Monday, April 30, 2012

Quality of Life: Pee Me a River

"So where the heck have you been?," you may be asking yourself as you read this.  Well, I wish I could answer you, but after weeks of travel I'm not so sure myself.  The truth is, I'm disorientated--so much disorientated that I can't even compose properly sentences with correctly grammaticals or spealing structure, much less reconstruct an accurate timeline of the past month.  Really, as far as timelines go, the best I can do is this:


Nevertheless, I'm doing my best to piece things together, and to that end I figured I should at least try to get a handle on where I am now.  This isn't as easy as it sounds, because you can spend an entire lifetime here in New York without ever really making sense of the place.  And even when you do start coming to grips with it, you leave town for awhile and then come back and find you have to start all over again.  It's like almost solving a Rubik's Cube, leaving on the coffee table while you go to the bathroom, and then picking it up again afterwards.  Once you're out of the groove, it's difficult to get back into it again.  That's why you should always bring your Rubik's Cube into the bathroom with you.

At the same time, traveling also helps you appreciate New York.  Sure, it's fun to visit entry-level cities like Portland and Austin, and even intermediate-level cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and after awhile you can even delude yourself into thinking that these places are in the real world.  Eventually though it becomes undeniably that they aren't, and that they're merely the urban equivalent of group rides with a no-drop policy.  Sooner or later you start craving actual competition again (as difficult and ruthless as it may be) and you're relieved to return to the race that is New York.

But while this may be true culturally, it's quite the opposite from a cycling perspective.  Indeed, in terms of cycling, the New York City area is a backwater, and her riders are mostly just a bunch of rubes.  The artisanal smugness of Portland; the dynamic flambullience of San Francisco; even the Ben Franklinesque ethos of Philadelphia all serve to emphasize New York's place as the Christian Vande Velde of American cycling cities.  Sure, it wasn't always this way.  We once boasted the vibrant racing scene that produced riders like George Hincapie, and we singlehandedly created the bike messenger archetype.  Now though our racing scene consists of dueling investment bankers who hire coaches and spend tens of thousands of dollars on crabon exotica, and our messengers are clothes horses who spend the obligatory three-to-five years in New York before retreating to an entry-level town. As far as business and entertainment go we may be the City that Never Sleeps, but when it comes to cycling we're the Aluminum Jamis With a Pie Plate.

Even our riding destinations are hopelessly lame.  If you live in New York, you know that every weekend a gigantic Fred Migration takes place, traveling over the George Washington Bridge and up Route 9W towards Piermont and Nyack and even Bear Mountain.  In the early hours these migrants are the aforementioned investment banker club racers, though as the day wears on they yield to an interminable procession of tridorks in arm warmers and sleeveless half-shirts who drink from aerobar-mounted sippy cups:



Anyway, you might think that once you leave the city and arrive in these quaint towns that you'd finally find people who embrace bicycles, but this simply isn't the case.  Consider this profile of Piermont from this past weekend's New York Times Real Estate section:


According to the article, the "boons" of Piermont are that it "evokes a Mediterranean hillside, or maybe Sausalito, Calif."  Now, I happen to think Piermont is very pleasant.  It's pretty.  It's quiet.  There are quaint little shops that sell shit you'd never want.  However, I've also been to both the Mediterranean and to Sausalito, and Piermont evokes both of these places in the way Boone's Farm evokes actual wine.  Mostly, the relatively few similarities simply serve to underscore the vast superiority of the genuine article.  Still, it's a lovely place as far as the greater metropolitan area goes.

But what are the "banes" of living in Piermont?  Well, apparently they're high taxes--and of course bikes:


So magnetic is the village today, according to residents, that tourists and bicyclists often arrive in droves on weekends. The bicyclists often pay little heed to the designated bike lanes, said Robert Samuels, a former journalist and author who has lived here since 1982. “They talk loudly and shout back and forth to one another, often waking me out of a sound sleep on a Sunday morning,” said Mr. Samuels, whose book “Blue Water, White Water” (Up the Creek Publishing, 2011) details his struggle with Guillain-Barr√© syndrome, a muscle disorder.


