"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?" — Five Man Electrical Band
WEST TOWN — What have I learned after racking up more than 20 tickets — for parking, red-light camera violations and a speed-camera warning — in the last few years?
If you don't pay attention to the signs in this town, it'll cost you.
That's why I'm constantly on the lookout for those tiny, hard-to-read signs — "photo enforced" speed zones, "no parking" after 11 p.m. and red-light camera patrolled intersections, for instance — so I don't help the city Revenue Department's big brother camera division pick my pocket more than it already does.
Too many times, obviously, I have failed at both noticing and abiding by those posted warnings. I'm better at spotting off-the-wall messages written on coffeehouse sandwich boards, bizarre graffiti tags and other roadside postings that might get a lot of "likes" on Facebook.
Just the other day, for instance, I got off the Kennedy at Ogden to avoid the traffic bottleneck that is Hubbard's Cave and spotted a street sign that you'd expect to see on the South Side on a light pole nearly a mile north of Madison Street.
The Chicago-green street sign has the words "White Sox Parking" printed over an arrow pointing south.
I drove around looking for this alleged White Sox parking lot the sign referenced but couldn't find one anywhere. It seemed odd that anyone would park all the way on the North Side to see a game at Sox Park where — to beat Cubs fans to their favorite punch line — attendance doesn't typically create much of a parking crunch.
So, I reached out to Sox spokesman Lou Hernandez to find out if the North Side sign pointing to White Sox parking was some kind of mistake, bad joke or necessary posting due to a growing population of northern ward inhabitants with South Side baseball sensibilities.
Hernandez got back to me quickly.
"So … signs were placed in that area when road work was being done on the Kennedy years ago," he wrote in an email. "The alternate route was to get traffic to use Ogden to Ashland to 35th or 39th Street. There really is no need for the sign anymore."
While I'm sure he's right about the reason for posting the Sox sign on the North Side, I don't think the sign has outlived its usefulness.
People who get stuck in Chicago traffic often enough — and we never can tell when that's going to happen — know the keys to keeping your sanity are knowing as many shortcuts as possible and having the wisdom to know when to hit the side streets and when to stay in your lane.
Here are a few examples:
When the Dan Ryan gets backed up and travel times top 40 minutes from Downtown to 95th Street, I always suggest calling an "audible" and heading west to Ashland or east to Cottage Grove to make up a few minutes time — and it usually works.
Or if you're heading north from the Far Southeast Side, Stony Island remains the premiere shortcut to Lake Shore Drive unless a South Shore train blocks your path.
And never underestimate the time you can save getting into the West Side of the Loop by exiting the Dan Ryan at Chinatown and zigzagging over to Canal Street — that is, if the Megabus isn't unloading near Union Station.
This North Side "White Sox Parking" sign — now that we know it's pointing to a shortcut to the South Side — might be a blessing.
Or at least a possible road rage escape route when the Kennedy gets jammed, as it does just about every single day.
On the other hand, there's a real chance that by following that sign south, you could lose time getting stuck at a freight train crossing in Pilsen, or lose money by getting slapped with a ticket by any of the nine red-light cameras on Ashland south of Madison Street.
So if you do take that route, pay attention to the signs.
Otherwise, it'll probably cost you.
Got a favorite city shortcut? We want to hear about it! Email us at email@example.com and tell us how you avoid traffic headaches.