Williamsburg Bridge Trips
Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.
After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.
To the Asser Levy Gym and Back
Avg Speed 15.6mph
Top Speed 32.7mph
It's a beautiful time to ride now. The heat isn't yet bone-crushing, though it is enough to make you unpresentable when you arrive at yr destination. On this trip it didn't matter so much. There was a lot of cowboy action in the city. When you ride you are an animal, and when you stop riding and are breathing hard and fully engaged with your body in New York City on a hot pre-summer day, you feel like a card-carrying sex god. That's a good feeling to get these days.
Back in Greenpoint, no one knows how to drive, people pull half-way into an intersection before realizing they have to stop for oncoming traffic. Reactionary right wing assholes with American Flags on their cars yell at you to get off the road. It's all part of the joy and pain of the 'hood.
There are many things I dislike about air travel -- the cramped seating, the poor food, the kind of people I tend to get crammed in there with, the insipid in-flight 'entertainment' -- but nothing bothers me more than the passive-aggressive authoritarian attitude that airline personell adopt when dealing with passengers. Everything is prefaced with "we need you to," or "sir, could you please," but in such a disingenuous fashion as to turn the actual words on their heads. Sometimes they simply scold people. On my last flight some poor woman had to get up and pee as we were descending. I assume she just couldn't hold it. Someone else got up and alerted the flight attendant (snitch!) and the attendant knocked on the lavatory door. The women promptly emerged and sat back down. After this happened -- after she was in her seat -- the flight attendant got on the intercom with an exasperated, "Maam, we need you to be seated for landing." What the fuck purpose does that serve? Embarass the lady so she won't step out of line in the future? Ahh, the tao of travel. "This is a special announcement: please keep you baggage with you at all times..." Bullshit! I've heard that announcement 10 times today, so don't call it special, ok? Such a paucity of truth, no respect for our common humanity.
Brushes with Death
I know this won't make me popular with the people who love me, but I've recently been re-acquainted with the thills of mortality via close calls with buses and taxis. It's quite something to ride a bicycle on the streets of New York. There's an outlaw quality to it; taking matters into your own hands, ducking and weaving, tracking all the variables. It's a trip, and danger is certainly a part of the appeal, adrenaline rushes and all. This is a hit from my Big Blue Book (a retired journal) dated August 27th 2001:
"It's raining hard now and I'm not relishing the ride downtown. It will be soggy and dangerous, though in that it will most likely fulfill my weekly death wish requirement. It comes on strong sometimes, when I'm down low with a rancid hangover and impending shits, a slew of bad deeds rumbling over my head like a classic thunderstorm -- broken hearts and empty dreams. In those moments on occasion I wish for quick wet release from pain and accountability, the sweet land of "everything beautiful and nothing hurt." And unethical peace and access to a place without worry."
The thrills pay the bills. It's good to know you're alive.
We were in Berkely and kept passing this party house with a beautiful hippie woman child outside, all tan, long hair, and free-spirit precocious, but always surrounded by protective earthy dudes. Mass transit was by canal, and late night at the canal stop (equivalent to subway stop) we would see a lonely fat woman who's face had been horribly burned and she would try to make conversation. There was always a long wait for the next barge, and the dock was damp and lit only by a lantern. All this happened twice.
To get on the actual barge, one had to ride a little innertube down a shute and onto the boat. I thought I could just walk down and hop on, but it was a rule and regulation to use the shute. The fat woman had to use a special thing to slide on, but she was used to it. The girl we were traveling with, Rose, was too scared to go and we missed our barge.
Later on, back in Eugene, we were at a big party at someone older's house. It was a wild time and mixed crowd, and my mom was supposedly out of town so I thought I might take some woman home and get myself laid. I got a lot of phone numbers but no names -- entries like "The table from texas" all though my cellphone -- and in truth the women were not all that attractive. My friend Luke and I were planning to drive to the coast because tomorrow was supposed to be beautiful. We were going with Asia Nugent, but the party went long and we all got drunk and it became questionable if we would go. Who would drive? Where would we stay?