But other than the bicyclists and high annual property taxes, most of Piermont’s 2,500 residents consider their village as close to perfect as it gets, said Mr. Samuels, the president of the 500-member civic association.

Now, I'm no stranger to entitlement.  I've visited Boulder.  I've visited Portland.  I've visited Marin County.  These are the nose-stinging bubbles in our national soda pop of smugness.  However, you've reached a higher plane of entitlement when your biggest quality-of-life problem is the sound of Fred chat.  If you can't handle the gentle whirring of a freehub while two middle-aged men patter on about their wheelsets then you probably can't handle anything.  Would they prefer the constant farting of Harley-Davidsons?  (Of which I've seen plenty around those parts, by the way.)  The whining of high-revving "crotch rockets?"  The thundering of tractor-trailers?  Heedless motorists who run down their children?  Really, when cyclists are coming to your town in droves, that's merely a sign of how good you have it.  It's when the cyclists stay away at all costs that you've really got a problem, because it means that your town sucks.

In any case, I was so disgusted by the whining of the people of Piermont that I made the following pledge:  From now on, I will hold in my pee-pee until I get to Piermont instead of publicly relieving myself near the George Washington Bridge where it's merely the Port Authority's problem.


Together we can reach our goal of a yellow Piermont, and I I hope you will join me in this effort.

In any case, given New York City's status as a remedial cycling city, it was sort of sweet that we had a bike show this past weekend:


Watching New York City have a bike show is like watching a baby try to work an iPhone: it's extremely cute, something fun might happen by accident, but really they have no idea what they're looking at.  I don't exclude myself from this, by the way, because I am very much a New Yorker, and I had no idea what I was looking at either.  For example, I saw this bike outside of the show, which led me to wonder if apehanger bars are the new chopped riser bars:


Well, apparently they are, because there was a whole booth dedicated to them:


I would have asked this person to explain what I was looking at, but I was too afraid of his pants:


Equally confusing was the matter of why, if I was at a bike show in New York, I was looking at a Mini Cooper with Jersey plates:


And then there was this thing:


In addition to being confused as to why you'd ever want to carry a bottle of wine in this manner, I was also confused about why I couldn't touch the bike, and so I just said "Fuck it" and touched it anyway:


("Yeah, I touched it.  What are you gonna do about it?")

I'm about as big a "woosie" as you're likely to find (yes, I cried when those adhesive wristbands ripped out my arm hair), but even I'm not afraid of someone who uses a leather wine bottle holder on his faux old-timey bicycle.

Of course, this being New York City, there was also plenty of media.  For example, I got to see a real-life hilpster interview taking place:


There were also publishers of the sorts of periodicals you buy at airports because you're desperate for something to read on the plane, you've already read everything else at the newsstand, and it's slightly more interesting than the in-flight magazine:


In case you can't tell, the above placard is stuck to a curtain, so I just assumed between that and the "Your Ideal Weight" headline that "Bicycling" was running some sort of carnivalesque weight-guessing stand.  Eager to "fool the guesser," I peeled back the curtain, but to my surprise I instead found people listening to other people talk into microphones:


This turned out to be a happy accident, for I myself was supposed to talk into a microphone immediately after these people, which is what I did.  I was also supposed to show slides while I talked, but I don't really know how to work my computer.  Furthermore, the show had apparently hired a surlier version of Nick Burns as their A.V. guy, and he was resolutely unwilling to help me in any way.  Therefore, I simply talked without the slides, which probably didn't make much difference since people can't see slides while they're sleeping anyway.

Lastly, in a final bout of total incompetence, I managed not to get a frontal photograph of a woman outside who was walking around topless:


Hopefully she doesn't decide to visit Piermont, since between the bicycles and the toplessness life there would become a waking nightmare.

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