#999: The Ride – Bridgeport to University Village

October 29th, 2018

I was pleased to discover college students are still awful.

That’s not sarcasm, and it’s only a little snarky. It actually pleased me to park my bike among the concrete Duplo blocks slapped down by mismanaged ’60s architects to form the University of Illinois at Chicago.

It pleased me to watch the cosplay the pretty girls and pretty boys played in, knowing that within a few years, deep, committed women and men would put their selfies and fashion aside. It pleased me to watch lovelorn boys sulk and scowl, pleased me to see groups of friends who looked like grownups joke and tease each other the way kids do.

(It did not please me that the Jane Addams museum I had come to see was closed for renovation, particularly since I had just come from an ill-fated side jaunt to the closed-on-Mondays Chinese American Museum of Chicago. I really should have checked the hours first.)

I had come from a coffee shop in the Bridgeport Art Center, where I downed an iced latte with coconut milk and as much junk food as my body craved to keep up the calories. I was starting to flag in my massive bike ride, which if you’re just joining us started last Monday at the city’s southernmost tip and will wrap up on Halloween, when I reach the city’s northernmost.

If you’re just joining, I traveled the length of the city one day in July, and I’m still on the South Side. I’m not yet watching the awful, wonderful, awful college kids, and I’m not yet standing outside a locked museum in Chinatown. I’m still in the Bridgeport coffee shop.

One wall is lined with a DJ station and turntables, another has a drum set and a third has a massive screen set up to play 1990s console games. I play a few rounds of Nintendo’s StarTropics, which I loved as a child but now realize has boring, repetitive gameplay and no interesting characters.

Nostalgia lied, as it does.

The Art Center is a magnificent place, a former catalog warehouse now filled up with event space, artists lofts, a museum dedicated to maritime history and, I find, a funky coffee shop where dance music plays for two men set up on Mac laptops.

This isn’t the Bridgeport people think of, the self-imposed, self-imprisoning nostalgia of working men chopping hogs and climbing up ladders of Irish politics. That’s a wonderful nostalgia and staring at the former Bubbly Creek, I find myself longing for the mass employment we used to have. I long for jobs.

But it’s a false nostalgia. Bridgeport was racist, conformist, confining. The waters roiled with pollution — “bubbly” is not a good adjective for a creek — and those jobs vanished as the world changed. We don’t butcher hogs for the world, don’t stack wheat or play with railroads. Our shoulders aren’t big; they’re hunched over Mac laptops while dance music plays.

I turned off StarTropics, having my fill of repetitive gameplay, coconut milk latte and nostalgia’s lies. I rode off to closed museums, and found myself among concrete Duplo blocks and memories that, if not nice, were pleasing in their accuracy.

It pleased me that college students are still frivolous, irresponsible, brilliant, self-involved, fearful, charming and just awful, wonderful, awful human beings. It pleased me that UIC students are still as horrible as I was.

UIC was where my Chicago began, in a way. I wasn’t a UIC student, but sublet an apartment from a high school friend who had been.

We were both recent grads, thrust out into a world and told we were men. We were given an instruction book. We were given hundreds of instruction books, each with the exact opposite advice from the last one. Do this, do that, go here, go there, go to church, find a girl, find atheism, stay single. The world was our oyster, with our age turning everyone within earshot into a kibbitzing auntie giving us unsolicited advice and opinion on the exact proper way to shuck it.

I really needed to get out of my parents’ house, and Jeff had a sublet. So I came to Chicago.

Nostalgia lies and you grow out of the things of youth. I was pleased to discover college students are still like me when I was awful, but it was time to leave. I pointed my bike north.

It’s time for story #1,000 of 1,001. It’s time to head home.

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