Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I am not from Mars. (Or am I?)

This was my commute this morning.  At various points, the bicycle lane was blocked by, among other things:

A UPS truck
A Halal cart (on a leash)
An ambulance and two police cars

Can I get around them?  Is there a bus behind me?  What’s with that woman with the cane standing in the middle of Third Avenue?  (and why do so many New Yorkers walk with canes?)  I waited for the green.  And so did that guy, so that he could cross on my green, right in front of me.  How companionable.  Is he going to go---------no.  He’s stopping.  And glaring at me, for having the temerity to ride (on my green) where he wanted to jaywalk.

Number of cabs opening doors right in front of me:  2.  Number of take-out delivery bikes going the wrong way down my one-way bike lane:  3.  That car’s inching over…is he going to turn- right in front of me?  Yep.  the right hook.  Repeated 5 times.  And right before I reach my building, in midtown Manhattan, a group of people, dressed in business suits, standing in the middle of 49th street.  Oblivious.  Next to a perfectly empty sidewalk.  A sidewalk on which I’m not allowed to ride.  And I’m on board with that-  but really-  where am I supposed to go?

Oh, and finally, there was That Guy.  That Guy (on the edge of the sidewalk) who looked slightly startled as I rolled to a stop (on the street) in front of him.  That Guy who didn’t see me.  That Guy who had that look that I could spot in a flash from 50 feet.  That look that said that the mind belonging to the body of That Guy was floating somewhere over Smith Street.  I’ve seen that look.  I’ve had that look.  That Guy couldn’t see anything that was happening on 4th Street.  That Guy couldn’t see that I was slowing to a stop well before I reached him.  All That Guy was able to process, once That Guy’s brain rejoined That Guy’s body, was that that suddenly there was a cyclist RIGHT THERE!  That goddamn cyclist ALMOST HIT ME!

Speed is the magic ingredient.  Because at speed, we’re too busy working out whether That Guy is going to step into my path or Goddamn Cyclist is going to mow me down to see Woman With Stroller who is clearly waiting for the light, or Car Who Saw Me And Waited.  To see the background hum of humanity.  To see anything besides Glaring Man.  Cane Woman.  That Guy.  Goddamn Cyclist.  Flashes.  Not humans.  Speed removes subtext.

Because when you are stopped at a red light, you can have an actual conversation with actual subtext with an Actual Pedestrian:

Him:     ‘You’re not actually waiting for the green light?
(Subtext:  Is she from Mars?)
Me:       ‘Somebody has to.
(Subtext:  I’ve been told I can expect to receive a Nobel Prize for the act of stopping for a red light in this city.  Is that correct?)
Him:     ‘You don’t have to do that, you know.
(Subtext:  Is it because the glowing red orb reminds her of her home planet that she stops to worship it?)
Me:       (shrug)
(Subtext:  I’d take his word for it, but he kind of looks like he’s from Mars.  The Olympus Mons region.  And  you know what they’re like).

This was my commute this morning.  A variation of this is my commute every time I ride my bike.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Rudimentary.  Of, or, relating to a vestige.  (Biology)  Relating to a body part that has become small and lost its use because of evolutionary change.  Like the small bones that used to be hips and legs that are hidden inside the muscles of whales.  Like claws on the belly of a male boa-constrictor that once attached to feet.  Like a car in New York City.  Like California license plates that still exist on a car in New York City, because I fear the DMV (or whatever the DMV is called in NYC.)  Because I fear the hoops I will have to jump through to get NYC license plates onto a car in a city that does everything it can think of to make you want to not own a car.

But it is getting to be time, now that I’ve managed to get it insured in NY (which turned out to be slightly more complicated than expected (and, oddly, exactly $2 less than the random mental number I had in my head).  Now that I can safely claw the car from one side of the street to the other (and make the occasional Costco run), it’s getting to be time.

I know that I should let it drop away, a vestigial car in NYC with its vestigial California license plates, but I have an irrational fondness for the thing, like a boa-constrictor stubbornly clinging to its claws.

So stay tuned….

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Learning To Read

I am not reading my first book of choice.  I am not reading a book I may want to keep once it has been read.  I am reading big block of book that I can be rid of when I’m finished with it.  It’s a common problem here:  too many books; not enough apartment  (Kindles are very popular).  Local codes appear to allow for the selling of books on sidewalks (one vendor has had the same (street) parking space for 11 years-  his book-storage vehicle (car) parked in front of his plot of sidewalk..  That’s one solution.  Another is a carless commute.  And so I am learning to read.

Learning to read while standing.  Learning to read while grasping the same pole grasped by four hands above and one below mine.  Learning to read while ignoring the saxophonist playing IN THE MOOD.  Learning to read while ignoring the various begging strategies.  Collecting for the homeless.  Being the homeless.  Looking for a woman-  any woman, between the ages of 18 and 100  (‘That’s right!  I’ll even take a woman in her 90s-  as long as she’s a naturalized citizen!’).

One day, I will learn to read the weekend subway service-change notifications, but for now, they remain beyond my comprehension as I wait, fascinated by rats that dematerialize through a tiled wall under a faded paper cautionary tale:  ‘This area has been baited with rodenticide.  11-12-02.’  If only the rats could read.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wedding Services

Tonight I met a fire-breathing reverend:  the subversively mainstream-appearanced wife of the lead singer in the punk band  (let’s face it-  there are places where wearing a gray dress with matching pumps is an act of aggression, and a bar called Otto’s Shrunken Head is one of them).  There was some debate as to whether or not the band was really a punk band:  I say-  musically sound; attitudinally suspect.  Sure there was some flipping off the audience, but I felt their hearts weren’t really in it.  And they were just so chipper.  (The band that followed, in contrast, played their set with a dead rubber chicken spiked on the mike  (chicken available for choking.))  Perhaps the fact that the second guitarist in the punk (or nearly-punk) band was absent- recovering from a fire, could be seen as an added bit of street-cred.  (I checked.  The fire-breathing reverend denied all responsibility-  but liked the serendipity of a burn-victim closely associated with a fire-breather that as I left, she was considering changing the story of how his injury occurred.)

All of which is a really convoluted way to get to today’s really simple New York lesson:  apparently, to become licensed to marry people in all five boroughs is hard.  It involves a fee and a long line.  It is unclear at this time whether fire-breathing involves additional bureaucracy.  However, if you require fire to be ejected from the mouth of the official presiding over you as you exchange your vows (in the five boroughs), I can put you in touch.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake 101

Sometimes the job of the new kid in town is not to learn but to teach.  At 1:51 pm this afternoon, the building began a gentle, rolling motion.  It took a full 3 minutes for the co-workers to figure out what was happening.

‘Is the building shaking”?’

1      Yes, that was an earthquake.

‘I’m calling the building to find out why the building’s shaking.’

2      It’s shaking because we’re having an earthquake.  Also, during a quake, everyone calls everyone they know-  tying up the phone lines and overwhelming the system.  (New York’s 911 system had 22,000 calls by 3:00 today-  more than twice the average by that time).  Wait to call, and the phone lines will clear up.  Oh, and one last thing, if you happen to pass a pay-phone on the street with the receiver off the hook, hang it up-  this will help speed up the return of phone service  (that last bit is from the obsolete manual). 

‘You may not be able to use the phone.  We tried and couldn’t.’

3      Already addressed.  The building’s phone system was overwhelmed by people calling to find out why the building was shaking.  (Because we’re having an earthquake).  I turned to another trusted news source:  Facebook.


4      Already addressed.

’good recon, people.  no doubt you wrote from your strongest doorways’.

5      Don’t stand under the door for protection.  Swinging doorways can hit and injure you during a quake.

‘They’re saying it was 5.9.’

6      A moderate quake.  The Richter scale is exponential.  So a 6.0 is ten times as powerful as a 5.0.  (I was actually surprised that the lawyers didn’t know this.  They went to Harvard.  Both of them.  I went to California.  They learned about the law.  I learned about the SeismoCam.)

‘PLEASE tell me we just had a small earthquake and that it wasn’t just my apartment.’

7      No, actually, we just had a moderate earthquake, and it was well far away from your apartment.  Sharp, hard shake equals small quake, right under your feet.  Gentle, rolling motion equals bigger quake, far away.  So from the gentle, rolling motion, I could immediately tell that not only were we having an earthquake, we were having a fairly good-sized earthquake where the epicenter was pretty far away.  (Virginia, as it happens.)  About five years into living in L.A., I realized I could estimate earthquake scale and distance.  It just happens.  That, the ability to whip up a mean batch of guacamole and an inescapable need to shop at Trader Joes.

‘I heard they could feel it in North Carolina.’

8      East coast quakes can be felt from further away than west coast quakes.  West coast rocks are brittle, rigid, stopping the waves of the quake in a relatively short distance, while East Coast rocks are more malleable-  flexible.  Which means that earthquakes can be felt for hundreds of miles from their east Coast epicenters, (kind of like a.m. radio signals, where you can pick up WGN in Flagstaff).  Ok, maybe we’re in Earthquake 201 territory now-  what can I say?  I went to California (via Flagstaff).  Geology became interesting.  Actually, that’s not true-  New York City geology was always much more interesting than Los Angeles geology.  But that’s an entirely different lecture, and it involves a walking tour of lower Manhattan.  

So, my east-coast grasshoppers, welcome to your first earthquake.  And probably your last earthquake.  I know I had thought I’d left earthquakes behind me.  I never found them to be terrifying-  just inconvenient.  I don’t miss the having to secure the bookshelves and stock up on water.  But I do miss the SeismoCam.  And especially, the SeismoCam instant replay.