31 December 2020

Annis Horribilis Or An Opportunity?

Queen Elizabeth II (How often have I referred to her in this blog?) referred to 1992 as an annis horribilisHer Majesty likes to project an image of someone not given to hyperbole, so perhaps she was just trying to show her former tutors that she still remembered some of the Latin they taught her.

Now, to be fair, I would think it was a pretty bad year if a fire destroyed part of my house.  And I wouldn't look back too fondly on a year in which one of my relatives, however distant, committed suicide.  But the other "tragedies," which include divorces, infidelities and the like were merely instances of Royal Family members showing that, well, maybe they're not so different from the rest of us.

In comparison, many people--and large parts of the world--suffered real tragedies, mainly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of natural disasters and other disruptions to what was considered "normal."

One can hope that the coming year will be better.  For one thing, Donald Trump lost his bid for a second presidential term.  For another, vaccines against COVID-19 are making their way into the world.  

What really gives me hope, however, is the knowledge that tragedies and disasters are opportunities to learn, and there are always resilient people. (Meeting Cambodians who survived the Pol Pot regime and Greeks who have come through wars, invasions and economic crises taught me much about both.)  One example of resilience includes the people who got on their bikes during the pandemic, when mass transit systems shut down or cut back their services and other forms of recreation weren't available.  I hope that the new "bike boom" shows planners, policy-makers as well as ordinary citizens that the future need not (actually, can't) be as auto- and fossil fuel-centric as the past century or so have been.  

If nothing else, I hope this year helps us to learn that we must--and, I believe, can and will--learn and change.

30 December 2020

Roy Wallack R.I.P.

One more day!  

That's what remains, after today, of 2020.  For many of us, this year can't end quickly enough.  In addition to the pandemic, natural disasters and all of the other awful events of the world, it seems that so many people (at least of the ones I know) have suffered some tragedies, disasters or setbacks of one kind or another. Or we had plain and simple bad luck:  After nearly half of century of cycling with no serious accidents (a wrecked bike and a few minor injuries), I was--in little more than three months' time--face-planted  and doored.

The face-plant left me with head trauma that, fortunately, didn't result in permanent damage.  I wish I could say the same for Arielle, the bike that started my Mercian obsession.  The dooring didn't do much harm to Negrosa, my vintage Mercian Olympic, but left me with a whole bunch of stitches, a strained muscle and sprained knee.  I'm just starting to get my energy back.

Roy Wallack (right) with Gordon Wright during the 2008 TransRockies Run.

Things could have been worse, though.  On Saturday the 19th, Roy Wallack rode his mountain bike down a steep trail near Malibu, California. He took a fall--no one is sure of how or why, but friends who were riding with him say that it might have been caused by a medical issue.  Whatever the circumstance, the fall resulted in Roy's head hitting a large rock.  

His friends, an EMT and cardiologists who happened upon the scene performed CPR on him until a helicopter arrived.  The rescuers' attempts to save him were for naught.

A terrible irony of that crash is that Wallack hired a personal trainer for his father who "has no disabilities and comes from a long line of centenarians" but whose "problem" was "obvious":  the Easy Boy chair he "hadn't left.. in 30 years (except for Costco and cleaning up in the yard after the dogs)."  The trainer called Wallach's 90-year-old father to urge him onto the treadmill as he's been housebound by COVID-19.

Roy, who intended to ride, run, swim and participate in other outdoor adventures on his way to becoming the latest in his family's line of centenarians, only made it to 64 years old.  But his time was certainly a journey:  While he didn't have the archetypal body of a cyclist or runner, he pedaled Paris-Brest-Paris and many other rides, ran marathons and participated in all manner of outdoor sports, sometimes competitively but more often for the adventure. 

That is what made his writing--for publications such as Bicycling, Runners' World, Bicycle Guide and Outside; and in his books and the Los Angeles Times' Outdoor section--so engaging.  He wrote the way he approached cycling, running and other outdoor activities:  as an adventurer and enthusiast rather than as a "jock." He rarely wore lycra; in the baggy shorts he usually wore, wannabe racers might have seen him as a "Fred."  To me, though, he embodied and expressed the essence of what makes cycling, running, hiking and other outdoor sports lifetime activities rather than games that can be experienced only as a spectator after one reaches a certain age.

