Bicycle Diaries: November 2009

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Space cowboy?

a little

I did my usual Thanksgiving dinner in Ohio on UffdaDave's farm. Sharing my love for all things Firefly, his son, Nate, turned me on to this wonderful snippet from Castle. It's the show Nathan Fillion landed in after playing Mel in Firefly! I just love how he drops into character ...

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Full Moon Fiasco XII

Silent Night...
My Ass!!!

Whether snow, sleet, rain, flood, or just cold as shit:

Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Gannon's Pub @8pm

Though sometimes late, we never cancel a ride.

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Disraeli Gears


This second album by British blues-rock group Cream was released in November 1967. It reached 5the place on the UK record charts. It was also incredibly popular in the States, becoming a massive seller in 1968 and reaching 4th on the American charts. It features the two singles Strange Brew and Sunshine of Your Love. But its title is based on an inside joke between Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.

They were discussing Clapton's idea of buying a racing bike when a roadie, Mick Turner, commented, it's got them Disraeli Gears. What he actually meant was derailleur gears rather than the 19th Century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Both thought this was hilarious, deciding to make it the title of the band's next album. Had it not been for Mick, it would simply have been entitled Cream.

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Journey of discovery

just 6 miles
from home

A few weeks back, Roger Cohen wrote about The Big Apple's local peculiarities in his NYTimes op-ed column. He pointed out something that I've also noticed about The Windy City. You only have to go a few blocks in any direction and the city completely changes both in terms of culture and economics. I've been aware of this lately because og my shift in work from the high-rise Loop to the low-rent near North Side. Cohen experienced the same thing when the NYTimes moved its Times Square offices a couple of blocks southwest into the Garment District. As he describes it,
The former headquarters was trapped in the neon tentacles of Times Square, a once seedy part of town re-imagined as the tourist-filled set for a movie called “New York,” a place where people from out of town loiter six-abreast gazing at the flashing lights while New Yorkers try to dodge the phalanxes of flesh.

The new premises, as I’ve gradually learned, placed us just within the garment district, an area where zoning laws have protected apparel manufacturing space and so held off the developers who would otherwise have turned clothes factories into condos and created yet another gentrified district bereft of seediness, tawdriness, community and that strange high-low alchemy essential to any great city’s mystery and charge.

Unlike Cohen's, my new digs are defined less by industry than by ethnicity. It's the heart of the city's Puerto Rican communities which are generally much poorer than my former workplace just off North Michigan Avenue. However, like Cohen's Garment District, it's an incredibly vibrant area, despite carrying more of the weight of our current economic crisis.

It's an area I knew little about beyond the usual fears and prejudices of your typical Northsider. To be frank the first few weeks were a shock. I take regular smoke-breaks along the street next to our building. Most of the buildings opposite are abandoned or inevitably for rent. There's a city ordinance sign on the corner reminding me and my fellow citizens that its illegal to solicit prostitution in public (I guess then it's OK in-doors?).

But like I said, much of my initial shock resulted from being in a strange, new part of a very large, diverse city. I've started to discover all kinds of hidden, fascinating facets. Hopefully, I'll be able to write more about this as the months go by. For now, I've got to finish this year's Annual Report.

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The ingenious velocipedeans

30 October 1914: England's The Guardian reports on the latest developments in military technology. Mr. Cook Wilson, Moral Philosophy Professor at Oxford, highlights the advantages of cyclist troops. To me it sounds rather similar to the masser ritual here in The Windy City. To wit:
One officer who loves cavalry work was bitterly disappointed at the futility of employing cavalry against these cyclist troops. If attached in large numbers, the cyclists simply throw their machines in the middle of the road, where the spokes and wheels make a perfect obstacle to charging horses. The riders then take shelter in hedges and pick off their struggling mass.

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It's about the lycra

not the

Magda Szubansk, a comedienne from Down Under, caught a whole lot of guff from bikers after her rant against lycra-louts last September. To be quite frank, I agree with her up to the point where she starts calling for cagers to run them off the road. Fortunately, she realized that she'd gone over the top and apologised. But aren't the streets, everywhere in the world, dangerous enough without ramping up the rhetoric?

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Tweed hits the big time!

and in a paper
of note, no less...

