Thursday, June 26, 2008
Seeing the Changing World
I wrote this in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The piece never found a home but the attacks and the piece came to mind recently as I watched a preview of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. As this is the season for vacations, I thought it might be an appropriate time to see the light.
It's no secret that I believe time off from work spent away from home isn't a vacation unless you have a bike with you. I'm realizing that I just don't believe it's a good idea to travel without a bike. By day I write for a trade publication that covers the electronic security industry. I spend my time interviewing the people you pay to make your home and your business safe. As I write this it is the 24th of September, 2001 and most of America is trying to come to grips with the aftermath of what are now being termed the Sept. 11th attacks. Less than two weeks prior to the attacks I was in New York city for a trade show at the Jacob Javits center. Using one of those great little passes you get from the USCF for travel on United, I loaded up my bike carrier and headed for the city that never sleeps (and trust me, it doesn't).
I had but two specific goals for my bike while in NYC. I wanted to go for a ride with writer J.P. Partland, and I wanted to ride in Central Park, the latter being a quintessentially New York-roadie activity in my imagination.
My Times Square hotel gave me close proximity to the park and I rose early to go spin around the loop. Years of VeloNews reading gave me an appreciation of the course's few features, so when I rounded the loop's north end and hit the road's one real hill—a hill insignificant to racers at 20 mph, but known for breaking big men when hit at 30 miles per hour—I felt like I was walking from the desert into Mecca.
For those of you who remember the name Jackson Lynch, former PR honch for Polo Sports and Trek, and before that an editor for Mountain Biker and Bicycle Guide, he was the one guy on a road bike I saw that morning. You might think that mention to be an aside, but it is part of my point: The bicycle has the ability to make the big world seem small.
After my ride the next day with J.P., I got brave. I decided to take my bike downtown and play in traffic. I figured if I was going to go on record and claim that the best way to see the world was from the seat of a bicycle, I better back it up by riding in a less idyllic setting. I headed straight down Broadway for the financial center. Once, a few years back, a girlfriend completely enamored of America's financial center had driven me through the district late at night. Even at two in the morning it seemed to pulse with an unseen ingenuity.
I rode several loops around the World Trade Center. At the time, the event seemed significant only on a personal level: I was in the presence of one of the world's most significant structures. I knew most of my friends would think me crazy. Maybe not now. On the same ride I made sure to pass the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. I marveled at each of those landmarks, ever in awe of the New York commerce machine.
Sitting here, those buildings, and the people who worked in them, are present tense for me. The smells of the diesel, the deli I passed, the way my eyes teared at the exhaust, the angle I craned my neck to peer through the shadows cast on everyone below, and the reverberations of the trucks, buses, cars and honking taxis off the surrounding concrete captivated me with its raw energy. I'd leap off the line, dodge the traffic, only to pause for the light and a look at the changing skyline.