Monday, February 26, 2007

As they say, there's a reason why cliches are cliches. There's a reason why there's a certain mythology about New York City - the wonder, the grandeur, the size, the capacity for adventure. You are young. You move here. You struggle, have adventures, triumphs, tragedies, and somehow a story emerges that contains essence of New York City, like spice in a meal - not the content, but the character.

This column in the New York Times does what the Times occasionally does, which is state the obvious. All of New York is expensive, and Williamsburg is desirable despite everybody else who thinks that Williamsburg is desirable.

It's a scabby, bristling piece about hipsters and how rent is high, as if the author deserves something better. It's smug, obnoxious, and filled with lazy, predictable descriptions of the recent local residents - trust fund babies in stylishly dissheveled clothing, of course, who are not making livings as writers with their vintage typewriters.

I can't be the only person who's bored by demographic speculation about so-called hipsters, can I? Somebody reassure me that this is getting boring.

She even somehow manages to include the men she's dated as indication of the neighborhood's banality, rather than evidence of her own poor taste. Foolish.

I can drop snark with the best of them, but enough is enough! The author of this piece, Abigail A. Frankfurt, does what everybody else does - move from lower Manhattan to Williamsburg, derisively dismiss the idea of living in the other boroughs, and fervently wish that everybody else who's really just like her hadn't ruined the neighborhood.

I'm not defending Williamsburg, gentrification, or the bizarre social dynamics that are established when a targeted influx of monocultural young transplants turns neighborhoods in a vibrant city into college towns for the just-out-of-college crowd. I'm defending writing that doesn't use tired stereotypes and a holier-than-thou tone to describe life in this city. And I defy the uncritical notion that somehow all this is different and worse than how it used to be. As the joke goes, a hipster is just somebody who moved to the neighborhood (or started liking that band, or wearing those clothes, or riding a track bike, or...) just after you did.

She even manages contempt when talking about which books she's leaving and which she is taking with her when she leaves the city - once again, as if she's above keeping those titles. She's matured beyond them.

The tragedy of people who are certain that they have matured above and beyond things is that they can't help but furnish evidence to the contrary when they talk about how much better they are. How past that they are, said with an indifferent flip of the hair and a roll of the eye..

Quite frankly I can't believe that the Times even published this.

Until I write something better, though, feel free to take what I've written here with the grain of salt that should come with being a critic of do-ers. To insist otherwise would be to repeat Frankfurt's failures.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Monster Track: I spent plenty of time waffling about whether or not I was going to race this. I gave myself plenty of excuses - the weather, my level of fitness, a cold that had been working on me - but something clicked and I got excited. I started riding around and seeing people on track bikes and whooping, yelling, "You ready for MonsterTrack?!" And people were yelling the same at me. Everybody on a track bike in the city got tingley, excited, grinning with anticipation.

Monstertrack 8, a race through Manhattan and Brooklyn in the middle of the winter, for track bikes, gained fame and notoriety through the years due to its intensity, its track bike requirement, and videos like Lucas Brunelle's helmet-cam action of Monster Track V.

I had no particular pretensions of doing well but had plenty of reason to get excited. I'm a solid biker, I told myself. Heck, the night before the race, at one of the pre-parties, I even beat two extremely fast, race-winning messengers in a thirty-second stationary bike sprint. Not the same skills that wins races but enough to raise the excitement level a little bit. A little bit more. To get me thinking, Okay, so, how good can I do?

The start was just south of Delancey - hundreds of people milling around in the cold and the snow, looking at each other's bikes, forming little clusters and shooting the shit, wondering how much later it would get before the organizers give us some fucking manifests and give us the go. When are we gonna start? Everyone's getting cold. The Organizers line us up. We stand around for a long time more. Finally Victor yells GO! and the hundreds of people make a mad dash for their bikes and to get out of the court before a bottleneck opens up - to get out to some open road.

But there were so many people that very few people found any open road, especially with the entire field going up 1st Avenue up to 61st street before splitting. It was amazing. Two hundred riders, yelling and screaming and whooping and going fast, together, tearing up 1st Avenue. Stretching well ahead of me and well behind me. You pass somebody you know or somebody you don't, throw them a shit-eating grin, and head on. At the UN, Nick caught up with me - we rode down to the race together, and he had a helmet cam. "I've been behind you," he said, "I'm getting great footage!" "Then get me some more!" I yelled, and sprinted ahead down into the tunnel. And we went faster...

It was impossible to stay with who I was riding with. After the first checkpoint the field seperated a lot and I went on my own way a lot, meeting up with people here and there along the course. My favorite part of alleycats is seeing people racing, coming from different directions, blowing by you, criss-crossing, riding together for half a mile before going in different directions. Like the whole city becomes alive with whooping bikers.

