Saturday, February 2, 2008

Out to lunch

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I heard tell of people who would go to Hawaii for lunch (this was the '80s, mind you). They'd fly off in their private jets from New York (or, more likely, L.A.) and have some mindblowing lunch of conch boiled in the tears of sweatshop workers or some such, then they'd jet back and continue their "day." This always intrigued me, perhaps even inspired me--perhaps not so much as something to do, but rather as some sort of model of dedication to pleasure, no expenses bared.

I've never been so much one for the spending money (at least not on such consumables) and for most of my life I've made rather a habit of not consuming energy with such abandon, but I think today I may well have equalled the pleasure, and far surpassed the emotional satisfaction, of the jetsetters of my youthful memory.

The idea of riding to Three Floyds Brew Pub had been fermenting in my mind for some time, but today provided the first opportunity to do so (due, alas, to a death in Dr. F's family, which drew her and Bat Jr away for the weekend). Never mind the 8 inches or so of snow that has fallen over the past two days, nor the freezing (or so) temperatures of today. It's a weekend; I've done the shopping for the Super Bowl party (Go Giants!) and gotten almost twelve hours of sleep (did I mention that the toddler who usually rouses us in the morning is away?).

So, I headed out this morning--oops, early this afternoon; did I mention that the toddler who usually rouses us in the morning is away?--and rolled off down the lakefront path. It was cool and cloudy, about 30 degrees, with some breeze out of the south (a headwind on the way out is nice, since it turns into a tailwind on the way back). The roads were slushy, the trail crunchy with packed snow. The snow, the ice on the lake, the grey of the sky, the shark-colored lake made for a very limited palette, though my yellow sunglasses brightened things up in my mind.

The camera doesn't lie, though.

I followed Highway 41 South without incident (well, I did have to dodge a fella on a lawn tractor pushing a plow), and stopped for a couple of pictures at the Ewing Avenue Bridge. The industrial corridor centered on the Calumet River is always striking, and it's rare that I get to see it other than in the summer. Here's a shot upriver, with the 95th Street bridge, the two parallelogram railroad lift bridges, and behind all of them, the Skyway bridge.
You can also see from here my next landmark, off past the tugboats and cranes--the US Steel South Chicago works. It's the smokestack you see in the background, and it's just about the most visible industrial plant in the city: the Ford assembly plant in Hegewisch doesn't have the visual oomph of the steel mill.

We usually see the mill from the Skyway, so it's a treat to see it sneaking up .....

And then....

Here it is! Unfortunately, just after I shot this photo, things started to get a little difficult. Living in the bike-friendly city of Chicago, one gets spoiled about things like plowed bike paths and alleys, and what looks on Google Maps like a lovely stripe of asphalt, turns out to be covered in about nine inches of snow, except for where it's slightly packed by car traffic. I slogged through it for a block and then headed back out to the streets. Not something I object to in general, of course. However, my planning relied heavily on the South Burnham Greenway, and the William Powers Conservation Area surrounding Wolf Lake. My backup plan consisted of the Chicagoland gridded street system, and the sure knowledge that I shouldn't go east of Calumet Avenue (and if I hit it, turn south). Yes, there would be detours.

At all events, when I arrived where the Wolf Lake bike path begins, it was utterly untouched by tire, toe, or truck. I headed east (aiming for Calumet Ave, or any of a few other roads which I knew would run into it). Too early. 112th Street crosses into Indiana and stops at the Cargill plant. I stopped for a comfort break, and to take a couple of pictures of the bike, the snow, the factory, and State Line Road. Alas, the batteries were dead (I think they were a little put off by the cold). And so I retreated, slightly demoralized, to Illinois (though I did finally find out where the sequence of North-South street names in south Chicago--Avenue M, N, O...--begins: at the state line, as was doubtless obvious to everyone in the world except me), to make another attempt at the border. I turned south on Ewing Avenue, until it ended in another east-west street. No, a west street. Train tracks, the Skyway, and Wolf Lake would make maintaining a southeasterly course difficult. Curses, further from my destination.

A perk, however: A Walgreens, where I could refresh my (camera's) batteries. Next door to Pete's Market, which advertised a wide selection of meats.

Pot Roast ($2.35/lb), Sausage ($1.99), Turkey ($1.39), Baby Goat ($1.69), Spine Pork ($.99), and Back Ribs ($2.69). Baby goat!? (I couldn't take this photo on the way in--no batteries--or the way out--traffic--so I took it on the return trip.)

