I spent a chunk of my birthday making another collage. I don’t know where they’re going but think maybe they’re pointing to some meeting point between painting and writing. I’ll keep ripping up old shit until I find out or get sick of it

A couple days before I gave myself an early birthday present. Rick Rizzo was playing a backyard benefit in Beverly and I bought a ticket. Been a fan for thirty years at least. The complicating part was the neighborhood. I know that guy said you can’t go home again, but you can sure as shit ride past homes you used to live in. When you live in a place long enough the streets become littered with them.

I don’t go to Beverly much because for me there’s little there but the past. The three years I lived there were my last attempt at cohabitation. It didn’t end so well. But I was looking forward to a long ride through streets I only knew well as a cabdriver. Locked in the bubble of an automobile you’re not part of a place the same way you are on a bicycle.

I turned to Bill for routing advice from Bridgeport to Beverly. It’s a fragment of a ride he does weekly. He gave me detailed directions which I wound up ignoring. Chicago is a grid so there are often actual straight lines between starting and ending points. In the case of my ride, south of the stockyards the most direct route is Damen Avenue. Bill said there was a lot of construction between 55th and 63rd so he’d avoided it all summer. With summer just about over I decided to chance it.

Before I could get to Damen though, I got stuck at a rail crossing on the northern edge of the former stockyards. I watched the endless freight train crawl east a few minutes until it came to a standstill. I waited a few minutes, then pedaled west to Ashland to get around it. I took the sidewalks to 47th Street, then turned right. The street was jammed with Saturday afternoon commerce. I darted in and around the stalled cars, thankful not to be one of them.

Damen was free and easy for about a mile before becoming pockmarked with recent roadwork. There was no equipment or work crews but the surface was a Frankenstein patchwork for about a mile. Then it smoothed out. I knew this area—Back of the Yards, West Englewood—mostly from taking mentally- and physically-impaired young people home from activity centers in my cab. That was a decade and more ago. Since then, like most people, I’ve stayed within a much more circumscribed area. The bar, the coffeeshop, a trip downtown sometimes. There had been no reason for me take this trip until Rick gave me one.

I looked at the houses as I rolled through. Not too many people out. A few working on their cars or mowing lawns. Like every place. I didn’t envy the home or automobile owners. I felt light on the bike. Not a common feeling for me. 

At 87th Damen is interrupted by the Dan Ryan Woods. I rode the Major Taylor Trail to 95th, then cut over to Prospect. I took a deep breath as I rounded the corner at 100th Place. I’d passed the house only a couple times since moving out at the beginning of 2015. A woman sat on the front lawn in front of a newish fence hiding the yard which used to be visible from the street. There was a big Black Lives Matter sign behind her. I thought of stopping but didn’t. I’ve never done that thing you see in movies sometimes where somebody shows up at the house they used to live in and asks the current occupants if they can look around. Kind of a creepy thing to do, if you think about it. What do they hope to see besides ghosts and architectural alterations?

Monica’s place is around the corner. I’d been there once or twice before. She took the gigantic couch Shay and I bought together. She greeted me after I’d leaned my bike against the fence and pointed upstairs to say the couch was still up there. The backyard was filling up with folding chairs, blankets. Rick would say later it was as close as he’d get to playing Ravinia. A few people recognized me from when I lived nearby. They asked if I’d moved back. I set my chair next to Elliot and Sarah. Elliot was the one that told me about the show.

I talked to Rick awhile. He was surprised but happy to see me. Said he didn’t expect to know anyone here. He lives in Elmhurst now. He told me about his teenaged son taking a bike ride to Garfield Park from the suburbs recently. He had no cellphone and Rick and his wife were worried enough to call the police. But then the kid showed up, completely energized from his adventure. He described the route he took to his dad and Rick couldn’t be mad at him afterward.

I knew about every song Rick played aside from the new ones from the Eleventh Dream Day record which isn’t done yet. It was a great show. The best I’ve heard since the lockdown for sure. This and Bill MacKay playing at Firecat a few weeks ago will be the ones I’ll remember like signposts of this time.

Afterwards I went to Fox’s for pizza for old time’s sake. Bill texted to see how my ride went and offered directions for the return trip. I took Damen back. It was an effortless ride.

—Listen to my talk with Gil Roth about All Hack via Pilsen Community Books right here.