30 July 2010

A City Ride After Lunch, Thirty Years Later

Today I rode into Manhattan for a couple of errands and to have lunch with Bruce.  Even though I rode my "beater" (the Le Tour), I decided take a bit of a ramble around the city.

Somewhere along the way, it seems, a hipster couldn't bear giving up his bike when he got married and had a kid:

This Peugeot "Nice" was parked across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood.  I've seen bikes like it--which may also have been Nices--in France and Montreal.  But this is the first time I've seen one  here in New York.

To be fair to hipsters, that paint job is pure '80's.

Aside:  I didn't go anywhere near the WTC for a couple of years after 11 September.  Although I didn't lose anyone I knew, I simply couldn't bear to be around it.  

I continued down Broadway to the ferry terminals.  I missed the day's last ferry to Governor's Island and I decided I didn't really want to take the ferry ride to Staten Island, as much as I enjoy it.   

Another aside:  Staten Island is at its closest to the rest of New York at the Verrazano Narrows, where the eponymous bridge crosses it. At that point, SI is about 4300 feet from New York.  However, the island is only 600 feet away from New Jersey. After the English took New York and New Jersey from the Dutch (who took it from the Lenape Indians), they supposedly settled the dispute over whether Staten Island belonged to New York or New Jersey with a boat race:

Was anyone accused of doping?  Maybe they can use the Tour de France to decide whether France or Spain gets Andorra.

Anyway, I rode up the Greenway that skirts the Hudson.  Lots of the cyclists I saw today probably moved to New York in the last few years.   They don't remember the city without the Greenway.  They also probably think the Christopher Street Pier always looked something like this:

I remember when it looked nothing like that.  My earliest memories were more like what you see in this photo Ross Lewis took in 1993:

Believe it or not, I actually ventured out onto the pier when it was something like that.  My first adventure there was during my high school years, in the mid-1970's.  I don't remember much about it because, well, I did something teenagers sometimes do when they're someplace they're not supposed to be.  I don't think I would've gone onto that pier if I weren't intoxicated.  In fact, I probably wouldn't have crossed under the elevated West Side Highway.  A truck crashed through it in the early 1970's; although it was closed immediately, it wouldn't be demolished for another 15 years.  In the meantime, only those who were intoxicated, adventurous or simply had noplace else to go would cross under that highway to get to piers that were, in some cases, literally falling into the water.  

For a long time, those derelict quais were among the few places to which the public had access on New York City's hundreds of miles of shoreline.  New York is different, in that sense, from other seaport towns like Boston, San Francisco and Istanbul:  Until recently, there was really no individual or civic pride in the waterfront. It seemed as if one's social status was directly proportional to how far one was from the water.  That might be the reason why addresses along  Fifth Avenue, which is further from the waterfront than any other New York City Avenue, became the most prestigious in the city.

I have long said that New York could be, by far, the most beautiful city in the world if its waterfront were cleaned up.  I'm glad to see that's happening, finally.  Still, it's almost surreal to see the shorelines become places of recreation. 

 One of my uncles worked on the Brooklyn docks; as a teenager, my mother worked in a factory just steps away from those docks.  When I was a child, my father worked in a factory that was less than a block from the 57th Street pier, which is only about half a mile from the Intrepid.  Those workplaces, not to mention those jobs, are long gone.  In fact, the old Maritime Union headquarters in Brooklyn, which took up an entire square block, is now Al-Noor, said to be the largest Muslim elementary school in the United States.

I continued up the Greenway past the Boat Basin, Harlem toward the George Washington Bridge

On my way back, I saw this charmingly theatrical facade:

This building was the old Audubon Ballroom.  Many jazz performers played there; in addition, the Audubon was a movie theatre and a meeting-place for labor activists.  However, it seemed not to recover from having been the site of Malcolm X's assassination until Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center turned it into a research laboratory during the 1990's.

How much else will change by the time I take another ride like the one I took today? 

29 July 2010

A Day Off: No Hipster Fixies

I didn't ride today.  It rained heavily this morning.  My unwritten personal policy is that I don't start a ride in the rain unless I absolutely must; however, if there appears to be some risk or rain, I'll ride and accept the  consequences.  