29 December 2020

Where They Bike More

 Would you bike more in Baltimore?

I would, if I ever get to "Charm City" again--especially after seeing this:

The folks at Bikemore are offering it.  What could possibly be a better name for a bicycle advocacy organization?

I wonder, though, whether they pronounce it as Bike-a-more?

28 December 2020

Which Side Of The Gate?

 We are passing out of this year.  I don’t know many people who are sad to be leaving it, even with all of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

I know there are three more days left in this year after today.  Somehow, though, yesterday—the last Sunday of the year—felt more like the denouement.  In a normal year, not much happens during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Then again, what has been “normal” this year?

I thought about all of this while riding along the North Shore yesterday.  The funny thing is that I didn’t stop until near the end of my ride.  But I think you can see why I paused in Astoria Park, only a kilometer and a half from my apartment.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this bridge is called the Hell Gate Bridge, after the stretch of the (misnamed) East River it spans.

If that is indeed the Gate of Hell, which side of it are we on?

27 December 2020

What Should They Be Trained To Do?

 Thirteen is a difficult age for almost anyone.  The body is going through all sorts of changes, so everyone and everything in the world seems capricious, unjust and even cruel.  Sometimes the anger you may have  felt at that age was justified, especially when you're mocked, bullied or punished for, well, being thirteen years old.

My family had recently moved. (I forgave my parents for that when I turned 40. ;-)) As if everything else I was experiencing weren't enough, that Christmas a recording that's still a hazard to my mental health polluted and smothered the airwaves.  Like many other people, I got a kick out of the novelty of dogs barking "Jingle Bells"  for about the first 15 seconds it played.

A few days ago, when I was running some errands, a store was blaring the barking monstrosity in the street.  I might get it out of my ear by Groundhog Day. Aargh!

These days, I own two Christmas CDs: Celine Dion's "These Are Special Times", which my mother gave me the year it came out, and an album of the late, great Jessye Norman's concert with the Orchestre de Lyon in the Notre Dame cathedral.  Other CDs of mine include a Christmas song or two, like John Lennon's "War Is Over."  But if anyone gave me a disc of the Singing Dogs, I'd use it for a coaster or frisbee.  Whoever made and promoted that recording should be indicted for animal abuse!

On the other hand, I want to applaud whoever created this image:

You can buy a print of this on Etsy 

26 December 2020

Un-Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day.  The United States is probably the only English-speaking country that doesn't celebrate it.

According to which accounts you believe, this day originated as a day to give gifts to the poor--or when upper class families boxed up gifts and food for their cooks, servants and other employees, who were sent home (with boxes) to spend time with their families after working on the holiday.

Either story leads me to this question:  How many bicycles are boxed on Boxing Day?

From The Washing Machine Post

One blogger documented his un-Boxing Day.  I don't know what day the blogger's Cielo bicycle arrived, but  I'm sure that un-boxing it was at least as eventful for that person as boxing cookies, cakes, leftovers or gifts was for the people who gave them to their help, or to the anonymous poor. 

25 December 2020


 This is 2020.  So I'm not going to say "Merry Christmas."  Instead, I am going to express the hope that this day--whether or not you celebrate it as a holiday--is as fulfilling or simply restful as you want or need it to be.

That said, I am going to express gratitude for those who gave in great and small ways--from hospital workers, teachers, grocery store clerks and others on the front lines to those who simply bring some joy to what has been a g

Those people include the folks at 21-29 25th Road, just four blocks from my apartment in Astoria:

25th Road is a narrow street and when I rode by it, on Sunday, snow was piled along its sides.  That made it difficult to get panoramic shots--so I apologize for the quality of these images.

24 December 2020

A Ride Through Time Before Christmas Eve

 Yesterday, after finishing everything I needed to--and could--get done before the holidays, I went for a much-needed ride.

Why do I need a ride?  Well, for one thing, I'm a lifelong bike rider.  The only other things besides basic bodily functions that I feel I "need" are reading, writing and occasional travel.

