06 October 2007

The future

First of all, this:

No, I'm still here, still in the same old rut. Still at the university. Still in Hyde Park, even. Still in the same pointless job, still in the same crappy apartment with the archways and the nice view. I refuse to give you money until you can better coordinate the alumni and employee databases. Take my donation right out of your contribution to my retirement fund, if you want it that badly.

I'm a waste of my education. What happened to the future?

I need to get out of here.

The future began here:
"On December 2, 1942, man achieved here the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy."

The future is commemorated by Nuclear Energy, a sculpture by Henry Moore:
"The 12-foot bronze sculpture stands on the site of the University's old Stagg Field, where the experiment took place under the leadership of Enrico Fermi.

"To some, it suggests the shape of the human skull or the atomic mushroom cloud. Henry Moore told a friend, however, that he hoped those viewing it would 'go around it, looking out through the open spaces, and that they may have a feeling of being in a cathedral.'"

The future began here again on October 5, 2007, when the first ever Hyde Park Critical Mass gathered at Nuclear Energy for MeetUp Mass. I call it "the future" because that's the vibe I got: the future of Chicago Critical Mass as we (we?) know it is most likely these smaller scale, more local gatherings. I could be wrong; I probably am. But you know what, this is my blog and my story; this will be my future.

The ridiculousness of our 21st district police escort has already been discussed at length, so I won't repeat it here.

I arrived at Nuclear Energy promptly at 5pm and found a couple of undergrad types examining a Chicago-area road map: "So where are we going?" "Pilsen, they said." "How do we get there?" "I'm not sure--Pilsen isn't on this map. Where'd you say it was?" "Like, 18th Street or something, I think." "Uh, 18th Street isn't on this map either."

Amateurs, I muttered. I tossed them my Chicago Bike Map. "Wow, thanks! Do you know where we're going?" "Well, I don't know what Lauren had in mind, but the last time I went to Pilsen from here I went this way..."

I fielded questions about Critical Mass like it was something I'd been doing every month for years (Hahahahahahahahaha!) as the crowd trickled in. Everyone looked so young and optimistic. What am I doing here? I should be in the Loop, playing chicken with the bus drivers. I should be at Goose Island taking pictures of the river. I should be at Wolf Lake among the butterflies and the pretty flowers. I should be on my way to Milwaukee with my new folding bike. I should be at work doing something boring but productive. I should be in my apartment, getting drunk and watching anime, by myself. I should be anywhere but here. I don't belong here.

Lauren showed up and everyone started deferring to her, and I faded into the background, as I always do. It was in that state of mind that Rochelle found me when she finally arrived.

By then a decent-sized group had assembled.

I felt better once we got going.

It was just too nice an evening to waste on being miserable. Biking is never unfun, and I was really enjoying riding with people. Not a solid mass of people, just a nice crowd of 40 or so, plus our escort.

We wound our way north and west to meet up with the Pilsen Critical Mass.

About half of our original group then headed back home. I had considered it, but then decided to keep going and see what the evening would bring.

It brought me some peace, I think. Not everything has to be a statement, some sort of meaningful experience with a deeper significance. You can just enjoy the ride for the simple fun of it.

At some point we met up with the Evanston Critical Mass.

I was thoroughly lost, but I figured a huge mass of people couldn't be wrong. Because huge masses of people are never wrong, right? Uh oh. This was where my usual discomfort with huge crowds finally kicked in, but I dealt with it. I was hungry and had given away my map.

Some nice person offered to take a picture of Rochelle and me together. I forgot to tell him that the flash was off.

I'm the highly visible one on the left, Rochelle's sporting the Depave Lake Shore Drive t-shirt on the right.

(You know, I can't say I agree with that idea. I mean, yeah, it sucks that there's an expressway that was never meant to be an expressway cutting through Chicago's most famous parks and cutting the neighborhoods off from the lakefront, and yeah it's always jam-packed with traffic and crossing it downtown is a bitch and a half, but what happens when all that LSD traffic is routed somewhere else? And then there would be no Bike the Drive! Bike the Skyway might be fun, but I doubt the CBF would be able to pull that one off. And even I will admit that it's a wonderful drive. Especially on a Saturday night, heading north from 47th to the Stevenson, windows down...)

Somehow we threaded over to Logan Square and found the Winds Cafe. I met people I'd met before and should have remembered, and probably would have, if not for the ennui all month. Shucks, at this rate I'll be downright sociable by Thanksgiving.

Rochelle took one look at the twelve-dollar veggie burger and suggested going somewhere else. I didn't want to leave, as I was enjoying the company, but others in the company were complaining about the food and I had no intention of drinking. So the two of us bid farewell and departed; we ended up in Wicker Park at Flash Taco.

We saw this sign at the El station:

"The CTA has begun construction to eliminate all slow zones on the Blue Line." Yay? The "slow zones" are shaded in blue; as you can see, it's most of the route. And where are they getting the money to do this? And why are those slow zones there to begin with? Are you listening, Springfield?

A Blue Line and a Metra Electric ride later I was back on 56th; it was nearly midnight. I pedaled up toward my building. But I didn't go there, not yet, there was something I needed to do first. Something so unwise as to be stupid, but I did it anyway. I headed east toward the lakefront.

Past the recently revamped model yacht basin, across the overpass, up to my usual perch. I doffed my helmet and felt the cool late-late-summer wind in my hair, looked out at the skyline shimmering across the water.

It's good to be home.

Welcome to the future.


At 06 October, 2007 18:59, Anonymous Dave said...

Very cool. Thanks for sharing images and thoughts from the ride!

At 06 October, 2007 19:41, Blogger Jennifer said...

Hmm, metroblossom? Do you have to be a Real Artist to submit something?

At 06 October, 2007 20:30, Blogger Nora said...

When I heard about the police escort I was peeved. The last time I had an interaction with police officers it was when a guy in a squad car told me I was in violation of the law for trying to make a left turn (and signalling) from the left turn lane on a bike. He said I needed to
"behave like a pedestrian" and make a box crossing. Please, with freinds like these, who needs enemies? I totally agree with your comments, keep on biking the good bike!

At 07 October, 2007 01:51, Blogger David Johnsen said...

Bike the Skyway - I'm not normally afraid of heights or bridges, but the thought of pedaling on the Skyway gives me the willies. The views would be awesome, though.

At 08 October, 2007 09:45, Blogger Benjamin said...

I'm glad it turned out well. (I'm also glad I wasn't driving that evening...)

At 08 October, 2007 13:22, Blogger Jennifer said...

Why not? We were polite, obeying traffic laws, and sticking mostly to uncrowded side streets. The whole point is to share the road with everyone, Benjamin, whether you happen across just one or two bicyclists or one or two dozen of them.

The fact that you feel glad you weren't driving on one particular evening when you there would be a crowd of bikes out and about in the neighborhood only serves to demonstrate precisely why we need to do this more often.

At 08 October, 2007 13:31, Blogger Benjamin said...

But a police escort stopping cross traffic? (I know you didn't ask for it and didn't want it.) That would be irritating to drive amidst.

At 08 October, 2007 13:35, Blogger Jennifer said...

I think Lauren was exaggerating a bit; from what I saw the ATVs were sneaking out into the intersection as soon as the light turned yellow to make sure no one ran the light or tried to turn in front of us, things you aren't legally supposed to do anyway.


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