Sunday, May 2, 2010

Start Spreadin' the News..

Welcome to Sunday. A day for taking life at a leisurely pace. Whether you’re puttering around the house, roaming around outdoors, working on your yard, working at your job, making love, going to your favorite place of worship, or just staying at home.. uhh.. something else, I wish you a leisurely day.

If you’re finding this page from my comments over at BikeSnobNYC’s blog (buy his book!), I thank you. I’ve been following his writings for years now, and it fascinates me to hear what cycling is like in another town, moreover, in New York City. Yeah, I hate to admit it, but like many people, I’m awed by the Big Apple. I want to take a minute to let you know a few of the things that stand out to me about New York cycling, as opposed to what it’s like here.

But first, I have to give you a little background. I actually lived in upstate New York as a small child, and remember the first time I really ‘saw’ New York, the city. It blew my little mind. It was like I didn’t know what the night sky was, until I had seen it lighted the way that only NYC can.

My next solid memory of a location outside my small neighborhood, though, was of Newark, New Jersey. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I remember it because it’s my first memory of puking my guts out. And I didn’t just vomit, I threw-up so bad, that it made other members of my family sick too. Since I was so young, I didn’t have any opinions about the state of New Jersey at the time. I can say that I’ve had difficulty keeping an open mind ever since. Not that I’m trying to espouse an opinion common in pop culture, but I’ll just say that I understand.

(It’s important to note that my experiences in the tri-state area were during the American Medieval Period. Mead was still popular then. In fact, I think it was before the invention of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Not that I was allowed to drink either of those beverages as a child, of course. My parents made sure that I was raised on proper Scotch.)

Fast forward to the modern world. A close friend of mine in Seattle was offered a job in Midtown Manhattan that included an all-expenses-paid apartment in Jersey City. Of course, the job eventually ended, and she ended up in a roach-infested unit (do they call it a ‘flat’ there?) in Newark. Sigh. But, I finally had a good excuse to finally get back to New York.

I made the sojourn from Seattle to Newark in 2004. There’s actually a non-stop flight from here, one of the few east coast cities, we can fly to non-stop. I’m not sure how that worked out; I love to fly, but hate the airline industry. To her credit, my friend showed me that it is possible to spend more than a few minutes in Newark without falling ill. This was a big highlight of the trip for me. (I confess, I’m still leery, of it, though.) The other highlight of the trip was getting to just walk Manhattan.

I have to offer a point of reference here, that it was Fourth of July weekend, 2004, and we spent part of a day, watching the newly released (at the time) Michael Moore film, Fahrenheit 911. Say what you want about the director or the film, but I couldn’t go back to my neighborhood in Seattle with its, “Impeach Bush” flyers everywhere, without having seen this film. Everybody saw it that weekend. I gained extra credit for seeing it in Midtown, and on the 4th of July.

So, yeah, we ventured around the city like the kind of tourists that everyone hates. Seattle has a thriving cruise industry, so we get a regular batch of tourists here, too. Our tourists have a ‘season’ though, sort of like deer, in Michigan, but it’s not okay to shoot them. When tourists get realllly annoying, like taking up the entire bike path walking, when the sidewalk is right next to it, I try to breathe deep and remember that they are visiting my city, that I love so much, and that being an asshole to them will not instill my sentiment of appreciation.

By turns, when I was visiting New York, I tried hard (really) to be respectful of the residents, and not just stand in the middle of the sidewalk and gawk. New York is a busy place with lots of stuff going on all the time, that in some cases, I admit, are more important to the US economy than the stuff that I deal with on a regular basis. They have shit to do. But please forgive me, New Yorkers, your city just has a lot of cool and crazy shit to see. It was painfully hard not to stop and stare.

As a cyclist, I made particular note of the cycling conditions, as we were strolling around. I happen to enjoy, what some people call, “Urban Cycling”, and what other people call, “Riding in the Street”. In addition to sites and smells of the city, I was actually looking for riders that might be in the process of commuting to, from, or even during, work. The city is so flat, it made me wonder why anyone had a car at all. And I don’t just mean flat; I mean ff-ff-ff-ff-ff-fflaaaaattt!! It’s like Florida, but with less vegetation, and taller buildings.

But looking around, I was glad that I’m a Seattle Commuter, and that I don’t have to suffer the indignities of riding in New York. First off, the roads (at the time) sucked. There were potholes so cavernous that homeless people had set up makeshift man-caves in some of them. I think I remember a bike lane on one of the streets we cruised, but I also remember it was about as appealing as a filth-laden divebar on the outskirts of town, where only the grittiest folk dared go. To read BikeSnob refer to this as his ‘comfy chair’, a couple years later, made me sad for your city. (Sounds like it’s changing though.)

And. There was yet another terrorist threat in the city this weekend. Why? What’s the point, terrorists? Making a terror threat in New York is like littering. It happens a lot, doesn’t offer your situation any value, and confirms you are a complete douche. But maybe the threat of terror is not an impediment to cycling. Maybe it’s more of another excuse to keep a bike with you at all times.

So that as background, I've always thought of Seattle as New York City's little sister. A little less sophisticated, a little less disciplined, and according to some, a little cuter, too. Seattle has bike lanes in the downtown area, and like any downtown, they get obstructed by rude drivers, impatient delivery vans and poorly constructed scaffolding. But in Seattle, our downtown is not actually very big. It’s hemmed in by water on one side and the freeway on the other. It doesn’t actually take more than about five or ten minutes of riding before you get to one of the several bike paths in the city.

If New York’s bike lanes are like easy chairs, Seattle’s bike paths are like oral sex. Yeah. Our pedestrian paths are used predominantly by other riders, rather than the mixed-use pedestrians for which they were commissioned. I know that I’ve seen a mixed-use pedestrian, and sometimes they can be difficult to navigate around. Further, the routes are typically wide enough to ride two-abreast in two directions, though they’re curvy enough that it’s considered bad form to actually do so.

The only ‘filth’ these biking superhighways generally contain is from the trees. Don’t get me wrong, though. Our trees are rather messy and disrespectful of the cycling community. During the fall and winter rains, when trees fall, it’s either on somebody’s roof, or directly over or the bike trails. They never just fall in the forest unheard. The municipalities always take care this pretty quickly, though. And, they actually maintain the surface integrity of these paths, too.

The one thing Seattle riding is not, is flat. In fact, everything in the region is either a hill or a lake. Fixed-gear bikes, by turns, are not very popular in most of our neighborhoods. (Yet more evidence, that we have to establish our own fashion trends, rather than follow someone else’s. Therefore, we will always be dorks somehow.) As a community, we don’t just map out the safest, most fun, or fastest routes around the area, we also have a tendency to offer up the flattest, as an option as well. Nor do we have an effective transportation system, such that if you have a catastrophic failure, you can’t just pop over to a subway or train system. We have a bus system, but some buses only arrive once an hour or so. We’re still working on that.

Okay, so I’m not trying to say one city is better than the other. I just want to offer up why they’re different. Whether you ride in an easy chair, or enjoy it with virtual oral sex, be sure to get out and have fun.

Like a lot of people, I have stuff I have to do this week. So, I will see you again next weekend.

Ride safe! I love you all.

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