The party started breaking up (the host pissed about the mess and demanding money for cleaning from just-arriving guests) and my mom showed up with my sister and grandma so I went home. In the end, Luke's plan was to head the the coast late and sleep in the car, catch the sunrise; I called him and backed out because I didn't want to spend an uncomfortable night. For some reason I then felt this was the wrong choice, decided that "fuck it, I should go." I tried to call Luke back but instead got his itinerant step-mother, angry at being woken up. I couldn't find Asia Nugent's number amid all the nonsensical entries from the party. Must have left it in my other phone.
So I was headed back to New York in a plane, an open cargo plane with lots of couches and pillows. I saw the hippie girl again and we started talking about how weird it was that we saw each other. I had a huge pepermint candy that two whitefaced surrealist teenagers had given me while I was biking to the airport. They'd had a sign, "The Exquisite Corpse invites you to a party for Art and for Life!" I asked if there would be new wine, but they didn't understand. Somehow I ended up with a pepermint ball too big to fit all in my mouth at once. I shared shards of mint and chatted up the girl, who was clothed only in a very long scarf strategically wrapped around herself many times over. This was sexy. There was momentary tension with one of her earthy dudes, but she was in charge so they left us alone. A few other ladies came up who I also knew of somehow, perhaps representing different femme architypes (one was a bit of a hipster(?) and the other a girl-geek), and we talked about a lot of things. It became apparent they all read my website and I started to get nervous. Then the alarm. What would Freud say?
December 5th, 2002
Biking in the snow on a newly trued wheel is turning out to be something of an adventure. The slick tire with it's recessed groove hugs the road in rainy conditions, but snow utterly confounds the design. Making my way up the chute on the Brooklyn side of the W-berg bridge I had to downshift and pedal with less force to avoid literally spinning my wheels. When the snow is still thick it's only the hard-core and the hard-up who pedal the streets: professionals in windbreaking gear and neon helmets, messengers trying to make the best time possible and poor delivery guys just trying to make it period. I'm a tourist in the bike world, and enthusiast, so it's all winter wonderland fun for me. I can go slower, laugh at my ability to skid, duck snowballs from local teens and generaly just cruse around. That's luxury.
October 30th, 2002
The weather is really turning now. Last night I was lazily pumping east in midtown after seeing my friend Beckey's comedy show, when I was hit full force by a NYC skyscraper-wind-tunnel gust bearing a liberal helping of frozen rain. It's marginally better than a downpour, but it stings like heck. The funny thing was, I thought it was somehow related to Rockafeller center, since they just opened the ice skating rink there. No such luck: blasted with wind and slivers of ice on my arc over the river and the rest of the the way home. This is the time of year when you stop seeing recreational bikers on the streets and it's all hardcore: messengers, pros and true believers. I aught to get some maintenance work done for the winter (brakes, wheels, crossbar, bearings) but with The Mouse That Roared demanding my cash, I'll have to scrimp.
October 4th, 2002
Revolution and Flashback
On my way back from South Brooklyn and a Quick Fix rehearsal, I got hit with a lot of things. I stopped off at Suzanne and Steve's house to meet with Suzanne and our stage manager JD about tech problems with the upcoming gigs. They live in a really nice neighborhood called Cobble Hill, all tall trees and pretty brownstones and cleanly adult bohemia. I've been there before and every time I show up it makes me want to leap forward about 8 years in my life story and be settling down to make babies, to be a father and a success.
Then on the way home I was enjoying the autumn air and my music and I got a little turned around. I don't really have a set route for making the north-south Brooklyn traverse. I just head in the right general direction and take whatever streets seem advantageous. So I get a little off my normal course, then find Bedford way down, decide that should carry me home. I notice I'm starting to pedal pretty fast without any effort, and that my legs and face are tingling. It's not until I hit the Hassidic neighborhood that I realize I'm having an acid flashback. I've written LSD-influenced accounts of things that have happened to me before, but never really experienced an honest-to-god flashback before. At first it was frightening, being in the middle of a Hassidim traffic jam on my bike, but once I realized what was up I just relaxed and enjoyed the ride, pedaling through the industrial diversity of Brooklyn. Whitebread Williamsburg seemed pale and lifeless on a Sunday night in comparison to the towering decay of southside or the modern utopia of downtown.
