Thursday, January 18, 2007

On the fairly rare occasions that I drive a car, I remind myself to be extra careful. As a biker, I've got firsthand experience with dangers of a moment of inattention or a risky lane change - I have been hit by cars and daily I have the opportunity to take evasive action that would be unnecessary were there a culture of safe, competant driving, and adequate infrastructure for bikers. When I'm driving a car, I don't want to contribute to the dynamic that I hate while biking, so I'm extra careful.

When I'm biking, I try to reign in my frustration with pedestrians. We have to share the same inadequate spaces, we share similar dangers from cars, and we stand to benefit most from (and ought to be united by) the Liveable Streets Movement. However, it is extremely frustrating navigating jaywalking pedestrians. Yelling "Heads up!" or "Coming through!" will get their attention, but too often, people just freeze, or the step further into my path in a confused attempt to get out of my way.

A fraction of a second to react.

This morning: kaboom. He puts his arms up, I go flying. A drawback to weighing a paltry 135lbs is that my momentum wasn't enough to knock him over instead of crashing.

So, my first crash on the Pogliaghi. The bike is fine and I'm fine - physically - but I am annoyed, peeved, disgruntled. Five months I've been commuting in this city, 20 miles a day, and I've gotten in to two crashes. That's a crash every thousand miles of commuting, which is a little bit too high for my liking. It's not my riding that's doing it - it's the conditions: manifestly unsafe. The sidewalks are narrow, the avenues are highways in disguise; the speed is low, but the speed limit is high, so if there is a yellow light or an open strip of asphalt, then there's weight on the gas pedal, a revving of the engines.

Expecting safety on New York City streets makes about as much sense as expecting your Cheerios not to bump each other in the breakfast bowl. Demanding safety? This is something every New Yorker should be doing. Anybody who has ever frowned at a delivery truck gunning it through a red light, anybody who has ever had a cab come too close as it's rounding a corner, anybody who grips their child's hand tightly when they cross the street, saying, "Always look both ways!" Anybody who has ever gotten on a bike, and, more importantly, anybody who finds too many reasons not to ride. Anybody who has ever dodged an SUV. Anybody who walks on Manhattan's narrow, crowded sidewalks and sighs as cars go roaring by. Anybody who looks at the incredible amount of space taken up by gridlocked cars and wonders if maybe it wouldn't be nicer if some of those were plazas, with outdoor cafes, vendors, exchange students playing guitar for quarters... the sights, sounds, and smells of New Yorkers interacting with each other, instead of muttering as they push by each other, competing for scraps of sidewalk space, forced to the edges by a culture that's willing to go to any extent - even destroying a beautiful city - so that everybody can drive where they please.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There's something about Interstate 95 in New Jersey that's magnified by a wet, humid Saturday morning in January - the whole state seemed moody and hungover, the worse for wear. On the way back, the Delaware Bridge was obscured by fog; crossing the George Washington Bridge after sunset we saw the lights climbing the suspension cables before disappearing into the dark fog. Even Manhattan was barely visible.

Several times on the drive I pulled out my camera, but put it away for lack of space on the memory card, and for another reason too. Photographs are just photographs - they can beautifully augment an experience, capture a moment, or the process of doing that can leave you stuck behind a viewfinder.

So, attempts to write the song that perfectly archives this or that Life Experience - with humor, hindsight, regret, nostaligia - can occasionally be detrimental to one's ability to learn from a situation. Archiving life by writing about it is a good idea, but sometimes those songs and stories must remain unfinished, so that I can remember what I carry with me - past, pain, joy, love. Keeping yourself firmly rooted in the past is part of staying in the present.

And, with that said, I'll close with a joke about how coming to visit somebody From The Future is way more of an exciting and terrifying prospect than saying to somebody, "I Am Coming To You From The Paaaaaaaaast!" Because really, that should not come as a surprise to anybody...

