An afternoon list

Because my brain is melting due to survey analysis, a too-large cold brew, and possibly too much sugar, an afternoon list about our new life in Hyde Park:
  1. This morning I left my house a little after 7, biked to the gym (5 minutes), ran to the other gym to meet my running group, ran around Washington Park, ran 1 km repeats on the track, then ran back to my gym to get cleaned up before work. By 8:30, I was at my desk, fighting off the warm sleepies of a hard workout.
  2. While I was doing all of that, my family walked to Jackson Park to take in the Japanese garden, more properly known as The Garden of the Phoenix, where they looked at the birds and the leaves, and where the toddler ran freely amongst SKYLANDING, Yoko Ono’s only installation in America.
  3. On Saturday, we took a walk to the 57th Street Art Fair,which was a much more pleasant experience than the art-on-sticks onslaught of Ann Arbor’s Art Fair, but perhaps that was because we could dip in and out, our toddler falling asleep in the stroller as we walked down the shaded streets.
  4. The toddler and I attended a “nature playdate” at the pocket park out our back door. The park used to have the typical playground apparatus, but has been converted into a nature playground, with lots of sticks and rocks and tree stumps and a big sandbox for digging and exploration. Basically, it’s toddler heaven.
  5. We’ve developed an (unhealthy?) obsession with Roti, a Chicago-based chain with a location a short walk from our new apartment. Many ways to configure a vegan meal plus delicious non-vegan options for me plus extra pita bread for the toddler makes for a happy family.
  6. In addition to a wonderful independent grocery store at the end of our alley, we’re within a 10 minute walk of two other grocery stores, with other options a short bike ride away. It’s great to not have to pile into the car every time we need something – it’s also much more convenient since a smaller kitchen with smaller (Euro-sized, not dorm-sized) appliances means we have to shop more often.
  7. When we walk up the stairs to our third floor apartment, the toddler says, with emphasis, “New house!”.
  8. My family has been walking me to work, and then heading over to the quad to visit the ducks. We won’t do this every morning, of course, but it’s been a nice change from the mornings where I had to extricate myself from a crying child to get in the car and sit in traffic on my commute (which, while not terrible by Chicago standards, was still a driving commute).
  9. My commute is now a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute bike ride.
  10. I hate commuting, so my new commute is life-changing.

Better Than Driving

Lo these many months ago, I complained about my commute. I want to tell you about how that’s changed.

In July, Nicolas moved up to Rogers Park, and we commenced a back-and-forth schedule that left a number of friends scratching their heads as to how it was possible. Perhaps ‘possible’ is the wrong word. ‘Practical’? ‘Reasonable’? ‘Sane’?

To travel the 17.2 miles from his apartment in Rogers Park to Hyde Park, where I work, it takes:

  • 35-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 75-90 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (red line + 1-2 buses)

To travel the 11.8 miles from my apartment in the Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park, it takes:

  • 25-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 60-70 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (2 buses or 2 trains + 1 bus)

By September, I was totally burned out. I kept arriving white-knuckled and seething with hate after an hour sitting in traffic followed by 5-20 minutes spent looking for parking. ANYTHING had to be better than continuing to drive. The days when I biked to work from my apartment were a breeze in comparison, even though at least one leg of that commute was straight into said breeze. I was ready to try just about anything.

Enter the two crucial pieces of my new commute: Metra, which is commuter rail, and Divvy, which is Chicago’s new bikeshare program. And so about two months ago, I stopped driving to work altogether. In fact, since mid-September I’ve bought 3 tanks of gas, 2 of which were used in their entirety on a road trip. Considering my previous weekly mileage, that’s significant. And after some complicated spreadsheet acrobatics, I’m breaking even with a monthly rail pass and annual Divvy membership, if not saving money each month as long as I commute from Nicolas’s at least once/week. I’ll definitely be saving money when I factor in paying for parking ($6.50/hour!) when I have to go downtown for appointments twice a month .

An average morning now looks like this:

Rogers Park to Hyde Park:
7:35am: Rain or shine, Nicolas walks me to the Metra station .4 miles from his apartment.
7:49am: 20-25 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Ogilvie Station.
8:15am: Arrive downtown, but a little over a mile from my next train. Divvy to the rescue! Pick up a Divvy bike around the corner, then ride to Millennium Station. Dock bike and catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and walk .6 miles to my office, arriving by 9am.

Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park:
8am: Ride my bike 4 miles to Millennium Station OR leave a few minutes earlier to walk .3 miles to pick up a Divvy bike, then ride downtown.
8:20: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike into the station to catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and bike .6 miles to my office, arriving before 9am.

And the evening:

Hyde Park to Rogers Park:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Walk .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Pick up a Divvy bike and ride to Ogilvie Station. Dock bike, zip through the French Market to pick up a treat for dinner.
5:43pm: 15 minutes of reading on the express train north to Rogers Park.
5:59pm: Nicolas meets me at the train and we walk the .4 miles to his apartment.

Hyde Park to Ukrainian Village:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Change into biking clothes and ride .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike out of the station and ride 4 miles home.
5:45pm: Arrive home.

When this commute works, it WORKS. When it doesn’t work – like the days when I’ve dawdled getting out of the house and so missed the last possible train that could get me to work on time, or the days when the skies open up, catching me unprepared, or the days when my leakproof thermos has soaked my bag in coffee – it’s a hassle, and there are tears involved – but my schedule is such that I can stay later to make up for a late arrival, and I have clothes in my office, and I can always buy another coffee. And it’s still better than driving.

I missed the train from Rogers Park last week, and so biked 10 miles south to catch the next train downtown. I did that ride in 40 minutes flat, straight into 11 mph winds. I had snot running down my face because it was too windy to take my hands off the handlebars. I arrived winded, and with a slightly pulled calf muscle, but I beat the next train coming from Rogers Park, and I got to work with a tough workout under my belt and a cup of coffee from Intellgentsia to sweeten the morning. Better than driving.

This all probably sounds like an enormous hassle, but I can’t even tell you how much happier I am. My schedule is more regimented, but it also means I’ve carved out time for things that I love and are good for my mental health: every single day I get at least 2 miles on my bike and 30 minutes of reading (or just uninterrupted downtime). Nicolas meets me at the train when I go up to his house, and nearly every day for the first month I arrived bubbling over with excitement and energy and happiness instead of hating everything on the planet after spending 15 minutes circling his neighborhood trying to find a parking spot. So much better than driving.

First #panda on #Divvy, the new Chicago bike share program.

Contents of my bike bag, Thursday, October 10, 2013.

#dailytights #panda. #yearofnopants with 2 months to go!

I feel like my life is unduly influenced by two intractable circumstances: my commute and too many cats. Most nights I’m up 2-3 times because a cat wants out of my room, or because a fight is brewing in the hallway, or because someone is meowing for reasons unknown to all but the feline gods. They’re sweet and cute and loving, but they can’t seem to tolerate each other, and I wonder how long we can go on like this.

I wake up exhausted, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, to face a day with 45-60 minutes of commuting on either side of a typical work day. I know this isn’t unreasonable for a city dweller, and that the commute is longer because of my move, but it is a constant source of frustration, though I’m doing my best to ameliorate it now that it’s consistently warm and pleasant enough to bike all or a portion of the 13 miles from home to work. Today I biked for 20 minutes, then took a train for 7 miles and 15 minutes, then biked the last half mile, arriving at work hungry and not inordinately disheveled, and in about the same amount of time that it would’ve taken me to get in my car, sit in traffic, then hunt for parking.

I’m tired all the time, and hungry all the time. My body will get used to this level of activity, but I don’t know if it will get used to the lack of sleep. What to do?

We spent a portion of last weekend in Champaign, walking around campus in the gathering dark, grabbing a drink at a favorite bar downtown, running to the car in the driving rain. Is the heavy nostalgia I feel when I’m there just a remnant of my previous life? Or should it be taken into consideration as we have these conversations about a future together, and where that might take place, and what factors are important to us as we speculate about decisions that are still a long way off? I know that that place is in my blood like no other, not even Chicago, but also that the world has moved on and I with it.

We sat on the lawn at Pritzker Pavilion Monday night with Carl and a bottle of wine and Middle Eastern take-out from a place in Hyde Park. Daniel Lanois opened with The Maker followed by The Messenger, and it was like all of the chattering, oblivious voices faded away and all that was there was me and the clouds and the silver beams overhead and his voice and my two best guys and the goosebumps on my arms and legs bared against the cool evening breeze. Summer in the city.

