Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stabled Mounts; CTA; 911: I Wonder if He will Run me Over?

Friday night was the University of Illinois—Chicago annual bicycle scavenger hunt. Jonathan, his brother Ben and I were a team. Based on the format last year, I didn’t expect to be competitive (lots of ‘clues’ that were more befuddling than enlightening). We heard a rumor that cargo capacity would be damn helpful, so Ben brought a 6’ fresh air trailer, and I took the Bianchi with his rack and biggest panniers.

We realized that splitting up would be hard to organize because: 1) none of us have cell phones, and 2) none of us have watches. Oops. So we planned to ride as a group for most of the event.

However, when we hit the lake shore path, I volunteered to ride out onto Northerly Island to try to pick up two clues for 80 points. Despite a little unnecessary wandering, I found the points and was heading back to our meeting point at the Fireman’s Memorial, just South of McCormick Place. I knew that I was going to be later than the boys, because of my wandering, so I was pedaling fast in high gear to make up the time.

Northerly Island is dark and empty, an oasis from the city. I spooked up rabbits and other animals as I rode along the trail. Up ahead I saw a large puddle that spanned the width of the path. I poo-poohed the cautious voice in my head that suggested I slow down and/or avoid the puddle and the possible danger lurking in its depths. As I charged forward my bike bucked unexpectedly and I thought we were going in the drink. The Bianchi stayed upright, but my left cleat got jarred out of the pedal and somehow my left leg hit the handlebars – resulting in a bruise about the size of an egg.

When we finally cleared the puddle I looked forward to meeting back up with the boys when I realized that the bike was riding really…….wrong. I heard a hissing noise that confirmed that a tire was flattening. My thumb pressed down to the rim through both the front and rear tires. Grrrrrr……. I was fully aware that the boys were probably waiting for me and that riding on the rims is a bad idea. I didn’t want to waste anymore of their time and rode on the rims for the two(?) miles toward our meeting spot.

My Bianchi sounded like a trotting horse with his tires thu-thumping the pavement. I could feel that each wheel had a significant flat spot from hitting the dangerous bottom of the puddle. Damn – did it take effort to move, too. I was sweating a lot despite the chill air as pushed to the meeting place.

Jonathan was there with his bike and Ben’s trailer. Apparently Ben dropped the trailer off and pedaled to another clue while Jonathan waited for me. We didn’t have the tools to fix the flats (I don’t bring tools on races, because I just assume I’ll take the CTA sag wagon if I flat). I convinced Jonathan to go meet his brother while I took the CTA back home to pick up the Julep. Jonathan declined to take the trailer hitch from my bike, because “it will be too much trouble” and instead hoisted the 6’ trailer onto his shoulder and pedaled south to meet his brother. Crazy boy.

After trotting my bike up and down about 10 flights of stairs to cross over lakeshore drive, I finally got to a bus stop for the Cermak bus….and waited.

I rarely, rarely take CTA anymore – probably a handful of times a year. It is easy to forget the reality of being a single woman in a city while on a bike. I stood at the bus stop and felt the eyes of men linger on me as they slowed their cars to crawl past me. Grrrr…. Then on the first of two buses I needed to take to get home, an old man plopped next to me, struck up a conversation and kept touching my hair. He was an annoyance, and in no way a threat, so I didn’t move to another seat. It intrigues me what old creepy men actually are thinking when they are blatantly, unsuccessfully hitting on women.

Anyway, by the time I got home there wasn’t much time left before the final check-in point. I rummaged through my house and collected about 500 points before hopping on the Julep to West Town Bikes. Unsurprisingly, our team did not win. But Ben and Jonathan seemed happy from their ride.

Now both the Bianchi and the Dork Bike are in desperate need of repair. The Julep is my only working bike now – she must be smug with revenge after being stabled all summer.

The next morning, I had to catch a train up to a friend’s place in a northern suburb. I had left my camera at my office, so I hoped to have enough time to pick it up before going to the station. I planned to ride fast in the non-rush hour traffic.

Just a few blocks from home, going East on Chicago between Damen and Ashland, I heard a vehicle honking, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I was slowing for a red light and realized it was the delivery truck behind me. The driver was obviously yelling and gesturing at me angrily, but I couldn’t understand the words.

At this point I was in the middle of the right hand lane, waiting for the light to turn green. I didn’t plan on ceding the lane to him, because I was going to ride fast enough to keep up with traffic. Besides, in the light Saturday morning traffic, he could easily pass me in the left lane if he was in that much of a hurry – I had no intention of moving to the door zone just because the driver behind me was an impatient asshole.

That plan changed drastically moments after the light turned green and we were moving again. I heard his engine gunning and I looked behind me to see the front of his truck gaining on me. I veered sharply to the right and barely avoided getting run down, as I am sure would have happened had I not moved.

