Climbing the 21 Hairpins of BureaucracyCorrespondence Friends Monthly highlights Urban Cycling Stories
Fundamentally there are two kinds of cycling. There's the escapist kind where you head out into the countryside in pursuit of some contrived goal, like covering a formidable distance or climbing a looming mountain. Then there's the realist kind where you bravely point your bike towards the heart of the city, and instead of doing battle with the landscape and the elements you confront traffic and potholes and the very forces of bureaucracy itself. While the former may inform the bulk of stylized Internet cycling narratives it's the latter style of cycling which truly tests both the mind and body of the cyclist, and is the stuff of which true "epics" and champions are made.
I am one of those champions, and this is the tale of one such "epic."
All great rides start with a challenge, and mine was perhaps the greatest challenge of all: to get money back from the City of New York. This is a near-impossibility, and it makes climbing the Tourmalet on a fixie look like, well, riding around Brooklyn on a fixie. Nevertheless, having already filled out various online forms, I resolved to visit the actual offices of a city agency in search of restitution.
This would be no doddle, and equipment selection was crucial, so after much deliberation this was the bike I chose:
This is my travel bike, which is at least one size too small and spends most of its life being mistreated by baggage handlers. The robust steel frame would not complain about being locked up outside for an indeterminate amount of time, and the ass-assuaging properties of the Brooks saddle would offer me much-needed succor after the city thoroughly demoralized me:
My route would take me from the northern reaches of the Bronx to the borough's southern precincts, and as I rode through the park I lamented that I was not able to spend this dog day afternoon cooling off in the pool:
Or quietly contemplating the impressionist landscape:
Instead, I resisted temptation and bravely pressed on through the pounding of construction:
And past the reservoir, obscured by summer foliage:
Area residents want access to this reservoir, which has been closed off to the public for quite some time owing to government fears that terrorists might pee in it, thus contaminating New York City's water supply and ultimately bringing America to its knees. There is, however, this fitness trail:
After reading the thirteen (13) rules for using it I was far too exhausted to even contemplate working out, though I did inspect the apparatus:
I just assumed these were turntables and this was part of some hip-hop fitness craze, but apparently they're "2-Person Tai-Chi Spinners:"
Looks strenuous. Good thing the parks department laid out those thirteen (13) rules so people don't overexert themselves while turning discs slowly.
Speaking of physical activity, here's the Kingsbridge Armory:
Which will supposedly be transformed from the world's largest armory into the world's largest ice center:
At which point there will finally be an appropriate venue in which I can present "The Bike Snob NYC Holiday Ice Spectacular!" to the world. (Tagline: "200 Ice Bikes, 500 Trained Penguins, One Magical Night!")
Of course, as is the case with any disused urban structure, there was also a push to turn it into a velodrome:
Remember that brief period in the wake of the fixie craze when naive track racing enthusiasts figured they could use all that momentum to build velodromes? That was cute. Of course, as it turns out, nobody's interested in velodromes anymore and those fickle millennials would rather race their track bikes on the street.
Not sure how they feel about ice skating though.
In any case, the armory is truly massive, and this is as close as you'll get to visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi without leaving New York City:
Moving on from formidable structures to diminutive ones, a short while later I came to this intersection, where you'll note a little white cottage in the distance:
This is the former residence of Edgar Allan Poe:
This was very much a rural area at the time, but the clean country air was not enough to cure Poe's wife Virginia of the tuberculosis that ultimately killed her. In fact, she died right there in the first floor bedroom:
There are usually one or two nerds on bikes ogling Poe Cottage, though I couldn't help noticing there were none today, at which point I realized that today the nerd on the bike was me. As I stood there, I tried to see the cottage as it must have been while Poe lived there:
Here's the walkway he would have used when returning from the Duane Reade with a tube of Tuberculosis-B-Gone:
Here's his flagpole:
And here's where he would have parked his Kia Sorento:
Sufficiently inspired, I turned onto the Grand Concourse:
Where there were ample opportunities to cool off:
And where the colors were especially vibrant in the midday sun:
The Bronx of course is the "birthplace of hip-hop," and this mural honors the man credited as its inventor:
Though some notable rhymers beg to differ:
("If my poem 'The Bells' wasn't the first rap then I'll eat crow. Or raven. Same difference.")