The NYTimes mentions Beer, Bicycles, and Brits, though I wouldn't call us the New Victorians.
This flamboyance is part of a curious new movement called Tweed Rides, informal gatherings of spiffily dressed ladies and gents cycling leisurely through town and disdaining finish lines. Tweed Rides began in London earlier this year and have spread this fall to Boston, San Francisco and Chicago. As the directions for this weekend’s Tweed Ride in Washington, D.C., put it: “Leave the fleece, Lycra and outer shell at home. This ride is for the dandy.”

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Bike panache?

'nuff sed...

Originally posted by Tina Roth Eisenberg over at Swissmiss, her NYC-based design blog and studio.

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Two minutes of silence...

for their sacrifice

It's Veteran's Day here in Lincoln Square. It's 55 degrees and sunny with a few puffy clouds. Anyone doing a little shopping near the corner of Western and Leland won't miss the neighborhood's ongoing memorial to our soldiers killed in Iraq. The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative has been putting these pictures in the upper windows of their building since August 2004.

The memorial is very powerful because you can't possibly avoid the pictures. You can see them if you bike north on the east side of Western Ave. You can see them if you're waiting for a citybound train on the platform of the Brownline station. When the pictures started going up there there was only enough space for 648 pictures. Now the windows on each of the three floors are completely covered. And as of last Thursday, the total number of our soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 2464.

Each time I pass it I'm reminded of two relatives who died in WWII. Robert Klippel, my mother's brother, flew P-51s out of Iwo Jima in 1945. This photo was taken a few days before he shipped out to the Pacific. On 1 June 1945, a little over two months before Japan surrendered, he flew escort for the B-29s called up on a last minute bombing mission. Before they reached their targets over Osaka, a tsunami engulfed the planes. Only a few ever returned.

My uncle was one of the unlucky ones. He and his plane were never found. In 1946 his Missing in Action status was changed to Killed in Action.

Some of his friends who survived visited my mother's family soon after the war. They said that the last time they saw his plane it was trying to climb out over the storm. Years later I got my hands on the afteraction peport from a veterans' organization. It states that this mission was the largest loss of life and equipment in the Pacific Theater.

The other relative on my mother's side of the family, Frederick Klippel, was killed in the European Theater. As you can probably tell from the photo here (he's the one with the canteen), Frederick served in the German Wehrmacht. In 1942, his infantry reserve batallion arrived in western Ukraine to consolidate the huge gains made by the German invasion of the Soviet Union the previous year. He was killed by Russian artillery fire on 12 February 1943.

As as a young boy, every time we visited my grandmother she would show us Robert's Army Air Corps insignia and medals. The stuff was always cool to look at; in fact, I've had a bit of an obsession with this uncle who had died 17 years before I was born. Thanks to the web, I've done a lot of research on his squadron and fighter group. A couple of years ago, I even made contact with the veterans from the figher group. But they were in different squadrons and didn't remember my uncle.

It wasn't until I was an adult, many years later, that I realized that Robert's death had torn the heart out of my mother's family. My grandmother firmly believed that he was still alive somewhere on Pacific island or in Japan. Her eldest daughter, my aunt, started to suffer from bipolar disorder at the end of the war. And my mother still can't talk about my uncle with getting extremely emotional.

As for Frederick's family, I don't really know how much his death has affected them. I've never met them myself. I didn't even know they or Frederick existed until I googled Klippel. One of the results was a Klippel geneaology posted by a distant cousin who lives on Stanton Island. Since then I've visited him several times. Just like with my grandmother, we look at the pictures and documents he got in Germany when he visited Frederick's family.

But I do know that once a soldier's ghost sits down at the dinner table it doesn't ever really go away. The one that started sitting with my mother's family in 1945 now sits with me as well as with my cousins and their children. This is why those 648 faces staring out of the windows of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative have become an important part of my bike travels along Western Ave.

Today there are too many ghosts sitting at dinner tables or in backyards or on porches and decks around Chicago and the country.

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Burning Guido Fawkes

...the tweedy way!

The Guido Fawkes' Bonfire Tweed Ride was a rousing success last Saturday. Thirty tweedy lads and lassies made it all the way down to Bubbly Dynamics outside Bridgeport. Special thanks to Viscount Wallace for organizing the route and Clan Lloyd for hosting the bonfire. Folks had suggested a November ride so we could wear the full tweed monty without sweating our arses off. But true to style, the weather was unseasonably warm ... perhaps we'll do our next ride in March to force a thaw!

