE Fund can play a role in better educating urban and municipal planners, developers, landscape architects, civil engineers and other related professionals to not make such mistakes. In fact, this is the purpose of the Bob Skiera Memorial Building Bridges Fund, which will award grants for programs to educate decision-makers outside of our core arboricultural disciplines on what to do – and what not to do – with our urban and community forests.

We are within about $20,000 of the $500,000 goal to activate this fund in 2019. If you’d consider making a gift to the Skiera Fund, we’ll be better able in the years ahead to fight the blight of bad, bad trees.

⊕—⊕—⊕—⊕—⊕

A blog-only visual supplement to the article above:

Sure, my train station in Naperville and the parks near my Chicago condo may be postcard pretty at this time of year . . .

Naperville Train Station, pears as far as the eye can see.

Millennium Park, looking toward Pritzker Pavilion, tree love (a.k.a. pollen) is in the air.

. . . but get closer to any of those ornamental pear trees, and odds are you will see a mess like the one below: a textbook bad branching structure that makes these trees fall apart dangerously in inclement weather. Which, incidentally, we have a lot of here in Illinois.

Steep V-crotches + bark inclusions + lack of a central leader + brittle wood = the worst branching structure in nature, and an arborist’s nightmare.

Learn more about invasive ornamental pear trees at this link.

I’ve Got A Bike . . .

White Trash on Wheels! Represent!

The photo at right is among the oldest ones I have of myself. It was taken in the mid-’60s in Ridgeland, South Carolina, at the little bungalow we called “The Green House,” where my Mom and I lived while my Dad was off on various and sundry Marine Corps duties. I am wearing my “Deputy Dawg Hat,” one of my grandfather’s cast off chapeaus, named after my favorite cartoon, which was the only place on television where people spoke the way they did in the real world around me. I’m clutching a football (probably via my Dad, a former offensive linesman who likely expected I’d follow in his footsteps), and whenever I look at this photo, I always smile at the classic piece of redneckery visible in our back yard: a picnic table made out of a door laid over a couple of sawhorses.

I also see, of course, that I am sitting on a tricycle, which I know that I love love loved! This old photo and others from that same general period featuring that same trike remind me that I’ve been rolling around on self-propelled wheels for as long as I can remember (maybe longer), and that bikes have been a key part of my life’s narrative for over half a century. I do not call myself a “cyclist” (not fast enough for that) nor am I a gear nerd nor do I collect bikes nor do I feel like I need the latest and greatest equipment at all times. I just like using my own wheels to get where I need to go or (even better) to just roll around checking out the world around me, with no particular destination in mind. I like bikes and biking. I always have. That’s it.

I should note at this point that I’m not just talking about “bikes” generically here in this article, but rather the long line of very specific bikes that I have owned and ridden, oftentimes well beyond their normal life expectancies. I can clearly remember them all, every one: what each one felt like, where I went with it, what I did to it, what I liked about it, what I didn’t, and where each of them went when our times together were done.

My family moved to Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Earle near Colts Neck, New Jersey a couple of years after that trike photo was snapped, and I got real two-wheel bike once we got settled in there. We lived at the top of a long hill on Green Drive (an extended cul-de-sac), and I learned to work my two-wheeler by essentially being set atop it and pushed down the hill, with wobbly training wheels at first, each of which fell off (at different times) over the course of a few weeks or so, eventually leaving me rolling like a big boy. My Dad was the Commander of the Marine Corps barracks at NAD Earle, and the base was secured at its perimeters, which meant that me and other little kids in the neighborhood could essentially just ride and ride and ride to our hearts’ content without any adult supervision, as far as we wanted to go, until the sun went down, or one of our parents sent the base security folks to round us up and send us home.

As I grew, I went through a series of larger and larger bikes (usually birthday or Christmas gifts, as I needed them) through various family moves to Virginia, Kansas, Long Island, Rhode Island and North Carolina. I rode them on the roads, and I rode them in woods (the distinctions between street bikes and trail bikes are generally lost on kids), and I destroyed a few of them by jumping them over ridiculously unsafe ramps, or field stripping them for parts to add to other, newer bikes, or doing the various other stupid things that stupid teenage boys do to their belongings.

Gotta dig the early ’80s helmet . . .

I didn’t take a bike with me when I went off to the Naval Academy in 1982, but I bought one in Annapolis soon afterwards: a great Bianchi Celeste road bike. I kept and rode that one until 2011, when we moved from New York to Iowa, making it my longest-lasting bike buddy, by far. That’s me and Green Machine at right, probably in spring 1988, in the driveway of the first house that Marcia and I shared together. I think she probably took this photo, though I can’t say that for certain. (Another redneck classic moment here: I couldn’t afford real cycling gloves, so these are just thick wool winter gloves with the fingers cut off. You can take the boy out of South Cackalacky, but you can’t take the South Cackalacky out of the boy).

