Bicycle Diaries: January 2010

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You have to love pedestrians...

Pedestrians make up
the greater part of humanity.

And so begins The Little Golden Calf (Золотой телёнок or Zolotoy telyonok) by Soviet authors Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov. A new English translation of the 1931 book, by Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson, is getting a lot of enthusiastic reviews. When I went looking for it, I came upon another, but incomplete, translation by Maciej Ceglowski and Peter V. Gadjokov. The novel's hilarious and, much to my surprise, rather apropos to this humble blog. The opening pages continue with a clever, trenchant comparison of pedestrians and cagers!
... The best part, no less. Pedestrians created the world. It was they who built the cities, raised skyscrapers, laid sewage and water lines, paved the streets and lit them with electric lights. It was they who spread civilization throughout the world, invented movable type, thought up gunpowder, flung bridges across rivers, deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs, introduced the safety razor, abolished the slave trade and established that soybeans can be used to prepare 114 tasty, nutritious dishes.

And when everything was ready, when our home planet had taken on a comparatively comfortable form, the drivers appeared.

We should note that the automobile was also invented by pedestrians. But drivers somehow instantly forgot about that. They started running over the peaceful, intelligent pedestrians. They took over the streets the pedestrians had created. The pavement doubled in width, the sidewalks narrowed to the size of a tobacco pouch, and pedestrians had to start pressing themselves against the walls of buildings in fear.

Pedestrians in the big city lead a martyr’s life. A kind of transportation ghetto has been created for them. They are only permitted to cross the streets at pedestrian crossings, that is, in precisely those places where traffic is the heaviest and where it is easiest to sever the hair by which a pedestrian’s life usually hangs.

In our expansive country, the ordinary automobile—designed by pedestrians for the transportation of goods and people—has taken on the terrifying outlines of a fratricidal missile. It mows down rows of union members and their families. And if a pedestrian somehow manages to escape from under the car’s silver nose, he is fined by police for violating the rules of the traffic catechesis.

And in general, the authority of the pedestrian has been rather severely shaken. Having given the world such notable persons as Horace, Boyle, Mariotte, Lobachevsky, Gutenberg, and Anatole France, he must now go the most undignified lengths simply to remind the world of his existence. Oh God, oh great God who does not actually exist, what have you brought the pedestrian to?

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A smashing success!


Dead certainties...

in the Amazon Basin

I just finished reading a fascinating book lent to me by a drinking buddy. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by New Yorker writer David Grann, is actually a tale of two obsessive journeys, separated by nearly a century, to the same place in the Amazon jungles. The first concerns the repeated attempts of Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett to find material evidence for a lost civilization, or El Dorado, in the Green Deserts. The other involves the author trying to find what happened to Fawcett and two others after they disappeared on there in 1925. After going to the region where Fawcett was last reported, Grann simply ends his narrative. It's the most surprising thing that's ever happened to me as a reader. We'll never know what happened to the early 2oth Century British explorer - FULL STOP.

His death as well as those of his son and son's best friend are certain. The cause (as in who or what did them in) will forever be uncertain, particularly as it is disputed by those tribes who continue to claim the best of hospitable intentions while accusing the others of deceitful murder. What is certain at the end, however, is that Fawcett was onto something. Today's anthropologists and archaeologists have discovered mounting evidence of ancient, complex civilisations in Amazon. Perhaps that's the better epitaph for Fawcett. He was right. Everyone else ... wrong.

We'll all be dead one day anyway.

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Let your tweed flag fly!

Once again, the Central Committee of the BBC chose an unseasonably warm day to gather together nearly 40 ladies & gentleman for a fab tour of the Windy City's posh fireplace pubs. As always there were a lot of new punters who joined last Saturday; but a lot of cheery ole' timers and Ocean Pearls as well. We also had a journalism student along to vid the first stop at Jack's Bar & Grill on Southport just below Lincoln.

The growing interest in our little collective reminds of an article that appeared in The Spectator a few weeks back. It so often happens on the opposite shores of the Atlantic. The Brits despair over the passing of a well-worn tradition just their American cousins herald its rebirth. This time around it's the demise of that dowdy English fashion sense: the threadbare, genteel poverty so valued by the upper classes since the late 18th Century. Harry Mount writes,
The idea was born that it should always take a few seconds to notice if someone is well-dressed. Nobody who was really smart wanted to appear so — that would be ostentatious. Enter those frayed shirt collars, jumpers with the elbows gone, battered chintz rather than fresh new seat covers.
The usefulness of things, no matter how old or time-worn, is what mattered. But now both the masses and classes of Merry Olde are in the thrall of the new, the minimal, and the modern. Think of London's Millennium Wheel and Beetham Tower, both representing the UK's squeaky clean embrace of the 21st Century.
For the first time in history we live in a civilisation where, the richer you are, the fewer things you have, and the newer, cleaner and more stripped-down those things must be.
When I read this I looked around the genial clutter of my apartment and realized that shabby chic is indeed alive and well in this colonial outpost. It's even catching on among the punters on Madison Avenue. Back in November last year, The New York Times described the new wave of hipsters giving up their skinny jeans for tweed trousers and spotty t-shirts for high-lapel vests. And here our Tweed Rides are attracting more bikers than the venerable Midnight Marauders.