And then--Avenue O. Looking back at the map of my route, I wasn't on it very long, but it was enough to spark a hatred which would be fueled and aerated to great effect on the return journey. A rutted, potholed--I should say 'trenched'--heavily traveled concrete road. Ugh. I was able to hop into the William Powers Conservation Area for a half-mile or so--lo, the road through the recreation area was plowed, up to the north, too! I filed that fact away for the return journey.
On to 134th Street, which turns into 136th...when it enters Indiana (as planned)! This road is maintained by the Boy Scouts of Troop 204. Good for them! The crossing into Indiana truly feels like you're sneaking in--it's woodsy, reedy, behind a trailer park. No one caught me. (I was on a mission from God?)

More concrete roads, then up and over a railroad and into Hammond--which looked, for some reason, like the most All-American town you'd ever see. Riding through, downtown Hammond was about two dirty (ok, it's slushy, everything's dirty) blocks of perfectly ordinary-looking storefronts. We'll have to visit in spring, to see how much of this was illusion and situation, how much fact.

Then into light-industrial Munster, where my destination lies--under the water tower. But I wasn't here for the scenery (though I'd been looking out for the water tower for miles). I was here for the Alpha Kong.
The Floyds understate their case: "A very complex Belgian sextuple, sweet with caramel notes." I'd say, rather, "the richest, smoothest beverage ever to be graced with the name of beer." A revelation when I first had it--what, seven years ago? when the Floyds had no brewpub, just a corner of the warehouse in which the brewery was located with a table and a couple of taps.

And it was the most glorious warmth ever. Like hot chocolate after sledding--for adults.
I continued with the Dark Sun Stout, and The Chancellor (
Pork Schnitzel Served On A Pretzel Roll With Stone Ground Mustard And Red Cabbage).

Aahhhh. Feeling better, now. One more Alpha Kong to fortify for the return journey. And what a good decision: making conversation with the next guy at the bar yielded an unexpected reward: he was a long-lost friend of one of our nearest and dearest alumni. And, then, the fateful decision to bring back two six-packs. (I should back up: I came with no luggage, just a rack and bungees. A conscious, if foolish decision.) Here's my bike and my albatross--I mean, box--ready to go, under the water tower.

We left, my box and I, at 3:30. For what turned, as it appropriately turned out, into a three-hour tour. Before we'd made our way out of Munster the box started objecting to the condition of the road, and showing its objections by jumping off the top of my rack and hanging off the side, like a rock climber. Yack. I readjusted, resettled, rebungeed, and then did it again. Double-yack. But we proceeded, through Hammond, back across the state line into Illinois. It was a rough crossing this time: I wiped out.

I don't think the state line itself tripped me up (though I was immediately reminded of the car we were stuck behind once in Yellowstone National Park: it would slow down each time it crossed the continental divide, as though it was afraid of falling in). My mind was wandering--thinking about how neat it was that I'd met someone I'd only met twice before, and he was perhaps going to meet up with an old friend, when my wheel wandered off the asphalt into a very ugly shoulder (Troop 204 needs some heavy equipment if they want to do something about this), dropping half a foot into the snow. Down I went, onto my left side. Thankfully, like early aeronauts, who followed the rule, "Don't fly higher than you're willing to fall," I don't ride faster than I 'm willing to skid. No harm done, really.

Then, up to Wolf Lake, for the most lovely part of the journey. I took that road I'd not come down, and it went its way up by the lake. A plowed but still snow-covered road, not the fastest but way better than the treacherous Avenue O. I took a couple more photos before the sun set.

And I continued. The road was lovely, though it did seem to be bending east slightly more than I'd have preferred. Ah well, back up Calumet Avenue it would be. As long as I didn't have to ride the accursed Avenue O once again. So on I went, enjoying myself greatly, though the sun was setting. I saw the wildlife, for example.

Then the road ended. Uh oh. Clearly this would not take me out of the park. But there was a little hope: A foot bridge: perhaps it led to another entrance? But unplowed on the other side... no, anything to avoid O! I slogged for about half a mile (cleanly, mind you! no foot down in at least 6 inches of snow!), and then said screw it, and turned back.

It seemed to have gotten dark somewhere along the way. And the box continued, as you can see, to deteriorate. And the bicycle got rather snowy. But, as Lance says, it's not about the bike. No, no, it's about the necessity of paving Avenue O. Because after my four-mile detour, I found myself perhaps 200 yards further up O than I was. GARGHHHH!

On my way out of the park, I noted a prohibition, which, given the increasingly gaping side of my box, I found amusing.

