“Car,” my brain said, “Car,” when I thrust my head into a downpour out the front door. “Car.” Precipitation at 8:10 a.m. trips the mechanism by which I grant myself advance pardon for driving my two mile commute. “Biked yesterday. Car. Four tires set stabler on damp asphalt than two. Car. Wet pants retard technical genius. Car. A responsible and valuable employee. Car.” When, with, yes, glee, I unlocked the driver’s side door from the distance of my porch I did not foresee my circular course. Parking was impossible. I doubled back to hoist my bike from the basement, as I should have from the start.
Not long ago I traveled 25 miles of northeastern Illinois twice a day from one small suburb to another. A sorry state, shifting my off-the-clock life to score advantage in a race to the fore of a half-hour bottleneck across the Fox River: closing the garage at six, eating at my desk to trim a lunch hour, leaving the office at three, asleep at nine: for a job that even at the highest wage I’d ever garnered promised neither challenge nor future: where “benefits” cost sotto voce a minimum eight weekly hours above 40. A two-year search turned up no better jobs near my then-home, the regional economy bent towards the skyscrapers 50 miles southeast.
But commuting is second-nature. So much of this country built to accommodate driving in turn came to require driving, and the few deterrents so far prove impotent to effect changes to the way Americans live and do business. A well-educated workforce holds $4.14 a gallon at Ashland and Grand a pittance against the riches gained in the shimmering district to the intersection’s east. In Chicago all roads lead to Madison and State, with most commuters setting out each morning towards this goal from distances far beyond my beloved West Town. Remote, frightening places. Winnetka. Naperville. Gary. Schaumburg. Wheaton.
While a suburbanite myself, I came to see few suburban economies capable of supporting their populations: distant communities peopled by urban expats dire to keep pace with a mass-marketed standard of living (HD, iPod, Starbucks) without the inconvenience of, you know, living near other people. With everything everywhere costing the same, and jobs supporting these prices rare outside urban centers, workers must leave their communities to buy the things the market demands they have, and which they most definitely want.
Relocating nearer the site of one’s work might be a viable solution to this problem, provided such a move didn’t require reconciling oneself to the volatility of living with others. If a man can stomach writing off three daily hours to bridge the salary his skills command and a domesticity free of human annoyances, he will. I called bullshit and left for Chicago. Two and a half years in, I’m doing all right. Cut 46 miles from my day and have yet to turn ass-hat as a city driver.
Today I drove to work — calm, patient, but assertive — only to find Kinzie closed to parking for “construction” that didn’t actually happen. With the morning’s rain, everyone, like me, who could drive would, and as it turned out, did. Justin circled the building twice before accepting these cars wouldn’t be leaving their spots, turned back to Grand and came home. Then I hopped on my bike and wove through traffic. That was pretty awesome.