Men play basketball across the park and children splash in the pool, but someone remembers Liza Whitacre.
Many someones, it seems. They remember this young woman — killed at 20 in 2009 — through what’s known as a ghost bike. That’s a bicycle painted white and left as a memorial near the spot a cyclist was killed in a crash.
Liza’s bike is covered in flowers. It sits on the corner of Wellington and Damen, a spot I’ve gone by hundreds of times. It has angel wings on the back. It has a replica Eiffel Tower — Liza studied French at Loyola, a quick Google tells.
I never knew Liza, of course. I can’t speak to the loss of someone so young, so happy and vibrant from all the accounts I’ve found. She had family and friends — has family and friends. I can imagine their loss the same way I can imagine walking on Mars. I can’t.
I’ve lost people, of course. We all have. But implying any pain is the same or talking about the human condition always seemed a bit cruel to me, like the priest who just talks about the Resurrection in a eulogy because he barely knew the person in the casket.
Death isn’t universal. I’ve never lost a Liza.
So this is a story about Liza’s bike.
It’s beautiful. Some ghost bikes — they exist here and there — fall into disrepair. The tires go flat, the sign giving the name gets dingy. Not Liza’s. It seems eternally fresh.
I like the bike because it reminds me and the rest of the cyclists on the road to be safe. I don’t mean Liza wasn’t, but sometimes I zig when I should zag, look at a pretty tree when I should keep eyes glued. Liza’s bike reminds me horrible things can happen to the best biker. I’m not that person, so I should watch the road all the more.
I like it because it’s simple. All the best tributes are.
But mostly I like Liza Whitacre’s ghost bike because it made me wonder about this name on a sign on the side of a white-painted bike and the two dates that subtracted made 20. It made me do a quick Google and find out about this happy, vibrant person I would otherwise have never heard of. Bits of trivia, but bits that made me happy this person was alive.
I’ve gotten maudlin. Now I’m the stranger priest.
I wish the bike didn’t exist. I wish it didn’t have to. But I’m glad the people who did know and love this person created a place where they could share their memories.
And as a person who passes that memorial relatively often, I’m glad the form they chose is as beautiful as the night sky.