And don’t get me wrong, dear, in general I’m doing quite fine.

Bike Angst

I really want to ride my bike.

I miss being a bike commuter. I miss the ride to GSLIS from our house, 7 minutes flat on a good day. I miss feeling superior in January when I would arrive at work in a bundle of layers. I miss the freedom of being able to hop on Yellow and go wherever I wanted in town.

I miss biking into DC. I didn’t do it all that many times, but it was An Adventure: crossing the GW Parkway and riding up along the river, past National airport, over the Memorial Bridge, then up the brutal hill on 23rd by the State Department, arriving at work jelly-legged and drenched in sweat, but secure in the knowledge that I could shower at the gym.

Shane has a new bike, and on Monday we set off for work together, resolved to be bike commuters once again. But here’s the thing: I fucking hate biking in Ann Arbor.

My commute is literally up hill both ways.  The route to work is more downhill than uphill, but the uphill parts are situated in the midst of a series of one-ways and stoplights – as in, a light at every block for the last mile of my commute – making it impossible to build up or sustain any momentum.  In the course of a one-way commute, I gain and lose 100 feet of elevation, all on my single-speed bike.  The Statue of Liberty is 93 feet tall, just for the record.

While in most places, a bike is treated as a vehicle and so expected to be on the road, in A2, that seems to be up to the discretion of the cyclist.  This means that cyclists are on and off the sidewalks, in and out of the roads, riding wherever they damned well please – which then means that drivers don’t know what is going on and respond as erratically as the cyclists behave.  This means that today, Shane nearly collided with a cyclist running a red light (or possibly going the wrong way against traffic?), while I was almost hit by a car that ran a stop sign.

I’ve complained about the roads before.  They’re terrible.  This is even more noticeable when you have an uncomfortable seat, and when you’re trying to avoid getting hit by cars or doored while also trying to avoid seams, cracks, and potholes in the poorly maintained pavement.  Shane nearly wiped out in the gravel at the foot of our driveway, and I skidded on a crack in the road today.

In short, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it to try to ride my bike to work.  I arrive in a seriously disheveled and sweaty state and often in a foul mood from the exertion and annoyance of the ride.  I rolled into work this morning and had no willpower to resist Oreos in the breakroom.  I took a different route home and arrived in tears, winded and sore.  I thought that changing out the freewheel would help – and it has – but I’m still actively unhappy on almost every ride, and that’s just not worth it.  Sorry, Orange Porange.  Maybe we can have adventures in another city.

Mass Transit, part two

Remember how I was in love with DC’s mass transit?  Today it can suck it.

Item #1: suicidal bus drivers.  I have no idea what compels the drivers of the 22A to play NASCAR between the hours of 5pm-7pm, but my ride home has gotten consistently worse, and one of these days I really am going to either get tossed out of my seat entirely or throw up on someone.  Really, really sick of it.

Item #2: sinkholes.  Shane just waited in the 20mph wind (with gusts up to 35mph) for 45 minutes for a bus that was delayed by a sinkhole that apparently didn’t affect any of the other drivers on the road.  He’s on his way home from a conference in Beltsville, MD – about 25 miles away – and it’s easily going to take him two hours to get home.

Sea Legs

I started my job in the District yesterday, which also means that I started commuting by Metro yesterday. So far the following things have happened in the course of my commute:

  • Almost got hit by an SUV while crossing Columbia Pike
  • Got on the 16G bus going in the wrong direction
  • Saw a roach on the 41 bus
  • Lots of stopping and starting on the Orange (kind of like stop-and-start traffic, except on a train)

I assume at some point I’ll get my sea legs and won’t get tossed around in the Metro quite as much – when I was in New York, I envied Erin Fae’s ability to just stand in the aisle and not move, whereas I fell all over the place.  It was the same case this morning – with every stop and start, I had to adjust my stance to keep from crashing into the nice woman reading the paper in front of me.  I wonder if this has to do with one’s center of gravity – or if perhaps this is some sort of innate thing that comes from years of train-riding.  Hmm.