Tag Archives: ride

My bike

Something like three or four years ago, I had a bike stolen in the city. I was always really good about chaining it up to wherever I chained it up to, I had a U shaped lock that went around the frame, and then I wrapped a flexible chord lock around the two wheels. Other than this one time where I came outside one day to find my seat missing, I never really had any sort of theft problems.


But then one day I rode my bike to work. By the time I left the building at around  six in the afternoon, it was pouring rain. And I mean, I’ll ride in a little rain, I live close to work, I have rain pants, it’s doable. But this day wasn’t doable. It was really coming down. I thought about it, I thought, should I take the bike down on the subway with me? I’ve done that before. It’s not that easy, but you’re allowed to, like, there’s no rules against it like there is on the PATH train or the Long Island Railroad.

But it’s a huge pain in the ass. You’ve got to carry your bicycle down a flight of stairs, and then you’ve got to put it down somewhere while you get your Metrocard out. After that it’s more stairs, and then you’re waiting on the platform, you and a giant bike, all while everybody else in the city is just trying to get home, just them and a bag, usually, not a lot of other bikes.

And think about it, it’s pouring rain, so everybody’s making a rush to the subway, there aren’t any cabs available, the system’s running a lot slower because of water leaking into the tunnels, because of people crowding the cars. That’s another thing, I’ll be waiting with my bike and a full train will roll into the station. If I were by myself, sure, I could push myself in there. But with a bike? It’s not happening. And everybody’s just getting more and more pissed at me, throwing a wrench into the system, making it hard for people just to walk around me.

I thought about it, I said, you know what? I’ll just leave it outside for the night. I’ll just pick it up in the morning. And you know, in retrospect, I can look at the whole situation and tell myself that even back then I had a bad feeling about it. But did I really have a bad feeling? I’m not so sure. That’s how I remember it now though, like I reluctantly left my bike to the fates, to fend for itself for the night. And this version of the story drives me crazy, because I always think, Rob, if you had a bad feeling about it, why would you go through with it? Why roll the dice?

Yeah, so you can imagine where this story’s going, right? I showed up in the morning and the bike was gone. And I just stood there for a while, I couldn’t believe someone had stolen my bike. I wanted answers, I wanted some sort of an outlet for my anger and disbelief. But there was nothing to be done, nobody to complain to, I just kind of stood there with my hands out, like I was pantomiming to the world, “Are you kidding me? Someone really stole my bike?”

And that bike was awesome. I mean, you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it. This thing wasn’t any sort of nice bike. I bought it on craigslist for seventy-five bucks, and right away I had to replace one of the tires, some brake pads, over the course of the next few months I probably dropped like another hundred, a hundred and fifty.

But it was more than just money. I bonded with this bicycle. As I made small hardware upgrades here and there, it came to feel like a part of me. Over an especially adventurous winter, I took the whole thing apart, sanded the frame, and gave it a brand new paint job. After two years or so, a lot of my identity was wrapped up in this piece of junk I kind of just happened upon on the Internet.

So when it got stolen, it was just this cold slap in the face, the world giving me a harsh reminder that I’m nothing, that the things that I care about aren’t necessarily important in the greater scheme of things. I tried to spin it into a whole life lesson, but no, part of me hardened that day. I’d eventually buy another bike, but a lot of the joy I got out of pedaling around town just wasn’t accessible to me anymore.

Which was why, a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it, I was in the passenger seat of my brother’s car when we stopped at a light. I looked to my right and, there it was, my bike. Sure, it looked a little more beat up, I mean, three or four years of city riding will do that to a bike. But aside from what looked like a new set of reflectors and maybe some new handlebars, that was my paint job, nobody could have done that exactly like I had, it was totally my bike.

So I just jumped out of the car and pushed this guy over, hard. And yeah, that was totally an overreaction, I get it. I mean, I didn’t think about it right away, but there was almost no chance that this guy was the dude who stole my bike. Whoever did it probably took it, cleaned it up a bit, and maybe sold it on craigslist. (Although, right after the original theft, I had spent hours for weeks, combing through the thousands of bikes available for sale online, hoping that my bike might have shown up, somewhere.)

And now here I was and this guy was on the ground, it looked like he was a delivery guy, and there were all of these take-out trays of rice and noodles spilling on the street next to him. The better part of me wanted to help him up and try my best to explain the situation, but a different part of me knew that, if I pursued that course of action, there would have been a good chance that I’d have to let him keep the bike.

So I just started pedaling. I didn’t even look back to tell my brother. I picked up the bike while that delivery guy lay there kind of stunned on the ground and I just took off. And this was kind of far away from my house, I was looking at like a two, two and a half hour ride back to my house.

The ride wasn’t the same as I had remembered it. In my mind, I had glorified this thing as some sort of a miracle machine. But after twenty minutes or so heading back to my house, I had to admit that, my newer bikes rode a lot better than this thing. I tried desperately to at least get some of that sentimental mojo going through my head, but again, aside from a really base lingering admiration of my paint job, there was nothing there, nothing that was strong enough to overcome the intense feelings of guilt that were starting to get even stronger as I really thought about what I did to that poor delivery guy.

I turned around and rode back to where I stole my bike back, hoping even though I knew that it was beyond unlikely, that he’d still be there, that I’d find him, apologize, pay for all of the food I ruined, give him the bike back. I didn’t really need it anymore, I had two more bikes back at my place.

But yeah, he was long gone, and I waited around for a few more minutes, but there was nothing I could do, my act of malice had seeped into the earth, it was like a deep stain on a white carpet that I knew would never really come out.

And all of this time, all of these years, I always thought about that bike, me and my misfortune, how I wished that I still had it, that I can’t believe I got robbed. And now I have it back and I never even ride it, it’s just lying in my garage, collecting cobwebs, unused, I’m too ashamed to even look at it.

I hate the PATH train

I want to start out here by saying that this isn’t anything against New Jersey. I’m not going to waste my breath belittling the denizens of Jersey City or Hoboken. I’m sure they’re all terrific places to live. No, my beef isn’t with the Garden Sate. It’s with the PATH train, the sort-of subway that links Manhattan to various locations across the Hudson. It’s a sorry excuse for public transportation, and I hate it.

path train

I’ve only ever taken the PATH three times, and each occasion has been seared into my memory. No matter how hard I try to shake the experience, I still find myself haunted by the little engine that couldn’t. Each time I’ve taken that trip to and from New York, I’ve found myself breaching the surface afterwards like a prisoner who’s seen the light for the first time in years.

If you’re not from New York, or if you’re lucky, if you are from New York but you’ve never had to take the PATH, you might think I’m being slightly dramatic. I’m not. If anything, I’m sugar-coating the experience. I can’t believe that people actually use this system as a means of a daily commute.

You start out at a regular NYC subway station, one that connects to the PATH. You can’t really find the PATH, and I think that this is a safety mechanism, constructed so that unknowing New Yorkers don’t find themselves accidentally heading toward the PATH. If you really must take the PATH, you have to follow miles of signage, underground tunnels that get narrower and tighter, all making you feel like the subterranean world is about to close in on you at any second, and then right before you really start freaking out, there you are, it’s the PATH entrance.

Standing in that PATH station, it’s like traveling back in time, in some other city, like Cleveland or Washington DC. Everything’s laid out as if by an architect who’s never heard of the subway before, or maybe he’s heard of it, but he’s never actually been to one, he’s only seen footage of stations on TV.

The ticket machines are relics from another century. The unfortunate looking piece of equipment that I tried to purchase my fare from read in stenciled-on wordage that it didn’t accept any bills bigger than five dollars. And then even after I went to buy some candy from the newspaper guy to make change, the machine almost refused to take my money. It was only grudgingly, after smoothing out each dollar bill, having them go in and out, the stupid machine making an obnoxious beep each time it considered, then rejected my less-than-pristine bill.

Finally it spit out a MetroCard. It looked almost identical to its NYC counterpart, but it read “PATH” on the back, “Cannot be refilled.” Whatever, I don’t want to refill you’re stupid wannabe MetroCard, OK PATH train? Getting through the turnstile was a huge pain. The reader ate my card, said OK, but then refused to let me through. Apparently only after taking your card out of the other side does the turnstile unlock. Why the confusion? Why not make the system uniform with the rest of the regular subway? Why does everything in the PATH have to be stubbornly, annoyingly, just slightly out of whack with everything else?

This is my biggest issue with the PATH. There already exists a whole etiquette involved in riding mass transit. The subtle flick of the wrist used to gain access with your MetroCard, the process by which I can navigate a touchscreen blindfolded to buy more fares, the way that the tracks are labeled so that you know in which direction you’re traveling from any station in the system.

The PATH takes all of regular subway convention and throws it out the window. I waited at the end of the platform because on every other train in New York, the cars in the middle are full while the two ends usually have some empty seats. But not on the PATH. In fact it was the exact opposite. I watched several empty cars pass by until the last one stopped in front of me, and it was jammed with commuters. What the hell people? You guys are all choosing to sit on top of one another?

And you get in the car, it’s not the same type of train used on every other line. These are like baby trains, it’s making me feel like I’m riding a shuttle in between parks at Disney World. There were these TV screens positioned along the top that looped the same asinine clips over and over again. Some genius transportation planner must have been like, “We’ll make the PATH train entertaining! We’ll put in TV screens and we’ll scroll through random pictures of celebrities for people to look at! And we’ll do games and stuff, like word scrambles! But we don’t want to make them too challenging, so we’ll cycle through the same three word scrambles every two minutes or so!”

I hated everything about the PATH. It took forever. It smelled bad. They don’t let you know in which direction you’re going to be headed, so you have to stand there like an idiot and ask people, “Excuse me, is this one going to Jersey?” Every public service bulletin uses the ridiculous slogan, “The PATH to success,” like, OK, I get it, you’re using PATH as path, but it’s coming off as really forced.

And what do you have to look forward to after having been subjected to one of the worst transportation systems in the world? New Jersey. Again, I’m not trying to bad mouth New Jersey, but come on, if I have to go to there, if I can’t get out of it, it would be nice if the blow could be cushioned somewhat by getting there without taking the PATH. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should be ashamed of itself for running such a horrible subway. I hate it. I hate the PATH train.