Outdoors in New York (Part I)

Brooklyn Bridge 3D

Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf.
Lewis Mumford

I think I fixed the formatting of this long rambling entry. I worked pretty hard using http://www.instructables.com/id/E2X7AG5G22EXCFGESY/, but I thik it is really cool. I fixed all of the formatting that was messed up when I cut it from MSWord. The learning curve on this Blog thing is a nightmare. Let me know what you think of this digressive history.

2/17/2007 6:35 AM

I didn’t get up very early this morning, but I do want to both write here and go for a cold, snowy run (and photo safari) through Sunnyside and Woodside. Today is the first day of the kid’s spring break and I could end up trapped doing domestic tasks, with little or no outside time. I go crazy if I haven’t put some outside time in the bank as I make breakfasts, clean up (not my strong suit), read with Lennox, watch soccer with Mason, and do all of the things that this modern Dad is required to do.

I’ve always loved going outside, I guess my mother’s fraught theory of childrearing, perhaps the one that she hewn to religiously (besides the rough damp facecloth in her purse), was that kids, her kids, had to go outside to the park every day. I remember the trips to Tompkins’Square Park as a daily ritual in 1964 and 1965. Some days it was the swings, others the sandbox (where she could meet with her friends and chat). I think it was 1965 that they delivered new top soil in a heap and we played on that pile, that brown mountainous pile, everyday, staying out longer than was our routine. I think that the parents even requested that the pile stay there (since Robert Moses stopped putting new swings, see-saws and amusements in the park when we Blacks and Puerto-Ricans were allowed to move into the Lower East Side).

I remember when I moved back to New York in 1979, when I was a young man, there was still a gentle rise in an otherwise empty fenced in triangle of Tompkins’ Sq, which had become a Needle Park, and would soon be a Crack Park. It was the last remnant of the political power of a bunch of moms in the early 1960s. So chalk up one for my Mom, I have been thoroughly evangelized to the great outdoors. This anecdote reminds me why I loved being a Bike Messenger, and indeed, how I became one. I had moved to
New York in February of 1979. I had no friends and I looked up Kio, a kid I had known in New York in the early 1960s. He was also born in Japan like me. I went to meet him on my bike during the winter. He immediately said that I should be a bike messenger since I could and would ride my bike in the foul weather of pre-global warming winter in New York. He gave me an address and within a week I was riding for an un-reputable Messenger firm that was mostly foot messengers. They hired retarded people and retirees and retarded retirees. (Remind me to tell you about the foot messengers and the subway strike someday.) They got minimum wage to pick up the local runs and me and a few others would ride them all over Manhattan for commission. It was a great second job (I was busing tables at the Magic Pan at night), and I, in the hubris of youth, figured time off without money was pointless. Of course I already had enough money (my 1st apartment was on 17th and
Irving and cost me $217.00 a month).

I digress. The point was that I loved being outside. I loved it much more than working in the restaurant. I loved it much more than the College courses I tried to take at Hunter and Baruch. But I digress. I remember about five years later I was still riding for a living, though many other things had transpired. I was sitting on 6th avenue and 50th street by the Tofutti stand that a very pretty young woman I knew worked. She was finishing up at NYU and I still hadn’t gotten back to that whole Education thing. I wondered why she worked at a outdoor stand and she was very clear on it: she like to be outside. I thought being in one place outside was about as bad as being in the woods, but I held my tongue. I did see that I too liked to be outside. It didn’t even have to be nice, or warm or dry, the main thing was that I needed to be out of doors as much as possible. I would, and still do, drink in the humanity and the architecture, the geography and the climate. I love living in and amongst the rampant humanity of New York. Mind you this was a long-long time ago, before so many immigrants came here and revitalized the city. This was Crack New York, Needle Park New York, Reagan Homeless New York. I remember that I never left Manhattan in either 1981 or 1982 (until I ran away to Hawaii, which I should also tell you about). No-one wanted to live in New York besides the hearty and those already here. But I did. Ah, I did.

But here’s the point. Fast-forward to 1992, when I moved to California. I made friends in my graduate program and in the community. I was often invited to go hiking or some such. People would often see me on my bike (I really don’t have the patience to use what passes for California Public Transportation), and would ask me to go see Tilden Park, or go out to Marin. When I first moved there I actually rode over the Golden Gate Bridge with a childhood friend from Boston (did I tell you that I grew up there?). He was cool because we left from his flat in the city and ride to Muir Beach in Marin and back. No Cars. Most of the Californians who invited me to see their beautiful state drove me to the parts they preferred. I saw the redwoods and Stinson Beach in Marin. We went to a 49ers Football game and tailgated. Everywhere we went we drove. I met people who would drive their bikes to the park to ride them. Here I have to ask you a question, is being in a car being outside? Everything that people do in California is a “car-drive sandwich.” A trip to the museum is sandwiched between two slices of vehicular whitebread.

Beach? Whitebread.

Carousel? Whitebread.

Bike Ride? Whitebread.

Jog? Whitebread.

We had had MC Hamlet, our Dalmatian, may he rest in peace. I got to walk him tice a day all around our unadorned little parts of Berkeley and Oakland. I would walk him for hours onceChandler came and I had to give Linda more sleep. I’d walk him to the next town and back. I loved walking him. I love seeing the sidewalks and the yards of the suburban sprawl that is California. I liked the junkyards and the underpasses. I love being out doors. It doesn’t have to be the redwoods or the mountains. I do not need the woods or the fenns. I just need to be outside.

To Be Continued


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