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JJ: The Bike Commute

Let’s harken way back. Who remembers how adamant I have been in my anti-biking stance? I scorned cyclists. I stomped my feet and swore I’d never be interested in multi-sport. Well, erm. Even though my plantar fascia aren’t too flexible, it seems my opinion about cycling has become more pliant, since it seems I really enjoy riding my bike.

This woman, who swore up and down that she’d never bike on the city streets because it was a surefire way to get killed, has become a bike commuter. Today marks my first-ever round-trip bicycle commute, and I have one main thing to say about it: I FUCKING LOVE IT!

It’s so much fun to get to work via pedal power. I love being outside. I love using my body and clearing my mind to and from work. It’s like playtime. I love my bike, I love the sweet clicky sound it makes when I coast. I love giving myself pep talks to get up hills, I love switching gears. I really loved the briny smell of the water as I biked along the East River Greenway. Oh, that’s right — we live on an island!

I love the intense vigilance I must practice as I scoot down Second Avenue and up First. I love taking a look around at the city and her angles (when it’s safe to do so). I already knew that New York reveals herself differently to runners than to pedestrians and motorists; now, I am starting to appreciate the city from a cyclist’s point of view. The slopes of my bridge treat me differently as a cyclist; I prefer the eastbound crossing as a cyclist (whereas as a runner I preferred the westbound incline). I like how I can greet the traffic cops face to face as they help me move safely with traffic. I like the anonymous fellowship with the other cyclists on the road; we’re not all the same, but we seem to be a tribe.

Here’s another thing: I like the physical exertion. Kids, it’s been a while! There’s no satisfaction like the one after you’ve panted and sweat in pursuit of a destination. I used to get that satisfaction through running; now it seems like I can find it in biking. I hope that proves true, because I love that happy sweaty feeling so much I want to bite it.

Side note: my butt is decidedly less sore (hardly sore at all, actually) after I ride the bike now. (#notaeuphemism, people.) How does that happen? Do my sit bones develop calluses or something? (?!?) Whatever it is, it’s remarkable!

I need to name my bike. ‘Cause I lurve her. She’s so pretty and sturdy.* I love how her wheels are not too skinny and not too fat. I love how I can pick her up and toss her over my shoulder if we need to get up and down stairs. Should I call her Isabel? Lucia? Bea? I’ll keep thinking on it.

So here’s the recap: I bike commuted today. It was fun; I want to do it again, as soon as possible. Sounds like a successful popping of the cherry to you, right?

*Did I ever tell you that one of the first compliments MM paid me about my appearance was to call me “sturdy?” He denies it, but he said it! I knew he meant that he was glad I wasn’t a twiggy kind of girl; I knew he didn’t mean that I was built like a tree trunk. But I still like to tease him about it.

Legit and Fit

I’ve worked at my company for sixteen years, and with the brief exception of a year and a half when I worked from home, I’ve reported for duty every day at a big black office building in Midtown Manhattan. I’ve moved offices and floors, but I’ve spun in and out of the same set of revolving doors since July 1998.

my old office, all packed up.Tomorrow, my company will have completed a move of its corporate headquarters to one block away from the Freedom Tower, all the way down in the Financial District. I know basically nothing about this part of town. I’m switching from an office with a window and a door to an L-shaped workstation that leaves me out in the open and working just 3 or 4 feet from my peers in the marketing department (all our L-desks connect to form a cross). As far as transitions go, I’m not too flustered by this one.

Last night I did have a nightmare I couldn’t shake about the new work environment. In it, we not only moved to an open office floor plan, but we moved into dormitories where we were expected to live with our co-workers Monday through Friday. I remember feeling panic in this dream, that I failed to pack something essential from the old building. I spent half the dream wracking my brain and reviewing lists over and over again. I am curious how I will handle working out in the open like that. Anti-social habits I’ve developed over the years working in an office include talking to myself (pep talks, griping, musing), kicking off my shoes, laughing loudly, slamming my desk drawers shut, and cursing at my computer, among other things. Clearly, these are all habits I’ll need to save for when I’m home alone.

my office building is the left border of this photo.The new building also has bike storage, which dovetails perfectly with a good habit I’d like to develop: biking to work a few days a week. Today, I tested out a route. Basically, I ride over the Queensboro Bridge, down 2nd Avenue to 34th Street, hop on the Greenway along the river, then cut in to Broadway 1 block south of Fulton Street, at John Street, and pop onto Fulton once that pedestrian mall is passed. 2nd Avenue is pretty hairy to ride down during rush hour, so hopefully I’ll be able to handle that. This ride is over 8 miles long, and takes me about 50 minutes. It’s farther than I’d like, especially if I’m going back and forth each day, but I suppose it only seems far now that I’m a newbie cyclist. Once I’ve done it for a month or so, it surely will get easier as I get fitter.

Riding on the East River Greenway made me nostalgic. There were so, so many runners out, huffing and sweating. I had my own memories of running along that path on numerous long runs training for marathons. But, that’s all in the past. Now, I’m interested in finding the ways I can integrate cycling into my daily life, and in figuring out what type of cyclist I’ll be. I don’t see myself as a super-competitive rider on a road bike with all the gear that’s emblazoned with random sponsor brands. I just want to be legit. Legit, and fit.

