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“RIDE” Highlights the Need to Make Streets Safer for Chicago Cyclists

The cast of "RIDE." Photo: Under the Rug Theatre

We don’t usually cover the performing arts here at Streetsblog Chicago, but I thought our readers would want to know about the original play “RIDE,” written by Neil Connelly, which discusses local bike safety issues, focusing on the aftermath of a fatal crash.

The entire play is set in an Uptown bike store. No, it’s not actually based on Uptown Bikes. However, the fictional shop Brennan’s Bikes does resemble the real one in that it has multiple female staffers (shout-out to Uptown owner and SBC board member Maria Barnes), a rarity in this city.

As a former bike shop employee myself, I can tell you that the show does a good job of recreating the somewhat gritty environment of a typical mom-and-pop Chicago store. That’s partly thanks to input from folks from the Albany Park-based youth education center Bikes N’ Roses, who gave the actors repairs tutorials and supplied much of the gear on stage.

A who’s who of other righteous bike nonprofits and independent stores that helped out with the production are highlighted in the program, including the Active Transportation Alliance, West Town Bikes, Working Bikes, Roscoe Village Bikes, On the Route Bicycles, and Quick Release Bike Shop. It’s great that so many worthy organizations pitched in to support the play’s message that there’s a pressing need to improve street safety in Chicago.

At the start of the play, directed by John Wilson, bike shop owner Cal Brennan has just been fatally struck while pedaling through the Wacker/Clark intersection by a taxi driver who blew a red at a high speed. This scenario brought to mind the tragic 2012 case of a cab driver who ran a red at Chicago and Milwaukee while speeding, killing pedestrian Eric Kerestes.

After the wake, Cal’s estranged, white-collar siblings show up at the store to put his affairs in order. His sister Molly (Annie Prichard) decries his foolishness for exposing himself to the dangers of Chicago traffic on a bike. But his brother Danny (Todd Wojcik) reminds her that the cabbie was barreling through the intersection so fast that Cal wouldn’t have survived even if he’d been driving a tank.

They meet Cal’s coworkers, including his girlfriend Riley (Alex Dauphin) and the hard-drinking, shower-avoiding Quill (Rose Freeman). Soon, a power struggle ensues over who will decide the destiny of the shop. Abe Elmourabit also stars as a scruffy buddy of Cal's who helps himself to the shop's tools to fix up dumpstered furniture.

While Molly is dead-set on selling the property, Danny bets Quill that he can make the struggling business profitable. One of the pleasures of the play is watching Danny, an uptight downtown architect who hasn’t cycled in years, get into bike culture with the zeal of a convert.

He actually goes a little too far, storming into the shop one day in colorful spandex, proudly announcing that he tried to knock off the side mirror off a pick-up truck whose driver buzzed him in the bike lane.

It’s also fun to see Quill undergo a similar transformation, as she cleans up and dons a suit to go lobby the Uptown alderman to get protected bike lanes installed in Cal’s honor. She is unceremoniously booted from the office by ward heeler who snarls the old Chicago cliché, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

That’s pretty hilarious, since mild-mannered, car-free Uptown alderman James Cappleman is actually one the most ardent supporters of cycling at City Hall. He allowed the Chicago Department of Transportation to do a game-changing four-to-three conversion road diet on Broadway, which included building one of the city’s only segments of protected bike lanes on a retail strip. He’s also using ward money to fund a traffic-calmed “neighborhood greenway” route on Leland.

In addition, Quill wants to install a ghost bike memorial at the Loop crash site. However, a police officer warns her that, while the authorities are willing to look the other way when the white bikes are installed in neighborhoods, the city removes them from downtown locations for fear of scaring off tourists.

Actually, that contradicts the statement of CDOT spokesman from a few years ago that the city respects these memorials and does not remove them, allowing them to remain as a tribute to fallen cyclists. But perhaps we should grant the playwright some artistic license here.

“RIDE” is a great conversation starter for people who care about reducing the number of crashes, injuries, and deaths on Chicago streets. For a fun evening, I recommend checking out the play and then pedaling over to the nearby Handlebar bar and grill (a Streetsblog sponsor) to discuss it over Green Meanie sandwiches.

“RIDE” runs through Sunday, April 3 at the Den Theater, 1333 North Milwaukee. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 – purchase them online here.

As a special offer to Streetsblog readers, after you buy tickets in advance online, the ticket person at the theater will give you a $5 cash rebate when you say the password “Paseo.”

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