By the early 2000s, we were living in Upstate New York, and various family and work obligations made it harder to use my limited free time by taking the sorts of long road rides that Green Machine was designed to accommodate. So I decided to get an off-road bike instead, and do shorter, more intense, rides closer to our home, mostly in the woods. That bike was named Trusty Steed, and man oh man, did I ride that thing hard, using it as a companion on the various Hidden in Suburbia photo-essays that I wrote and published on and off until 2011. Trusty Steed wins the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” prize among all of my bikes for accommodating whatever I threw at him in stride, and still getting me where I wanted to go, even if it was via routes that weren’t really made for bikes. At all.

Trusty Steed and I going where we shouldn’t . . .

I took Trusty Steed with me to Iowa in 2011; Green Machine stayed in New York, given to a charity that refurbished bikes for immigrant families. Unfortunately, most of my riding in Iowa was done on roads or paved trails, not in the woods, and years of abuse meant that Trusty Steed had a variety of clanks and creaks and bonks and rattles that were okay when crunching through rocks and sticks, but became distractions in the relative quiet of blacktop pavement riding. He was put out to pasture (in our garage), and then I went through a couple of replacement bikes in short order after that, before settling on a hybrid bike named City Liner (named after a Good Rats song) that wasn’t exactly a superstar in either off-road or on-road situations, but got the job done.

When we moved to Chicago, we went from having a three-car garage (with plenty of bike space) to having a single rack spot in a communal condo bike room, so I donated all of my bikes except City Liner to the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. He seemed to be the best choice among my bikes, since city riding tends to require a combination of skills, including pot-hole dodging, curb-jumping, and pedestrian slalom on the various lake-front trails. But then a few weeks later, with virtually no training time logged, I was off to Florida to ride my first Tour des Trees (the major annual community engagement event for TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO), and it quickly became apparent that I’d made the wrong choice of keeper bike if I was going to ride a 500+ mile, seven day adventure cycling tour every year.

Zoom zoom zoom through Southern Pines, Black Felt in effect . . .

So I went back full circle to a good road bike again, selling City Liner to a neighbor in our condo building who needed a city bike for his son, when he was home from college. My newest (and current) bike is Black Felt. I rode him in the 2016 Tour and have done all of my Chicago and training riding on him since then. (Though I do feel mildly guilty to note that I rented a sexy Aluboo roadster from our Tour Director for the 2017 Tour, so I didn’t have to ship Black Felt to and from Washington, DC, in the midst of a bunch of other work-driven chaos).

After an atrocious winter and hideously rank and dank spring that ran through the end of April, I’m pleased to finally be back out on the road again with Black Felt. We did a 52-miler this past Saturday, and it felt good. This ride was notable for me in a somewhat subtle way: after 50+ years of being a no-tech or low-tech rider, I took to the road for the first time with a cycling computer onboard, which was an early birthday gift from Marcia. I was somewhat awed and overwhelmed by what it captured when I got home and plugged it into my PC, so I look forward to figuring out how to add these bits and bobs of information into the way I ride going forward. (I know it will be helpful on the Tour des Trees: after three years of being the guy with a bunch of folded up paper cue sheets in my jersey pockets, I will at least look like the cool kids now).

Sorry about that elevation number. There ain’t no hills in the Second City!!

One thing that was particularly interesting to me among all the data was the impact on average speed that Chicago-style riding produces: when I was on the bike and moving, I generally kept to a 16 to 18 mile per hour pace, but since inner city riding means I can rarely go more than five or ten minutes without having to slow dramatically and/or unclip and stop for a light, car, pedestrian, crossing, whatever, it made my effective speed only 12.5 miles per hour. I guess if I could get to where my Chicago average speed was 15 miles per hour or so, then I’ll really be able to move up in the pack when we get out on the open road in Ohio for this year’s Tour des Trees. (Which you should support, by the way, with my thanks).

So that’s a lifetime in bikes there, for what it’s worth, and for better or worse. It’s hard for me to imagine a time that I won’t be rolling around on self-propelled wheels as I’ve done for over 50 years already. Hopefully they continue to be of the two-wheeled upright version, like Black Felt, for many more years, but if a time comes when I need to go recumbent, or back to a trike, or even a wheel chair, well, hey, no worries, no shame, so long as I’m still rolling down the road under my own power, since that’s what counts to me.

 

Post?

I should probably do a blog post. It’s been a while. Not that there’s any pressing need for one, of course, but, you know . . . I should probably do one. Give the traffic a little bump. Put a couple tweets up on Twitter. Maybe a link on LinkedIn. Draw some eyeballs. April was a good month, even though I didn’t write much. That’s nice to see, I guess. Maybe May would be good, too, even if I didn’t do a blog post. But I should probably do a blog post. It’s been a while.