September 21st, 2002
It's a divine time to be a bike rider. The crushing heat has gone but the cold and rain have yet to set in and go about making us hard and mean-faced, so it's all sun-dappled and fancy free, feeling the big wheel humming behind me. Lately there have been an excess of magnificent sunsets and fortuitous tailwinds. Just yesterday in fact I hit a marvelous quicksilver streak cranking off the green light at 1st and 1st on my way to 23rd street. Kept pace with traffic and the timed green lights the whole way, 23 blocks in about 2 and a half minutes and I wasn't even exhausted at the end of it. Makes me think I need to invest in some new gear parts (and a helmet) so I can drop the chain onto a hellafied big ring and simply purely proj. The thrill of speed, my friends, the thrill of speed.
August 30th, 2002
What is the fucking right thing to do?
So I'm riding home tonight, minding my own business, listening to music and enjoying the speed of my new rear wheel+slick tire. I get to the Williamsbug bridge and as I'm riding up on the Manhattan side, where the footpath is still wood slats, I notice some shit is going down. There's a teenage domestic dispute happening it seems. I slow down and as I pass I see this girl, this young girl, is crying and looking at me like, "help me." And is looks like it's going to get ugly and abusive so I stop and turn, witnessing. The guy, a teenage guy with a football jersey and a BMX bike, he's pushing her around and yelling. Then he notices me watching, and rides up, pissed, wanting to know what the fuck I'm doing looking at him like I know him. I say, "hey, I don't know you, I don't know the situation, but you don't need to be like that when your girl is crying." He threatens to cut me, so I ride.
Up on the concrete section of the bridge I pass an NYPD on foot patrol. The walk to bridge fairly often, mostly to prevent grafitti. So I tell him what happens, hoping that maybe this will mean that girl doesn't get hurt. He pulls out a notebook, full of little entries. Starts making another. Asks, "so was this guy Black or white or what?"
That kind of made me feel bad about everything. The cop's not about to help the situation, not about to teach the kid why it's wrong to threaten his girlfriend with violence. It's just going to be the same old story of a white cop hassling a minority kid, and that's fucking that. What was the right move? How do you fucking do the right thing in a situation like that?
August 23rd, 2002
More power! My old rear wheel was out of true and severely dented in places so I bit the fiscal bullet and sprung for a new one: thinner, lighter, aluminum. I also invested about as much in a city slick tire. The difference in speed is stupendous. Can't wait until my next payday so I can work the same trick on the front wheel. Reading about bike messengers is giving me the urge to strip the old beast down, drop the front derailer like Frank did and get deeper into the power-curve.
With the end of crushing summer heat and at least a few months until the cold sets in it's going to be prime time for biking. I was talking with my housemates about getting some hooks for our hallway to hang our rigs from, make the pad a legitimate bike enclave.
July 31st, 2002
Long time in passing, eh? I saw a lot of new grafitti on the Williamsburg bridge, a lot of fresh stuff. I like the bridge grafitti, it livens up the trip quite a bit. The best ever was early this spring for a few days on all the steel I-beams along the footpath someone spraypainted bright bursting flowers. They painted over them after less than a week, which was a shame. But it was nice while it lasted.
Lately I'm thinking of upgrading the wheels. I need a new rear-wheel, a gear re-calibration and maybe a pair of city-slicks. It would be nice to swing into fall hellbent for leather on a new block-rockin' machine. We'll see how the finances shape up over the month.
