Ordinary Eternal Machinery

Scott Lutz



was riding my bicycle [1] down Western Ave. between Division and North—this area is a losing holdout of Mexican and Puerto Rican shops, restaurants, tire joints, muffler shops, liquor stores and justgettingbye families. Two blocks north, North and Western, has been lost to Pizza Hut, BP, ultra-modern condo buildings, and a young white urban upper middle class. I was a little drunk and racing to the Vas Foremost Liquors before they stopped selling. Andy was much too slow on his bike and was going to meet me back at our apartment in Logan Square.

Logan Square in the 1870’s was an upscale neighborhood lined with Victorian mansions and famous for its elaborately landscaped boulevards, which are still much the same today as they were. Palmer Square, just down the street from our apartment, was the sight of renegade bicycle races from the 1880’s, the heyday of the “Ordinary” or “High wheeler,” until the automobile began to dominate the roads.

[1] I ride a bike. For children, right. Not the grown(up). Why waste time—no flash. The “scorcher” in the 1880’s—fastest wheels off a train.
They ask: “You don’t own a car?”
                      : “No.”
       They ask: “So, what do you do in the winter?”
                       : “I ride a bike.”
         (car)                  (car)
       Do you remember that December 26th? The little Chicago Schwinn one-speed? Two pairs of socks, mittens, hats, no helmets, scarves tucked from spokes. First-free-day-of-youth—the liberator. You forgot. Forgot at fifteen. Forever at sixteen.
       Things to see Slow SEE (down)—today I came upon a snake on 6th street in the bike lane. A big ole black snake in the leaves. Slowed down to take a closer peek. Three hundred and sixty degrees I see. No Screen (windscreen). Not viewing. Seeing. Not (wind)shielded. Breathing(smelling). Chimneys-leaves-ponds-sawdust-cigars-TheOutSide—really outside—I wish you were outside, too—really outside, do you see? Unconditioned Unsanitized Unwashed Outside?
       They ask: “You ride all summer?”
                          : “Yes.”
        They ask: “Don’t you get all hot and sweaty?”
                        : “God invented air conditioning.”                                         

“Bottle of whiskey. Bourbon,” was what Andy asked for, always.

I rode down Western Ave.

I don’t remember much before the door swung out. I was concentrating on the road, the parked cars, side streets, and alleys. I looked into every parked car widow and rearview mirror.

No one could be seen in the truck. No lights, no head, no movement. The timing was perfect. Like a crocodile lunging for a crane. A snake springing at a field mouse.

The flight of humming birds. All Products of thousands of years of evolution. Everything sped up with the industrial revolution. The marriage of cars hitting cyclists in Chicago dates back to the turn of the nineteenth century, although the bicycle predates the automobile by many years.

Western Ave was originally an Indian trade route and is one of a hand full of major streets in Chicago that run crooked, along with Elston, Milwaukee, Clyborn, and Grand, which all cause massive five pointed intersections at every major crossing, and Elston and Milwaukee intersect each other twice at different points. These streets don’t follow the grid designed by Burnham, the famous city planner. Burnham’s vision for the city involved lavish green space, conservation of the waterfront, and the first city with modern paved streets. This was in the early 1880’s, before the automobile. The streets were to be paved exclusively for the bicyclists. However, by the time his Chicago was constructed, the whole city was choked and stuffed with cars.

I was riding my bicycle [2] .

        I know my body went over the top of the door and did a full flip in the air. The truck was a full size, two steps up kind of thing, like an F-250. I landed on tailbone/hip and right hand/wrist. I was not wearing a helmet. The impact knocked me out for a moment. I don’t know if that is true. It seems like I should say it knocked me out. It didn’t. I was conscious the whole time—the second and a half it took to open the door, me to flip, and land. I was there. My eyes stayed open. No flashes, blackouts, realizations. Pain. Blurred vision—broken glasses. The Mexican driver, although he may have been Puerto Rican, this area is largely Puerto Rican,  helped with my glasses. I screamed, “Why don’t you watch what yer fuckin’ doing. You could have killed me! Jesus Fucking Christ!”

[2] because: flowers and trees don’t grow from our heads; worms don’t interpret sparrow tongue; war exists; people work; accordions don’t play themselves; religion corrupts; money buys; white owns; children grow up; wings aren’t for our backs; cardboard isn’t silk; passports matter; cancer; not everything has a crank; Mr. J. M. B. wasn’t Mr. P.M.; Mark Twain had to die; music isn’t everywhere; nothing is free;

Or: T.V. is gOD; commercials hIS gospel; food only comes packaged; carpets need cleaners; yards need mowing; cars are sexy; bicycles are for children; water comes in bottles; fires are for forests; dogs need owners; doors need locks; animals need studied; jungles to be feared; the streets are so dangerous.                            

        The Driver: “Que?”

        He wasn’t going to speak English for me—not after that outburst. If the driver didn’t know English he surely would have caught those last three words: Jesus Fucking Christ. I yelled again, “Fuck… Mi B-C-Clay-Tah,” and I pointed from where my bike was in the street to the sidewalk. The driver grabbed the bike then helped me up and over to the sidewalk. I fell into the fence of a used car lot. I looked to the median, a tractor-trailer with a half dozen cars in the back. He was moving cars for a used car lot at 12:30 am on a Friday. His wife or girlfriend was in the semi-truck cab. He ran over to explain the situation, I thought, and then they took off, quickly. There were, and are, a million assumptions to be made here about the driver and why he ran, or why I didn’t call the police or get license plate numbers, but that is all you get.

        I made it home that night. I couldn’t move my right arm and the front wheel was badly out of true, but I rode home. No booze. No health insurance. A possible broken hand, wrist, bruised tailbone, hip, cuts, bruises, and a permanent dent in my arm.

In Illinois the supreme court ruled in the Boub vs. Wayne case that cyclists are “not the intended users of the roads, but my have access to them.” This ruling gave cyclists in Illinois fewer rights than in any other state. Auto insurance companies, after the court’s ruling, try to take an injured cyclist to court when they can, because the case is always dropped and they never have to pay.

I called into work. I stayed in bed. I borrowed painkillers from friends. Iced. Braced. Bandaged. Called my dad. Called nurse sisters of distant friends. I tried to heal naturally. I made sure I could still play the banjo with the bad hand. That was my test. I played a little everyday to see how I was healing. After a month everything seemed fine and I was back on my bicycle [3] .

Boub was training in Wayne County for a charity triathlon in Chicago. On weekends he would drive out to the more rural suburbs and ride the empty roads. He came up on a bridge he had ridden before. He didn’t slow down. His front tire hit the first wooden plank and he flew. He did get knocked out. Bloodied. Bruised. Stumbled to a house for help and got screams in return. A city construction crew was working on the bridge, but took their signs home with them at the end of the day. They assumed that cars wouldn’t have any trouble with the exposed gaps in the bridge—why should they have assumed otherwise. When he tried to sue the city for damages they made the ruling—bikes are not intended to be on the roads. That ruling stood through every level of state courts. Now, no cyclists in any other state can sue a city or township because of the fear that the state will follow the same model.

I never did get an X-ray, and everything cracks. 

[3] To always catch your neighbor on her front porch. To pass thirty cars waiting at a traffic light. To pass thirty more at the next. To park closer than the handicapped. To choke on bus fumes. To be covered in grease. To never read the signs. To connect. To lose a pant cuff. To find that shortcut. To carry on that conversation. To no-hand-it. To get a flat. To really be outside. To fall off drunk. To actually stop and smell a flower. To stop. To detour. To alley ride. To dumpster dive. To travel. To see it. To liberate.