Also, even though I know I've done the things that needed to be done, I felt a tinge of guilt that I probably won't get much, if anything, done betwee now and the fourth day of the new year. (New Year's Day, like Christmas, will fall on a Friday.)  But I reminded myself of Congress*, so I don't feel so slothful.

Anyway, I pedaled down to Rockaway Beach, Riis Park and Coney Island.  I saw the sun preparing for its descent in Rockaway:

and exiting in a blaze of glory at Riis Park:

Just as captivating, to me, as the refulgent spectacle were the shifting cloud formations.  I felt as if time were a scrim drifting across the sky and tracing its face on waves of the sea.

By the time I reached Coney Island, the sky and sea were dark.  I didn't take photos because--silly me--I forgot to charge my phone before I went for a ride and it was all but depleted by the time I got to what might be the world's most famous boardwalk.  More people than I'd anticipated were taking walks and rides, men were fishing off the pier and some Puerto Ricans played some traditional music from the islands on their guitars and drums.

There weren't, however, many people on the Verrazano-Narrows promenade, which passes underneath the bridge.  Most of them were fishing.  I think that most of the fishermen I saw were Latinos and their catch might make up their families' Christmas Eve dinners--which, for Catholics includes fish. 

My family ate whatever fish my uncles caught--or, in later years, what looked good to my mother at the market-- and scungilli: deep-fried rings of squid. That memory, sparked by those fishermen, loped through my mind as I continued through Brooklyn on my way home. 

Those memories, like time, drift through my mind like that scrim of time between the sea and sky.

*--Congress took--how long?--to pass a second coronavirus relief bill.  They didn't accomplish much. The President and his buddies, on the other hand, did a lot--none of it to mitigate the COVID crisis and all of it malignant! (That' not an editorial comment:  It's a fact!)

23 December 2020

From A Blocked Path To Latimer's House And Gatsby's Shore

Sometimes art imitates life...

and journalism really conveys what's going on in the world

or your bike ride.

The Post article I referenced in yesterday's post talked about bike lanes that hadn't been plowed. Sure enough, I encountered one. 

What's worse, though, than finding an impassable path (Is that an oxymoron?) is to ride the path for, say, a kilometer or two before it tells you, "Vous ne passerez pas!"

At least I am accustomed enough to riding on streets--and familiar enough with the street in question (20th Avenue, Astoria) that switching over to the roadway felt like a return to normalcy. (Yes, such a thing is actually possible in 2020!)  Even finding snow piled between the parking and traffic lane--which, of course, gives you no room to maneuver--was a return to the status quo of winter riding as I've known it.

All right, I'll stop complaining.  Although the afternoon was the warmest we've had in nearly a week, it was still raw, with overcast skies and damp air.  I actually like riding in such conditions, just as I enjoy riding along the sea through chilly winds, under gray skies:  Few people are out; there is just me, my bike and my ride.

Even after so many years of riding in this city, there are still streets I've rarely or never seen.  I ventured down one, near the Whitestone Bridge and chanced upon this:

I'd heard of  Lewis Latimer  and knew something of his work with Thomas Edison, but I didn't realize he lived in the neighborhood.  It's too bad the house was closed, probably because of COVID.  But I'll return one day.  While people normally associate African American New Yorkers with Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, there have been many others who, like    (and Malcolm X, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington) who lived in Queens.

Some may have even spent time

in Fort Totten Park was, until the 1980s, an active Army base.  Today, parts of it are used for Army Reserve, NYPD and NYFD training, but the rest is a park.

Its part of Queens--Bayside--is near the western end of Long Island's North Shore:  Gatsby country.  If you had one of those terrible English teachers who beat the symbolism of the green light to death, I apologize.  Such a teacher might've taught you that the novel is about the desire to reinvent one's self--and the question of whether or not such a thing is truly possible.  Or, perhaps, you realized as much yourself.  More than a few writers and scholars have argued that raising such a question makes it the "quintessential American novel."

Perhaps it is, but for a different reason.  When I re-read the novel a few years ago, I couldn't help but to feel that it was conveying a profound loneliness. Nick Caraway, the narrator, expresses it, intentionally or not.  Jay Gatsby, the title character, embodies it; other characters are enacting it--unconsciously, I believe.