The driver of a cement truck and I shared a shocked look at what almost happened. For about a mile, I paced the offending Hostess Delivery Truck, license plate #90-297. It belched black smoke and drove like an asshole the whole time – peeling out of every intersection and jackrabbitting around to pass vehicles on the right. Part of me was tempted to pass him, but the more sensible part didn’t want to be in front of him again. He finally turned into the Osco Drug at the Milwaukee/Ogden/Chicago intersection.

A few minutes later, when I arrived at my office, I called 911 to report him. I hadn’t checked the exact time that I left my apartment, but I think the total trip took only about 10 minutes. The Julep had to fly to keep up with that asshole driver – despite him trying to run us down, I think he contributed to my fastest door-to-office ride ever. Despite making the 911 call, I had to wait about twenty minutes for my train to leave the station.

I hope the driver actually got in trouble. He was clearly unhinged.

Is there biker blood on your twinkie?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Happy Birthday Jonathan!

Life Updates:

  • I officially became a Board Member of Chicago's bike advocacy group last week.
  • At a meeting with Illinois's pro-bike State Representative, I inquired about initiating legislation to requiring drivers to pass bikes with three feet of space. For the first time in the meeting, she reached down to pull out her notepad and jotted this down. She thinks she could get a law like that passed. (Wisconsin has this 3' law and I was shocked that WI was in the minority -- most states only require that drivers pass within a "safe" distance -- according to some Chicago drivers, "safe" means only grazing the hair on bikers arms, instead of full-out side-swiping them!)
  • I haven't even ridden past the disabled Dork Bike -- I must stop being lazy and get her home soon!
  • I'm feeling more comfortable on the Julep -- enough so that I rode her home from work in high heels twice last week. She needs some maintenance, though -- her tires are mushy and there is a creaky/crunchy noise coming from bottom bracket/drive train.
  • I hate my job and have been having bad dreams about it.
  • I finally got my act in gear and got admitted to the Bar of the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court.
  • My resume has already been updated to reflect the relevant changes.


The excitement of the week however was Jonathan's Birthday. First of all, he thought he was turning 38, but when he did the math realized he was actually celebrating his 37th birthday. He is a year younger than he thought. How he forgot his own age is beyond me -- but what a sweet birthday present. Now he is only 7.5 years older than me, instead the 8.5 that we thought.

Anyway.......I decided to throw Jonathan a party. My boss tried to gobble all of my free time this week with more work ("when I say overtime, I expect you to work until 10:00 or 11:00 at night to get the project done"). Sorry -- not for artificial deadlines. Also, not when he keeps throwing other new projects at me, too. So to my boss's dismay I refused to work all of the hours he wanted -- and despite his ranting, the sky did not fall atop him. Still, I did not take off Friday like I had hoped, so poor Jonathan had to do most of the shopping for his own party. :(

I spent Saturday making the birthday cake, cooking, cleaning and preparing for the party. We invited people to carve pumpkins with us. A good time was had by everyone:

The Birthday Boy!

Friends Carving Pumpkins at one of the carving tables

Speaking of Pumpkin heads.......Jake's gourd is nearly twice the size of mine!

Kyrie and her vicious Halloween Kitty Pumpkin

Most of the Jack o' Lanterns (some people had already taken theirs home)

The Birthday Cake: flourless chocolate in the shape of a maple leaf.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


(backdated -- a post that was written last week)

Winter came today. There were snowflakes whitening the sky and making the streets wet when I went back to my office after a morning meeting.

My decision to get the Julep back into shape was timed nearly perfectly. Last Friday night the Dork Bike broke. Just a few blocks from home the rear wheel completely seized up on the poor little girl. I could not force the wheel to turn in either direction, and realized it was beyond my abilities without tools. Jonathan rode back to his parked truck while I locked the Dork Bike to a sign. We drove up to my friends’ place.

I’ve been busy, so I haven’t so much as ridden past the disabled Dork Bike. I hope she is OK – but I also expect that I will stable her for most of the Winter.

I’m still not totally comfortable with the Julep and I feel myself relying on her front brake more than I used to. After the laziness afforded by the Dork Bike, the Julep in comparison requires so much focus and anticipation to ride. While physically easier (or at least faster) the Julep demands a lot more mental energy to assure a safe ride.

Several times while riding to meetings or even walking alongside a colleague while rolling the Julep with us, I’ve gotten appreciative nods from messengers. On the way home one night a girl on a road bike inquired if I was a messenger, too. I don’t know if she believed me when I said I was a lawyer, because she snorted and snipped, "yeah right, me too."

After a summer of being a dorky rider, it feels good, in a vain sort of way, to shed that skin and don some street cred. I really, really love the contrast of wearing the lawyer clothes and riding the Julep downtown. While I enjoy the contrast, for all I know it could be a signal to those much hipper than I of the death knell of the fixed gear: "Fuck – it was bad enough when the posengers and wannabes all decided to ride fixed, but now even the suits have fixies!"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Happy Anniversary!

