45 miles - Total: 818 miles
Today is August 2nd and I want to dedicate day 8, which marked my arrival in Chicago, to the 85 victims of the terrorist bombing at Bologna train station 32 years ago. The families of the victims and injured are still awaiting justice. We must continue to work to push the government to give us answers. In solidarity with countless others brothers and sisters from Argentina (and elsewhere in the world) that seek truth and justice here's what I wish to say: Never Again. Nunca Mas. Mai Piu.
With these thoughts on my mind I start my day with a mixture of sadness and excitement. Today I am supposed to be arriving in Chicago, the largest and most iconic city of my cross-country ride. It gets pretty difficult right away as entering Chicago from the South on a bicycle is an absolute nightmare. If you are ever tempted to ride into Chicago from the South... well just don't! The city's road network is not designed to allow either pedestrians or light vehicles to enter without incurring into an accident or an adventure of some sort. The roads are in dreadful conditions and full of pot holes. In a vein attempt to find an alternative to highways or heavily used roads, I pass through an industrial area that seems never ending. This is the infamous Brownsville, an area that has now been abandoned but was once used for industrial purposes. Brownsvilles are quite typical of many US cities. Redevelopment plans are underway to clean and restore the areas. Also, here there are works in progress but much more needs to be done still. Actually the whole South Side looks like a huge working site, unstaffed and unwelcoming. I turn West then back North then West again and then the road is closed for work so I double back West and God knows how but I finally end up on MLK Boulevard which runs 8 miles from Calumet City to the Loop. For the first few miles the surface is ridiculously uneven and I fear that my tires will be damaged. I must avoid deep holes and cracks so I keep my wits about me, hands tight on the handlebar and I don't take my eyes off the road. It goes on and on through heavily populated urban areas, mostly poor neighborhoods with rusting, half burnt-out, derelict houses. I occasionally stop to take a picture but it is not a good idea so I keep going in a hurry past Washington Park until I look up and with a glance I see the downtown skyline. The sight of the familiar skyline is a burst of energy running through my body. It reminds me of how far I've come in a week. I am filled with emotion and I push all the way to Grant Park where I ask a young man to take a picture of me to celebrate the moment. I made it to Chicago. I stroll through the well-know city sights, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the "Bean", the Hancock Tower, the Drake, etc and I easily find a hotel. Lots of washing to do tonight and lots of resting. Tomorrow I will be meeting doctors at the University of Illinois, more on that tomorrow.
South Chicago is a bit of a legendary place which bred several incredible jazz players. As often is the case in this surprising country, seedy and decadent areas give rise to talented and revolutionary geniuses that go on to create a style of their own in their chosen fields. Trail blazers, moody and haunted, born out of crime and destitution but when they put their minds to it..it's pure poetry. Riding through the stone houses of South Chicago with this romantic notion in my head I fantizise about the old days when the mob would run amok back in the 30s and the entertainment world, which, besides gambling, alcohol and prostitution, boasted an incredibly lively black music scene. And so I thought of the speakeasies and their smoke-filled rooms where the sound of steely clarinets and saxophones accompanied by undertones of sinewy basses would merge into one searing beat. This is the Chicago that I like to imagine, which existed back then and has disappeared forever. A few years earlier in New Orleans a collective sound was born through the street bands of young musicians it was called jazz; Chicago pushed the boundaries, allowed the musicians to explore their mind and gave them freedom of expression and a new dimension as a one-man act. The music would then develop through the years into a sound so addictive and unique that would tear into the heart of the audience like the most haunting heartbreak would tear apart a lover. It was the sound of a more elaborated and mature jazz which later became blues, raising from the dusty of South Chicago, improvising its way into the world as a cry of anger and tenderness, of freedom and solidarity. And improvisation, just like my bicycle journey I like to think, just like anything else in life. When the chips are down, when you got nothing to lose, when you're against the rope...improvise, create.
As New Orleans, the cradle of jazz, began its inevitable demise, Chicago's music scene took over and flourished. The sound then developed further and influenced New York and Paris. But it is right here on the shores of Lake Michigan, where in the past 150 years millions of immigrants have arrived, tried their luck and moved on and where many ethnic minorities still reside, that the city called Chicago became essential to the element of surprise and improvisation in both jazz and later on blues. Cycling throught this area was cool enough; imagining and fantasizing about the ever-evolving past was even better. I enter the loop and I think that this is where Jack and Elwood were fleeing from the police in their blues mobile. I am not fleeing anymore. I am here now. In two days I turn my wheel north, destination: Milwaukee.
Gary, In. The cops are at work
Near Calumet City
Under the EL in South Chicago
The downtown skyline appears through the noon haze
Here I am, in Grant Park, all the way from DC on my two wheels