Perhaps this is the light they were following, even if they were looking for another kind:

Me, that light suits me fine.  At least, it feels about right, for this day, for the times we've been living--and I rode--through. 


22 December 2020

Has The Blizzard Thawed Their Attitude Toward Cyclists?

The New York Post is not the most cyclist-friendly publication.  So, naturally, I paid attention when they published an relatively neutral, or even somewhat bike-positive, article.

Even the title, while in true Post style, doesn't elicit hostility:  "NYC blizzard freezes out cyclists due to snow-covered bike lanes."

Better yet, the article pointed out that cycling is an important means of transportation because many of us in the Big Apple don't own cars--or even driver's licenses.  And its popularity has skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic because the subways and buses are running on more limited schedules and some of us, whether because we have underlying conditions or simply are conscious (some might say paranoid) about our health, don't feel it's safe to use mass transit.

Photo by Gregory P. Mango

The problem is that most bike lanes run alongside curbs.  That makes it all too easy for snow shoveled from sidewalks or plowed off streets to be dumped into the lanes.  Also, it seems that clearing the lanes is simply not high on the city's list of priorities. Perhaps those in charge still see cycling as mainly a recreational activity.

21 December 2020

I Didn't Cycle Far Enough To See The Planets

 The other day, I posted about seeing the crescent moon over Crescent Street.  After that, I had high hopes for seeing the astronomical event of the millenium:  the near-conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky.

Although forecasters said we might not see it due to weather, I still had high hopes.  After all, those same forecasters said the planets would be bright enough that they might be seen among city lights.

So I hopped onto Martie, my commuter, and pedaled toward the waterfront by the Socrates Sculpture Park, Rainey Park and Gantry Park (the Long Island City piers) and looked toward Manhattan--to the west, where the spectacle would be visible.  I looked for "gaps"--mainly, streets that transverse the width of Manhattan--through which I sometimes watch sunsets.

Alas, all I saw were clouds and mist.  I wonder whether I would've seen the planets in New Jersey or Connecticut.

As I understand, the next such planetary near-conjunction will take place in about 400 years.  Maybe, just maybe, if I keep on riding my bike, I'll see it.;-

20 December 2020

Finding Your Spot

 The New York City Department of Transportation has been installing "hoop" bicycle racks all over the city.  In fact, there are a few just around the corner from my apartment.

Still, there aren't enough.  There never can be enough:

From Exclusive Pictures

18 December 2020

Victims Of The New "Bike Boom"

If I ever get a regular writing gig, it's unlikely to be with The Wall Street Journal or The Economist.  I have, as far as I can tell, no business acumen and I passed the one and only economics class I ever took by promising the professor I wouldn't take another:  He could see that I simply had no mind for the subject.

All right, the story about the econ class was an exaggeration--but only a slight one.  One thing I'm pretty good at, though, if I do say so myself, is observing.  So now I'm going to present an observation I've made that pertains to cycling--and might be of interest to the folks at WSJ and The Economist.

One of the terrible outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic is that, in the resulting economic free-fall, many businesses have gone under.  While some reporting, mainly of the local variety, has focused on the human costs of people losing their life's work (which, of course, is the real tragedy), the major media outlets have tended to focus on the types of businesses and industries that have been hardest-hit.  They include restaurants which, in many places, were forced to close or operate at greatly reduced capacity for weeks or months.  Also decimated have been clothing retailers and anything related to travel and tourism (think hotels, airlines and such).  During my rides, I have also seen a number of dry cleaners that have closed their doors for good:  People working at home tend not to wear suits, and there's not much reason to wear a fancy dress or gown when there aren't any weddings or graduations to attend.

But the observation I want to make is this:  The economic devastation has not only claimed businesses in certain industries; it has also discriminated by the size of the business.  While some large companies have gone to the dustbin of history, the economic downturn has claimed even more small mom-and-pop businesses.