Besides, having done my ride to the Delaware Water Gap on Sunday and about 35 miles on my fixed-gear yesterday, I feel as if I've done some quality cycling.  So, today, I took care of some business, which included getting a manicure and pedicure.  My nails were hideous!  Then I met with some members of the advisory committee of SAGE.  I might be working with them, as a volunteer, in the fall.

Perhaps I'm not noticing them, but there didn't seem to be as many of the "hipster fixies" on the streets of lower Manhattan as I'd been seeing in recent years.  Now, I'm always glad to see people riding bikes, whatever those bikes are.  Still, I hope that some riders will get onto bikes that are prettier or more useful than what they're riding. 

 Every once in a while, I'll get into a conversation with a hipster who tries to convince me that my bike will look "cooler" or "nicer" if I install a pair of wheels with Day-Glo-colored V-shaped rim and other parts and accessories in various eye-burning hues.  While both of my Mercians are finished with paint that turns purple, green or silver--depending on how the light hits it or how you look at it, though it's purple more often than not--it's actually rather elegant and understated in a similar way to the "fade" paint jobs (something I normally abhor) on the old Swiss Mondia bicycles.  And I prefer to stick with classic and classy parts in silver or black,and to have a touch of additional color in an accessory like a bag or handlebar wrap.

Maybe I'm just getting old and conservative.  Then again, I've never wanted a tatoo, not even when I was hanging out with punk rockers back in the day.  I guess I never was a hipster or one of its predecessors.  Somehow I don't think I missed much.

Anyway...Tomorrow I'm going to ride. I don't know what, how or where, but I plan on it.

28 July 2010

Recovery Becomes A Sunset

Today I wanted to "test" the blisters I incurred during my ride to the Delaware Water Gap.  I "popped" them the way they used to teach us in the Scouts and the Army:  I cleaned the blisters and the area around them with alcohol, then I pierced them with a sterile needle.

After bandaging them, I got on Tosca with not particular destination in mind.  I stopped first at the Canarsie Pier, then in Coney Island.  After that, I rode to the promenade that rims the Verrazano Narrows and passes under the bridge named after that body of water:

I used my cell phone to take the photo, as I didn't bring my camera.

I was riding pretty slowly.  At least, it seemed as if I was.  But I don't berate myself quite so much for it when I'm riding my fixed-gear bike.  Besides, riding slowly to enjoy a sunset, particularly if it's on a large body of water or behind a bridge is acceptable as a reason or excuse, at least for me!

27 July 2010

I Pedalled There And Came Back

I'm back.

Yes, I did ride to the Delaware Water Gap.  The ride took more twists and turns--and I'm not talking only about the ones in the roadway--than I could have expected.  Then again, who ever expects twists and turns?  If they were anticipated, would they be twists and turns?

I started out on a route I've talked about in other posts:  over the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (a.k.a. Triborough) Bridge to Randall's Island.  In riding over it, I have a great view of the Hell Gate Bridge, which I've also mentioned in previous posts.  However, Charon didn't ferry anyone under it; surprisingly enough, I din't see any boats going under it.

From there, I passed by the Harlem matrons and their children and grandchildren on their way to or from church, breakfast or lunch. (They're not the sort of people who "do brunch."  Even though I sometimes do it, I'm glad there are still people who don't.)  Then, over the George Washington Bridge to Fort Lee and a few other Bergen County towns that look like Swiss villages with lobotomies.  I have seen them often enough, on other rides, that I hardly notice them anymore:  The faux-chalet and even-more-faux-Tudor houses and stores, as well as the gleaming "box" buildings in the office parks, are landmarks by which I can navigate without thinking.

Once I got past them, I spent another two hours or so riding through suburban sprawl before I realized I made a wrong turn and was in Rockland County.  I didn't mind:  the riding was pleasant enough, but it took me out of my way.  The directions I was trying to follow stopped making sense, so by that time I was trying to navigate from my memory of a long-ago ride.  When you have my navigational skills, that's a hazardous thing to do and is even more perilous when the ride you're trying to re-create is one that you did when you got into a fight with someone who's now you're ex and you didn't plan the route you took.

