The Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Library Center was jammed to capacity Tuesday night to hear Isabel Wilkerson speak about her book, The Warmth of Other Suns. Rahm Emanuel warmly introduced her, including a conspicuously lingering hug. When her talk was over, and Wilkerson received her standing ovation, the crowd around the elevators was so thick I squeezed by and took the escalator the 9 floors to the street.
By the time I got out of the building, I had to hop a bike if I wanted to make it to Union Station to catch the 7:35 p.m. back to my leafy suburban paradise. So even though I had no helmet—I had come straight from home, just to hear the talk, and so it was still in my briefcase—I figured the Loop had emptied out, so traffic was less. I had promised to use a helmet. But it was an hour to the next train. Can’t hang around for an hour. Besides, who would know?
As I inserted the Divvy fob into its port, I noticed a young woman strapping on her helmet at the next bike dock. She was looking at me closely, with a trace of a smile.
“I usually wear my helmet,” I blustered, yanking the bike out. “But the library…”
“No you don’t,” she said, teasingly. “We read your column.” And then she rode off. “I will, though!” I called after her, in a strangled voice. Chastened, I took Van Buren west, the first time I’d ridden it at night. The air was cool, the lights sparkly. Riding at night in the Loop: fun. A right on Dearborn. A light turned yellow as I approached, but I powered through. There is a lag before the green changes, going the other way. A left on Madison — there is a dedicated bike lane on Madison, with car lanes to the left and right, and that helps a lot. It might be an illusion of safety, but you figure, stay between those white lines and you’ll be okay, even as cars and buses zip around you, criss-crossing in front and behind. Real bicyclists on 12-speeds blew by me like I was on a tricycle in a sandbox, but I tried to ignore them.
I got caught at the light at Wacker, and standing, waiting for it to change, gazing at the banners on the Civic Opera House for “Otello, which opens Saturday. Another guy on a Divvy pulled up beside me. Glasses. Young—a college student, maybe. Books strapped to the front of his bike. He not only had no helmet, but was listening to an iPod, which struck me as truly dumb. No helmet and an iPod. At least I can take comfort in that: there’s always a bigger idiot. Still, I’ve got to start dragging the helmet around with me. I have my reputation to think of, as an example to youth.