One such enterprise is Larsen's Bicycles of Powell, Wyoming. For months, media outlets big and small (including this blog!) have been telling the world how the pandemic has been great--almost too good--for the bike business. While sales of bikes and all things related to them have sailed along at levels not seen in a long time, a basic law of economics has come into play:  scarcity.  So, neighborhood shops--and, in some cases, national and international web-based retailers--are running out of everything from handlebars to helmets, brake levers to bike locks--and complete bikes.  

One result has been an increase in theft, from individual bikes on the street to warehouse break-ins.  It's also meant that, because supply chains have been interrupted, those who are willing to acquire their goods honestly have long wait times.

Or they can't get anything at all.  That is what happened to Larsen's.  The only shop in Powell, a small city in cattle-ranching and mining country of northwestern Wyoming, completely ran out of inventory in May.  After they ran out of bikes, Nick and Vicky Coy tried to keep things going with repair work.  When they ran out of new parts, they harvested the good parts from used bikes until those ran out.  Without a solid plan for delivery of new stock, the Coys made the hard decision to close the shop Nick bought from founder "Buzz" Larsen 29 years ago, after four years of working for him.  He and his wife have operated the shop by themselves during that time.   Their last day of business will be New Year's Eve, two weeks from yesterday.

Vicky and Nick Coy, in their soon-to-be closed shop. Photo by Mark Davis of the Powell Tribune.

"It doesn't seem to be getting any better," Nick said. "Nobody can really say whether they're gonna have bikes this coming spring and summer."  Most tellingly, he added, "The whole business model has changed for small shops."

That change, Vicky explained, came about because companies like Specialized like to fill the big stores first. "If you don't have big preseason orders and say you'll take X number of bikes, then you're on the bottom of their list."  Also, she said, "They're selling a lot more parts and accessories online."  For shops like theirs, "The lack of repair parts is huge."

She summed up the result: "It kind of forces out the little guy."  In other words, shops like hers and Nick's are squeezed out.

The current pandemic has magnified the gaps between the rich and the poor, those who can work from home and those who must risk their lives for a paycheck, and between races and genders.  It's also exposed another chasm:  between conglomerates and small businesses--or, in this case, companies like Specialized, with their bicycle showrooms in urban and suburban areas, and rural shops like Larsen's.

17 December 2020

Behaving Myself Before A Blizzard

I was on my best behavior during yesterday's ride.

It had nothing to do with my surroundings or the discipline it took for me to climb the same hill (short, but fairly steep) six times in a row. It wasn't even a matter of pretending not to notice when a woman, driving in the opposite direction, stared at me during my fourth climb.

It also wasn't related to the fact that atop that hill sits the mansion that once housed one of Astoria's most prominent citizens--or that, just a couple of blocks away, he made pianos used in concert halls all over the world.  (If my behavior were related to that, I'd've worn a tux or gown.) Or that those pianos--Steinways--are still made on that same site, in a newer, larger facility.

My restraint also had nothing to do with my passing by the entrance to the bridge leading to Riker's Island--which, by the way, you can enter only by bus or in an authorized vehicle. (No bicycle is authorized.)  I tried to ride to the Island once, on my absolute best behavior, and was turned back by someone who was not amused.  But I digress.

Perhaps I behaved myself because I don't know when I'll be able to ride again.  Oh, I know that day will come;  I just don't know when.  You see, I was getting that ride in before the snowstorm that began late yesterday afternoon.  

I felt that storm coming:  As I was circling around to my third or fourth hill climb, I felt the wind off Long Island Sound.  My behavior would not have stilled that wind, or changed the trajectory of the storm that would leave us with a foot of snow.

So why was I so well-behaved?  Perhaps it had something to do with this:

I mean, a whole truck of Superego--parked along the path of my ride!  How could I not behave myself--or, at least, conform to prevailing social norms, even if nobody was there to see it?

Well, at least there was an answer two  questions I never asked:  What if Freud had gotten into the trucking business?  And what trucking company would Donald Trump never, ever use? (As best as I can tell, the election-denier lives entirely, and has tried to govern, by his id.)

I remember when the old mail-order bicycle company Bikecology changed its name to Supergo.  When I saw the first catalogue with the new name, I misread it as "Superego."  It may have had something to do with just having taken the first of my two college psychology classes. But I digress, again.