Anyway, when I got back into New Jersey, puffy cumulus clouds commonly seen on hot summer days thickened and darkened.  (Woody Allen would've had a field day with that, I'm sure.)  In  Saddle River--a town that has recently had the highest per-capita and per-household income in New Jersey, and has been among the top ten in both categories in the United States--the clouds opened up, and I ducked into what was probably the least well-kept spot in that town:  the entrance to the basement of a church that didn't look as if it was attended by very many residents of the town.  

I wouldn't have minded riding in the rain on such a hot day.  I did, in fact, ride, until the rain fell so heavily that I couldn't see where I was going and lightning flashed.  With the big lawns that surround the homes and other buildings, and the golf courses, there's lots of open space, and I didn't want to be a target.  Later, I would find out that the same storm spawned a tornado in the Bronx.

Anyway, after the rain stopped, it wasn't quite as hot or muggy, but still more of both than I like.  I rode for a while before stopping for a slice of pizza in Brothers Pizzeria,  a place where a two fortyish Italian men were making the food, a teenaged boy (who looked like the son of one of the men)  was slicing the pizzas and putting slices in the oven as customers ordered them, a fortyish woman was working the cash register and an older, but not quite old, Italian man was presiding over everything.  "Can I help you ma'am?"  "How hot do you want it, ma'am?"  "I hope you have a good day, ma'am."  The signs in the shop said they'd been in business since 1970:  It's easy to see why.  And, yes, the pizza was very good, made with a thin crust (Why do some pizzerias insist on making slices that could double as insulation?) and a tangy, slightly acidic, tomato sauce that wasn't sweet or salty as sauces are in too many other places.  

Now I'm going to tell you a little secret:  These days, I think there's more good pizza in New Jersey than in New York.  Too many places in New York try to make pizza something that it's not:  a gourmet fetish item.  Then again, I might be old-fashioned:  I've tried pizza with pineapple and, while I can understand why people like it, it's just not for me.  I also don't think that chocolate chips belong in bagels.  Believe it or not, I've seen that, too!

OK, back to bike riding:  After restoring myself (The word "restaurant" comes from the French "restaurer":  "to restore.")  I pedalled for I don't know how long and ended up at the Wanaque Reservoir, which I rode around.  That cost me about another hour, but I didn't mind.  Here's one of the few photos I took, and the only one I thought was decent:

You can see that it was a hot day, and was preceded by an even hotter day.  

At that point, I was a bit less than halfway to the Water Gap.  From there, I pedalled up to Franklin.  Here's something that, according to cynics, could happen "only in New Jersey":  within the Garden State, there is a town called Franklin, another called Franklin Lakes and a Franklin Township.  I passed through Franklin Lakes and, of course, Franklin; Franklin Township is in another part of the state.  I actually lived in Franklin Township for a time and from there commenced some of the long-ago rides I've described on this blog.

Anyway, if any of you are geologists, you probably know about Franklin.  If you're a rock-lover, you should know about it.  At one time, it was a major source of zinc and manganese; today, it's known as "the fluorescent mineral capital of the world."  Believe it or not, more varieties of minerals can be found there than in any other place in the world.  It might be one of the few places in this world that's actually more interesting and attractive under infrared light.  What one sees with one's own eyes and a normal camera is a place that's not so much pretty as it is picturesque, or at least calm, in a rather melancholy sort of way:  a bit like parts of  New England and the Ardennes and Picardy regions.

This, I was told, was once a mine pit.  It filled with water and the trees grew around it after mining ceased some time after World War I, which is when much of  mining generally went into decline, at least in the US.

The rest of the ride took me through scenes that felt rather like this ones.  Even the areas that hadn't been mined or farmed felt as if some sort of history were echoing or muttering through them.

And I could feel my own history.  Yes, my body was letting me know that I haven't done a ride like this one in a long time.  It wasn't just the fatigue I was feeling or the sunburn I got in spite of frequent layerings of sunscreen.  I also got, believe it or not, blisters on both of my feet.  By the time I got to the Gap, I could barely pedal at all, as the blisters were between my instep and big toe.  I think I got the blisters from the shoes I was wearing.  I'd worn them before on shorter rides, but I think that they didn't give me enough support for ten-plus hours on Arielle. Getting them, and my feet, soaked in the rainstorm probably didn't help, either.

