I got on my bike Saturday morning and rode to Eppel’s on Roosevelt. Lynne asked if I wanted the combination omelet and grits like always and I said of course I did. She laughed and told a customer at the counter she knows she’s still got when she can remember my order fifteen years after I first put it in. “You know, the years are adding up. We’re not getting any younger.” I tell her it helps that I order the same thing every time.
I pedaled north to Harrison, then turned east till I hit Dearborn. I was surprised to see car traffic continuing on, as, in prior years, I thought I remembered the intersection being blocked off for the Printers Row Lit Fest. I locked up the bike and delivered ten copies of my book to Jerry at the Tortoise table, then wandered around a few minutes. The crowd was a little sparse and several tents were virtually empty, tables free of books. This fair seems to be less of a big deal with each passing year.
At 11am I went back to Tortoise and spent an hour standing behind the table with Jerry, trying to push my book on people. I was surprised to observe several pick out a book or two, then give Jerry a card to run without even asking prices. Maybe they were on a mission to spend money today and weren’t too particular on where it went. I get tired and depressed thinking about the economics of the book business, but enjoy watching people pick up books and leaf through them, before buying or putting them back. I always wonder what decides it one way or the other.
After my hour’s duty was done, I made another circuit of the fair. There were definitely fewer participants than prior years. Tents used to extend in both directions on Polk, but today there were only a couple on that street at all. I don’t know what it says about the reading public. There are more books published now than ever, but should there be? I walked back to where Tortoise was, then went around the corner of the tent to the Featherproof table and talked to Tim awhile. He had the Dardenne brothers book for sale and we talked about the four year saga of getting that thing into print. I told him I was planning to try to ride my bike out to Riverside in a few minutes. He laughed at that, wondering what I would do if I didn’t make it. I told him if he didn’t see me at the fair the next day, he could draw his own conclusions.
I’d texted a couple hardcore cyclist pals about routes out to that suburb. Between them and Google Maps, I figured it was doable. About an 11 mile ride. I said goodbye to Tim and Jerry and started pedaling. My first stop was Binny’s for a bottle of wine, then I went west up Roosevelt. At Ogden, I turned south, passing the building which used to house the taxi license renewal facility. It looked quiet and obviously being used for some different municipal function, as every nearby parking spot was taken by a white city vehicle. Douglas Park and Lawndale passed by quickly, then I was in Cicero, turning straight west on 26th Street for the rest of the ride.
I’d been listening to Steely Dan’s greatest hits on the headphones since leaving the house in the morning and still had a song or two to go when I pulled into Frank and Nancy’s driveway. I parked the bike in the garage and greeted Frank who was feeding wood to the clay oven in their backyard. Soon Don and Mary arrived, wine was poured, and Nancy was passing rolled out dough for pizzas down from the porch. Don and Mary had recently moved out to the burbs after decades in the city. They were half-heartedly pitching me on moving out there. I looked around at the houses, yards, trees, dogs, neighbor children, and trees and was quietly grateful for all I didn’t have.
We got on the subject of the art world as we inevitably do. They all told me they were saddened by my decision to sell off my artwork for cheap, but when I assured them there was nothing to be sad about, they fired up their phones and started picking out pieces for them selves. (I encourage you to do the same. I added a bunch of work this week and will continue to do so.)
Frank and Nancy’s children became old enough a couple years ago that their parents have begun to rejoin the adult world. They’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do and seem to now be exploring what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Having skipped the house/kids/career thus far, my focus has rarely wavered, so it’s interesting to observe the path they’ve taken. I’m proud to see all they’ve accomplished as a couple but can’t imagine doing any of it myself. They probably look at my life not unlike a martian’s as well. Whatever you end up doing, it’s difficult to imagine alternatives, no matter how normal or bizarre.
They offer to let me crash there or give me a lift home, but I’m committed to riding back. It’s a straight shot east down 26th Street from their place to mine. The sprinkling rain serves to cool me off as I pedal. In what feels like minutes, I’m back within the city limits. I ride down the main drag of Little Village, then pass by Cook County Jail, then I’m home. I get through three-quarters of my Silver Jews playlist during the ride.
My knees ache a little, but otherwise I’m little worse for the wear. The trip makes the distance between my friends’ house and mine feel much shorter than I’d previously thought. I’d been out there via CTA or car countless times, but riding it served to narrow the gap. Maybe the distance between my life and theirs as well.
—I briefly returned to Printers Row on Sunday. My main reason was to hear Rick Kogan interview Colin Asher about his great Algren biography. Afterwards, Asher, Michael Caplan and family, and I got some brunch. It was good to meet the guy in person after corresponding for all the years that his book was in the making. It made me feel part of the literary community in a way I rarely do. I hope we cross paths again.