Earlier this month, I canceled the first spring tour of 2015 when our son Jackson went back into the hospital with another incident of respiratory distress. Thankfully his latest hospitalization was a very brief stay, but it was impossible to say just two days before the tour whether we’d be in for another weeks long visit, or a quick tune-up. Reluctantly, again, I had to pull the plug on the tour. Jackson was discharged less than 24 hours after his arrival and was prescribed a rigorous regimen of respiratory therapies that we did at home over the weekend. On that Saturday when I should have been leading a group of cyclists through the boulevards and streets of Logan Square, I was at least still able to get out for a nice road ride with two of my best riding buddies, helping to make up for the tour cancellation. We had a lovely ride along our usual route past the Skokie Lagoons and through the north shore suburbs of Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park and Kenilworth, but when I got back home, I had a bunch of missed calls, two voice mails and a text from people that did not get the notification that the tour was cancelled. I felt terrible for anyone’s inconvenience and the incident revived my concern about the ongoing viability of doing the tours.
Jackson has a litany of medical challenges and special needs. He was born a normal boy with no particular concerns. When he got his 18-month vaccinations, he had an adverse reaction to the DTaP booster, specifically the acellular Pertussis component. The day after he got his shots, he stopped breathing at day care and our world and his life turned completely upside down. Today, he has Cerebral Palsy (an overarching description of his problems), encephalopathy, he is non-verbal, he is tube-fed, he is in a wheel-chair, is quadriplegic, he has profound respiratory distress and suffers from dysautonomia, scoliosis, and a host of other medical conditions. He occasionally requires respiratory assistance, gets oxygen and bi-pap every night and is on a host of medications, therapies, tube feeding and occasional ventilation that are administered by a school nurse during the school day and by us at home. He requires regular physical, occupational and speech therapies, all of which he receives at Park School in Evanston, where we moved in 2009 so that he could attend what is widely considered the best school in the area for children with special needs. After his adverse reaction, he spent three months in hospitals before he went home a completely changed boy from the one who could run, talk, hug, scream, tickle, play hide and seek and do the things that most young boys do. For the next nine and a half years, he had a host of medical concerns of course, but avoided any hospitalizations until May of 2014.
Since then, he has spent almost 9 weeks in the hospital over the past 10 months. During that time, I have cancelled more tours than I have run. The year has been extremely difficult for him and our family, and has prompted me to take stock of many aspects of my life. I have been organizing, researching, photographing, route-planning, writing and leading these tours since 2007. The tours have introduced me to a hundred different Chicagos. Each community area, each suburb, each neighborhood, each tour has shown me wondrous things and increased my love of the city and its burbs and burgs. Its every days, its pulse, its extraordinary architecture, its uplifting and heartbreaking stories, its people, its founders, builders and leaders. The tours have introduced me to thousands of people over the years, many who have become my friends, tour regulars, ride marshals and clients of my real estate business. The tours are an intrinsic part of me at this point and I identify myself with them, and many others do as well.
The process of doing the tours is rewarding, but also very time consuming and a lot of work. Each tour is the result of hundreds of hours of research, riding, photographing, writing, planning, testing, promoting and organizing. As I do more and more of them, instead of saving time by building on the foundation of knowledge I already have about particular architects, building styles, architectural movements and history of our area, I find I spend even more time digging to find out as much as I can about the homes that lack the pedigree of an iconic landmark, but are steeped in the every day brilliance of a city who is second to no other for architectural riches. Each tour is its own adventure. Each community is its own treasure. Connected to the whole, though forgotten and neglected in too many cases. Some areas are as sad to bike through as they are amazing. When we bear witness to what we lost, to areas that suffer from divestment and poverty and to communities struggling for their share of resources, it can overwhelm and freeze us, stopping us from working to improve our neighborhoods. It becomes easy to retreat to our safe corners rather than face the disparity around us. It can, on the other hand, remind us of our connection, our mutual responsibility and our challenges in an inspirational way as well.
