So I was out worshiping at the church of the silver bicycle yesterday, zooming through the city, weaving in and out of traffic, screaming profanities (bike rage), fighting for space when having to cross a six lane turn from the token bike lane and in general, revealing that I learned how to ride a bicycle in NYC.
Riding the bicycle has both become like driving a car to me (and is used as such) and also, a great big blast of tension relief.
Helmeted and with all the proper lights flashing I zipped around the city doing my thing and keeping my appointments. Yesterday’s run was about 15 miles long; short, but not when you have to deal with hills and traffic and get it all done (stops and starts and meetings) within 2 hours.
My GPS (don’t laugh) thinks it is on another planet. I have it on my cell phone and wear ear phones while riding so I can hear the lady. She no longer frightens me. I almost fell off the bike the first time she jumped up in my head and said “Turn left 20 feet.” She told me to turn twice where there was no road, just a building.
It wasn’t until I got to the main stop on my schedule that I noticed she had been quiet for a bit and I was winging it from memory. The roads had gotten so bad I began to wish I had a mouth guard in and wonder if my rims were getting bent from all the rough pavement. I finally stopped, about where I thought I should be, and locked the bike to a post and turned around and took one step away and…
…promptly slipped on a banana peel and crashed to the ground. Good thing I was wearing my helmet.
So there I sat, on a pile of wet leaves on the sidewalk, looking at the nasty, rotting banana peel that was mocking me from the bottom of my shoe and I decided that the only thing to do in that moment was to take out my pipe and have a smoke. It is winter, ergo, the switch to tea and pipe. However, I have finally found a pipe tobacco that I like. Not just that I like but I have never before been stopped so much by strangers asking what it is because they love the smell.
So there I sat, keister becoming increasing cold and damp, smoke rising, just sitting and catching my breath when a minivan that sounded like it was ready to explode pulled up and the smallest woman I have ever seen got out.
She asked if I was ok.
I asked after the address I was looking for and she said she thought it was the building I had fallen in front of, but there was no sign, no number, just lots of gates and cameras and intercoms.
I got up and towered over her and then she looked at me and asked what I was doing there, was I not afraid to be alone.
And I said, “It’s my city too.”
And she broke into a huge, silver toothed smile and patted my arm and said “Good, it is mine too.” And we parted ways.
You see, that area of the city is the area that no one much talks about here. In the 80s and 90s, it was often described as being similar in appearance to Beirut after it had been bombed. It was over run with gangs, drugs, all sorts of ills and extremes of poverty. Fires in the streets fueled by mattresses and cars were common. Places that you swore were condemned housed whole generations of families.
Has much changed? There are pockets where people are attempting to buy, rehab and gentrify the area. But they are few and far between. In the great rush of the 90s, this section of the city withstood the attempts of investors to get a cheap deal. Mostly because as the poor were pushed out of other areas of the city, this place was sort of the — unspoken area that was left to them.
Where I live, in my cave, is up on what is known as the “East Side.” Roads are taken care of, we have new walking patrols, bus shelters are being replaced, large potted plants occasionally appear in neighborhoods. And the latest thing, the trees on the sides of the street are being caged with fresh wood and wire to help them survive the winter has sent me into fantasies of urban theft as the wood wired round…one tree, maybe two freed of its bondage would afford me the walls I need to insulate the cave.
Every time I move back here and am looking for an affordable place to live I have friends jump up and down and “forbid” me from looking for apartments here and they cringe now, as my life grows and expands, that my work is beginning to take me more and more into these areas.
But, if you are going to work to address needs of cities and the people within them, you have to do it everywhere. Not just where there are street lights and not just were there may be no fear.
They call downtown, “Down City.” This area, I think, has been secretly dubbed, “Deep City,” and left out of most people’s considerations when they think in terms of the future and well-being of the whole. It is written off.
I am reminded of it every time I go. I am reminded of how easy it is to remain in one’s comfort zone and forget that the first step in unifying life is to participate in it. I live in a city, I happen to have a living situation in one area. But, I have to remind myself not to mistake that small neighborhood for the all.
Like thinking your body is only in your face or the shape of your stomach. Its in your toes and back and fingers and elbows as well.
ok, rain rain rain today which means kittens and coffee for me. Fortunately she is tucked in her nest and won’t surface for entertainment until afternoon.
c.2010. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.