So, yesterday, I took the train home.  The father of a family from North Carolina who were on their way to visit relatives gave me a ride to Hackettstown, which is about twenty-five miles away and the nearest station in the New Jersey Transit system.  From there, I took a train to Newark, where I took the PATH train to 33rd Street in Manhattan.  

I hadn't taken a train to or from Newark in years.  So, I didn't realize that a new terminal has been built at Broad Street.  That's where the NJ Transit train went.  Penn Station, which has been Newark's main terminal for decades, is about half a mile away.  There's a light rail that connects the two and I could've brought my bike on it, but doing so seemed more trouble than it was worth.  So I rode my bike, barely pedalling at all.

Millie came by about five minutes after I got home.  She was even more surprised to see me than Max and Charlie were!

I wish I could have ridden back.  But at least in riding to the Gap, I pedalled 112 miles, which is the longest I've done in my life as Justine.  And I rode up and down more hills than I have in a couple of years, and rode with a load (admittedly, not large) for the first time in a long time.  Arielle, my Mercian road bike and my Carradice Barley performed much better than I did!

24 July 2010

Justine's First Multiday Trip

Tomorrow I'm going to do something I haven't done in seven years:  I'm going to take an overnight bike trip.

Actually, I'm going to be gone for three days.  Millie is going to take care of Max and Charlie.  She's happy to do that, and she's happy to see them:  She rescued them from the streets.

This will be not just the first "long weekend" bike ride in seven years:  It will my first ride of more than a day since my surgery and since I started living as Justine.   And it's going to take me to the Delaware Water Gap.

I'm actually kind of nervous about this.  I haven't really done a lot of riding.  All right, so I've done three 100 kilometer rides, on flat lands.  My first and third days' ride will be much longer than that.  It will also include some hills, which I haven't done.

At least I'm not going to carry a lot with me:  Changes of underwear and socks, another pair of shorts and T-shirt (besides the ones I'll ride), a bathing suit, a light sundress (which will work as a cover-up) and a light sweater that I'm going to take from one of my twinsets.  The night will be cooler where I'm going, and I could wear the sweater over the sundress if I really need to be somewhat presentable.  And, of course, I'm going to take enough hormones, my dilator and camera.

At least each of those items is small.  I'm going to try to fit it all into my Carradice Barley bag.   When I went for my surgery, everyone marvelled that I had everything I needed for eleven nights in a carryall. 

Some things I'm taking aren't so different from what I took on Nick's rides.  But the bathing suit and sundress are things Nick never would have brought.  As Nick, I also didn't have twinsets.  And a dilator!  Hormones!:  As my old self might've said:  "What's with that shit?"

If I recall correctly, that's what Eva said the last time I rode my bike to the Delaware Water Gap.  We'd gotten into an argument--about what, specifically, I forget, but I think the mere fact that we were together got us into arguments--and I pulled my bike off the wall, rolled it through the apartment and slammed the door on my way out. 

I had absolutely no idea of where I was going or when I would be back.   Of course, that was part of the plan: Had I told her "I'll be back in an hour," or even "I'll be back in a while," it would have given her a more or less definite amount of time to cool off or to toss my belongings out of the apartment.  Part of me never wanted to see her again, but I also wanted her to worry. 

And she did.  I knew that when I called her.  I changed few dollars for a bunch of quarters in a diner somewhere and found a pay phone.  (For all of you young people reading this:  In those days, the only cell phones were on Miami Vice.  And they were about the size of today's laptops!)  I dialed; she picked up on the first ring.

"Where the fuck are you?"


"Penn Station?"

"No, Pennsylvania."


"The Delaware Water Gap--you know, next to the river, across from New Jersey."

"Shit!  What the fuck are you doin' there?"

"Well, I got on my bike and this is where I ended up."

That's when she said, I think, "What kinda shit is that?"