It's a little-known fact that Virginia used to accompany Poe on the bongos when she wasn't too busy coughing up blood.
The Grand Concourse is indeed grand in its conception, and it was a developed as a place to which the upwardly mobile would aspire. This is reflected in the predominant architecture styles. There's Tudor:
And Art Deco:
And giant buildings with urns on them:
You knew you made it when you lived in a building with an urn on it, and this former luxury hotel is at least a ten-urner, making it nothing to sneeze at indeed.
Here's the Bronx Cube of Eventual Justice:
With Yankee Stadium visible in the distance:
Though I have absolutely no interest in the Yankees or baseball in general outside of the context of "Seinfeld" plots.
This portion of the Grand Concourse also features "The Bronx Walk of Fame," which splits the difference pretty evenly between hip-hop legends and old Jews. Luminaries include Stanley Kubrick:
And of course Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the Rock Steady Crew:
Their collaboration was brief yet incredibly fruitful.
My own paternal grandparents also lived nearby for a time, though I don't know the exact address, so I can't confirm their urn status.
Moving off the Concourse the streets become more intimate and neighborhoody:
There was lots of activity in this lush community garden:
As well as the image of the Virgin Mary on what appears to be a composting toilet:
Finally, I arrived at the city agency and locked up my bike:
Then waited for my number to come up:
I was enjoying the air conditioning until the TV news reminded me that the area is currently in the grip of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that originated in building cooling towers.
Soon, my number was called. As for the reason I was here in the first place, I won't trouble you with the details, but just imagine the city said that everybody who's a human being is entitled to money. "Great!," you'd say. "I'm a human being. Thanks, New York City!" Now, imagine that when it's time to get paid the city tells you that no, you're not getting your money because you're not a human being at all. In fact, you're a puffin.
That's basically what we're dealing with here.
Anyway, I approached the window, where I strained to hear the woman behind it through the bulletproof glass. Basically, the transaction went like this:
"The city says I'm a puffin."
"Well I think it's pretty clear that I'm not."
"Have you ever been a puffin?"
"No, I don't think that's even possible. And who likes puffins anyway? You skip right past them at the zoo on the way to the penguins. They're the egg bagel of black and white waterfowl."
She appeared to commiserate, and then typed on her computer for a very long time. With every decisive keystroke I imagined she was hacking through all that red tape and ending my problem once and for all. Finally, she finished and turned her monitor towards me for my approval, at which point I saw she'd filled in the exact same online form I'd already submitted from home days ago.
It was like going all the way to a famous bookstore in search of a rare title, only for them to just order it for you on Amazon.
Clearly I could have just skipped this visit and headed off into the countryside for a ride instead, but it was too late now. Therefore, in order to salvage the afternoon, I figured while I was in the neighborhood I'd stop by the Bronx Documentary Center:
Where I'd been meaning to check out this exhibition about altered news photographs and journalistic integrity:
Though not only had I missed the exhibition by three days, but the Bronx Documentary Center itself wasn't even open that day:
Here's a journalistic photo of the reflection of a semi-professional bike blogger who's failed twice in one day:
Fortunately, no day is a complete failure when you're on a bike, since the ride is your consolation prize:
So I headed up to the newly-opened High Bridge:
And rode over to the Manhattan side in order to tack on a few gratuitous miles:
Pausing once to admire the skyline:
And again to gloat over all the schnooks stuck in traffic on the way back to New Jersey:
From there it's mostly bike paths to home:
Though you do have to run the gauntlet of the infamous Mufflers gang along the way:
He's smiling because he just beat the crap out of this fire hydrant:
That's a shame. Violence is no way to get respect. You've got to urn it.