I’m not claiming this to be the most well thought out essay, but emotions caused this, so let’s talk about biking and our friends we care about.
I found myself in the South Loop the other night. The neighborhood in Chicago where I went to college nearly forever ago. It’s changed, of course. All things do.
That left me with a 9-mile bike ride back up north. I’ve gotten into a routine with my commute, so this was an opportunity to take an alternative way up north. No need to go directly home. It’s one of those “stop and smell the roses” kind of experiences. Reminding yourself that you’re still alive and you have to appreciate the small things and believe in cliches.
Up State Street. Not the best for biking. You share it with buses, cabs, and red lights that catch you every two blocks. But I didn’t want to go west to Franklin. Franklin takes you to Clybourn which takes you to Damen which takes you home. I wasn’t going home.
At night, State is forgiving as far as traffic goes and it’s the fastest way to the bridge. (I say that like there’s some reason to get past the bridge. There’s not. It just like getting that pass to cross to the next mushroom house in Super Mario Bros. 3.) You get to stop by the Chicago Theater’s brightly lit marquee and wonder if you’ll ever make the time to go see a show there again. Or ever? Have I ever been there? Memories of this city are fuzzy. I think I saw Conan O’Brien there live pre-9-11. ABC News was prepping for their evening broadcast across the street and the light turned green.
The city is both familiar and changing. And surprisingly busy for a Tuesday night. The Viagra Triangle, as much money that goes into that small section of town is always home to scaffolding. Also older men with shoulders and suits they mention in conversation. Valets parking their cars as the gentlemen escort women inside for Cosmos before they topple in their heels.
I made my way up to Division into Old Town. Million dollar homes line the streets. But poorly filled potholes make the ride cumbersome.
Made a right on Clark. A street that inhales and exhales in width. Pedestrians have ceased to pay attention while crossing the street since cell phones were invented. My pace slows out of safety, especially around Wrigleyville. Even when there’s not a game happening you ask yourself, “Why am I biking through Wrigleyville?” A neighborhood where drunks sarcastically compliment your helmet and you earnestly compliment them for being cunts.
But before Wrigleyville, I reached Diversey and Clark. I saw two friends of mine crossing the street. (Of course I do, right? I can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing someone I know since I’ve lived here so long.) They are a couple I admire. Both musicians who are so talented they get to actually work as musicians, for better or for worse. Then have confidence and freedom to leave their jobs and travel. And they’re in love. And it was nice to see them from across the street smiling at each other, a genuine chemistry and happiness even in the most casual of moments.
I continued up north, but I didn’t go home.
Passing the cemetery just south of Irving I always notice the temperature slightly drops and chills my sleeveless arms. I’ve tried to find the scientific reason for that, but every article I come across just blames ghosts. Chilly ghosts.
I turned left on Irving. Passed a diner that served cheese fries to me and an ex. Passed a bar that my band played at where the homophobic owner kicked two gay dudes out for kissing. Every street I went down contained a memory.
I arrived at my destination: Resi’s. A warmly lit bar just west of the Lincoln/Damen/Irving intersection that serves German beer at the edge of North Center. It’s right around the corner from the now closed Lincoln Restaurant which served waffle fries and historical pun-themed dishes. It also was the home to the Lincoln Lodge, a performance space for young, solid comedians who most likely continued on to be successful as stand-ups. The performers would congregate after their shows at Resi’s. But unfortunately the Lincoln Lodge shut its doors. And tonight wasn’t after a show. People were gathering to mourn a friend’s passing.
Dan, a young comedian passed away this week. Friends were gathered after the wake to celebrate his memory. Comedians I’ve know for varying lengths of time, now in suits, somber, doing their best to find moments to laugh. It’s sad to have a reunion under such circumstances. He would have wanted it this way. Those phrases kept being said over and over.
[My role was and is a friend of friends. I don't feel comfortable writing any kind of tribute. I knew Dan as the kind and talented comedian he was, but not close enough to him to go to a wake. I'm a supportive outsider who's willing to give any and all hugs to my friends closest to him. Fuck, I've avoided my own grandparents' funerals for one reason or another--probably the reason being I've never come to terms with the whole idea of dying, but that's a whole other essay. Anyway.]
It’s almost strange when a group of comedians aren’t actively doing bits. They were contemplative. They were family. They were a community brought together by death. A topic they’ve all written about, experienced first hand, possibly obsess about, maybe fantasize about. But life was what they were celebrating in that bar that night. Doing the best we can.
And in all my years in Chicago, this is what I understand the most: The sense of community. This Midwestern charm that the other coasts (I hear) apparently can’t seem to grasp.
And that’s why we stay and grow and live and die here.
It’s like when you are with someone who makes you feel so great, but in your heart you know this is temporary and they’re not right for you. But you still stay. Because there is something inherently good beneath it all. And even if you grow to resent it, it takes everything to leave.
So while streets are changing and people move or die or have babies, there is a familiarity that continues to connect us while we’re here. That people gravitate to and even return to if they’ve gone. Pick up where they left off and find another road to travel down.
Similar, but still familiar. And there is enough Midwestern charm in us that even if we don’t know each other very well, we’re most likely willing to. Because there is a lot of comfort. Even through all our bullshit and insecurities, there are moments when we all find ourselves in the same place and find comfort no matter what path we decide to take.