Let’s see. What should I write about? Well, not should, exactly, since no one is making me write about anything in particular, so it’s not like there’s an external driver, or a need, per se, that has to be satisfied and written about, to satisfy some obligation or another. It’s more, like, what could I write about? Which should be an easy question to answer, in a world of infinite creative possibilities. But really when you ask that question, or when I ask that question, it’s more like sitting in the easy chair by yourself (myself) and turning on Cable TV and scrolling through all 3,000 channels and not being able to find a single goddamned thing that you want to watch. How can that be???

Sometimes, though, there’s a show or a game or something that you know about in advance, and you’re excited about, so it’s easy to sit down and watch that. On the TV, I mean. Going to the computer to write a blog post can be like that, too, if there’s an idea that just begs to be written about, or some event that needs to be recorded. Well, not needs, really, since no one’s out there waiting for my hot take on whatever hot take item inspires me to write, especially since what I think is a hot take item is usually 180% out of alignment with what normal people think is a hot take item, so whatever need there is, there, is really my own need, to get something off my mind or out of my head.

But when I should (understanding, per above, this is a self-imposed prerogative) do a blog post because it’s been a while, it’s cool when there’s one of those “gotta get it out” ideas that I want to write about, and it bubbles up at the same time, so the need (my need) (perceived) to write something aligns with a specific something (whether it’s a hot take item or not) that excites me to sit down and write, because then the work (self-imposed) part of the project (if you can call a blog a project; don’t projects have beginnings, middles, and ends, and specific outcomes objectives?) lines up with the enjoyment (self-delivered) part of the project, and there’s satisfaction in sitting down to write, and satisfaction in writing, and satisfaction in having written.

Have I ever said “hot take” before? I don’t think I have. Where did that come from?

I have a tree-related idea that might make for a good blog post, but I should probably save that for the TREE Fund newsletter, then I can post it here afterwards. Support the professional team better that way. Plus I have word-count limits for the TREE Fund newsletter, so if I write it here first, then I have to cut it back later. Better to write the short version first for work, then I can add to it here. Or not, if it seems good enought in short form. (Could write about the whole “is shorter better” or “is it harder to write a short thing than a long thing” concept as a blog post, I guess, but it’s a tired trope, I think). (Is there some new spin on that?)(Hot take?)(No). (Probably not). (No).

Do any of the recurring thingies I do on my blog need (understood, self-imposed) to recur? I did my Top 200 Albums List update in April, so that’s good for awhile. Although I’ve already updated it a couple of times since then. And will do so again, but I don’t make that a new blog post, just an edit of an old one. I wonder if anybody notices when I do that? Like “Oh, hey, check this site out, this dude thinks our album is one of the 200 best records ever, way cool . . . oh, wait . . . sorry, I guess he didn’t, my bad.” I could do another “Ten cool Chicago pictures are worth 10,000 words” post, but I don’t think I have ten cool Chicago pictures since the last one of those posts, and it doesn’t really make sense to do one that’s not part of that series (does it?) or that’s just a random collection of pictures without some theme because then it’s not like a blog post, really, it’s just like a photo album.

I should probably get on Instagram, speaking of photos, and albums. That’s where things are happening these days, right? I think? I dunno. Maybe? Not quite sure. Nor am I sure how it all works over there. But I do know that when I send people to look at pictures in my Flickr albums, it kinda sorta feels like having a hotmail email address in 2018, or a MySpace page. Do others see it that way? Do I care? I dunno. Still,  I should probably get on Instagram. I think. And by should I mean all things I’ve mentioned about should elsewhere. Could? Could. Will? Probably not. But . . . . should.

If I take a picture of the airplane wing when I am flying to Chicago, does it go in the airplane album, the Chicago album, or the travel album? Or should I make a wing album?

Speaking of photos, still, I really liked that Volta Photo exhibition at the Art Institute. I could write about that, maybe. The pictures were great, the story was cool, and there was music that I liked. I could write about hearing Volta Jazz there, and going home and grabbing some of that music, and liking it at home too, in a different context. But then I’d sort of just be repeating the Art Institute’s exhibition summary page, since I’m not really in the mood to do a full on critical exhibition review. Sometimes it’s just nice to see something and like it and not feel obligated (well, not obligated, since no one’s making me do it) to write about it, but just have it for myself, or take someone else to go see it. I kind of feel that way about a lot of stuff, actually. I wonder if when you are a critic (movie, music, art, life) for a long time if you reach a point where you just run out of words or energy to criticize anything anymore. And by you, I mean I. I really liked that Volta Photo exhibition at the Art Institute. Isn’t that enough?