Really, though, I behaved myself during yesterday's ride.  Really!

16 December 2020

Riding Together On Contis

I ride Continental tires on three of my six current bicycles.  The German company's offerings have served me well:  They aren't cheap, but I think they offer good value because of their ride qualities and durability.  

Well, I've found another reason to ride Contis:  They are now supporting Girls Riding Together.

Now, I'm for anyone or anything that gets and keeps more women and girls on bikes.  But notice the capital letters:  Girls Riding Together (GRiT) is an initiative of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA):  an organization whose mission Continental will support as it provides material and financial support to GRiT.

In announcing this new partnership, Continental's Marketing Manager for Bicycle Tires said her company is "delighted to support NICA's mission of helping student-athletes discover the joys of cycling and mountain biking" and "making the sport accessible to all, no matter what their background or ability."  In particular, she said, Continental will be "committed to the GRiT initiative"  in its goal of "increasing female participation in the sport."  One of NICA's stated goals is to boost female participation to 33 percent (from its current 20 percent) by 2023.

15 December 2020

The Ride He Didn’t Take

The laments were punctuated by more “what if’s” than on any other day in the history of New York City, my hometown.

That day, some experienced transit delays, vehicular breakdowns or other emergencies.  Others called in sick.  Still others changed or cancelled other routines for all sorts of reasons.

That morning, they didn’t go to their offices, shops, kitchens or other workplaces.  Some missed a day’s pay; others worried—only a for a while, as fate would have it—about their reputations, or even their jobs.  But only for a while, a short while.

Erik Timbol may have had a smaller worry, but his “what if” resonates just as much as those of the people who didn’t go to work—or who, for what other reasons, weren’t in the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on 11 September 2001.

Erin Michelle Ray

He often joined Erin Michelle Ray—one of Nevada’s top triathletes—for a ride.  He’d planned on doing that, along with four other friends, last Thursday.  But he had to work a shift at Las Vegas Cyclery.

Thomas Chamberlin Trauger

Ms. Ray went for that ride, along with fellow Las Vegas residents Gerard Suarez Nieva, Michael Todd Murray, Aksoy Ahmet and Thomas Chamberlin Trauger.  

Michael Todd Murray 

They will not ride with Mr. Timbol—or anyone else, or by themselves—again.  A truck struck and killed them. 

Gerard Suarez Nieva

Aksoy Ahmet

The crash was ruled an accident.  Erik Timbol, however, was saved by fate-or a schedule-making decision.  In any event, I am sure he is grieving the loss of his training partners and friends: Erin Michelle Ray, Gerard Suarez Nieva, Michael Todd Murray, Akhsoy Ahmet and Thomas Chamberlin Trauger.

14 December 2020

A Meditation On A Ride

Two hours at a time...

That seems to be the pace of my latest recovery.  I've been taking two-hour rides, mainly in and around my neighborhood.  I probably could ride longer, but I am following the orthopedic doctor's advice and erring on the side of caution.

Even so, the rides are invigorating--and interesting:

It would have been one thing to find something like this house in one of this city's Chinatowns--in lower Manhattan, Flushing or Sunset Park.  But this house is on Anthony Avenue, in a neighborhood that is almost entirely Hispanic and African American.  About half a mile to the north is Fordham University and the Arthur Avenue district, often called "the Little Italy of the Bronx."

When you look at the adjoining house, you can see that its bones, so to speak, are like those of nearby houses, even if the skin, if you will, is that of an ashram.  

When I looked at it for a couple of minutes, its location seemed a little less incongruent.  After all, I had to pedal up a hill--not steep or long, but a hill nonetheless--to reach it.  Also, since Zen practice is not (at least as I understand it) about social status or material wealth, it may make sense that it's in a neighborhood that hasn't been struck by gentrification.

Whatever the reasons why it is where it is, seeing it made the ride more interesting--and caused me to forget about the slowness of my recovery.  

13 December 2020

It's All In Our Heads!

I think most of us agree that cycling is good--if not absolutely necessary--for our mental health.

