#996: The Ride – Hegewisch to South Deering

October 22nd, 2018

In morning, men who look like Santa Claus hop out of pickup trucks by the train tracks.

They’re in construction hardhats and neon clothing loud enough to give the engineer enough time to notice them and feel terrible forever before the train crashes into them. To a man, they’re white and fat. The old ones have burly white beards down to their collarbones. The younger ones, still in training, only have rolls of scruff barely reaching Adam’s apples.

Their morning is beginning. So is Chicago.

On July 30, I rode my bike the entire length of Chicago. On a whim, on a lark excused by the existence of this blog and a desire to go big as I near 1K, I took a day off work to ride from a Burnham golf course to an Evanston cemetery, from the southernmost point of town to the northernest north bits.

I rode past the Hegewisch train tracks, noting a spot where a homeowner had put up sawhorses to keep a spot in dibs, even though it was the dead of summer. I found the first bike path on Baltimore, turning past a military tank set out to honor the veterans and a pizza place called “Pudgy’s.” Hegewisch is bright and suburban, but poor enough to feel comfortable. It’s a place of corner bars, bored teens and a rotting commercial thoroughfare. It’s a small town gone jobless, Mayberry waiting for the factories to return.

About 128th, while unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate a series of no outlet streets, I catch sight of the first industrial structure, a massive rusting or rust-colored steel something looms over the village of cul de sacs and bungalows like a dark wizard’s tower in a children’s book. I stop to record these thoughts by an empty Little League field where teams named after pro teams play feet from a humming power transfer station.

I speak longingly of the industry, not derisively. These are jobs. A chance to build, to provide, to be. But the nature of the area is jarring slapped so close to the industrial parks. A retention pond outside a pallet company warehouse is dappled with lily pads. When I approach, the dark wizard’s tower turns out to be a¬†bridge of the type where the middle raises straight up rather than having two sides split and tilt. There’s a deer crossing sign in front of it.

Where the sidewalk ends, I’m forced to ride alongside screaming trucks and weekday motorcyclists. There’s a hole in the berm to my right. It’s an elephantine tube of corrugated metal running under train tracks — maybe for drainage or to let animals through, but the mud rutted with tire tracks shows its current use. I ride through and find two men fishing the Little Calumet.

They’re both black with beards and floppy fishing caps. One is standing next to his bike, casting into the industrial waters amid bird chirps and leafy trees sneered over by massive metal tanks and silos on the other side of the river. The other, older man is unloading a tackle box from his car.

I should stop them, of course. I should stop them and get their stories, learn their lives, interview them, pimp my blog and otherwise do what I said I set out to do, but they’re so perfect, they’re so pastoral, they’re so wonderful and of that very moment that I just ride in a circle and say to them “Good luck.”

Tall grass leering out into the road lashes my arm as I drive down the three-foot median on the end of 122nd, but I don’t dare veer away from the grass onto the street lest I get creamed by a tanker truck that says “Quest,” one of many that suck me into a momentary slipstream as they scream by. I feel like I’m on a country road. I feel like I’m in a factory. The bike path finds me again at Stony Island.

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