It was late, but the air was pleasantly cool and the sky was so clear and the full moon was so bright that I could see my reflection in the trees.  All right, I took considerable license with that, but you know what kind of full moon I'm talking about:  the kind you never see in a large city.

I crossed back over onto the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and kept riding until I saw a motel.  I paid something like thirty dollars, and I think I was the only person who stayed there that night.  Having no clothes to change into, I figured it was pointless to take a shower.  Besides, I was tired, so I simply flopped into the bed.  It might have been the worst mattress ever made, but no queen (I'm talking about monarchs, not the kind that live in Chelsea.) ever had such a plush bed.  At least, it seeemed that way.  I guess it's an example of some corollary to the principle that anything tastes good when you're really hungry.

Now, of course, I don't expect this ride to be anything like that one.  If anything, I'll probably be even more tired than I was that night because, for one thing, I haven't done as much riding within the past year as I did in a few weeks before that ride.  Also, I'm about a quarter-century older.  And, of course, there's one other change. 

So why did I pick the Gap for this trip?  Well, I have other memories of that place:  I did a ride there with a club of which I was a member when I was at Rutgers.  That was a shorter ride than this one will be, and I probably rode faster on that ride than I will on this one.  Also, I did a hike there when I was a scout.  (Yes, a Boy Scout.)  So, I have pleasant memories of the place, and even though this distance is longer than anything I've done in a while, I don't think it's impossible even if it's a bit intimidating. 

I had thought about going along the Jersey coast from Sandy Hook down to about Island Beach State Park, or  the East End of Long Island or even taking an Amtrak to Boston and going out to Cape Cod.  But I figure that any beach area is going to be trafficky--and expensive. 

So it's off to the Delaware Water Gap for me.  I'll try and post during my trip.

22 July 2010

The Bridge Called My Bicycle

As I rode this evening, I  was thinking about what "Velouria" posted yesterday on her Lovely Bicycle! blog.  In it, she talks about bicycles with "trusses":  an old design that is apparently being revived by a few small builders like A.N.T.  

The "truss" frames she showed are indeed lovely, and she mentioned that the bicycles that inspired them were built about 100 years ago and patterned after truss bridges.  

You simply can't spend any time in New York without going over some bridge or another.  Even the sorts of people who leave Manhattan only to go to Europe pass over stone or girdered spans over streets and roads that were, in some cases, streams or small rivers before they were filled in.  

And I can't help but to think of bicycles themselves as bridges.  After all, there is something "on the other side" of every bike ride.  This evening, it happened to be the wonders of New York--and Nature's-- architecture:

You all know the building in the center:  It's the one phoenetically-challenged kids of my generation used to call "the En-tire State Building."  I took this admittedly primitive photo from this spot:

The pier in the photo is part of Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City.  Of course, the opportunity to experience a nautical breeze while taking in one of the best possible views of the Manhattan skyline is reason enough to go there.  It also happens to be just a few blocks from the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center. 

What's interesting about the park and the museum--and much of the rest of the neighborhood--is that about 15 years ago, they were part of an industrial area, much of which was decaying or derelict.  Stolen cars were abandoned there; indeed, the area was, as I understand, the setting for part of the Grand Theft Auto series. In 1885, the Long Island City docks bustled with shipments of Long Island produce headed for Manhattan and points beyond; a hundred years later, those docks were all but abandoned.

However, even in its dilapidated state, the waterfront and some of the buildings on it shared a trait with those classic and classy bicycles that people sometimes find in basements and barns.  That trait was perhaps best expressed by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables:  "Le beau est aussi utile que l'utile.  Plus peut-etre."  ("The beautiful is as useful as the useful.  Perhaps more so.")

I apologize that my keyboard doesn't have those fancy and pretty markings the French and other speakers of non-English languages like to put on their words.  My favorite one in French is the "hat," or accent circumflex.  Since I couldn't type one, I'll give you a photograph of one.  In fact, this photo has a whole bunch of them:

Even if it's named after an auto company that got bailed out twice, it's still beautiful.  In fact, the Chrysler Building is still my favorite skyscraper, and one of my favorite buildings in New York.  This one ain't bad, either:

Still, to me, nothing constructed by humans compares to a bridge.  

