Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

22 November 2014

This Manual Comes With An Invitation To The Undertaker

How many of you had bicycle safety classes--or were given safety manuals--when you were a kid?

I wasn't.  Perhaps it had something to do with being in Catholic school, and being in Brooklyn, until I was thirteen years old.  Then again, in suburban New Jersey--where my family moved--I didn't see such things.  Nor did my two youngest brothers, who were in early grades of elementary school.

Not encountering a bicycle safety class, manual or film seems all the more striking when I realize that my family moved just as the '70's Bike Boom started. It seemed that every kid in our neighborhood got a new ten-speed bike the first year I was there.  Some of those kids' parents also bought bikes for themselves.  (Those bikes may still be gathering dust in the same garages in which they were hung after said parents decided they were too old, out-of-shape or simply unmotivated to ride.)  I bought my first derailleur-equipped bicycle--a Schwinn Continental--a year after we moved.

But it seems that there were attempts to inculcate young people with notions (however misguided some were) about bicycle safety.  It also seems that the style of those attempts--or, at least, of the manual I'm going to show--hadn't changed in about 15 or 20 years.

These illustrations come from a 1969 manual:

21 November 2014

Fifty Years, And Still No Bike Lane

"Are we there yet?"

Just about every kid who's ever gone anywhere with an adult has whined that line.  I include yours truly.

"Is it done yet?"

Just about every kid has moaned that one when his or her mother or grandmother (or the equivalent in the kid's life) was cooking or baking something.  As adults, we intone it when we're waiting for a repair, a project, or something else to be finished.

(Asking that question is also the easiest way to annoy an artist--or to reveal yourself as a philistine to the artist.)

The first time I uttered the question the way an adult would was in my childhood. (Was I a precocious child?)  In my early years, I witnessed the building  of what I still consider to be one of the most beautiful--and exasperating-- manmade structures in the world.  

It opened to the public fifty years ago today.  By now, you might have figured out that I'm talking about a bridge. I am:  specifically, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which opened to traffic fifty years ago today.

The span, photographed by the Wurts Brothers when it opened fifty years ago today.  (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,)

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It's still in the top ten, I think.  It's so long that engineers actually had to take the curvature of the Earth into account in designing it.

Please indulge me for a moment if I sound like a sexist male.  (Some things aren't cured even with years of hormone therapy and surgery!)  I have long thought its towers looked like long, elegant goddesses rising from the waves of the inlet of the Atlantic Ocean for which the bridge is named.  The lady is serene on days when sunshine refracted through high cirrus clouds glints on waves; she is looks dramatic, even stern, but still beautiful as clouds gather and storms brew in those waves.

All right:  Some of you are might think I'm more guilty of bad poetry than sexism in that passage. Fair enough. My talents, such as they are, can only accomplish so much.

Anyway, I have pedaled (and, on occasion, walked) under the bridge any number of times and have never grown jaded to its majesty.  Monsieur Verrazano (He was Fiorentino but sailed for le Roi Francois I.) would be honored to have the bridge, and the body of water it spans, named for him.  But the fact that I'm always pedaling underneath the bridge is precisely what exasperates me about it.

You see, the bridge has never had a bike or pedestrian lane.  In a way, it's not surprising, given that the bridge was the last major work of Robert Moses, whose mistakes have been replicated by urban planners all over the world for decades.  Through most of his career, he showed a complete disdain for anything that didn't have an internal combustion engine.  It's especially odd when you consider that he built the Kissena Velodrome near the World's Fair site just a few thousand pedal spins from my apartment--and that he himself never had a driver's license. 

There has been a movement (in which I am playing a small role) to have a bicycle-pedestrian lane added to the bridge.  Many people say it would encourage them to use their bicycles to commute or simply travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, and would link a number of already-existing bike routes in the two boroughs, which in turn would make parts of New Jersey more accessible to cyclists in the Big Apple.

I would like to have the same thrill I knew as a child when I saw the bridge under construction.  I would also like to experience the same thrill I had when I rode across the bridge the only times it was possible:  during the Five Boro Bike Tour, when the lower deck of the Verrazano is closed to traffic. 

Note:  The "Verrazano Narrows Bridge" link in my seventh  paragraph will take you to an excellent article on The Bowery Boys, one of my favorite non-bike blogs.

20 November 2014

To The Moon

What do you see when you look at the moon?

We have all heard of, if not seen, the "Man in the Moon".  Some cultures have mythologized "him".

Even if you are the most hard-core rational empiricist, it's not hard to understand why people would see "him":  The lights and shadows, at times, do bear a resemblance to a face.

Modern psychology has confirmed something artists, poets and philosophers have long understood:  We are tend to find the familiar in the unfamiliar, to find meaning and shape in the seemingly-random and formless.  So it's really not so odd that someone might think, for example, that he or she has seen the face of Elvis in a potato chip.  This phenomenon is called pareidolia.

Thus, other cultures have myths that acribe a handprint (India), tree (Hawaii) and, yes, a woman (New Zealand).  And people in some East Asian cultures see a rabbit in the moon.

Somehow I always liked the idea of a rabbit in the moon.  Apparently, illustrator Claudia McGehee does, too.

I love this.  I'll love it no less if I find out she created it after watching E.T.