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Divvy Diary: Biking adds time, even time for a dig from the president of Mongolia

Updated: November 1, 2013 6:09AM



The 6:50 rolled into Union Station at 7:34 a.m. Friday. The plan was to stroll to the Hotel Palomar, 505 N. State, for an 8 a.m. breakfast economic talk.

But I had my Divvy helmet with me.

I realized I could jump on a bike at Canal and Madison, stop by the office, drop off my briefcase, noodle around online for 10 minutes, then bike to the hotel. So I did.

Biking is about three times faster than walking. Distances shrink while time expands. I’ve milked Divvy for humor; anything that combines physical exertion, ridiculous headgear, public display and constant exposure to the very real possibility of being creamed by a bus, is inherently funny.

But there is a practical, even joyous side.

At the hotel, the Economist magazine’s U.S. economics editor, Greg Ip, painted the global scene: guarded optimism if Congress doesn’t explode our economy, with China’s state capitalism maybe running out of gas. I stashed my helmet under my chair.

Next stop, Aqua Tower. Last time biking there, I made the mistake of taking Kinzie to Columbus, which I had forgotten goes underground. Pedaling furiously south along the lower span of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, taking a left onto Lower Wacker, this is a bad idea! gonged in my brain. But what can you do at that point? You’re stuck. I took the first ramp up toward daylight, curving onto Stetson. It gave a pang of sympathy for the Divvy cyclists mocked for showing up on places like Lake Shore Drive. You don’t plan that — I hope — it just happens. Wiser, I took Wabash to Randolph.

Leaving the Aqua — my third Divvy trip of the morning — I felt something unexpected: a kind of happiness. It bites to grow old. Life’s opportunities dwindle. The future dulls, narrows.

Then the city of Chicago abruptly installs this cool bicycle network and invites everybody to use it for nearly nothing (20 cents a day, if you join for a year). You get places fast. Your legs move, your heart pumps. Your senses grow keener because you’re keeping an eye for doors about to be flung open, for pedestrians bumbling into you, for trucks bearing down. Nothing keeps you alert like terror, and alert is akin to young.

At 4 p.m., the president of Mongolia was opening the country’s honorary consulate. I might have skipped it, but a Divvy map showed a dock at Huron and Sedgwick, close to the new consulate at 368 W. Huron.

By the time I got butt on bike it was 20 to 4. But cycling ate up the seven blocks. On Huron, I admired the Mongolian flags hanging off the consulate but didn’t see a dock. Here is where I wished I had loaded the Divvy map app on my phone (note to self: load map app). Luckily I thought to double back, figuring there might be a rack on Chicago Avenue. A right on Sedgwick, 3:50 p.m., returning to the consulate. The dock was directly across the street. I was so busy ogling the flags, I missed it the first time.

Chicago media did not turn out in force to meet President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. It was just me, plus local Mongolian cable TV. The new consul, William Pintas, is a personal-injury lawyer. He took a moment to explain that his IT guy, a Mongolian, got him to visit Mongolia. The consulship followed.

It was a small office, jammed. I found myself next to a woman who said she was one of the first Mongolian immigrants to Chicago, a community now of 8,000. She came to join the Ringling Bros. circus and dance upon elephants. How does that work? The trick, she said, is holding on until your hands bleed.

“The Golden Swallow of Democracy” arrived and signed some papers. A bowl of beige milk was produced, which the consul gamely sipped. At one point the media, a k a me, was ushered up. I asked the president his take on Chicago. “I think I know Chicago from the movies,” he said, then requested another question. Groping, I asked about Mongolia and neighbor China; are they concerned about being swallowed up like Tibet?

“That is a stupid question,” he replied, to general merriment. Interview ended, I figured my work here was done, skipped the toasting, retrieved my helmet and exited. I hopped a bike and headed down Kingsbury.

I stopped back at the paper, retrieved my briefcase, shut the office down for the weekend. It was 5:10. I could make the train speedwalking. Or . . . I grabbed a Divvy at 333 W. Wacker. All I needed to do was shave a few minutes off the trip and I’d make the 5:25. But would there be an open dock at Canal and Madison? I stood on the pedals, flying, wondering: what are the odds?

Eight spaces awaited. I glided my bike into one, saw the dock light go green and strolled to the train with time to spare.

Email: nsteinberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @NeilSteinberg



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