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02/17/2000: New City: Trying to hit the Auto Show with a bike mentality
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Trying to hit the Auto Show with a bike mentality
Chris Wiersema
New City, February 17, 2000

Though it's shaping up to be one of those cold-yet-sunny Midwestern winter days, some thirty people -- and their bikes -- commune in the abstruse Picasso shadow of the Daley Plaza and begin making plans. The group, a diverse pack of messengers, working stiffs, a tricycle-riding freak flag flyer, and one chain-smoking, anarchist Brit, isn't exactly who you'd expect to see mounting bikes in the early hours of a Saturday morning.

But for members of Chicago Critical Mass, the local chapter of a worldwide movement against "car-culture," it's a common occurrence. As Chicago enters the second week of the nation's best-attended auto show, organizers of today's event -- which hopes to raise awareness of bikes as a better option to single-occupant, fuel-burning cars -- say it's even a mandate. Though attempting to find members willing to call themselves an organizer is nearly as difficult as finding a guilty man on Illinois' Death Row. Gin Kilgore, one of the (un)organizers explains, "This is very much a grass roots anarchy set, no one is formally in control, eliminating a narrow hierarchy." Anarchy? "It is much more needed here because it is not always in the public eye, politics in Chicago are so... fluffy."

Michael, both an (un)organizer for Critical Mass and the Bike Winter (think the Polar Bear Club on wheels), adds, "In San Francisco, for a ride like this, we'd get fifteen hundred people in the street, but what's the point when everyone is on your side? Here, hell, we're in the belly of the beast." Michael's apprehension is quickly resolved; the group votes to take the Lake Shore Drive route to McCormick Place where the "autogeddon" currently is in overdrive. Following several laps around the plaza, the riders head toward LSD, where they clog two lanes of traffic. At McCormick Place, the bevy's arrival goes undetected by those who didn't see them enter in the parking lot. "Those clean air people, the Greenpeace, yeah I think they [are] about," quips one Teamster, prior to unloading his piles of "Union Yes" bumper stickers. The cycle crew sets up camp on a grassy knoll next to a main pedestrian area near the entrance. Some just lounge in the aromatic fumes from the nearby on-ramp, while others pass out fliers, put on skits or shout glib assertions like "Have sexy legs, not a sexy car" and "Hurry, there are still parts of the world that go unpaved!" "That's why we have four-by-fours," one unconvinced passerby retorts.

"We aren't here to make converts," both Michael and Gin say. "But to make people aware that there is an alternative." The crowd seems to find their hijinks rather amusing, and the demonstration is unblemished by any authoritative force. That is until the group prepares to leave. Packing up, the bike crew is confronted by a group of orange-vested fellows who seem befuddled.

"We're with the Park District and you have to vacate NOW!" Head vest Anthony screams. Unable to show the proper identification, he then claims to be with the police. Not realizing he needs a badge for that role, his mood lessens into arrangements of four-letter words and threats. The troop is eventually evicted by Anthony, of the Soldier Field parking lot patrol, (yes, he's able to prove this) for lingering in the ("his") parking lot without, of all things, having a car.

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