June 11, 2010

Back on the Bike

I was sort of afraid that once I'd gotten on a bike for the first time in 15 years in Palm Springs, I wouldn't get on one again for another 15 years.

The traffic in NYC terrifies me, not as a pedestrian, and not even as a fellow driver, but as a bicyclist. As many bike lanes as this city paints on the street, and as much as the city tries to pretend that it's bike-friendly, there are still a LOT of cars on the streets, driven by people who must get to where they're going no matter what.

The bike messengers and delivery guys riding the wrong way down one-way streets and not obeying other traffic laws just make it worse.

So when I found out about Free Bike Fridays on Governor's Island, a patch of NYC land where vehicles are forbidden (except for the random ambulance, maintenance truck, or golf cart), I was ready to get back on the bike.

Besides, like in Palm Springs, I was excited to explore more of the former military island's abandoned barracks and other support buildings by bicycle, especially since the southern half of the island had been closed to the public the first two times I visited.

Back on another Electra cruiser, I stumbled upon a fenced off swimming pool, full of leaves (one of my favorite discoveries in urban exploration)...

An old military strip mall featuring a barber, dry cleaner, and "gourmet" offerings...

...on a whimsically-named street called "Half Moon Road."

A lot of areas in the middle of the island are still fenced off, but you can ride a bike past them and gawk a bit at what's been decommissioned for a couple of years...

...and wonder when the last time a bus stopped there.

(Most of the other bus stops are wrapped in island propaganda.)

There's even a building that used to be part of Coast Guard housing whose windows are blown out and charred, from FDNY experiments with techniques and apparatus used for fighting fires in high winds. That building, as well as several others, is scheduled for demolition.

And then you find something incredible, a new addition to the island that made it feel very much alive: SWINGS.

As though I didn't feel like a kid again enough on the bicycle, pressing my face against chainlink fence, I soon discarded the bike at the curb and ran over to the red-seated set. I sank myself into the seat and my toes into the woodchipped earth below, tiptoed my way back as far as I could go, and let loose. I swung higher than anybody else, with a huge, goofy grin on my face, staring out into the New York harbor.

I only stayed on the swings for a few minutes, because I had five miles of bicycle paths to explore on the island in only an hour. (You get what you pay for...)

I soon became an expert at ringing my bell, rounding corners, and huffing up cobblestone driveways. By the looks of Manhattan now, it maybe doesn't seem like a very New York thing to do, but it was. Just a different New York, from a different time...

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