That’s right I did the Tri – and not one jellyfish (except in Chinatown, where it appears you can buy anything, including by-the-pound invertebrates). I am now a champion of the big city transit triathalon, biking, walking and subway-ing in the past 24 hours, in all different parts of the city. Each form of transportation has its special charms, revealing and concealing different parts of the urban environment, for better or worse.
I won’t write about cars or buses. I don’t ride the bus. Perhaps I should. I find them tedious for some reason. As for cars: I hate them. I believe anything that makes driving a car more difficult, expensive or frustrating is inherently good.
In many ways, still the bottom of the transit totem-pole. Plagued by street-space, parking and respect problems all around, I find that in my bike-heavy phases (summer, spring), I tend to see the city as a collected grouping of interesting places buttressed by asphalt war zones.
For example: today, riding across the Brooklyn Bridge, I was yelled at by a pedestrian (who was standing in the bike lane) after I almost hit him. After telling him to move, he screamed “YOU’RE IN THE BIKE LANE!” Well, no shit. This I feel epitomizes my experience riding: stupid people endanger me, then pretend its my fault and express their idiotic conclusions by yelling (or honking) at me.
Anyways, as I was saying. Peddling through the mild chaos, I generally keep focused on where I’m going (because lord knows what will end up in front of me if I don’t), and don’t take time to experience the world passing me by. Thus, I come to see the city as comprised of destinations and departures divided by roadway, rather than as the 3-dimensional congested plot of humanity it more likely is, filled with the quirks and dangers that implies. Lines and dots, lines and dots.
Always a difficult subject for me. It doesn’t help that the MTA regularly acts like they hate their customers, raising fares while lying about infrastructure improvements those fares should pay for (though, admittedly, MTA has been put in this position by a total failure by both federal and state authorities).
(BTW, does the J train always sound like death? I could have sworn I heard the sounds of parts just falling off that motherfucker, and it kinda scared me. Dig the Williamsburg fly-over coming into Brooklyn though.)
Subways drastically reshape the city. The MTA subway map epitomizes the experience of riding the subway – an over-emphasis on Manhattan, the relegation of other boroughs to the spokes of a wheel, and the creation of giant no-man lands, unserviced by the iron horse. The subway/train system sometimes seems like an example of a technology that cripples, attaching people to a transit system that ultimately attaches itself to so little of the city
And its disorienting. You step out of the subway and have no idea where you are often – the spaces between have been eliminated. The only interaction in passing occurs between other people, who won’t recognize you and in many cases try to avoid your glances. The subway creates a city of destinations as well, but more-so framed by dead space, rather than the war zone.
Walking is perhaps the quintessential New York experience. Today I took a stroll off the Marcy J stop around 11.30 at night – perhaps making me a candidate for some random street violence, the latest quintessential Williamsburg experience.
I’ve been walking through the city more than usual for the last few days because a good friend is visiting me from out of town. I miss walking – I do most of it in the winter, when the ice scares me off my bike (still a warm-winter southerner at heart), and the weather doesn’t afford me a chance to wander as much as I should. In fact, wandering, along with awe, defines New York, and big cities in general. Whether as the classic urban flaneur, or through Situationist psychogeographic meanderings, walking reveals the city in its purest form – as a dense, human environment careening off itself into the height and darkness of vertical building. As you walk, you get a sense of the order in the off-hand randomness, and really understand them as 3-D spaces, with the to-and-fro becoming just as important as the destination
I like cities, because you can never see all of them at once. The time it takes to understand them by traveling through them, and in that time they change you.