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In an odd turn of events, I have a very nice thing. A new bicycle frame, possibly a redundancy in my slim fleet, but the offer was too good to pass up. A classic 1970s track frame, built by an acknowledged master, with a beaten-up paint job and an owner who's too big for it. The price I got was better than good, and so I started aquiring a few parts for it - used cranks, a used front wheel, a cog. I'm still looking for a rear wheel and pedals that I can put on it permanently so I don't have to swap back and forth between it and my daily rider, but quite frankly, since building it up late last week for a weekend's worth of beautiful weather and riding around, I've barely gotten off it. I've even commuted on it.

That, of course, brings up questions in my head about the smartfulness of riding "brakeless" in city traffic, but I consider myself a careful and skilled rider and have geared down, letting me accelerate and decelerate with greater ease. I've had no problems so far, except for the occasional bump of my foot against the front wheel - the frame has significant toe overlap, which takes some getting used to.

Fortunately, I've got the opportunity. Winter has not lived up to the expectation that it would force me from my bike and into moody restlessness. It's been a curious winter. Temperatures in the single digits in early January and nothing bur balmy since. We were all lightly dressed for the Memorial Ride for Fallen Cyclists this past weekend; we all sweated our asses off at the New Years Eve Alleykitten. We sniffed curiously at the gas smell on Monday morning.

Those of us trapped at desks only heard about the brief moment or two of snow flurries that fell this morning, after commuting hours.

Sometimes in the middle of the week, it's hard to stay focused when you're looking forward to the end of the week. My band Maxwell's Demon is playing a show down in Washington DC, and I'm ready to skeedaddle from work on Friday afternoon, have a dinner party in Brooklyn, bike back up for some sleep and leave town early on Saturday morning to turn the amplifiers up. After all... the boys are back in town!

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back at work, for real this time. I took some time off between Christmas and New Years', but it didn't add up to anything like a vacation. Just some time off, in New Jersey with the family, then back to NYC for a few days of work in a very, very quiet office.

Sometimes breaking the routine can be so tiring it's not that bad to go back into it, for some peace and quiet. Even if the commute is a little bit crazy and you're tired from staying out late at the Metropolitan Opera seeing the kind of odd but pleasant if confusing Magic Flute.

I raced the second annual New Years' Eve Alleykitten this weekend; last year's race was my first race and it was a lot of fun to ride it again. It's geared toward folks who haven't raced before, but isn't really easier than any other alleycat. A huge mass of people and bikes gathered by the bike polo court at Christie and Broome and I walked around saying hey to people I kind of know. I wanted to do well this race, so when I got my manifest I made sure to be thoughtful with my route; however, as with many things, once I lean toward a decision I go full-blast and didn't really pick the optimal route.

However: hammering down Broadway to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, then up Trinity and over to the East River at 22nd Street, where the CPers threw eggs at me as I rode away. I hauled up First Avenue to 86th St where I ate a piece of garlic, then found my way to the bandshell in Central Park (that slowed me down...) to capture a flag. Further slowed down trying to find the checkpoint on the right pier in the Hudson River in the 60s; then down the bike path to pushups across from the Javits Center, down to Trackstar where I had to recover my bike from a "thief" and carry a package to a 23rd place finish at Lakeside Lounge.

Not as well as I wanted to do, so here are some pointers to remind myself:

*sometimes it's good to stick with the pack a little bit, but if you do, you're gonna have to beat 'em to the checkpoint to stay competetive.
*plan a route before the race, duh, but revise it if necessary and consider alternatives. don't just plan a route and stick to it like glue.
*planning a route might still leave you getting lost, not knowing the fastest route way to a small little place like a bandshell or a pier.
*consider going absolutely 100% balls-out in the beginning.

I had lots of fun, though, and enjoyed the after party as I'm getting to know a few more people. I met a few people whose company I really enjoyed, and went with a few others to Punjabi's for dinner after the race - especially important after a handful of $2 pints at the after party...

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