After two extensive forays to all the checkpoints between SoHo and Midtown, I went back to the base to get the last manifest, hit up the two sponsoring bike shops, and finish hard in Williamsburg. Caught up to somebody I know on the Williamsburg Bridge, jumped on his wheel to catch my breath for a minute before sprinting past me - "Get on my wheel and we'll take the bidge together!" I said - and we passed a group of riders. Then found the finish line, the bar, and dropped off our manifests.

Water. Fruit. Food. Beer.

Tired. Whew! Shit! My pants are wet and the road salt is stinging my thighs. It's dark but it's still early but it feels late.

MonsterTrack... Only a year until the next one...

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Yesterday evening, as I was curled up on the couch with a book, my bike gave me one of those reproaching looks. It's been a while. Yeah, I know that. You know you want to. Yeah, I know that too. Is there a problem? Naw, it's just... it's cold outside. That's never stopped you before. I know, but... Is it me? No, darling, it's not you. There's no other Italian Steel between my legs - just you.

I've spent a lot of time on the subway. It's not too cold to ride, just a little too cold to be motivated to ride. It's just cold enough to make me use a hackneyed conversation-with-an-inanimate-object device.

Anyway, I've been riding a lot of subway, which lets me either curl up with a book for a half hour in the mornings (love it), or press my face against the glass and look at the graffiti as the train tumbles down the tunnel at 32 miles per hour (love it).

I'm getting more tuned in to street art. Not all of it thrills me - far from it - but I've been seeing it, noticing it more often, and it's been making me think about it. How did somebody get up to that billboard? On to that rooftop? Were they speaking in hushed voices when they trotted down the subway track, looking over their shoulder, carrying a backpack full of cans.

Not that all of it is good. I have a hard time imagining the point of venturing on to the subway tracks (though maybe the barrier is a level of risk that's only in my head) just to toss up a scrawled tag; but then again, some of the stuff that Revs and Cost did also elicits some head-scratching, like the billboard-sized roller tags they left all over the city (so odd to see one of those and have my breath taken away from it while driving in a livery cab, too well dressed for my comfort, with coworkers on a work trip...).

I like graffiti because of its low signal-to-noise ratio. Is it art? Yes no and I don't care. Is it vandalism? Yes no and I don't care. Does it require skill? Yes no and I don't care. Is it rebellious? Yes no and I don't care. Is it anti-capitalism? A baffling reversal of advertising? Self advertising? Yes no and I don't care. Graffiti artists, dissatisfied perhaps with the blandness of their surroundings, transform their surroundings. And yet graf has become an easily expected part of the urban landscape - ubiquitous, omnipresent, unsurprising. A tag, a mural, in unsurprising spots. Much of it being absolutly and utterly formulaic, noteworthy only in its mediocrity.

And then, every now and then, something grabs my attention. Sometimes a mural's freshness. Sometimes the curve of a tag. Sometimes something undescribable that makes something stand out. Sometimes, just the color, or the surprising legibility of a word or the vagueness of a phrase or tag. If graf artists are transforming their surroundings, they are recreating a domineering blandness with occasional moments of incredible beauty. How appropriate.

I'm keeping my eyes open a little bit more these days than I have been in some of the recent past, and I suppose it's paying off. Maybe I'll carry a camera more often, and preserve little bits of things that are making me think or gasp.

Image found at

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Monday, February 05, 2007

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, but I still have big plans for it. Consider this time to be a bit of a winter semi-hiatus. After all, it is cold; we are less expressive, insulated among coats and layers. Trees, in the winter, look barren and dead, but it is in the winter that they grow underground, their roots expanding outwards to support the weight that will grow on them in the spring and summer.

That's how it is here at tristatevagabond's headquarters. I've finished building the Pogliaghi (pictured above!) - the right saddle, used, from eBay; wrapped the handlebars with cloth tape; got its own pedals. I took a few minutes on Saturday to take some pictures of it in the sunlight. I wanted to go for a ride, but the cold scared me back indoors, and instead of riding I picked up a guitar and played.

I'm in something of musical crisis, but I have new projects in the works.

I've got big plans for the spring - places to explore, photos to take, even new art ideas that, well, I've been keeping to myself. Growing underground, one might say. Anticipating the return of that exuberant weather, that warmth that makes strangers smile at each other, that makes people flirt with each other, that makes people laugh and dance and make beautiful things.

Planning beauty with secret smiles, while bundled against the cold - New York City in the winter.

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