21 August 2016

For The First Time, Again

It seems that every year I take at least one ride like the one I took today.

I didn't ride to or through anyplace I'd never seen before today.  Conditions were not at all challenging:  rather humid, but not oppressively so.  Probably the worst (or best, depending on which way I was riding) was the wind, but even that wasn't so bad.

Certainly, I didn't cover a lot of ground, at least compared to some other rides I've done.  I stayed within the confines of three New York City boroughs:  Queens (where I live), Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Then again, I hadn't really planned on doing a century--metric, imperial or otherwise--or a brevet, or any sort of ride with a name.  In fact, I didn't have any sort of plan at all.

I spun up and down major avenues, sprinted from traffic light to traffic light on 57th Street, made furtive turns into alleys and weaved among riders of Citibikes, skaters toting yoga mats and the self-consciously a la mode pushing strollers with the names of designers or athletic-wear companies emblazoned on them.  All of this was pleasant enough, even exhilarating at times.

One thing that seemed strange, even for a Sunday at this time of year, was that some of the streets were all but clear of traffic, whether of the motorized, foot or pedal variety, even though said streets weren't closed.  In fact, I could ride longer and faster in a straight line along those thoroughfares than I could on the bike and pedestrian lanes.

It seemed that almost all of the people--whether on foot, bike or skate--were in the places where one expects to find tourists:  around the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, the South Street Seaport, at the terminals for the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, on the Brooklyn Bridge. (I like to think that one of the signs I'm a "real" New Yorker is that I don't ride across the BB:  when I cross the East River, I take the Queensborough/59th Street, Williamsburgh or Manhattan Bridges, depending on where I'm going.)  In contrast, the shopping areas along 14th Street and Sixth Avenue (No New Yorker calls it "Avenue of the Americas"!) were all but deserted even though most of the stores were open.

As I cycled up First Avenue near the United Nations, I realized that everything I'd seen was a sign that it's almost the end of summer.  I realized that I take a ride like this one around this time every year:  a week or two before Labor Day.  This is the "last chance" for a lot of New Yorkers to leave town and for many tourists to come here.  And, of course, New Yorkers with lots of money and vacation time have been out of town for weeks already.  It'll be a week or two before they, and other vacationers, start trickling back in--and before the tide of tourists becomes a trickle.

It's at this time of year that I feel most like a "fly on the wall" in my own city.  I am not a tourist, but at the same time, I feel as if I am looking at familiar streets and buildings from the other side of a two-way mirror.  Although I live here, I feel as if I am not entirely here.

I don't mean any of what I've said as a complaint.  If anything, I find it interesting.  In a way, I am privileged:  Although I am far from rich (by the standards of this city and country, anyway), I was able to take a vacation of my own choosing, to a place of my own choosing and do it on my own terms.  And I have had little to worry about since I came back.

In fact, I realize now that since coming back from Paris--three weeks ago, already--I've spent a fair amount of time outside the city, with the bike rides I've taken to Connecticut and the more bucolic parts of New Jersey and Long Island.  So, in a way, I haven't been living like a resident of this city.  But I haven't been a tourist, either, because at the end of the day, wherever I've ridden, I've come back to my own bed and cats--and, as often as not, prepared my own meals.   

Could it be that this time of year--the latter part of August and the first few days of September--is a season unto itself?   Is this the season of The Outsider--and was today's ride my annual Outsider Ride?  

Perhaps no matter how often we've ridden a street or trail, seen a building or field, swum in a sea or opened a particular door--whether for the first time or the last, for a moment or a lifetime-- we are visiting:  We are coming in from the outside.  But we are coming in, and we can stay as long as our time, resources and imaginations allow us.  And one day we can come back.

And we can do the same rides, again, for the first time, from the outside.  At least, that's what I feel I did today.

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