I have often considered writing books about the different communities in Chicago, but opted instead to do this website. The website started in 2009 and after building the site on a very poor platform for several years, it became obvious that I had to scrap the whole thing and start over. I worked with the very talented Juliet Gray of ThoughtShaping and spent another two years completely rebuilding the site. My first email from Juliet after a recommendation from a friend came to my inbox two years ago today, on March 25, 2013. What I originally envisioned was a quick transfer of my existing content to a new, more robust, easier, friendlier Word Press platform, turned into a rabbit hole. This is no fault of Juliet, but of my own expectations and inexperience. I still think she is the best web designer in the world, but I should have educated myself far more on what would be involved. Even so, the project grew and grew and the scope of what I wanted revealed itself as each new piece added more possibilities and pulled me in deeper.
In my mind, there would be virtual tours of all of the neighborhoods and community areas I had built tours of, and a quick and easy way to present them to the world. The idea of the website seemed more built for how many of us ingest knowledge in our connected world of pervasive identity than a series of books. In my naivety, the website was an easy way to offer a compendium to the tours so people that lived anywhere could experience our brilliant Chicago and its neighboring suburbs. People that were on the tours could read more about the things we biked by and didn’t cover on the ride. People that wanted to know more about Chicago, architecture, history, where to live, where to go, cool things to check out, or find out more about cycling could use the site as a unique resource that would help them learn, while it helped the city shrink in their minds, to a manageable, understandable place. Little did I know how much minutia would go into the creation of events, e-commerce, poster images, thumbnails, product pages, shipping rates, tax tables, images, security, hacking, and seemingly every possible e-problem ever known.
Man…should have done those books.
The site went up and life went on. Work, home life, social life and the challenging year our family has had all took priority to the tours, to Chicago Velo and the dreams of what I wanted to build. My rediscovered fitness evaporated as logging hundreds of weekly training miles disappeared into lengthy hospital stays, poor diet, driving instead of riding and the stress of hospital life. The goal of multiple blog posts and posting thousands of pictures, hundreds of stories and dozens of virtual tours zoomed and crashed into the reality of the finite nature of time and the human need for rest. The site is still up, but it isn’t the resource I dreamed it would be. The tours still go on, unless they get canceled. Life happens, and we adjust, we work around, we move on.
Each year, I spend far more on Chicago Velo and the tours than I make, but the rewards are knowledge, friendship, clients for my business, exercise and adventure, and all of those things are worth the cost, time and effort. Promoting and marketing the rides has always been my least favorite part of the process and I always struggle with the use of social media, email lists and time management of all of that. Lately, the frequent cancellations of the rides has posited a new challenge. Attendance is down, and it is a struggle to get posters out, notices up and balance promotion with the back-of-the-mind concerns that I might have to cancel the rides at any point. To be sure, the lack of reliable scheduling affects the attendance, but so does the reduced time frame to promote the rides, the struggle to work when we are the midst of our hospital routines, and all of the compression of many to-dos into reduced time frames.
I stopped doing the rides back in 2010 for about half a year before re-inventing them, adding a fee and relaunching them. I have thought repeatedly about stopping them, discontinuing the work on Chicago Velo, and figuring out a way to create an outlet for my own needs. I have received several offers from friends and riders that have offered to fill in for me on cancelled rides, but the truth is that it would be impossible to give people all of the information that is not written in the notes. Only about half of what I cover is written down on note-cards and the rest is in my brain. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to train a substitute, so it doesn’t represent a viable solution when a tour needs to cancel. I still may end up ending the tours, but for now, I have reached a compromise solution.
From the summer forward, the tours are going to be scheduled monthly instead of twice a month, with the occasional extra tour for the city or a special event. I am debating ending the winter rides as well. I love promoting events for winter riding and encouraging people to ride all year, but it is also extremely frustrating to spend the time necessary to do the rides and spend several hours in lousy weather with two tour attendees. Maybe I should take the hint.
I hope that the extra time to prepare, and the reduced demands of my time will enable me to keep the tours going, work on the website more, and be there for my family when they need more of my time and attention. In the coming days, I will consider other changes in price structure, promotion, and the virtual tours yet to be completed. I hope that these changes will enable the tours and Chicago Velo to go on indefinitely.
But, as we find out over and over again, life happens.
You move on. You adjust. You regain your balance. And you rediscover what is most important.
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I hope that some of you will be able to join us this Saturday for the Tour of Humboldt Park. It is a truly amazing community in Chicago and features one of the city’s finest parks. It is the birthplace and home to many of our city’s most famous citizens and to a brilliant built environment. I hope you can join us and my apologies for the lengthy diatribe and thanks for taking some time to follow along.