Perhaps this is the reason why:


From Rateeshirt

12 December 2020

Into The Sunset, With All Things Bicycle

 A gathering place "for all things bicycle."  It sounds like what this blog has become, doesn't it?

But, in real life, such a thing is in the works.  This week, the San Diego City Council approved plans for a $2.6 million regional center in Liberty Station.  

Part of the new center's site. (From the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The new center is slated to have areas for lectures, exhibits, safety seminars, group gatherings, bike repair and "limited" commercial activity.  

That last item may be one reason why the plans were approved:  Some of the project's  funds could come from fees paid by businesses that operate in the facility.  The sale of naming rights is also under consideration.  Whatever else is done, the San Diego County Bicycle will hold a fundraising campaign for the center. 

Part of the center will be in an abandoned US Navy building.  The site is near San Diego Bay where, I am told, the sunsets are spectacular.

11 December 2020

You Can Ride--Perhaps--If It's "Contemplative"

Hanukkah began last night. 

Many moons ago, I taught in a yeshiva.  It was, to say the least, an interesting experience.  The rabbis and students were Orthodox, but not Hasidic.  So the boys--all of the students were boys--wore black ties and trousers with white shirts.  Yarmulkes topped their heads.  I dressed in a similar way--yes, I wore a yarmulke--when I was in the school.

You can imagine how I felt in such an atmosphere.  I was still living as male, but struggled with my gender identity.  The only female in the school--if you don't count me--was the secretary. She was the head rabbi's mother, and the head rabbi was not a young man!

I knew, probably, as much about Judaism as any non-Jew who grew up in Brooklyn would know--which is to say, more than most non-Jews in most other places, if I say so myself. Still, I had a lot of questions, especially when the holidays came around.  

For one thing, I wanted to know about gift-giving customs.  Many Reform and secular Jews celebrate Christmas and are just as extravagant about gifting and decorating as the Catholics I grew up with.  But the head rabbi confirmed what I'd thought:  the more Orthodox--which is to say, those  who were less or not at all "co-opted" by American/Christian/Capitalist-consumerist culture, in the eyes of someone like the rabbi--followed the custom of giving gelt.  

In the old Jewish communities of Europe, it was actual coinage, though most people today give chocolates shaped like coins and wrapped in gold-colored foil.  The rabbi said that it probably started with the prohibition against accepting money for teaching the Torah, which led to giving those teachers--who, as you can imagine, are highly esteemed in their communities--gifts which, according to Halakhic law (most interpretations of it, anyway), are not the same as payment for teaching.

(I think the same sort of logic motivated my, and other kids', parents in giving gifts to the nuns who taught in the Catholic school I attended:  In those days, they received only a very small amount of money to cover "personal expenses.")  

My old head rabbi (Hmm, that's kind of an odd phrase for me, isn't it?) also suggested that the custom of giving gelt to teachers may have had something to do with language and semantics.  What I didn't know, until he told me, is that Hanukkah actually means "dedication."  The word for education is very similar: hinnukh.

Anyway, I wanted to ask him this:  Does all of this mean that an Orthodox kid probably wouldn't get a bicycle for Hanukkah, but a Reform or secular kid might, for Hanukkah--or Christmas?

I did, however, on another occasion, ask him this:  On shabat  or high holy days, is it OK to ride a bicycle?  

From KilkennyCat Art

"The answer to that, like so many other questions, isn't black-and-white," he said.  (How many times have I said that to my students?)  But, he said, a purpose of shabat and the holy days is devotion, and anything that is a "distraction" from that should be avoided. 

 Of course, much is left to how one interprets the Torah--and, perhaps, the Hebrew language itself.  Almost everyone agrees that one shouldn't "work" during those days.  Some say that it simply means you shouldn't be doing whatever you do during normal business (or school) hours.  Others, though, believe that anything that has a secular purpose is "work." So they, for example, have non-Jewish neighbors turn light switches on and off.  Also, some traditional Jewish foods--most notably cholent  (Think of it as a kosher cassoulet.), came about because the very orthodox believe you can't do anything related to food preparation once shabat or the holidays begin.  