Me & Viscount Wallace
by Heather

Me & Bob
by Allan

A lot of civilians took favorable note of our procession. This from Chainlink Chicago:
This afternoon my friend and I were sitting in a window seat at the Irkosium Cafe on Clark and Foster when my friend said: "Look, there's a guy on a bike who's dressed like Sherlock Holmes!" Before I could turn my head to look he said, "Wow, there's another one." Then the whole posse cycling by.

"Oh, that's a tweed ride," I told him.

"A what?" he asked.

He was impressed that I knew what it was all about.

You all looked very natty biking down Clark Street.

Lovely Lauren certainly thought
it was pithy success
by Aaron

Our honoured guest!
(thanks to Allan)

Burning the bastard!
by Sarah

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The fall

20 years ago

the joke's (still) on you
Uncle Joe!

is captured in this photograph by Lt. Gen. Nikolai Vlasik, the Soviet dictator's bodyguard. Vlasik's off-the-record photos of Stalin caused a sensation in the early 1960s when an enterprising Soviet journalist spirited some out, selling them to newspapers and magazines worldwide.)

and our piece of the wall
in Lincoln Square

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive,
but to be young was very heaven.

William Wordsworth

on the French Revolution

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Chicago seen

really seen
Vivian Maier

She looks rather dour, this French immigrant who came to the States sometime before WWII. After a brief stint in The Big Apple, she settled in Oak Park, working as a nanny for a solidly Windy City, suburban family. Her immigrant story would've remained rather ordinary if it weren't for her photographic work (consisting of 20,000 negatives and about a thousand rolls of undeveloped film with 12-14 images on each) and John Maloof who bought it at a local estate sale. You can see here what he's gleaned from the vast collection. And you can read the story here of his attempts to meet her; she died days before he finally discovered her whereabouts, and then his efforts to discover who she actually was.

Though her life's details are spare, I think you can get a sense for Vivian from the sheer humanity (and sometimes humor) of her photography. It also reminds me that once upon a time, not all that long ago, The City of Big Shoulders was mostly working class folks little more than a generation removed from The Old Country.

She definitely had the eye for the great contradictions of our Prairie Metropolis. The photos of monumental buildings always include the human beings they supposedly served. More often then not, the foucs is tight, filling the scene with on the margins of successful, rich America in the 1950s and 1960s: the kids, the black maids, the bums flaked out on shop stoops.

It's a shame her artistry lived in obscurity. When I showed Vivian's photos to a co-worker here at Bickerdike, she mentioned that they would have made wonderful visuals for Studs Terkel's Division Street. As he wrote,
The nomadic, transient nature of contemporary life has made diffusion the order – or disorder – of the city….I guess I was seeking some balance in the wildlife of the city as Rachel Carson sought it in nature.

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Bicycle wheels

Life is to be lived on the positive tip
Never lose the ground
You never gonna slip
If you never lose the ground Always draw the line
Never wear the frown

Should've got myself some bicycle wheels
Should've got myself some bicycle wheels
Should've got myself some bicycle wheels

On the wings of steel
There's dinosaur's in countries
Everyone that I've seen
There's dinosaur's in countries
If you know what I mean
I always keep a watch on the ever changing future

Doing what I want
And you could do what suits you
I said throw your hands in the air
I like to see your armpit hair
Throw your hands in the air
I like to see your armpit hair

Life is to be lived on the positive tip
I'll never lose the ground
You know I'm never gonna slip
Never gonna slip, cause I never lose the ground
Always draw the line
You know I never wear the frown

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Shrine of the Vélotariat

blessing the bike

On 2 November, The Oregonian reported that St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in downtown Portland has
become the nation's first church with a permanent indoor shrine honoring the Madonna del Ghisallo, who is the patron saint of cyclists. An entire section of the 80-year-old wood-and-stone sanctuary will be set aside for bike commuters to contemplate their travels and remember those who have died while cycling.
A painting of the Madonna del Ghisallo (above) by local artist Martin Wolfe will hang above bike parking and a nave where travelers can light candles or sit in reflection.

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On the road

with the original
Working Bikes

I was just listening to Bob Edward's Weekend on Chicago Public Radio Sunday morning. He did a piece on Charles Kuralt's famous TV essays, interviewing his cameraman, Izzy Bleckman. And he mentioned Jethro Mann who back in the early 80s had started fixing bikes for the kids of his town, Belmont, NC. He told Kuralt that it hurt him to grow up without bikes. So he started a bike lending library. His garage was filled with wrecked bikes. The kids were careful to return the bikes every evening, about suppertime. Then he would work on them, sometimes until one or two o'clock in the morning.

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