June 17th, 2002
All is right in the cosmos: I saw bikeman on my way home from the gym. I'd been a little worried about his whereabouts as I hadn't seen him since October. I know he goes somewhere else for the winter. Where, I don't know. I assume he's homeless, but he always returns when the warm weather brings out the bikers. My interactions with him last summer eventually inspired me to write one of my better performance pieces. I remember the first time I met him. I'd just broken my axle on the bridge and I was running late to get to a job. Here's this crazy looking old man on 10th St and A with bikes spread out across two parking spots. Seemed like my best chance to get to work relatively on-time. He replaced my wheel with a spare, told me he'd fix mine and give me a call. I paid him $30 and bought him a coffee and a big bottle of water. Instead of putting my name on the paper with my phone number, he wrote "Axle Springwater." Said that's how he'd remember. Good to have him back.
May 20th, 2002
Coming back from White Plains banging our stuff out with Peter, I had to borrow a promotional Gerber (baby food) hoodie because it was cold as all fuck. I fell asleep on the train, but then I got some good music/bike synchronization on the ride home. Coming up on the 59th Street Bridge, I saw a group of grizzled messangers, two rastas and a hippie, sharing a spliff right where the incline starts to level off and there's a big pylon that obscures you from traffic. I gave them the nod and a peace sign as I projed on. On the way through Long Island City towards the canal and my lovely Greenpoint, I realized that I've been passing Queensbridge Correctional Facility (prison) every time I take this route. Funny in NYC how they hide the jails. For instance, the downtown correctional facility looks almost like any other highrise, and they put a bunch of information on the subway map where Riker's Island is so people don't realize it's right under the Triboro bridge. Prison policy. Strage stuff.
April 14th, 2002
Man that was some emo shit I had there before...
Anyway, I did a little bike tour of Brooklyn Bohemia this afternoon. It was a humid warm afternoon, the cloudsd rolling in and trapping the heat of the day. Brooklyn was in a weird way. I traveled down further into Greenpoint, where the G train runs. Old polish bums have lots of beard, the eyes of maligned hunters. They're frightening because they're obviously homeless, but without that defeated air that accompanies most street people. Then I toured some of the industrial wreckage along the water front. At one place there was a group of demented-looking (walleyed and shambling) african americans working some sort of salvage: breaking down wood and other stuff from a large construction dumpster and loading it into a truck. I rounded the corner and followed the river south to the Naval yard, where I cought the beginnings of a marvelous sunset, looked like the whole city was on fire. Then I explored area looking for potential lofts. I passed a really neat little street where Bambini Art is. I'm always seeing their roof sign from the bridge, but I'd never been down there on the ground. It was a taste of real bohemia: older women having a picknick on their stoop with Carlo Rossi jug wine and a variety of cheeses. Then I swung up to Bedford and crused back home that way to look at all the pretty girls with money.
March 20th, 2002
Speed has always been my favorite drug. Not amphetamine, but velocity. There's something that happens when you get up a certain momentum where everything non-essential falls away, and you're blissfully there, hurtling through moment, fully engaged, godlike angelic and deeply in touch with the universe. I've recently been making repairs to the bike and I now have good breaks and good gears, so I really let it rip on the way home tonight, pounding the pedals across the straigt-aways and stomping on the downward stretch of the bridge. At a certain speed, close to terminal velocity, the cold wind pounding my face forces tears from my eyes, slowly evaporating as they're pushed over my cheek and down my neck, where they mingle with my perspiration. As an actor I am confidant in my ability to perform the action of weeping, but as a human being this is the one and only way I know how to cry.
March 10th, 2002
Pedaled down to Christina's new place in Sunset Park, rambling down through the dead industreal heart of Brooklyn, past the projects on Dekalb avenue, through the Pratt school area and along Prospect park until finally I reached her hood. Felt like Bob Seegar when I got there: "against the wind" and all. It was 25 mph gusts in my face all the way. At least the return route I had some of the wind at my back, this time skirting the Naval Yard and plowing through the quiet, almost suburban hasiddic neighborhoods on Kent ave south of the Williamsburg Bridge. Great fucking town, Brooklyn.
