LOGAN SQUARE — When scooters hit the streets in Chicago earlier this month, Logan Square artist Derek Erdman wasted no time hopping on one, racing his girlfriend Ashley Armitage around Palmer Square Park.
That mini-race inspired Erdman to create an e-scooter race in Logan Square. And so, after posting a flier to social media, the first-ever Big Purse Liberty Bank 500 e-scooter race was born.
“Since it didn’t exist, I would make my own,” Erdman said.
Yes, social media skeptics, it was real.
Despite the rain, about two dozen people showed up to the race Thursday night at the Liberty Bank parking lot, 2392 N. Milwaukee Ave. Some came to check if the race was indeed a real thing, while others came to cheer on the six racers who vied for the grand prize: a $20 bill — a marginally modified prize from the $14 and a Starbucks gift card that was advertised.
Second place? A box of Triscuits. Third place? Annie’s organic mac and cheese.
Erdman, a painter and illustrator, acted as referee and emcee, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and calling out the rules on a megaphone before the race started.
Standing on his car, he read a fake letter from Mayor Lori Lightfoot blessing the inaugural race before the racers lined up behind a taped line. The racers included Anne Sigmond on a Jump scooter; Chicago Reader writer Leor Galil on a grüv scooter; textile artist Tabor Shiles on a Lime scooter; photographer Armitage on a Bird scooter; LoganSquarist writer Erik Island on a Spin scooter and an unidentified sixth competitor.
The race course consisted of 12 laps around the bank parking lot. Erdman painted milk crates and placed them at each corner of the lot to mark the track.
Soon, the six racers scooted off the finish line. Halfway through, people passing by stopped to cheer them on.
The actual race took less than 10 minutes but the energy didn’t dwindle, although three racers fell.
Armitage, clad in a red, flame-printed costume, dominated the race and was poised to take the big win before she suddenly braked just short of the finish line, letting her friend Sigmond take first place.
The scooter race shows the fun “weird prank things” people can do now that rentable scooters are in town, Armitage said.
Shiles, who snagged third place, had never ridden a scooter before the race and didn’t know how she’d stack up against the competition.
“Now I feel a little more comfortable being on one,” Shiles said.
Ashley Zenner heard about the race on Facebook and showed up to watch the spectacle. The rainy weather deterred her from racing; She is still trying to figure out if she likes the scooters or not.
“This looks wildly dangerous and exciting, I have to see how this plays out,” said Zenner, who lives in the neighborhood. “This is helping me on my journey to discover my value placement with these e-scooters.”
Although there were some technical issues like finding scooters and making sure they were charged, Erdman was happy with the turnout.
There was not much planning ahead of the race — Erdman made it up as it went along and Liberty Bank didn’t sanction it— but seeing its success, he plans to host a recurring race every last Thursday of the month now.
“I think having a monthly scooter race — maybe that would morph into activities like jousting or scooter roller derby in big parking lot — is what makes living in a city enjoyable,” he said. “That’s why I prefer Chicago to another city where you are not able to have such a thing.”
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