How about books? I could bring back the Five by Five Books series. I only did eight of those, and that seems like a weird number. Should have been ten. I liked Bae Suah’s Recitation, and it’s the kind of weird or unusual book that seems (to me) like it would fit in that series, but then once I’ve stopped a series for three years, does it make sense to bring it back? Should I just write a regular book review about the new book and not try to make it part of something bigger, reminding people in the process that the bigger thing got dropped for three years, and now has nine entries, which is just as weird a number as eight entries, requiring me to think of another book to get it up the proper ten, which is where I should (could) stop it and feel a sense of completion? I could do that (wait, what “that” am I talking about about here; hmmm . . . oh, there it is, that), but then if it’s just a standalone critical review, then (see above) that triggers the whole “tired of criticizing, just enjoy it, don’t need (self-imposed) to share” loop again.

(God, I’ve only got six months until I have to do my annual Best Albums Report! Ugh! That one’s hard. But I can’t stop doing it. Because it’s a series, 57th annual, whatever! I really should keep it up). (Should?) (Should). (Need)? (????)?

This review aversion thing is weird, right? (Who are you talking to?) (And by you I mean I?) (Or do I?) I used to bang out reviews all the time on all sorts of things, bang bang bang, check’s in the mail (six to twelve months later). Now I find reviews hard, and there’s usually some angle or outside influence that actually motivates me to do them, e.g. supporting an artist I know, etc. Is that nepotism? I don’t write about family members, so I think it’s cool if I write about my friends’ work in fond terms. I mean, if I don’t like something that a friend does, I just don’t write about it. It actually has to be good for me to do a blog post about, or include it in a list, or whatever. No foul there. (Is there a blog post there?)(Maybe, but it’s boring one). (For me).

But anyway, hypothetically speaking, if I was going to do a blog post about something musical, what would I write about, right now, right here, go! First synapse closed says: I really like HOGG (a band) and they have a new album coming out, but I have only heard one song so far, and it’s great, but if I wrote about them now, it would be like a preview piece, and I’d really end up writing about their last album (also great), and then what’s the point, really, unless I have something unique to say about it. Which, I guess on some plane I do, because a big part of what I like about HOGG is their use of techniques that I also used in my own music, e.g. processing things the “wrong” way, using oddly linked pedals, skeletal electronic beats, background hums and buzzes, re-purposing rudimentary technology to get unexpected results, etc. etc. etc. And how many people can say that? It’s probably a fresh take, if not a hot one.

That’s a great album cover there. I wish I’d had an album cover like that.

That would kind of be kind of an obnoxious review if I wrote it that way, though, wouldn’t it? “I like HOGG because they sound like me. Signed, Me.” But I wouldn’t mean it that way. It wouldn’t be back-patting, because it’s not like they heard my stuff and emulated it in any way. It’s more a convergent evolution thing, with unrelated organisms coming up with similar solutions in different places and times. Plus, I think HOGG  do what they do better than I did what I did, and they’ve certainly gotten more press exposure with it than I ever did, so seeing similaritie wouldn’t be a self-congratulatory comparison thing, it would just be, like “Ooo! I see and hear something in there that I recognize! That’s so cool!”

But, still, that would probably scan like a self-indulgent “me me me” review, no matter how I intended it. Especially since HOGG are women and are much younger than me, so people might fairly read any words I wrote about them in comparison to my own Old White Guy musical experiences as though I were (was? were? am?) saying “Oh, look, these young women discovered a cool sound and I like it. But actually, I discovered it before they did. Here, let me mansplain it to you and them, and praise their originality. But actually, let’s praise my originality. Bro. Dude. Brah. (Manspread). (Brunch). (Cubbies).”

No. I guess I really shouldn’t do that. Not the kind of thing one should even say aloud, really. And by one I mean me. And by should I mean should. And by really I mean, well not right now, anyway. Maybe I’ll think about how to do this in a non-jerky way and come back to it after HOGG’s new album is out and I have had a chance to listen to the whole thing. Of course, by then, I will probably forget that I was thinking about doing this the next time I feel like I really should (normal caveats) write a blog post. I guess I could write this idea down on a white board to remember it. I used to have a white board by my desk. It was good for capturing passing ideas until they ripened. I should probably get a white board again. I should probably try to remember that I want to get a white board again. If I had a white board, I would down on the white board that I want to get a white board. It’s white boards all the way down.

Jeezum Krow, is it 9:00 already??? I really should get to work on other stuff now, shouldn’t I? (That’s a different kind of should there, isn’t it? External, not internal). Ugh. I sure hope the next time I should (back to earlier meaning) write a blog post that I have one of those “exciting hot take” ideas (Hot take? Why? I don’t have hot takes. Who has hot takes? Stop that!) that emerges at the same time, because otherwise, God, I would probably end up doing one of those self-indulgent “blogging about blogging” posts, and nothing is lamer than than those.

And by nothing, I mean nothing.