(To make cholent, people assembled pans of beans, potatoes, onions, meat, spices and whatever else they liked and, on their way to shul,  either put it in their own ovens or left it with local bakers who had to keep their ovens lit on low heat.  Those pans would be retrieved at the end of shabat.)

So, this rabbi opined, whether or not you can ride your bicycle depends on your (or your sect's) interpretration of the Torah--and why you are riding.  Obviously, commuting would be out of the question. So would running errands, for some.  But he said that cycling "might be OK" if it's "contemplative."

10 December 2020

Finding The Cream Of Bike Routes

 Three years ago, a man pedaled into the Lincoln Tunnel, a violation of Port Authority regulations.  So why did he wander into that 2.5 km-long tube under the Hudson?  The route was suggested on a phone app. 

Even if it weren't prohibited, I wouldn't cycle in the Tunnel--unless, perhaps, it were closed to traffic. On a scale from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most stressful, I think the fumes and claustrophobic space would make it a four-plus on a new interactive bike map.

The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works has just developed such a map for the Cream City. It can be accessed from a computer or mobile device and rates each street from low (1) to high (4) stress, based on factors such as how many people drive on it and whether or not it has a bike lane.  Riders can use the map to plot a route that includes as many low-stress streets as possible.

You can access the map here.

From the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal

09 December 2020

A Masked Slash And Grab

The good news about the COVID-19 epidemic (Did I actually write that?) is that more people are riding bikes.

The bad news is that more bikes are being stolen.  What's worse is that not all of the thieves are taking unattended bikes or breaking locks on parked machines. Perps know they're harder to identify when they're wearing masks, so some have become more brazen about how they part riders from their wheels.

Such was the case a month ago, just a few miles from my apartment.  Sometimes, during rides to or from Fort Totten or Nassau County, I'll stop in Flushing--the Chinatown of Queens--for dumplings or other tasty treats.  A young man who stopped in front of a restaurant near Main Street--may have had the same idea.

Whatever his intention, another young man started to talk to him.  The distraction allowed another young man to approach him from behind--and slash him in the face.

He dropped his phone and bike.  The guy who started the conversation scooped them up and took off.  The slasher ran into a subway station a few doors away.

Everything was captured on video.  I just hope someone can recognize the perps and call the NYPD hotline (1-800-577-8477 for English, 1-800-577-4782 for Spanish).

08 December 2020

John, 40 Years Later

Some things really can make you feel old.

I know, it isn't all about me.  At least, what I'm about to relate isn't.  But I write this blog, ostensibly about bicycling, and end up talking about myself.  Then again, what blogger doesn't talk about him/her/themself?

So here goes:  Forty years ago, John Lennon was murdered by someone who claimed --like other actual and would-be murderers and assassins--to have been inspired by Holden Caulfield (who was, not a killer, but a teenage rebel who feels disgust for almost everything in the adult world) of Catcher in the Rye.

Four decades ago? Four decades ago!  At the time, I had lived barely half that amount of time.  On the other hand, John had lived as long (having turned 40 two months earlier) when he was shot.

In an earlier post, I relayed one of his fondest memories:  of getting a bike as a kid. He rode it everywhere and didn't leave it outside at night, as other people  in his neighborhood did.  His wheels accompanied him to bed, he said.

Of course, what is better-known is someone who accompanied him to bed:

Yes, a bicycle accompanied him and Yoko during their first "Bed-In For Peace" in Amsterdam.  I don't know whether they had a bike during their second Bed-In, in Montreal, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did.

Here they are in 1972, stopping for what has long been a quintessential New York experience, but one that is disappearing.  Those iconic Sabrett's hot dog carts are being replaced by Halal food trucks and carts that serve kebabs and chicken or lamb with rice, as well trucks and carts offering other tacos, pizza and other "street foods."

(As best as I can tell, John is riding a Bottechia ten-speed and Yoko is on a Dunelt or Rudge three-speed. At least, I'm sure it's a three-speed but not a Raleigh.)

John, apparently, never gave up his love for cycling, even when he and the Beatles were touring and turning out an album or two every year.  

Tell me:  Does that look like '60's England, or what?

It certainly looks like John, expressing his kind of joy.