The first Chicago Critical Mass bike rides started in 1996 under the leadership of Chairman Thar and the other "nodes" at Lumpen. My first participation at one was on a Saturday in early spring (Critical Mass rides were not yet synchronized with other cities to fall on the last Friday of every month.) We massed up outside Wrigley Field before a game against the Braves- the pitching matchup was Greg Maddux versus Kevin Tapani, I believe- and there was a very strong turnout, about 300 cyclists. The weather was crisp and sunny. I brought a windbreaker for the possibility of riding along the lake.
We set out from Wrigley around noon, just as the traffic to the ballpark was creeping to a halt. Our convoy sliced through the congestion like a hot knife through butter. We stayed in a tight formation heading south on Clark Street. Within ten minutes we rolled past Tower Records on Clark towards Old Town. Our formation began to stretch out like a supply convoy on a beeline to Baghdad. That's when the first squad car started to tail us, flashing his berries laying on the siren. Some of the riders in front flipped the cops off and sang, "We are legal traffic, we will not be moved!!" The rest of us kept pedaling and kept our mouths shut. Another squad car drove past us, its lights strobing in a military cadence. We thought nothing of it as we passed the Village Theater.
It was at Clark and Goethe that the road block first appeared. Those in front saw it as they rounded the Village but said nothing to those of us in the middle of the pack. They just packed it in tighter and slowly built up speed. When the front of the convoy reached Goethe Street, they kicked it into high gear and pedaled past the foot cops, easily rounding onto State Street.
The rest of us weren't so lucky. By the time we reached the corner the cops were ready. There was one in particular, a uniformed sergeant who stood five-four, maybe five-five. He was wearing state trooper shades and a serious Napoleon complex. Years of meticulous attention to Chicago Police Department uniform regulations resulted in his having the type of mustache one finds only on cops, soldiers, or porn stars. He came to us flexing his right hand and reaching for the mace with his left screaming, "All I need to do is get my hand on one of you fuckers, so you better slow down right now!!"
I thought I could steer clear of this cop, so I hopped the curb. He timed my hop perfectly and latched onto my seat post like a vise. That's when I shifted down for easier pedaling. The added torque unsettled his balance and he lost his footing, still clutching my seat as I dragged him down Goethe Street. Another cop stepped in front of me and stopped my forward progress altogether.
I stepped off the bike and placed my hands in the air to show I would not resist if I was being arrested. The little cop rushed towards me, tire tracks marking his uniform and face. He had the mace in hand and would have used it if the other cop hadn't stepped between us. He placed a firm but steady shoulder on the first cop, walking back toward the squad car. I slumped to the curb and stayed there.
After a twenty minutes of debating whether or not my dragging of the short cop down Goethe Street by my bike constituted resisting arrest, the second cop gave his assurance that I would be taken care of and that he would kick the short cop's ass if he didn't shut up and let him handle the situation. I was politely ticketed for obstructing traffic and riding my bicycle on the sidewalk. My license was confiscated and I had to report to traffic court in two weeks time. The short cop hissed at me that I had gotten lucky that day and that he would remember my face. I waved at him and saddled up.
As I turned south on State Street I biked past five or six paddy wagons and an equal number of police vans. The wagons contained the cyclists in front of the caravan; their bikes were in the vans.
"You just got lucky, you know that?" A cyclist said as he rode up to me and extended his hand. "The road block at Goethe was just a means to get the front runners onto State Street, where the paddy wagons were waiting for them."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "I guess," I allowed. The cyclist identified himself as a lawyer and said that the paddy wagons were headed for Meigs Field where a temporary holding facility was set up.
"Shouldn't we rally some people together to bail them out?" I asked.
The lawyer spat at the paddy wagons and said, "Fuck those anarchists. They were willing to leave us holding the bag back on Clark Street. Let's go to Greektown and have some saganaki at the Athena Room. I'm buying; you earned it!" We passed the Haymarket memorial on Randolph and I wondered if a revolution can sometimes happen on an empty stomach if the strength of conviction is still there.