I have been a cyclist for more years than I can remember. When I was in graduate school in Chicago, my daily exercise was riding from my apartment in Roger’s Park to the UIC campus. This was a 40 minute ride, mostly non-stop along the lakefront, from the North side to the near south side. But somehow, my Chicago bike ride, through a major metropolis, was much safer than my 15-minute daily commute through the bucolic streets of Champaign-Urbana. Cars come within inches of me as they fly by, cars driving in the bike lane, sudden lane changes all make me fear for my life.

Law enforcement does not seem to much care. A former student of mine was killed while cycling on the side of a country road by a motorist who downloading ringtones for her cell phone as she drove. Meditate  on the fact that it was the driver’s side of the car that clipped him. Meditate further on the fact that she paid a fine and then walked free. I know of an incident where the States Attorney was reluctant to prosecute a motorist who deliberately plowed into a group of cyclists. He was only caught because when he returned to taunt the riders they got him on their cell-ph

I think there is a a certain town and gown resentment that many CU drivers feel toward cyclists. It may be cyclist are identified as University folk, and are therefore, justifiable targets.  The letters to the editor in our daily paper often contain anti-bike rants If you don’t read the News-Gazette (aka Snooze-Garbette), simply replace the “love it or leave it” in a typical right wing diatribe with “get off the street” and you have the gist of it.

The University student population may share some part of the blame for this. Student riders ignore traffic laws when riding in the street. A large number of students ride their bikes on the sidewalk, so walking around campus safely requires a high level of alertness. Bikes, especially compared to cars, are relatively silent. I find it unnerving to walk down the street and have a cyclist zip by me at high speed. I feel like I should look in a rear-view mirror before stepping to the left or right.

In the course of one year both a colleague and my wife were injured by cyclists who were riding their bikes at high speed on the sidewalk. In addition, a blind colleague of my wife’s was also hit by a sidewalk cyclist. University freshmen should get bicycle safety as part of their orientation.

If you safely make it to campus with your bike, you need to ensure that your bike will be there when you want to return. I think at some point in the past an administrator decided bike racks were ugly and should be hidden behind hedges. This consideration must be especially appreciated by bike thieves who are then able to ply their trade without being observed by passerby.

The campus police make a big deal out of having students register their bikes with them. To my knowledge very few stolen bikes are recovered because of registration. The main function of registration is to enable the campus police to issue tickets and fines to people who chain their bikes to lamp posts or fences. If the bike racks weren’t hidden behind shrubbery, then maybe more people would use them.


Written for the UIWP newspaper

Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and fellow Panther Mark Clark, were shot to death by the Chicago Police Department on Dec. 4, 1969. In the intervening years many events have occurred that cast new light on this case.

The police raid on in the early hours of the morning was initially justified as self-defense by the CPD. The police released photographs with what they claimed were bullet holes from Panther rifle fire. As more information became available, the conservative Chicago newspapers were forced to re-evaluate their pro-police stance.

The Panthers opened up the crime scene to the public. Reporters, as well as curious citizens toured the second floor flat on West Madison street. Most of the bullet holes supposedly created by Panther rifles were actually nail heads. Panther Mark Clark was on security detail that night. He was the first one to die. It was determined he fired his rifle reflexively one time after he had been shot. All the other bullet holes in the apartment were fired from the doorway into the apartment, presumably by the police.

It was also discovered by an independent autopsy that Fred Hampton’s blood stream contained high levels of secobarbital, a powerful sleeping drug. This drug had been put in Hampton’s dinner drink by police informer and infiltrator William O’Neal http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-last-hours-of-william-oneal/Content?oid=875101. Medical testimony deemed it impossible that Hampton could have been conscious at the time of his death.

An investigation headed by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark determined that Hampton and Clark had been summarily executed by the CPD. Although a grand jury was convened no charges were ever filed against anyone other than the Black Panthers.

In 1990, on Martin Luther King day, informer William O’Neal committed suicide by running out onto the Eisenhower Expressway at 2:30 AM. Relatives said he had grown to regret his role in the deaths of Hampton and Clark. Fred Hampton’s second in command, Bobby Rush, is now a congressman from Chicago’s 1st district.

