It's curious that Chicago is nationally ranked as "Bike Friendly". I'm conflicted about this because any day of the year, one can easily be swallowed by a giant hole in the pavement, and disappear. If you ride a lot, you know what I mean when I say that your brain holds a topo map of nearly every well-travelled route whether it is on or off-road, and that muscle memory often takes over where senses fail, to assure you traverse two points without going down. It is also eerily true that we adjust this map as the pavement changes shape, and shoulders a lump, broadens a hole, or sinks. This year Illinois thought they'd flex their "Prog Muscle", (which i'm rather sure is located somewhere near my ass), to make recreational marijuana legal in 2020. So it is now that we are finding ourselves to be more progressive... And so, pot is legal, ...And lines quickly formed to buy some weed on a chilly New Years Day, 2020.
Me, I slept in.
The supply and demand being not quite worked out, meant that in mid-winter people camped outside their local Cannabis temple, like millennial lemmings seeking sacred Jordan's. If you are not from Chicago, nor Illinois for that matter then you will easily know it's borders, as you approach to buy your weed. We are delineated from Wisconsin to the North, or Iowa to the west, by the sudden change in our topography, that is we are the place with shitty roads.
As we migrate through: Toll Plazas, (a tax upon any visitor to maintain roads), a gas station (where gas costs a dollar more per gallon to maintain roads), you will eventually find that the topographical map of our landscape changes drastically to brittle bits, as we fail to maintain our roads. For a driver or rider this means that you may wish to broaden your following distance, so that you can see the lovely sights ahead. Illinois is where most midwesterners learn to swerve. In Chicago, we have no mountains, no real hills to speak of, just a lot of rusty bridges, crumbling train trestles, and the pavements, well -- They are a mess.
Like many places in America's rust belt, we also slowly dimmed from a bright epoch of industrial exuberance, where everyone pulling a lever at the factory netted a boat, a summer cottage, and a pension. The latter being our undoing, as Illinois struggles to pay creditors for lost revenue, and for juicy pensions. When we run out of pocket money, the first thing we kick to the curb, is infrastructure. So consider this a warning when you pass through Illinois and NW Indiana by bike; You will perhaps need some new ninja skills such as:
1. Learn to swerve without rolling under a truck.
2. Learn to bunny-hop in case you need to levitate over a roadway abyss.
3. Perfect your zen when an auto dodging similar pot-holes swipes you toward the curb.
4. Expand your field of view. ETA to obstacles which swallow you like sunken sewer covers.
5. Hold your lane, and if needed, drive your bike like a car to stay relevant to Auto Traffic.
6. Check the Amtrak time tables for travel with your bike, you may want to sit for this one.
I was planning to ride up to Michigan's Manistee National Forest, and then ferry across from Luddington to Manitowoc WI, but had a tough time reconciling routes to levitate over the whole of Chicago's south side, and Northern Indiana's Industrial gem called "Gary". Last year I lacked enough fingers and toes to count in one trip to MI, the near-death obstacles. As a City person for my whole life, I cannot reconcile why it is not better to build a road once every 20 years with Concrete, than to pave and patch it every month using Asphalt. I have ideas of course as to how contracts are awarded, and how lucrative jobs seem to pad the pockets for teams of Pot-hole crews. When I was 6, my Grandfather and I took the CTA Bus from Riis Park on Chicago's far west side down to the "El Train" en route to downtown. He walked fast, and when I would pause to lament, I would use something I'd notice to distract both of us from my tired legs. "Hey Papa", I'd ask, "What's with that big truck full of black stuff"? ...He would tell me that they were 'Pot-hole Crews' and that they have the best job security in town. "Now watch", he said -- "They are going to drizzle a bucket of tar into that hole, and then scoop some Ashphalt into there". (he pronounced it "ash-fault", an affect of his Chicago upbringing). I watched as they opened the trucks tail-gate a slit, and shoveled down some black glop.
Then one man began to smack the mound into the hole until it sat just proud of the road-way. It was mid summer, and I'd also noticed large wave-like berms of road where heavy traffic and our bus creased the pavement into ridges like mohawks on a bald Mr. T. I saw a cadillac drive over one near the bus-stop, and grind and spark as the undercarriage scraped the ridge of 'Ashfault'.
My Grandpa then said "Now look there, they have a person for each job..." "That one drives the truck and reads the paper". "That one opens the tail-gate lever", "That one shovels out the Goop". "And that one drizzles the hot tar to make it stick, like glue". ...And then, I said "They are done!", finishing his primer on potholes. He said "No, not quite.., that person there has to clean the shovels". "Ok" I replied, "What do they use for that?" He said, "They usually use Kerosene or Gasoline". We both watched, with acrid tar stifling our senses; Standing in the hot sun waiting for the Next bus.
"There!, he said, "they have a jug, and a bucket, and they will use the Kerosene to wash the tar off-the shovel", "...And that's Job security!", He exclaimed with authority.
The bus arrived, and we stepped up and into it. A dwarve drove the bus and he wore huge blocks on his shoes to reach the pedals, and I tried not to stare. We moved back, and found our place, and as my Grandpa stood, I kneeled against the window, to watch the 'Pot-Hole crew' pour kerosene onto sticky shovels as they shrank into the distance. My Grandpa said, "You see the kerosene will clean the tools, and it will also soak into the Ashfault and break up the glue holding it together, and then in a few months, there will be another pot-hole to fix." "That's Job Security!" he said indictingly.
So it happens that Our new Mayor, and Our New Governor, are heavily vested in the Pot and the Pot-hole Biz. They are also hoping like a bake-sale to solve climate issues, that Pot sales may help to pay for road repairs. This is of course in part because, My state, (being a strong-hold of democrats and a "sanctuary city"), will not get Federal infrastructure funding as has been lavished upon the three 'Red-States" which border us.
When you count on Pot to fix Pot-holes, you'd better also hope that there are lines out the door in January. If you are a realist, it's best to learn some strategies to avoid them, even if it means taking the train around the City of Chicago in search for your next adventure.
Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.