I gritted my teeth, and bounced out onto Avenue O. And halfway across an overpass, the long-suffering box made a last leap for freedom. Only to wind up, as before, lingering along the side of my rear wheel. It decided, evidently, since it could not be free, it could torment its captor by sticking its corner in my spokes in the single least-stoppable (yet still, by some standards, rideable) point in all of Chicagoland. I prayed: please don't let a spoke break! I'll stop in the next driveway! I'll floss every night! I'll get caught up at work! I'll mate all the socks!

I eventually came to a driveway, and found, to my pleasant surprise, that not a bottle had broken. But the box was shot. "How would I carry two six-packs?" I wondered, "How about....Oh s***. The six carrier is broken too." I considered the possibility of hunkering down in Algar Manufacturing's parking lot, and drinking half the beer. The thought of navigating more of Avenue O, may it burn in hell, while schnockered, dissuaded me. Probably for the best.

Army pants to the rescue. I'd chosend to wear my oldest pair of pants, Australian Army issue wool combat pants. From 1952. One big cargo pocket (three beers!) Two front pockets (two in the right--the left had my wallet). And one in each hip pocket. Making for a manageable five-pack which I bungeed to the rack (with my mini-tripod in the last slot).

"My pants are full of beer!"--a catchphrase in our family since an incident I like to call "Attempted possession of alcohol in public space" from our third or fourth year in the dorm. To put things in context, what the student said in its entirety was, "I can't pull my pants up--they're full of beer." That should hint at the major problem for the rest of the ride: How much crack was I showing? And how would I get my leg over the bike? (The gravitation of my pants was all too much aided, I fear, by the camera bag, which I was wearing on the back of my belt, like a fanny pack.)

To anyone on the South Side whom I mooned this evening, therefore: I apologize.

It was still awful bumpy for that five-pack. And I still had miles to go before I slept. (Looking at the time now, I had further than I thought!) When I thought I had a nice straight shot up Avenue J, and it turned one-way against me, I thought I would have a minor breakdown. But when I dodged over to Avenue H, what a sight did I see:
That was the unexpected bonus from the trip, surely. But I still was worried about the five-pack on my back rack. Every time I hit a hidden pothole (full of slush), it would jump, and clink. I resolved not to look back. Then the landmarks started becoming more familiar: South Shore Cultural Center, the golf course, the children's hospital, the harbor, Bert (who needs a picture and a post), 63rd street, and home.

And did we make it home safe?

Oh yes. Well, the important stuff did. Count 'em!


Jennifer said...

I thought the South Works plant didn't exist anymore? Confused...

Dingbat said...

Dang, you're right. Sorry, it was late last night. Let me check my facts.

Gringo said...

Senor Dingbat:
You may be a victim of cultural baggage.
Baby goat? Why not? Pancho Villa, chased by Black Jack Pershing, once told his band: "Men, good cabrito is hard to find!" You need not have read Cormac McCarthy to know this is border talk for "Carpe diem." But then, your thirst was an impediment to sign and map reading, no?
It's easier to travel with a kid goat over your shoulders than with your bombachas pockets filled with beer bottles -- especially when you're in the saddle, muchacho. Had you limited yourself to a single six pack, you could have re-visited Pete's and then greeted the returning Dr. F with a delectable repast to be washed down with her share of the brew. Didn't this very combination help Jacob maneuver Esau out of his birthright? Who knows what credits you would have earned for yourself!
Still, the additional beverage was probably well received and the story of your devotion to task surely made a positive impression.
For this stranger to Chicago, your photos and your journey made for a pleasant and educational diversion.

Dingbat said...

I think I was half-surprised the sign didn't say "Kid, $1.69."

But people might get the wrong idea...

J/tati said...

Stellar journey. Almost makes want to start drinking beer!

J/tati said...

The story also reminded me of this ad...

R. Zach Thomas said...

All this past year, I've begged my riding partners to take a trip to Hammond and Wolf Lake, but the farthest we've gone is to Calumet Park. It's good to see that someone else has made it there and back (and with spoils!) without much incident.

By chance have you plotted out that route on or some other mapping site?

Dingbat said...

I put the map up on, here.

Eric Allix Rogers said...

If you can make it to the brewpub in that, I think I'll try to go once it's warm this spring. I love riding down to Wolf Lake and Hegewisch, but haven't gotten far into Indiana at all.

The smokestacks that are so imposing are actually the South Side Generating Station, a fascinating Art Deco power plant located right over the border in Indiana (which has apparently had more lax regulations on pollution since, oh, forever). There's pretty much nothing left of the old South Works; the land is eventually going to be redeveloped.

Eric Allix Rogers said...

Oops, dumb mistake. South Side Generating Station -> State Line Generating Station.

Dingbat said...

Hey Eric, thanks for the update on the power generating station!