He was showing me a leaflet that advertised, in Spanish and English, jobs at high pay in places like Dubai and Singapore. All a job seeker had to do was pay a placement fee and then make their way to a job fair in Baotou, an industrial city near Beijing. He explained in halting English that his family back in the Dominican Republic had scrapped up the $2500 placement fee and the airfare to Hong Kong, but he wasn’t getting much help from the officials here at the visa office in Kowloon.  Could I help please?

He’d picked my American face out of the sea of Asian faces leaving the visa office. I had been in Hong Kong for 4 months so far, and several times procured visas for travel in the PRC. My Cantonese was not very good, but I knew the visa procedures, and had in fact just gotten a visa to cross the border into the mainland to shop in Shenzhen.

My hesitance was fueled by conversations I’d had with some of the amahs back at my apartment compound, where I was living with my wife and daughter. Like many cities in Southeast Asia, the Hong Kong workforce was buttressed by foreign workers from the Philippines and Malaysia. The amahs were women who did housework, cooking and cared for children. They lived in small rooms in the homes of their employers, were given one day off a week and paid a pittance. I’d heard horror stories about these job fairs. I doubted this poor soul was going to get his money’s worth.

Back in the States I’d be able to find a way to determine if this guy was being taken advantage of. I could see him arriving in Baotou and learning that the high paying job was actually street cleaning for a pittance in Saudi Arabia, where he’d live in a compound with other foreign workers and have his meager wages routinely garnished. In effect, I feared, he was headed for a life of slavery. He was not the only person in this conversation who felt helpless.

Could I help him please, he asked again. I took him inside the visa office and found the forms he needed. When he began signing his name, I realized he was barely literate. How, I wondered, could I help him? His family, I asked, had he been in contact with his family since leaving the DR? He had not, nor did he know how to do so. I tried to explain that I had heard that sometimes these employment situations did not work out, and he needed an exit plan. The look in his eyes told me he suspected this, but he told me he was sure everything was on the up-and-up.

No, he was sure the employment scheme was legitimate, since a “big man” in his local community was involved in recruiting people for this program (and collecting the money, I was sure.) I went with him back into the consulate and stayed for an hour until he had his travel papers. Then I asked him how much money he had. He misunderstood and offered me money from his meager stash. Keep your money, I said. I walked him outside and helped him buy a phone card at a kiosk, so he could call home if he got into trouble. I wished him luck, we shook hands and I walked away, leaving him stranded on the other side of the world.

I guess it says something about me that I could spend 10 days in vacation in Hawaii and have a great time, and yet the only writing the experience  produces is basically a complaint. Let me explain.

Hawaii was wonderful. No two ways about it. Most of the time  my family was immersed in the ocean, though like Napoleon’s army, we traveled on our stomachs. And therein hangs the tale.

We spent three days at a bed and breakfast in Maui. This was a lovely place to stay, with a pool and jacuzzi, comfortable suites with full kitchen and a patio for breakfast. It was the breakfast that inspired my poem.

Half of a B and B is breakfast. It was with this half that I found fault. The breakfast consisted of several slices of pineapple, a slice of papaya, a banana and an English muffin with grape jelly.  To drink there was a small carton of apple juice. Every day.

It was great the first day. Then the same the next day. On the third day I realized that this was the only breakfast they ever served. Good thing we weren’t staying longer.

The room had a guest book for comments, and I wanted to remark on the meal monotony, but I didn’t want to annoy the owner, who was a nice guy. Besides, it seemed crazy to complain about anything in Hawaii. I hit on the idea of a poem as a way to convey my complaint in a light hearted, humorous way. I composed it at breakfast, with help from my wife and daughter. Here it is:


Variation on Vacation

Breakfast was always very delicious

But after 3 days, a wee bit repetitious

Though in general I don’t mind roughin’ it

I find each day I’m English muffin it

I long for carbo treat other than

Maybe corn or wheat or bran

And upon said muffin each day I scrape

The same flavor jelly, eternal grape

And on rising, I’d like to try a

Fruit besides banana and papaya

Now I hope this doesn’t make you unhapple

But give me, now and then, juice other than apple

I write these words with sincere affection

In hope of wider breakfast selection


I signed the poem Robert Frosty and left it on the table.