Mar 5, 2008

Souvlaki Trailer

I don't bicycle to work very much during the winter. The problem is that I haven’t worked out a system to shield my shower wet hair from the cold while both protecting my skull and not looking more disheveled than usual upon arrival. But despite all my undeniable wimpyness I decided a brisk February morning ride would do my not-looking-forward to work despondency some good.

{Don’t forget your helmet or the two bike lock keys. Stop ignoring the garbage and just take it downstairs; you can replace the bag liner the next time you throw something away. Don’t close the door until after you tap your pockets to check if you took your apartment keys, wallet, and phone. Ok, close the door. Turn the deadbolt key counterclockwise one rotation until you hear the click. Click. Heel toe down sixty stairs, hairpin left onto the humidity warped linoleum towards the rat infested garbage canned backyard, and don’t get startled when the door hinge makes that weird brakey noise. Undo the ten pound chain lock first and be careful as you drag it through the already damaged front tire spokes. Wrap the chain four times around the head tube without getting your hands greasy or choking the brake cables. Watch out for all the mysterious broken glass!}

There are only so many ways to get from Manhattan’s east single digits to its east 40s. That morning I decided to take the longer but less treacherous bike-pathed route: Westward via tree-lined 9th Street, up 6th Avenue (not “Avenue of the Americas”), back east across 46th Street (a.k.a. The Little Brazil that couldn’t), then up Vanderbilt Avenue. As I approached the company sponsored bike rack a member of our crack security team, acting as if he’s never seen me before, began reciting his lines as I preemptively patted myself down in search of i.d. “This bike rack is ONLY for employees” he says in a mandatorily stern voice. Before I have the chance to become annoyed the “I’m only doing my job and though it’s boring and unfulfilling I don’t mind because it’s enough to support my family” look in his eyes forces each prickly inclination in my head to stand down. After locking up the bike I replace my helmet with my work hat but not before giving my now matted down hair a two handed tussle in front of the window’s glared reflection. I prove myself again to the indoor security guard before stepping onto the escalator where I decide to uncharacteristically stand rather than climb. A tiny but earned reward for this morning’s harrowing journey.

Preparing to leave my desk, I am quickly reminded that the tattered Helly Hansen fleece which was inadequate on my ride to work will be even more inadequate in this evening’s windy chill. After completing my P.M. security guard serenade I set off for my semi-annual dentist and doctor checkups.

Most visitors to this city would wrongly assume that delivery trucks, yellow taxicabs, or the unwieldy multi-sectioned MTA buses sit on top of Manhattan’s street traffic hierarchy. Anyone who’s lived here long enough or has ridden a bicycle once during rush hour knows that it’s the hardened bike messengers who are the lions of this kingdom. With their grizzled glares peering through duct taped vintage eyeglasses they zoom past soon-to-turn-green avenue lights atop their sanded down fixed geared skeleton frames. If you’ve never noticed them before you will now. But while messengers are our fearless generals it’s the endless platoons of food delivery bikers who are the true unsung heroes of this war. The speed, recklessness, and grit that characterize messenger bike culture is mirrored by the endurance, temperament, and humility of New York’s food delivery cavalcade.

With blood extraction bandages on both arms I cruised past Broadway’s Carpet Row, bumped along the cobblestones of Union Square West, then hooked a left onto 14th street. After parting throngs of NYU students at the pedestrian owned intersection of Broadway and 14th a food delivery biker, previously heading north on 4th Avenue, turned right and led me and another commuter in a mini-peloton towards The East River. It was at that point when my vividly rare New York moment began. The delivery payload sat within a black strapped dirty red padded bag, lined with space-aged shiny aluminum insulation. The bag was carelessly dropped unfastened in a stripped black wire basket atop the rear wheel of his ravaged late 90s model mountain bike. His unwavering swerve was accompanied by the metallic clank of sloppily affixed chain lock against frame. As we passed 2th Avenue the wind flapped open his bag and I awoke from my daze to the appetizing smells of Chicken Souvlaki! Under normal delicious food whiffing circumstances it would have hardly registered. But against the backdrop of MTA bus exhaust, those darn sewer smells, and piles of pizza store garbage it was a nothing short of a sensory revelation. My nostrils flared and relaxed as the wind continued to blow the bag open and shut. After parting ways upon his delivery destination I walked my bike the rest of the way home feeling happy to live in New York.

3 comments:

dr maz said...

Souvlaki is also a terrific album by Slowdive. Now when will we arrive at another installment of the Dealbreaker Files ???

bean said...

wow, you bicycle? you seem more like the finance/car service type.

Modestmerlin said...

B -

Yes. In fact, I ride one of those old timey bicycles with the big wheel in front, tiny one in back. They're really hard to lock up, which sucks, given how valuable a target they are to more tasteful vintage bicycle thiefs.