Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pedaling, Possibly, for the People

I aimed for 18 bike miles yesterday, leaving my apartment at 5:30 PM knowing that the distance would mean I'd ride in the dark for some portion of the journey. That was ok with me.

A few things occurred to me as I rode, and I'd like to share them with you.

Part of my path to Central Park includes a 20-block jaunt through Harlem, which is almost completely populated, naturally, by African-Americans. At one point I passed a group of young boys on bikes, pedaling in a mish-mash manner, caring not about lights or "one-way" signs and just having a good time.

And it struck me: no matter who wins the November presidential election, each one of these boys, now, today, could imagine himself growing up to be the President of the United States.

I was also completely unafraid of any Harlem block. When I moved to New York City, even the people who lived in Harlem were scared to walk its streets, and if you went to Central Park after dark, you were either a fool or from out of town. Things have undeniably gotten better here. Banks and Gaps and Starbucks have invaded every neighborhood, robbing the town of its flavor, but one doesn't have to fear being shot or killed as we once did. It doesn't mean you walk around with 20-dollar bills peeking out of your vest pocket, and the cars will still hit you if you don't get out of the way, but the fear factor has lessened greatly.

(Addendum four days later; gang of 7 teens randomly attacks 7 adults on Columbia University campus.)

I passed a flyer advertising a Communist Workers Party meeting on 125th Street. Always attracted to nuts, I read the flyer in its entirely, and was surprised I agreed with many of its points, such as:

1. Affordable, decent housing should be a right.

2. The Capitalist system, so famously crashing now, was built on the labor of enslaved Blacks and the robbing of land from Native Americans after slaughter.

I didn't find anything wrong with those assertions, and began to play with the idea of dropping my life and working, from now on, for the rights of the people instead of trying to buy my own apartment at last as practically every one of my friends and family have done.

I'd give up my iPod and the testing of sky-fouling cars and trucks for money, move under a bridge and send laptop missives from the abyss, my voice echoing and bouncing off the minds of people equally awakened to their own bamboozlement, the relentless pursuit of money and fame and obsession with the trivial, like pop music and movies.

It got dusky sooner than I expected and I found myself riding in Central Park in a rapidly descending other world---New York at night. I let the mind go wild as I pedaled through the dark, the path back to my apartment adjacent to the Hudson River now unlit and unfamiliar. Usually this route is populated by hundreds of Hispanic barbecuers, beer-drinkers, salsa-blasters, bikers and passers-by. It was now deserted.

A rat crossed my path, then a raccoon, both illustrating the sort of life one lives in the woods of New York as opposed to coming and going from an apartment building. I pedaled faster, the pointlessness of my own struggle becoming more and more clear as the sky got darker and darker. You cannot argue with the sunset.

There is a section of my typical path surrounded by trees, and it was completely black now. I was also wearing all black, and my bike is black. Into the abyss I pedaled, a two-wheeled Ichabod Crane fleeing imaginary headless horsemen. I decided to listen to music to fortify me against the long, dark journey, knowing it was dangerous to handicap my ears as well as my eyes, but wanting the company. I pulled my iPod Nano out of my belly pack and selected The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" out of the glow of its menu. I forgot about Communism, glass, potholes and bank failures, and just concentrated on getting the carcass home to a bath and a meal.

The night has a way of telling you things that will not occur to you in the daytime, and sometimes it's fun to be scared and to go fast and to consider Communism.

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