"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer

8.12.09

Shit.

File this under "Early hate."

I don't think it's too much to ask that I at least be able to experience my first interview to write a book, even if I had no chance at all.

I figured I should have some shot, however remote, at being chosen to write Bicycling Australia's "Where to Ride Chicago". I'm sure there are many accomplished writers out there with a long resume full of books, but I do offer a unique, or so I thought, sweet-spot combination: I can write, I can ride, and who knows the city of Chicago from the vantage point of two wheels better than I?

I would've loved to at least presented my passion, to talk professionally about what I love for the chance at a life changing opportunity. Oh, well. By 4:15 as my phone was ringing while we carpooled home from work in growing snowfall, the publishers of Bicycling Australia had heard enough and had their author. It was far more painful than if I'd received that call after meeting them. I am beside myself, and they are sipping cocktails at Rosebud.

I should've at least had the chance. I know where to go. Let's rent a tandem. One ride. Come with me.

Let's start from Navy Pier, at the Bike Chicago rental.

We'll head down the path, snaking towards the Lakepoint Tower (look up, did you know Oprah and Eddie Van Halen lived there?) and the Illinois Street viaduct, and then north onto the lakefront path.

We'll pass Streeterville, named after the lunatic/rebel who crashed his boat on the lake shore in 1886 and claimed 186 acres as his own sovereign, the "District of Lake Michigan," until 1928.

Look up to your left as we ride through the Oak Street chicane, by the majestic waterfront apartments beneath the Palmolive Building. Once a beacon of the Art Deco 1930's and Chicago's rise to world prominence, alternatively synonymous with the the acrid smoke from the Tommy guns of Capone's legion, the rotating light at the top was finally shut down in 1981 after years of complaints from the residents of the next door John Hancock Tower and the defenders of migratory birds.

Let's head west at the North Avenue underpass, and ride into the shabby chic of Old Town, with it's well worn and comforting storefronts and entryways, the birthplace of Chicago's gentrification from the counterculture that once occupied the lakefront public space from Grant Park to Belmont Avenue during those hot August nights of 1968.

We'll take a right onto Wells Street, riding by the SNL nursery and ground-breaking Second City Theater, and then jog right/left to head north on Clark Street. Just north of Armitage you'll see an empty lot that was once a garage, where seven criminals, expecting no harm from the men dressed as cops behind them, leaned patiently by their hands against the wall and had their brains and guts spilt in a fury of semi-automatic gunfire onto the dusty floor by Al Capone's gang on February 14, 1929.

Let's turn left onto Fullerton and pass by the historic brownstones of Lincoln Park, once occupied by tenants of German brewery owners, and before that nuns of a seminary. Then north on Halsted, behind the Biograph Theater alley where John Dillinger was shot dead, and past the old Everleigh Sisters' northside franchise at 2447, later a hangout-slash-lair of occultist Alister Crowely (and my first apartment in Chicago). Ask the bartenders at Tonic Room to show you the pentagram on the basement floor.

Or alternately stay on Clark Street for a visit at the Weiner's Circle, if on a late night ride. Be sure and ask for the chocolate shake.

Either way, stay on or turn left back on to Clark when they intersect, and head northwest into Wrigleyville for a chance to have beer spilled down your shirt, or to tour the "cathedral" of baseball, home to the most cramped, rank, rat infested, and hated visitor's locker room in all the major leagues. Continue on up, past Metro, where Billy Corgan got his break and Cheap Trick never forgot their fans.

We'll head west, left on Irving Park, where at this intersection the entrances to Graceland and Wunders Cemeteries beckon to the graves of such prominent Chicagoan as Marshall Field, Tribune owner Col. Cyrus McCormick, and architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel Burnham, and last but not least, George Pullman.

At Irving and Ashland stands the monolithic Lakeview High School, a massive heap of brown brick topped with turrets where my grandmother graduated in the year 1922.

Just before Damen on the south side of the street is the Blue Stem lounge, a dingy martini joint where the late-night bartender shoots the extra cocktail that doesn't fit into each drink she serves, yet amazingly stays sober the entire night.

The traffic gets a little more aggressive here, so we'll turn northwest on Lincoln, and enjoy the confines of the bike lane again. At Montrose, be sure to stop and lock up the bike before scheduling some folk guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Music.

Park again in Lincoln Square between Wilson and Lawrence to take in vintage books, authentic German delis and of course the world famous Brauhaus (where one late Sunday night I found myself with my cousin alone save another table of Polish students calling out requests to the Polka band). See a second run movie at the Davis Theater, or grab the Capitalist Pig at Chubby Weiners (a hot dog with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue from the liquor store next next door).

Jog north and go west (young man) at Lawrence, but if it's the third Friday of the month, don't pass up the open house invite to the bar at Dankhaus, the German Cultural Center. Further down, back in the bike lane, you are treated to signs written in every language from Slovakian to Korean and offered both latkes and fishballs (and everything in between - from gold rims to wholesale underpants) at seemingly every storefront. If you're going to stop, make sure it's at Great Sea Chinese, just east of Kimball.

We'll keep going to Elston and take a right, heading back northwest, into the Mayfair Historic Bungalow District, although mostly all you can see from here is autobody and machine shops. A nice sidetrip would be southwest to Wilson and Knox, for a Guinness at the Irish American Heritage Center, and then some post-drinking fries at Susie's Drive-In, or maybe karaoke at Sidekicks.

A pretty good (and massive) Italian beef can be found at Dukes, up further at Central, and there are many working class bars on the way to the city limit at Devon where we can find both a stool and an ear to lean on.

Right at the end is my personal jewel, Superdawg, with the green tomato in the box on top of your sausage and fries. Pair it with an ice cold strawberry milk shake, and a slight breeze cooling the sweat off the back of your neck on a hot summer's night under the sunset, and you might think yourself in heaven.

Across the street is only Niles however, and the very beginning of the North Branch Trail. Now, on to the botanic gardens...

4 comments:

Patty said...

Bravo! Those Aussies really missed out.

markwatkins said...

Nice post! How about writing your own cyclists guide to Chicago and selling it at some of the local institutions?! It would gain an instant cult following.

Pankonin said...

Remember -you are fortunate in that you do not depend on someone else(a publisher) to fulfill a passion, a way to make sense out of life with a tool as versatile as language. You only need a pen and a pad. Keep writing. Keep submitting. We'll keep reading!

The Mayor of Drunkingham said...

I agree with Mark. Also, include stuff like where you can 'see the fat guy attempting to light a cigar with a magnifying glass' and the place where 'Urge Overkill's egos led to their demise as a band'. I'd buy that for a dollar.