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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, February 23

Gapers Block

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I'm back from a long hiatus to let y'all know, just as we go into the holiday weekend, that I have had it with y'all driving. For real. Chicagoans, Illinoisans, I love all of you — you know Chicago is my beating heart. But I cannot stand — cannot stand your driving. According to a state-by-state study last year by GMAC Insurance, Illinois drivers are the 40th worst — Rhode Islanders, by the way, are the worst and those goodie-goodie hippy Oregonians are number one — but I don't believe it. We are the worst.

When I run for office, one of my campaign platforms will be that we mandate triple the amount of in-car training in order to get a driver's license (this will come with a stipend for low and moderate income families to pay for the private lessons Chicagoans need). Also, I will personally appoint a commission to rewrite the driver's ed curriculum. I will also pledge to personally edit the document that commission produces.

Every chapter will begin like this:

I gotta be honest, though. I'm not sweating most of y'all. Downstaters — I have to give it up for your driving skills. I hate to do it, but it's true. My fellow Cook Countians — a 90-year-old driving a Model-T on the expressway near Quincy is twenty times the driver any of you are. You are very bad drivers. Just awful. Awful. For a while I tried to pin it on people commuting from Lake County and Indiana, but it's just not the case.

For all the time I spent going back and forth to the West Side from my place in the Tri-Taylor area, both for work and socially, I was convinced there couldn't any expressway be worse than that. Then, my new job forced me to take the Kennedy every day. Drivers on the Kennedy make the Eisenhowers look like some sort of genetic blend of a Chess Grandmaster and Mario Andretti with bionically enhanced super-vision and a bat's sonar gained through a The Fly-esque scenario. Also, the ability to see the future. That's how bad Kennedy drivers are.

The problem with the Eisenhower, of course, is that it starts to get a lot of left-handed exits, especially Westbound. This convinces morons that they should drive in the left-hand lane, since they'll be exiting at some point in, you know, five or six miles. Morons: stop it. The left lane is for passing only. THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING ONLY. You're getting off at Central Ave.? Gonna shoot up to Cathy's Diner on Chicago? Me too. You don't need to ride 50 miles an hour in the left lane starting at Independence, you joker.

Every chapter of the new Drivers Ed books will contain this passage, which will actually be written across the chest of a pop-up of a naked Harold Smith, of the Smith System of Driving shame:


It is very dangerous to even tap your brakes on the highway, because at the speeds people are going, reaction time is considerably decreased. So they see brake lights go on, and they may panic and slam on their brakes — this will cause the people behind them, assuming there is an accident or near accident up ahead where they can't see, will slam on their brakes. The chain reaction can go back miles. Quit it! Slow down! Or use the shoulder! One thing Cook County drivers do that can push even the most patient, loving man — such as myself — to apocalyptic levels of rage is they do the ol' mash-n-mash. Instead of actually concentrating on maintaining a speed by light pressure on the accelerator, they will just mash on it to get up above their desired speed, then mash the brake to get back down. Mash-n-mash. They figure that, over the course of their journey, their mean speed will come out to be adequate. The problem with this, besides the fact that it is insane, is that it makes everybody else follow suit; they see you speed up, and they speed up. They see you mash your brakes, and they mash their brakes.

Allow me to teach you how to drive: by using the balls of your feet and applying light pressure, and by anticipating slowdowns by "aiming high in steering" (i.e., looking past the car directly the frick in front of you), you can keep a safe two-second distance between you and the car in front of you without using your brakes EVER.

That's right. I'm bringing it back to "aim high in steering." And don't even make me get to the IPDE process. Identify-Predict-Decide-Execute in Chicago has transformed into IDGAGD — I Don't Give a Good Damn.

My goodness, you all are really quite terrible.

I'm imagining a number of bicyclists are reading this with quite a bit of that annoying, I-ride-a-bike-everywhere sense of superiority. I know you didn't think I'd come back after almost a year and not call you all out. Because guess what? You're not part of the solution. Y'all are part of the problem. While I salute your dedication to your own health and lessening our city's congestion problem, I detest you for your almost comical hypocrisy. Before I get the avalanche of "you can't paint with a broad brush," please go back and re-read the above. Thanks.

Many, many years ago, man developed rods and cones in his eyes. These rods and cones were marvelous and brought us many gifts, such as the ability to perceive color. Many, many years later, man developed neuroscience. Somewhere in there, they decided that different colors affected our neurochemistry differently... Ah, screw it. RED MEANS STOP. Has it ever meant otherwise? I mean I know red implies blood, or Christmas, but it MEANS stop. Stop! That goes for you bikers too! Even if you don't think you see anybody nearby and you feel silly sitting at a red light on a bike.

Guess what? With your over-sized grown person helmet, pants leg rolled up, and messenger bag that would look comical on somebody four years younger than you, we're all laughing at you already. Get over yourself and sit at that damn light until it is green. You think this isn't a problem? Heat some pierogis and head over to the intersection of Milwaukee and Noble, where you can catch an only-in-Chicago spectacular: Half-Hip Morons Nearly Splattered On Windshields. The devil-may-care attitude so many people take at this intersection — which is a T-intersection one-way with a school, lulling half-wits into a false sense of security — allows their true nature to show. They only want cars to obey traffic rules. They're more than happy to do what they go to do to get where they need to get faster.

Part of my candidacy platform? Triple the fine for bikers who violate the rules of the road. Why? Because in most cases if a car creeps out into the intersection on red you'll get a fender bender — a biker's likely to get killed or worse. Blow a red on a bike, even at some abandoned intersection on the West Side where you don't even get cited for driving the wrong way down one-ways, and it's $200.

