#1,000: The Ride Home

October 31st, 2018

The North Side was a blur, as it should have been. I tried to play catch-up after lingering so long on the South. I was out of energy, out of sweat, felt bile rising in my stomach and my legs burned. I do OK for what I am, but I was not in shape for this weekend warrior nonsense.

And I couldn’t stop laughing.

Down some water. Laugh. Dip among traffic. Laugh. Cram an energy bar and stop by the tampon boxes, fast food wrappers and museum-pimping statuary that pool along the spot the Roosevelt Road bridge overlooks both river and the vacant Rezkoville and I laugh laugh laugh.

July. Bike ride. Entire length of the city just for funsies and to end the site on a high note. I’ve been posting about it for a week and a half in stories I wrote between August and early October. You’re all caught up.

This is story #1,000. This site will end on Friday. I will miss it greatly. But I’m not ending, nor is Chicago.

I found crime here. I found death and sex and sin and kiddos playing piggy on summer days in the park. I wept and shook here and I laughed and shook here. I got drunk and kissed girls and took boat rides and played croquet. I wore spiked leather bracelets in one life and neckties in another. This town rattled and made me.

North through the skyscrapers, north through the trendy bars, north through gay neighborhoods and wealthy ones and ones where the poverty bleeds and bubbles from the soil itself. North.

The stories, by god the stories. The people I met! The people I didn’t meet! I’ve talked to dancers and magicians, politicians and thugs and drunks. I hit this city with all I had and at the end I told so, so few of its tales. This city threw itself at me and I gave it a pittance, my thousand stories trickle and tinkle against the ocean this Chicago throws back each moment.

In June 1921, Chicago Daily News reporter Ben Hecht debuted “1001 Afternoons in Chicago,” a daily column slicing life in the first quarter of the 20th century. In the preface to the book version, editor Henry Justin Smith recalled the “haggard but very happy” Hecht turning in the first few columns.

“It was clear that he had sat up nights with those stories. He thumbed them over as though he hated to let them go. They were the first fruits of his Big Idea — the idea that just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly and unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature, not hidden in remote places, either, but walking the downtown streets, peering from the windows of sky scrapers, sunning itself in parks and boulevards. He was going to be its interpreter. His was to be the lens throwing city life into new colors, his the microscope revealing its contortions in life and death. It was no newspaper dream at all, in fact. It was an artist’s dream. And it had begun to come true. Here were the stories. … Hoped I’d like ‘em.”

By 1925, Hecht was sick of it. He had written a deliberately smutty novel called “Fantazius Mallare” as a test case on American obscenity law, and American obscenity law won.

He was fired from the Daily News in 1923 but had with a group of friends from the Dil Pickle Club arthouse scene started the Chicago Literary Times, an inspiring, brilliant drain on time and funding. Writer pals were calling about easy money and literary fortune in New York, and Hecht was ready to submit.

These are the final lines of the last 1001 Afternoons in Chicago story, “My Last Park Bench,” in which an older, weary Hecht stumbles across the younger version of himself.

“I catch a glimpse of him following me with his eyes, excited, damn him, over the mystery and romance which lurk in every corner of the city, even on a cinder-covered bench in Grant Park. Let him sit till doom’s day on this bench; he will never see me again. I have more important things to do than to collect cinders under my collar.”

I didn’t know when I started that Hecht was a liar and fabricator, a newsman conman of the era for whom Truth and Fact formed a Venn diagram, and none of it mattered so long as the words sang. He ended up in Hollywood, his gift for witty lies finding a more appropriate setting than a newspaper page.

I just knew I wanted to try what he claimed he was doing.

Since April 2012, I never missed a scheduled post day and, aside from some clearly satirical stories about mascots, Santa Claus and the brainstorming session for “tronc,” I never made up a word. What you read from me over these last six years is Chicago in the 20-tens as seen through my lens and microscope.

Hope you liked ‘em.

I was laughing when I hit the graveyard.

I made it. I made it through my self-assigned task. I made it through Chicago and I made it through, Chicago. My throat was dry and my legs burned white like charcoal ready for meat. But I was laughing.

My side trips and roundabouts added almost 20 miles to the route. Had I stuck to the path, I could have gotten there at 30. Instead the app tolds me I took 49.86 miles to get from Burnham to Evanston, plowing through that town between.

I’m not done yet. Not with my 1,001 stories, not with my half-century ride. Just a touch more to go.

I turned the bike around and headed back into the city, aiming my aching bones, burning legs and slightly chafed uppity bits toward the Howard Red Line stop. Nothing left in me, I slouched toward Bethlehem to be born.

A CTA worker came out of her glass cage to greet me.

“No bikes on the train,” she said.

And I laughed.

Read a few of my favorites:

The Rabbi’s Machine is Missing — Whatever happened to Chicago’s last typewriter repairman?

The Human Addict — A begging addict talks about being treated like a person.

Old Joe of Canaryville — Joe sits in his shop waiting for customers, as he’s done for 68 years.

Nuns in a Cash Register Store — Another bit of Chicago is lost.

The Nut Hut — Over soup, a woman recalls her role as a professional tease in a prostitution scam.

Party at Uncle Fun — Customers, staff and Uncle Fun himself say goodbye to the well-loved Belmont gag shop.

The Murderess Down the Block — I find out a 1920s lady gunner lived a few houses over from me.

The Most Sarcastic Child in Chicago Watches a Clown Show — Clowns from Theater Oobleck and El Circo Nacional de Puerto Rico win over a very sarcastic child.

The Steelworker’s Mermaid — How four sculptors hid a seven-foot mermaid for 14 years.

Mama Olaf — An immigrant tale of love and tripe soup.

Miss Sweetfeet Breaks — A breakdancer talks about the need for more B-Girls.

Light and the Rocket — A child I knew just killed a man.

The 16th Artist — One man’s arts center aims to revive Englewood.

The Rabbi, Harry Potter and Too Many Corpses — A rabbi has to tell a little boy some bad news.

Whatever Happened to the High Priestess of the Flappers? — In 2016, I wrote about the head of a 1920s clique of teen glamour girls. In 2018, her granddaughter reached out.

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