I’m not precious about possessions, but it still saddened me to behold my poor bike, locked away in my friend’s studio for the last year. The cable for the front brakes is kinked and loose; the rear brake is gone (victim of an attempted theft). The crank isn’t quite true (victim of an accident with a truck door) and the original seat (victim of a successful theft) has been replaced by a cheapie that’s comfortable like a park bench.
But despite being in dry dock for 12 months, my old Specialized hasn’t deteriorated too badly. The tires were deflated and a little cracked, but they weren’t flat. A few minutes after wrestling open the reluctant Kryptonite, I was at a nearby gas station watching the tires take and hold fresh air. A few minutes after that, I was searching for the entrance to the new Williamsburg Bridge walkway.
On Saturday afternoon, I rekindled my love for this city. I’d been feeling locked up and locked down since coming back–staying in the same neighborhood that I left a year ago, going to the same bars, taking the same route to work each morning, recalling the same memories.
The bike ride was just what I needed. Some exercise, some fresh air. Over the bridge, up to midtown, down the west side. Somewhere along the way, my left pedal succumbed to damage it had suffered in the truck-door accident. I was downtown when it fell off, so I went to Bicycle Habitat. I’ve gone to the Lafayette St. bike shop a couple times over the years, but the place always struck me as haughty in that weird bike-messenger way. You know what I mean: There’s a peculiar arrogance to hardcore bikers, as if they’re uniquely tough enough to brave the streets and save the world from the internal combustion engine. Bicycle Habitat always stank of that self-congratulation.
On Saturday, though, I was treated to friendly service, so I ended up spending a few more dollars than I’d figured on. The counter chick borrowed a wrench from the shop monkey and helped me swap the pedals, and I was back on the road in a few minutes.
Back on the road, riding through the neighborhood I called my own, back before the divorce.
For five years I lived in what’s now called Nolita. Mulberry St. between Prince and Spring was one of the safest blocks in the city because the Ravenite was still open. Though the glory days were over–Gotti was in jail, operations had moved elsewhere–the fat man still sat out front on his folding chair. We had a second-floor, street-facing railroad apartment that afforded us a line of sight into the plain, brick-faced club, which probably explained the uncomfortably close scrutiny we’d endured during the broker interview.
In the light drizzle, I rode through the old neighborhood, noting the boutique that replaced the Ravenite, the apartment complex that replaced the parking garage and the "East Soho" shitshops that replaced just about everything else that once made that block such a great place to live. I thought of my friend Harry who claimed to have sold paints to Keith Haring and Frank Stella from his previous store on W. Broadway. Harry, who let me store cases of my zine in his basement, whose wife foisted a stray kitten upon us that grew into a freaky cat that now lives with a friend of a friend in Philadelphia.
I had a pint at the Spring Lounge, which hasn’t changed much since it changed so drastically in 1997. On my way out of the neighborhood, I stopped at my old building and was surprised to see that our names are still on the buzzer. The last I heard, she’d moved out to Brooklyn with her new fiance, and yet our surnames–mine, her maiden–remain there, handwritten, on a torn piece of Avery mailing label.
For the way back over the bridge, with the drizzle turning into a proper rain, I put on Tarwater’s Dwellers on the Threshold. Wearing headphones while biking through the city isn’t smart, I know, but they’re cheap things that couldn’t overpower the outside world on full volume. And anyway, Tarwater isn’t drown-out-the-traffic kind of music. Rather, it’s understated, somber at times, the perfect soundtrack for that gray, wet crossing.
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