25 June 2011

Ride, Interrupted

Have you ever had your ride interrupted--or detoured--by some chance event? 

I'm not talking about bike breakdowns, injuries or other emergencies.  Rather, I'm thinking about more serendipitous--or at least pleasant--happenings.

Today I stopped at Parisi's Bakery as I embarked on my ride.  I'd bought a couple of sfogliatelle, figuring that I could eat one as a snack during my ride or save them for later.  I also figured that by the time I got back from wherever I rode, they might be closed or not have much left.

As I exited the bakery (Yes, they let me bring my bike in!), I looked to my left and saw a rainbow flag flying.  Seeing a rainbow flag wasn't itself so unusual, especially on the day after same-sex marriages were legalized in New York.  However, the flag I saw seemed especially prominent and conspicuous, especially given that it's on a rather drab block:

I couldn't get a better photo of the house because it's on a street underneath elevated train tracks.  That means, among other things, that traffic is usually fairly congested on that street because the posts of the train trestles take up a lot of space on that street.   

I've cycled or walked that street only a few times, even though I've been living in the neighborhood for more than eight years and I don't know how many times I've boarded that train.  Living in New York is funny that way:  Lots of people have lived even longer in one neighborhood, even in one apartment or house, than I've lived here.  Yet they, too, haven't walked, and may never walk, down some streets near them. 

Perhaps I can rationalize not cycling or walking that street because it's not along any route I normally take for work or pleasure, and, as I've mentioned, it's not a particularly attractive street.  But today I decided to take a look at that house:

I'd never seen the  "Religion ruled during the Dark Ages" and "Atheism is myth understood" stickers anywhere else.  The others, I'd seen in one version or another.  How many people would line their houses with bumper stickers of any sort, much less ones that so proclaimed their beliefs?  

As I snapped those photos, the owner poked her head out of a window.  "Whose side are you on?"  I could just barely hear her over the clatter of an approaching train.  

I pointed to the train.  She held out her hand.  I waited; just after the train passed, she opened her door and poked her head out.

"You look like a friend," she said.


"Bring your bike in."

We sipped iced tea while we waited for a friend to meet her for a night out.  I'd had the impression that she was either a hippie or a dancer.  Turns out, she was both.  "Now I'm just a senior citizen with a tenant from hell.  But I need her if I'm going to keep this house."

"That's too bad..."

"What's the use of complaining?"

Then we had one of those conversations that veered into more topics than it seemed possible to discuss in a short time.  Not surprisingly, we talked about gay marriage, Stonewall (She wasn't there, but friends of hers were) and about the prejudices and hate some of us still experience.  "I've known people who were beaten up, fired, kicked out of apartments for being gay."

"People have been killed for it," I reminded her.

"My brother was."

I clasped her hand. "I'm so sorry..."

"Thank you.  It was a long time ago, but it never leaves you."

"Well, I can understand.  There's no shame in that."

"My brother is Julio Rivera."

"The one who was killed in Jackson Heights twenty years ago?"

She nodded.   I remember his killing, in part, because of things that were going on in my life at that time. But it was also one of the events that led to the passage of "hate crime" legislation in New York.  It seemed that around that time, there were a number of crimes committed out of one kind of bigotry or another.  As an example, less than a year before Rivera's murder, Yusef Hawkins was beaten to death by a group of white teenagers when he went to look at a used car in Brooklyn.

She reminisced about Julio and showed me some photos of him and other members of her family.  Then her friend arrived.  We exchanged phone numbers and I left.

"Enjoy your ride.  And be safe."


  1. I too am finding I am meeting and talking to so many people whom I otherwise wouldn't if I didn't have a bike. For some reason they seem to act as a sign of approachability or something that makes things safe. Neat post!!

  2. Haunting ... Both incidents so sad and brutal. I know I'm being naive, but if there was one thing in this world that I wish would go away is "hate.". Even today while out riding my road bike around 5:30 pm I encountered a four wheeler truck covered in dirt and the occupants in the car yelled at me (in a viciaous manner) to get out of the road. I was riding on a wide shoulder (plenty of room), but I was wearing my full Lycra attire... Which I'm sure is what caused them to be vicious towards me.