Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Incredible Weightiness of Driving (in Chicago)

My parents told me not to bring my car from Evanston to Chicago. “You won’t need it!” they said. “We never needed one! Public transportation!” I shared with my parents my thoughts on the CTA, laden with explectives and clenched fists, which I’ll spare you now—and then said, “No. I need my car.”

In the end, I was right. My car is a necessity. I work in the Ravenswood neighborhood, right off Silicon Alley, which is impossible to reach by El, bus, or Metra from east Rogers Park. On the weekends, I often relish in driving out to the burbs, subsequently fighting super-moms for parking spots at Old Orchard or getting my ass kicked in Wii boxing by J’s 5-year-old niece in Glenview.

However, the city car brings with it a burden that is greater than parking tickets or snow plows that impact dirty ice igloos around your vehicle. No, this burden manifests in the seedy underbelly of Rogers Park and Edgewater, in the speeding main thoroughfares and clogged side streets of these neighborhoods. It is, by a more common name, Chicken.

Living in Rogers Park, it didn’t take long before I recognized this game of brain and backbone as it played out between cars. In narrow streets flanked on either side by parked cars, cars speed at one another for the right to pass first in a challenge that requires gumption that the likes of Sherman and Grant once knew.

The first few times this happened to me, I blamed the drivers. I muttered profanities as they barreled head on at me and then veered close, narrowly missing scraping the side of my car. But the more it happened, I realized—I need not hate the players, but should instead hate the game. (Specifically, Chicken.)

This is how I start each morning—sleepy-headed, unkempt, and reckless. Heeding to no one (except pedestrians!/especially not the buses!) and pushing my way out of Rogers Park.

My trip south on Ashland and Clark is another story altogether, a harrowing journey with quick swerves around delivery trucks, those damned CTA buses, and thick-headed bicyclists. (By thick-headed, I literally mean they must have rock-hard heads because they’re often biking right down the middle of the road without helmets on. They must have no fear of crashing skull-first into anything.) Speedy motorists squeeze into the right turn lane and then gun their way through intersections to continue straight while cabbies straddle multiple lanes as if following the dotted yellow lines to their destination.

By the time I manage to wedge my car into a parking spot near my office, I’ve lost at least the duration of the commute off my lifespan and I’ve devolved into something more primitive. My heart is pounding and my pupils are dialated—I’m in full survival mode, ready to strike snake-like at the nearest postal worker who comes too close to me on the sidewalk with his cart-full of envelopes.

It takes me nearly eight hours to wind down, and by that time, I’m ready to take the same trip home. My hands are shaking, but I reach for the keys. This is my burden to bear.

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

I'm generally a kind-hearted person who tends to try and see the best in people. At least, I like to think I am.

But put me behind the wheel on these here Chicago streets, and I.hate.the.world.

I feel you, Caitlin. I feel you.