Perhaps it has something to do with George Bernard Shaw's observation that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

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Passeo Guernika

journey of discovery
Part II

I wrote, back in November, about my new journey of discovery in the Boricua neighborhoods of the West Side. My intention was to start a series of posts focusing on interesting things I discover on my daily commute to and from my new job at North Avenue & Rockwell.

My first discovery, so far, is this community mural along the viaduct at Rockwell & Bloomingdale. I have no idea who or what organization might've painted it but it's a beautiful adaptation of one of my favorite Picasso paintings, Guernika. I first viewed the original in Madrid at the Museo del Prado about eight years ago.

All along the wall opposite Guernika there is long and wide, light blue smudge about three feet from the floor. When I asked a guard what it was, he replied wryly smiling, blue jeans. It seems that so many people lean their asses against it, lost in contemplation, that they've left a faint, collective reminder of their awe. I won't belabor Guernika's history or meaning here. There are plenty of links that already do that quite well. Suffice it say, I appreciate the personal connection it creates with my new neighborhood .

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Bike community 2.0

the rise of
the vélosphère

A major facet of my nostalgie de décennie in The Windy City has been comparing my life in 1999 to that of 2010; especially the differences. Perhaps the biggest is the subtle change in the bike community here. When I did my first Critical Mass in May 06 I was aware of only a few bike groups. There were organized clubs like UIC's College of Cycling and the Chicago Cycling Club. More underground groups included The Rat Patrol and our city's chapter of the Scallywags. Then there were the more informal groupings, organized around regular monthly or annual rides. The Midnight Marauders and Santa Cycle Rampage come to mind. All were supported by a diverse range of bike shops and co-ops; the most famous being Working Bikes.

I even tried my hand at organizing The Square Wheelmen. My efforts, beyond a nifty graphic and some bike caps given to friends, didn't get that far. It didn't fail as much as sputter because nobody but me got the connection between Lincoln SQUARE (my 'hood) and a none-to-subtle anti-hipster dig. Also, it may've had something to do with the lack of a proper website. Blogs I could do in 06 - HTML was still a mystery. Perhaps things would've been different if I'd had a social networking platform like the one that appeared a year ago: The Chainlink. Since its inception, nearly 3,000 bikers have started and joined over 100 groups. And like in 06, they're spread along a wide spectrum of themes, rides, issues, self-help, and the just plain silly...

What really fascinates me is that I'm not all that sure if The Chainlink promoted this blossoming of Bike Community 2.0 or is merely a reflection of it. Either way, it's definitely a fact that the city is a far richer place for our idiosyncratic bikers than when I first moved here!

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10 Years of Chicago BikeWinter

by the

Total Seasonal Snowfall
in inches...

(with 11.1 on 18 Feb 2000)


(with 12 between 30-31 Jan 2002)



(with 11.2 between 21-23 Jan 2005 )





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South Side Ride

and a surprise
3 mins, 36 secs in...

from Aaron Bussey
on Vimeo

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Happy New Year!


It took me a while to realize two things about 2010. It not only marks the start of a new decade. It marks my first ten years in The Windy City! When I first got here I wasn't planning on staying that long. I had come with enough baggage to sink the Titanic. I had just given up on academe. I was newly divorced and a typical 1st post-divorce relationship was typically imploding. I wasn't all that sure where my future was going. The drift didn't bother me all that much though. This was the first big city I had ever lived in. I had a great job with enough money to enjoy the night life here. I travelled overseas for work quite a bit. I got to see India, China, Eastern Europe, and even Central Asia. These were certainly enough distractions to keep me occupied as one year became three. Then I found another job then another and the 1st three years became ten...

Slowly; almost too slowly for me to notice, I stopped drifting. I became rooted in my neighborhood - I've lived in the same apartment over the last decade. I made friends - perhaps the closest I've ever had. I came to think of this place as my home - perhaps for the first time since I moved away from the home of my awkward adolescence in Upstate New York. In a word, I think I've become a Chicagoan...

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