Today *celebrates* my second anniversary working at my law firm. I biked to work in the rain against a strong headwind, on the Dork Bike (unlike the Julep, she has fenders). My sleep the night before was restless – apparently the decaf label on the coffee I drank in the afternoon was false. Also, Blackie was a royal terror last night – many, many times she woke me up as she attacked the items on several levels of shelving. Somehow she managed to even knock my ancient, beast-of-a-laptop down, and once I awoke to her biting my calf. An ominous beginning to an already dark day.

BUT, it is also marks the second year anniversary of being a full-fledged, year-round, Chicago bike commuter. Yeah! In the summer of 2001, I began bike commuting from Uptown, Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. However, two years ago was when I started my first job in Chicago and had my first commute in Chicago (the half-mile walk to law school doesn’t count as a ‘commute’).

I didn’t keep track of the days I DIDN"T commute by bicycle, but my guess is that those days number around ten. None of them were because of the weather, but were days when I used a rental car to go out to the ‘burbs to meet a client. There were also a few days when I took CTA into work, because I was leaving straight from work to go to the airport/train station to begin a vacation and didn’t want my bike parked outside for too many days. The rest of the days I went both to and from work by my own pedal power.

PLUS, I’ve learned a lot about the practice of law. Even though I don’t enjoy litigation, it is the area of law most familiar to non-lawyers. There is a lot more that I could learn about litigation, but I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on it. Certainly this can’t hurt in the rest of my life/career.

To be honest, these last two year have been a blast, and my job (or at least the money I earn) has played an important role. Even though he is crazy, my boss has offered me a lot of support and encouragement in pursuing other interests.

I can’t wait to see what changes the next two years bring!

Monday, October 02, 2006

A requested Update...the Julep Rides Again

Life has been busy....work still sucks...and time marches onward.

This Sunday I was pretty productive – I did ALL of my laundry and consequently cleaned up my hellpit of a bedroom. There not only is a floor now, but it is also swept and clean. Then I stripped my fading basil plants of most of their leaves and made my winter supply of pesto.

The Julep got a flat tire sometime back in May or June. Twice I tried to pry that motherfucking tire off of the rim, but it just wouldn’t work. Instead, the nylon tire irons impotently bent under the strain. In disgust, I stabled the Julep for the summer – all summer long she was hobbled and downcast, with her fork resting on the basement floor.

I rode the Breeze, which I have taken to calling "The Dork Bike." She was a perfect little bike for summer – I leisurely rode around town with my bag in her basket. Her windchime streamers tinkled softly as I pedaled. We got passed a lot by other bikers: roadies and fixed-gears of course, but also mountain bikes and even......hybrids. I learned to get used to it, but at the same time longed to ride fast and sleek with the sexy fixies.

Several weeks ago the front basket on bike was stolen while the bike was parked at work. Grrr.... I strapped on my messenger bag and felt the sweat build on my back. The Dork Bike requires a lot of work to pedal at even a reasonably slow rate, so getting to and from work on it is a bit of a challenge. The Julep called from me in the basement and fixing her tire was on my to-do list for several weekends.

Then on Friday night when I left my office to join Critical Mass, I noticed that one of her streamers was missing. God-damnit. Slowly the thieves of the city were stripping away the Dork Bike’s most charming features. Grrrr...

On Sunday, Jonathan and I wrestled with the flat tire and finally got it fixed. I had also bought us new lights for the dark upcoming months, so we cleaned and outfitted his bike and the Julep. I was excited to ride her into work this morning, but also a little bit scared after being off of her for so long.

The Julep is a dangerous bicycle to ride. I rode my road bike only about five times this summer, and his handlebars are much higher than the aggressive Julep. The low, bent over position of the Julep alone was enough to make me feel uneasy. Plus I was clipped in. Most importantly, she is a fixed gear bike. Fear of her ‘kicking’ me if I dared to coast was in the forefront of mind along with "don’t forget to clip out."

Add to this the speed at which the Julep travels. She is geared much, much higher than the Dork Bike, on which I had to spin faster than I prefer to maintain speed. Despite her higher gearing, the Julep isn’t much harder to pedal because she is so much lighter than the Dork Bike. The Julep is made for speed, and the ease at which she jumps to 20+ mph, after riding the Dork Bike is shocking. My familiar route flashed past me in blur today, even though I was pedaling at a lower cadence than I was used to on the Dork Bike.

Every lick of danger is intensified at high speeds. While getting doored on the Dork Bike wouldn’t be pleasant, I don’t think it would seriously hurt me – plus at low speeds, I have more reaction time to react to danger. The Julep offers no such protection – getting doored would launch me into traffic and the pavement.

Riding her reminded me of when I first made her. There is this feeling of being lashed to something not completely within my control – sort of like a runaway horse (complete with the fear of her bucking me off.) Despite my nervousness, she is exilerating to ride, and of course I was the rider who got to have the fun of passing the other pedaling commuters.

I can’t wait to get used to her again so I can ride her at full speed. I’m hoping that the cadence training of the Dork Bike will transfer to the Julep. If so, she’ll soon forgive me for locking her in the basement all summer long, because she'll love the chance to go fast.

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