Feb 19th, 2002
Bike trip over the 59th street bridge to Grand Central on my way to work with Peter in White Plains. It's a very different journey than the Williamsburg Bridge. Instead of traveling early morning through sleepy-eyed bohemia, I rocket through a surging truck-clogged industria of Long Island City, where the subway, Amtrak, LIRR, the LIE/Midtown Tunnel all tangle. It's a but more riskey of a ride, and not quite as pretty (though interesting in its own way), but the whole trip is about 10 minutes quicker as I get to Manhattan 20 blocks from Grand Central as opposed to 50 or 60. Here's a photo gallery.
Feb 10th, 2002
Mark and Luke and I had to leave the bar where everything was warm and going well (we'd just about commandeered all the tables from Eugeneian hipsters and nighthawking yuppies) and drive up to Salem to get Gabby (The Quick Fix's Company Manager) because Northwest Airlines wouldn't let her join our flight group during our PDX layover. So her friends drove her down and we met half way at an abandoned commercial fueling station. On the way back down we stopped for gas and coffee. "You wanna Irish that up a bit?" Sure thing, buddypal.
Jan 24th, 2002
Hassled by some white-collar meatheads on my ride home tonight. They ran out at me on Essex street, a group of 4 kahki pants guys who'd probably been drinking trendy... the pudgy ringleader yelling "can I get on?" It was the way he said it that pissed me off, so I gave him the finger like a good New Yorker. They said some stuff, so I leaned around, having already passed them, and yelled, "You wanna fuckin' go?" They didn't respond, but boarded their minivan. Minutes later, as I was ascending the first flight of steps on the Williamsburg Bridge they were pulled up at the intersection below, honking their minivan horn, saying, "we know where you live." I was close to dropping my bike, unhooking my u-lock and breaking some teeth. I'm sure they have dental. But I didn't really want to hurt anyone or be hurt, or arrested for that matter, so I swallowed my pride and walked on. Sweet Greenpoint smeels like baking bread. Good to be home.
Jan 19th, 2002
Early mornining ramble through the fields of lonesome town. As the evening marches on the venues become more and more tempestuous, and the standards of what you're looking for gradually diminish until it's bare bones blue-light special time: just looking for a simple organic space heater to keep the frost off the windows of my soul. People meet this way. Do they fall in love?
Jan 18th, 2002
Took McGuiness Car service from JFK on return leg with sister. Then took it again to get her to Amtrak. Got the same driver both times: friendly Slovakian guy (gave us chocolate). Both his sons are doctors back in Slovokia, he's working in Brooklyn to support them. Living the dream.
Jan 2nd, 2002
Bungled supposed train ride down from Portland to Eugene: some yahoos up the track in Washington trove a pickup onto the tracks. The 9pm train turns into the 12am bus, and conversation happens (mostly about life and drugs) with people I would never have otherwise interacted with. Everyone has a story.
Dec 14th, 2001 (belated)
Taking my bike back across the river at 3am on my way to finalize packing in prepartion for the return home. It was very empty (deserted), but I had good music and good feelings. Damn if good music can't make you feel like you can do anything. Flying across the country: much the same as I remembered it.
Dec 10th, 2001
A lot of broken 40s on the way back. This kind of goes with the territory, but it's a pain when you run over one. You hear the crunch, and then wait to see if you tire starts to give that rhythmic slackening that indicates it's going flat. I made it this time. Funny how now I think this is stupid, but when I was drunk and 17 there was nothing finer than breaking glass. "Burling" we called it.
Dec 9th, 2001
This morning, I saw a bunch of lime wedges on the bridge. As if someone had been having a tequilla party in the rain last night. No sight of salt or liquor bottles though... they were spread out over a pretty good span of the footpath. In the afternoon, I cought a fantastic sunset at about 4:25pm. The sun dipping below the Manhattan bridge and into some clouds. Ra must love me
Dec 8th, 2001
Really rough trip home in the rain. Converse soaked through, feet and hands going numb, brakes barely functioning. It's getting into that bitter cold season, where biking becomes a real adventure. I'm not too old for this yet, am I?