There’s a place on Milwaukee where you have to cross two lanes of traffic uphill to get into the left-turning bike lane.
As the spring, summer and fall edge on and your legs and gut get honed to, well, as good as they’re going to be, the shift becomes an annoying if instinctual habit.
The first few bike commutes of spring, it’s a huffing, puffing mess made glorious after the left turn, as you coast down a hill on a protected lane, a chocolate-drenched wind from the Blommer factory rushing to meet you.
PSI at 65, brakes checked, chain lubed.
There’s a place on Cortland where a crumbling rust-red bridge takes you through the newly shuttered Finkl steelworks.
There’s a moment at night when the downtown skyscrapers, crackling with light and power against the darkness, shoot into view down the industrial bend of the river. They used to tower above Himalayas of scrap in the Finkl yard, heaven leering over the hell that forged it.
Lock tested to see if the key still works, water bottle rinsed and refilled so I don’t catch the ol’ Legionnaires Disease.
There’s a place on Armitage where a passel of young women, so beautiful and multiracial they should be in a stock photo laughing over salads, gape and cheer at a wedding dress one of them holds up.
And there’s a suicide run west on North Ave., where the brave and doltish zip down Route 64, unaware or unwilling to find safety on a side street a block north.
And there’s a street that takes you by a softball field, ones that take you by children’s karate studios, streets that bring you by memories painful because they were bad and ones even more painful because they were once lovely.
There are streets that tread by endless, developer-sanctioned brownstones slap-dabbed like Monopoly houses. There are streets taking you through weed-choked fields where the lone person crossing — no one around for yards and meters — still walks jumpy and suspicious looking on the scene.
There are streets in Chicago that I only see on wheels, streets that would zip by on cars and be too far to go on foot. Twisting, turning, exploring, I can only have these moments because of a bit of plastic, metal and rubber, molded, forged, stretched into two wheels, some pedals and a little blinky light on the back so no one taps me after dark.
It’s a way to get from hither to fro, from to to yon. A frippery. A bauble. How I get where I go when the weather’s nice enough and I don’t feel like using a bus pass.
But it means more to me than your car ever will.
Everything’s set. I open the basement door and push out my bike into the broad light of day.