I was considering starting in on the sin that transcends means of conveyance — that would be the turn signal, or as we call it around here, nothing. But hey, baby steps.

After instituting my reforms (remember, this is after I get elected to the fictitious, control-over-drivers-education office I just invented), I will resign.

But I will also make a pact with you, Chicagoans. If things aren't all better after 5 years, I'll move to Oregon.

GB store


C-Note / November 22, 2006 8:05 AM

Running red lights on a bike is almost a necessary evil. Why? Because generally, although bicyclists can legally occupy an entire lane of traffic, it doesn't work in practice because drivers (possibly because of under-education) are unaware of the law, and honk and try to pass you. If you keep to the bike lanes, you have trouble when you enter a road with no bike lanes. Or when drivers block the lanes.

Especially when there are no bike lanes, running a red light helps a cyclist get out in front of the traffic and be visible before it starts moving, and avoids the unnecessary jostling that happens when the cyclist either occupies an entire lane while waiting at a stop light, or cedes his right to the entire lane and tries to enter traffic with a bunch of half-asleep drivers with limited skills driving two-ton steel-framed shitboxes on congested roads.

And they have to risk life and limb to do it. And that's the preferable alternative for them, not because it's faster, but because it's safer. Just so you know.

Kenzo / November 22, 2006 8:43 AM


Plus, if you stop, you can't hear the kick-ass sound of the playing cards you have tucked into the spokes.

missmolly / November 22, 2006 9:13 AM

i bike, but i am so paranoid that i only ride on side streets! it takes me forever to get anywhere! i am happy to not own a car and walk and CTA it most everywhere :)

Jeremy / November 22, 2006 3:19 PM

Cyclists must exercise caution when riding in the streets, and particularly at intersections. But demanding that cyclists stop at every stop sign and every light, while it may be slightly safer, is an impractical request. For somone making a 10 or 15 mile commute to and from work each day, cycling is only a viable option if they can make it in a reasonable amount of time.

Cars have to stop at lights, but they make up for lost time with speed. Bicycles must make up for their lost speed--you guessed it--with time. The best way to get around is not to "mash-n-mash," as you call it--start hard at each intersection, stop at each light--but to go steadily at a constant speed. That way, the cyclist is safe (or safer) and on-time. Tickets won't pad anything except for the mayor's expense account.

Cliff / November 23, 2006 11:28 AM

The cyclists above show the sense of entitlement that cyclist tend to have. I cycle, and I don't stop at every stop sign and light, but I know I should. So I'm a hypocrite, but if drivers could get away with what cyclist could you 'd hear the exact same arguments. Everyone believes that they are entitled. Welcome to modern Western Civilization, you beautiful and unique snowflakes...

britany / November 26, 2006 4:19 PM

you're a bad driver. and a road rager. get a bike ramsin. save us from your whining.

a biker / November 28, 2006 12:51 AM

Please stop bitching about the unfair preferential treatment of bikers. They get to go through stop signs and reds at clear intersections, and you get to go more than twice as fast as them any time you can, fair enough?

And don't give me any "it's illegal" b.s., because legality doesn't matter. Look how many people break 'laws' uncountable times a day speeding, rolling through stop signs (often at the average speed of a biker), and jaywalking.

the pet / November 28, 2006 1:06 AM

a biker -

To me, it's not a question of legality. It's a question of my having the right of way, say, when I have a green light, and a bicyclist comes shooting out of nowhere, running his red light. This causes me to slam on my breaks and swerve.

No more. If anyone on a bicycle wants to run a red light into traffic, fine. Just understand that my "two-ton steel-framed shitbox" can do more damage than a puny bike.

And bicyclists are subject to many of the same laws as cars.

a biker / November 28, 2006 12:19 PM

the pet -

Note that I said at 'clear intersections.' Anybody running reds into traffic deserves to get hit, and will sooner or later. People on bikes sometimes do stupid things (just as some drivers), but bikers obviously understand that they are the ones that will get hurt in any accident with a car. When biking, my main focus isn't getting to my destination as fast as possible (as it is for all cars), it's staying alive.

idriveibikeiwalk / November 29, 2006 9:43 AM

I'm a biker. And a driver. And a walker. These debates usually go the way of gun control or abortion debates, where the only people talking are at extreme opposites. Most of us are in the middle and are intelligent enough to understand that if you add it all up, automobiles are immensely more destructive than bicycles. As a motorist for 18 years, I've had one or two close calls with reckess cyclists - - and about 6,000 close calls with reckless motorists. As a law-abiding biker and a pedestrian (no red light running, no jaywalking), I've almost been killed by reckless motorists dozens of times in Chicago. Just last night I was almost run over by a van that completely blew a stop sign in my neighborhood. The guy looked right at me. Wouldn't want to actually have to stop for 5 seconds for those pesky commuters in the crosswalk. So there you go. In Chicago, it's cheap and easy to own a car so there are too many of them. Because of this, they rule the streets. Neighborhoods suffer. Roads are maintained while public transit crumbles. Stop signs and red lights are ignored by motorists to the point that pedestrians usually wave cars that actually stop through, even though they have the right of way. Show me a cyclist who truly rides recklessly and I will show you a person who will be dead in five years. Motorists who drive everywhere go into a rage when a bicyclist is in front of them. This blathering complaining is simply proof that more people are cycling. The more bitching I hear the more I smile, because it is simply a product of the people driving the deadly pollution-causing vehicles adapting to those riding the safe, efficient and clean ones. Bikes were here on the streets of Chicago before cars. Keep that in mind, learn to share the road and stop equating all cyclists with that messenger downtown who snapped your antenna off six years ago.

michelle / November 29, 2006 10:12 AM

you really have an IPDE boner, don't you?


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at

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