About two kilometers into my ride today, I had this view of the Manhattan skyline:
Everywhere I rode, the sort of heavy gray haze you normally see before a summer thunderstorm enveloped the sky. But there is no rain in the weather forecast until, perhaps, late tonight.
As I rode, however, I convinced myself that it "wasn't as bad" as what we had earlier this month: those blood-orange skies you saw in news images of this city. I asked myself, "How bad could it be?" if I could see this so clearly:
at Schenectady and East New York Avenues in Crown Heights. The mural depicts a the three main communities in the neighborhood: Hasidim, Blacks (Caribbean and American) and hipsters/gentrifiers.
I rode happily with such a belief or in such ignorance, depending on your point of view, to the Canarsie Pier where, not surprisingly, I saw about half as many people fishing, picnicking or simply hanging out as Tone would normally encounter at this time of year.
Still, "It isn't so bad," I told myself.
Then, as I pedaled away from the pier and was trying to decide whether to continue along the shore, west to Coney Island or east to Howard Beach, or to ride north in a more direct route home, I started to think, "something's not right."
I stopped at a Key Food supermarket for a bottle of water. When I stepped back outside and mounted Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear (which was doing better than I was!), I felt my eyes stinging, even though I'd worn my wraparound glasses. It occurred to me that whatever got to my eyes had to be in the air and smaller than a mosquito, gnat or other insect.
I splashed some water into my eyes and on my face and waited a couple of minutes. Another block of riding, and the stinging returned. I heard, from a radio of a passing car, that the health authorities declared the air quality "unhealthy." I didn't think it would "pass" like an afternoon thundershower, so I pedaled a couple of more blocks to the Rockaway Parkway station of the L train.
During the ride, I thought about the young man a police officer shot in Nanterre, just west of Paris. Not surprisingly, people protested, sometimes violently, in the City of Light and other French cities. In places like Nanterre, groups of people seemingly as disparate an the ones depicted in the mural I saw. I won't say there's more or less unity in one city or country than in another, but there always needs to be more.
If there was any good news in my taking the train home, it might be this: For about half of my ride, I was the only white person--and the only person with a bicycle. No one seemed to care except a little girl with whom we exchanged wide eyes and funny faces. Her mother smiled on my way out: She looked tired and, I think, was happy that someone relieved her, for a few moments, from having to keep her kid occupied. I guess taking the train home wasn't such a bad thing for somebody!