And the bicycle is a bridge for many of us.

20 July 2010

Night Commute

Today I rode to, and tonight I rode from, work--in a sundress. When I got to work, I slipped on a cardigan (which is half of a twinset) in a shade of blue like the one in the bands on the dress.

One of the things I'm enjoying about teaching an evening class is the commute home.  I'm only doing it twice a week, but it's enough to remind me of an aspect of cycling I've always loved.

Riding at night, even if only for a commute, has its own rhythms and therefore requires its own mindset.  What I've always loved, of course, is the calmness that fills the air, and me, from the time the sun sets.  I especially like it after teaching a class, which requires an energy entirely the opposite of what I feel on a ride under moonlight. Plus, as it happens, the route I took tonight (I have four different routes to and from work.) takes me through some residential areas that are possibly the most resolutely middle-class in Queens or New York City:  They are quieter than, say, the stretch of Broadway around the corner from my apartment. 

Ironically, for all that I'm praising night riding, I almost never end up riding at night by design.  It's usually been the result of working later in the day, as I am now, or of getting lost or otherwise seeing plans go awry.  One of the few times I deliberately went on a late-night ride was when I met up with a Critical Mass rally in Columbus Circle about a dozen or so years ago.   I didn't do another CM ride for a number of reasons.  For one, I'm not crazy about riding in such large groups.  And, for another, I really would prefer not to be arrested or go to jail, even if only for a few minutes.   Finally, I'm not quite certain about what organizers are trying to accomplish.

On the other hand, being out at night by choice can be enchanting, if you're in the right areas.  That happened to me during my tours in France and other places.  In particular, I think of the time I rode in circles (squares?) around Orleans and found myself pedaling ,or seeming to pedal, with the rhythms of moonlight reflected on a Loire that seemed to be just barely rippled by the breeze and in the almost silvery shadows of leaves on the vines and pear trees.

Now, I didn't see vineyards or pear trees, much less chateaux, on my ride home.  But I still had the air that was beginning to cool down after another day of 90-plus degree weather.

18 July 2010

Flight, Water and Heat

Today was another beast of a day:  ninety-five degrees, with more humidity than we had yesterday.  I'm definitely not a hot-weather person, but I wanted to get in a ride, however brief.  And I did, until I simply didn't want to deal with the heat anymore.

Time was when I would have soldiered on in even hotter weather than what we had today.  But I'm guessing that I'm still not at 50 percent of my normal condition, so I don't want to take unreasonable chances.  I know, I could ride more if I hydrate.  But I'm not training for any races, and a big tour--if I am going to do another one--is probably two years away.  And, being older and presumably wiser--and without testosterone--I'm not trying to prove anything.

Part of my ride took me along the World's Fair Marina.  It's just north of the site of the two World's Fairs held in New York City. (1939-40 and 1964-65:  I attended the latter as a small child.)  Between the Marina and the Fairgrounds (a.k.a. Flushing Meadow Park) stand Citi Field and the US Open Tennis Center, where Arthur Ashe and others had some of their greatest moments.  Citi Field replaced Shea Stadium, which opened at about the same time as the second Fair in 1964.  Just to the east of everything I've described is everyone's least favorite airport:  LaGuardia.

I did a "slalom" here:

It seems that every structure built around the time of the second Fair was either built by Eero Saarinen or was a copy of or parody of something he did.  A year or two before the Fair, he designed the TWA terminal of the JFK (Don't you love all of these three-letter abbreviations?) International Airport, which has been closed since TWA was grounded about a decade ago.

I remember being in that terminal for the first time when I was about fifteen years old.  One could still feel the romance of flight Antoine Saint Exupery conveyed in books like Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) and Pilote de Guerre. (Why that was translated as Flight to Arras is beyond me.  Then again, I still don't understand how Se Questo e Un Uomo became Survival at Auschwitz.)  And to think that some French teacher ruined him--and French literature--for you when she force-fed you Le Petit Prince!

Anyway...Arielle is still one of my preferred methods of transportation.  She withstood the heat better than I did: