Tag Archives: city

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.

Snow shoveling, soon

A couple of weeks ago we got a pretty big snowstorm, big for New York anyway. I’m sure the people of Manitoba or Vladivostok have different definitions of pretty big snowstorms, but this was enough that I had to go down to the basement and find the old snow shovel. So yeah, it was snowing, the snow was accumulating, there was a lull, and I went out to dig. And then a few hours later it picked up again, I had to go out again a few hours later, I sprinkled some salt, and I called it a night.snowshove

And then the next day it was this gross, warm rain, everything sort of melted, but not really, the whole city turned into this charcoal gray slush pit. The next day while I was at work, apparently there were a couple more inches of snow still floating around in the clouds, and that eventually made its way to the sidewalk. Then the temperature dropped.

It was so cold that, by the time I made my way home from work at like two in the morning, there was a giant lumpy sheet of ice covering the sidewalk in front of my house. I immediately recognized my civic duty, to at least try to clean this stuff up so that no pedestrians would take a tumble in front of the property, but I was tired, I said to myself, I can do this tomorrow. Besides, I pulled out all of these rationalizations, how I’d already shoveled the day before, twice, how all of that shoveling proved to be a huge waste of time, seeing as how the rain melted everything not even twelve hours later.

I left it. And the next day was even colder, so I left it again. A few of my neighbors had left theirs, I figured, all right, as long as I’m not the only one, whatever, I’ll get to it soon. Which, and at this point in my life, I’m even more than halfway conscious of the fact that whenever I say that I’ll do something soon, it really means that I’ll never do it.

When I got home from work that night, I found that it was just me and this Greek guy next door that were the last two houses on the block that hadn’t even made an attempt to clear out a path. But it was still so cold, I told myself, even if I wanted to shovel right now, I wouldn’t be able to. It was pure ice. I made a plan to do it tomorrow, as soon as the sun was out, maybe there would be a little melting to make everything easier.

And it was significantly warmer the next day. Unfortunately I got up pretty late, late enough that the Department of Sanitation had time to write out tickets for both my neighbor and me. It basically amounted to, you guys didn’t even try to clean up the sidewalk, so pay up, a hundred bucks.

All I could think about was the hundred dollars that my grandfather had just given me for Christmas. Come on, it’s like why does the universe always have to take away just as easily as it dishes out? I had plans for that hundred bucks. Well, not any concrete plans, really. But I did plan on keeping it in my pocket for as long as possible, trying to hold off on spending it until I had no other money left in there, and then I’d break it and I’d use it guilt-free on all sorts of little purchases until there was nothing left.

So I made up my mind to actually attend the hearing and mount a defense. They’ll let me off, I thought in my head as I stood before the city official in charge of hearing these cases, “Come on,” I told the guy, “I’m really sorry. I work nights. It was so cold. This is my first offense. I definitely won’t wait next time.” Halfway through I realized that I probably should have planned out my defense a little better, none of whatever I was saying sounded any better than a little kid trying to weasel his way into explaining to the teacher why he didn’t do his homework the night before. By the time I caught myself about to use my grandfather’s hundred dollar gift as an excuse, I gave up. But not before saying, “The defense rests.” I thought it would be funny, but nobody laughed, and I immediately felt like an idiot.

“Sorry pal,” the guy told me, “Better get up earlier next time.” And that was it. A hundred bucks for Christmas, a hundred bucks to the city for not shoveling my sidewalk. And I’m stuck here thinking, wondering if only I had made up a really good sounding excuse, like if I pretended to have the flu, or if I just left out that idiotic joke at the end, maybe I could have gotten out of it. Whatever, I’m going to buy a ton of rock salt and I’m just going to blanket that stuff outside at the first hint of snow. I’m not even going to let that stuff have a chance to accumulate. That’s what I’m going to do, soon, I’m going to go to the Home Depot and get a better shovel, one with an ice pick on the other side. Definitely soon.

Stuck in a downpour on some street in the city

It rained the other day for maybe twenty minutes, but it was a hard rain, it came out of nowhere. The sky was blue in the morning, it was blue all the way through lunchtime, but at around one or one thirty, all of the sudden it started getting black, really dark. I didn’t know what to do, because I had my bike with me, and so it’s always this dilemma, do I chain it up and make a break for the subway? Should I attempt taking it with me underground? Or might I even feel desperate enough to try and bike through the storm, to tough it out for the four or so miles back to my house?


I didn’t have any time to think either, because once the rain started, it was pouring. There was no gradual build up, like usually you might feel a few drops here and there, something that eventually turns into a steady sprinkling. No, this was like a light switch, off to on in an instant. I was already twenty-five percent soaked, and while I briefly considered chalking it up as a loss, I worried about the cell phone in my pocket, what if the intensity of this downpour was enough to breach the waterproof properties of my backpack?

My decision was to find some coffee shop or deli to duck into for a few minutes, to stay dry while simultaneously thinking through a next step. But where specifically could I go? The coffee shop and deli ideas didn’t really appeal to me. For one thing, I’m sure everybody else on the street was having the same thought, and so I’d be fighting the crowd just to get inside.

And if I made it in, then what? I could just picture the people behind the counter at either of those locations, all of them thinking, “Here we go, lots of customers, time to move here.” But nobody really wants anything to eat or drink, we’d all just be seeking refuge, maybe pretending to look at the menu, “Give me another minute, please,” acting like paying customers, finally some manager or owner making a loud announcement, “Look, this isn’t a shelter, it’s a business. Buy something or leave.”

It came to me, the giant bookstore was only a few blocks down. That would be perfect. I could pretend to read books, or I didn’t even have to pretend, the employees there don’t care if you’re spending money or not. I started to run but there were obstacles everywhere, all of the sudden everyone had an umbrella out.

And this I never understand. How is it that everyone in the world is so prepared for an unexpected downpour except for me? Where are people keeping these umbrellas? Because I never notice them when it’s not raining, like if there’s a stretch of five days in a row without so much as a drop, you’d think I’d see umbrellas sticking out of bags or people holding umbrellas. Have you ever seen city umbrellas? They’re huge. It’s like we’re all so used to everything small, small apartments, small portions, virtually no personal space everywhere, but then it starts to rain and there’s a mass protest, “I don’t care if there’s not enough room for everyone in this city to carry a giant four-foot diameter umbrella, I’m doing it, you get out of my way.”

All of the umbrella spokes are exactly at my eye level, and so I wasn’t only trying to beat the rain, but I was attempting to avoid having anything gouged out. Where do you even buy a giant umbrella anyway? The only ones I ever see are the cheap-o black plastic kind, the ones that, even if you’re using them, you’re still getting wet. Depending on how you hold it, either your back’s dry, or your front, but not both. I always thought, that’s the price we pay for living in a city, right? We can’t all have giant umbrellas. There’s simply not enough space on the streets.

I finally made it to the bookstore and the usually vacant looking security guard standing out front put his hand up, “Sorry boss,” he told me, “You’re soaking wet.”

“Exactly!” I protested, “That’s why I’m trying to get inside.”

“No can do,” he wasn’t even looking at me, he was still blankly staring across the street, keeping his eyes open for potential shoplifters I guess, “You’ll get all of the books wet. It’s not going to happen.”

“What do you care?” I was getting pissed off now, “I could spend all day in this bookstore reading every single book on the shelf for free. Talk about wasting money. But now you’re worried that I might wet a page or two? What kind of a business model is that?”

It was a pointless argument. I was already soaked. I figured that I might as well make the ride home, I couldn’t get any wetter. By the way, I was wrong, I could get wetter, so wet that it felt like my sneakers had become supersaturated, each step a dramatic slosh-slosh sound.

I came back to that same bookstore the next day and made it a point to collect a huge stack of books. Then I went right by the entrance and sat Indian style while I pretended to read every book, licking my finger each time I turned the page. But the guard didn’t even look my way, not even once, even though I kept coughing, a big, fake, “Cough! Cough!” sound. And I was too busy paying attention to the security guard that I didn’t even get to really enjoy any of the reading. I was just pretend reading really. What a waste of a day. What a waste of two days, if you count the first day that I spent just totally getting absolutely soaked to the core.