 

About a month ago, I bought a bike.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve been able to run. Every time I even thought about running (say, I went for a 4 or 5-mile walk) my plantar fasciitis would gently flare up, chiding me, Nuh-uh uh!

So, it became more sad than easy to not be active, which is why I bought the bike. That, and back in January I signed up to ride the 5 Boro Bike Tour as part of Team Fox, once again raising money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Reasearch. (Love you, Dan.)

Today was the 5 Boro Bike Tour! Here’s the story: I did not die.me at the start with my cute bike!

Here’s another story: I bike-commuted to work a week ago, from Woodside to Midtown, and I did not die.

One more story: I rode 20 miles in the Poconos, along curvy hilly roads, and again: I did not die.

In addition to not dying, I had fun. These are encouraging results from my first forays into this new activity I’m pretty sure I’m adopting. Pardon the non-committal attitude; as recently as last night I referred to my role in the 5 Boro Bike Tour as a “charity runner.” Clearly, I’m still adapting to The New TK.

I am sitting on cushion. That feels nice. Did I mention the tour was 40 miles? Also, it was really, really windy. That dampened the fun, especially as we were trying to pedal up and over the Verranzano Bridge. Thank god for gears!

If any cyclists are reading this, you will now commence snorting: I have no spare tires or tubes. I have no  watter bottle. I had to crowd source my outfit because I had no idea what to wear over my cycling kit. I figured it would all work out OK. (It did.)

The best part of the ride hands-down was riding over the Queensboro Bridge. We rode on the upper level, in lanes that usually go east-west, but we were riding west-east. It’s actually my favorite east-west approach; you enter through a little secret entrance on 21st Street in Long Island City, and it affords sweeping views of the bridge itself, the iconic Silvercup Studios sign, and of course Midtown Manhattan as it circles up, up, up. I love when Motorcycle Man takes me into Manhattan on his Honda V Star that way, it’s exhilirating. It was equally so to pedal myself along the same route, but in reverse. I could not stop hooting and hollering. welcoming all the other cyclists to Queens, the best boro! I greeted Emma and Chrissy, I thanked God, I marveled, I made sure everyone around me knew precisly how fucking awesome that bridge crossing was.

Here are some pictures.

queensboro bridge approach she's right behind me! queensboro bridge! lots of cyclists a rare view of the Roosevelt Tsland Tram! I love those beams excuse the random half-head Me! On my bridge! Ricking' the Team Fox kit.

Once we landed in Queens and cruised north up 21st Street, I was totally pumped. Never have I been so excited to pass the Queensbridge projects, or my Pep Boys service station. I was all puffed up with pride for my boro. We crossed beneath the Triboro Bridge and the Hellgate Bridge, and once we left Astoria Park (the first rest staion), we got to ride beneath my bridge! Seriously, I was in heaven.

The ride through Brooklyn to Staten Island was cool, as it followed routes I used to run along, so the roads were familiar. Rather than feel sad I wasn’t running, I was enjoying the adventure of rolling along, carried along by pedal power! Parts of this course mimicked races I’ve run; notably, the NYC Half-Marathon, and the Staten Island Half-Marathon. Those stretches brought back happy memories. I recognized the terrain, and spent time remembering the details of those races as I pedaled along.

Also cool: riding on the FDR Drive, and the BQE, with absolutely NO CAR TRAFFIC! After my hair-raising round-trip bike commute last Monday, having the city streets just for our biking selves was pretty righteous.

I took some time, as we all struggled up the Verranzano bridge, battling wind and slope, to think of Dan, and all the friends I know who have lost someone to Parkinson’s. I am so grateful that I have a healthy body, and that I have family and friends who are so generous in their support of this cause that’s important to me.

I’m pretty sure I’ll go for another bike ride soon. Once my tushy stops throbbing.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

They’ve been swishing through my mind this week, my December memories.

I was one of those lucky kids who had idyllic Christmases. I won’t drag you through a soft-focus reminisicence; you’ll have to trust me on this one. The ghosts from those Christmases are all actual dead people. They haunt me with their love. When these grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins walk arm in arm with my memories, they show up just to remind me of joys received and joys yet to pass on.

No, those ghosts aren’t the ones that slow me down.

The first Christmas after my divorce (Christmas was literally three days after the judge stamped the papers) I was living in alone in the apartment of my marriage. My ex and my dog had moved to an apartment down the hall in the same building. If I looked out the kitchen window, I could see the dog’s head and paws popped up over the windowsill, watching me from across the courtyard. I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress, but in an act of incredible hope I’d set up a tree in my entryway.

No. The ghosts that give me pause are the ones who have handed me perfect days, on a platter. Who have made me laugh until I was light-headed, who have made me feel so sparkling and precious I was sure I’d had them fooled once and for all.

I have a December memory of companionsip. Running through Central Park after a deep snow, pausing along the reservoir for a kiss so tender and hopeful I barely recognized the lips. There’s another memory of an afternoon movie, a stunned two hours of precious mundaneness. To that ghost, a ghost who pops up once or twice a year to wish me well in five words or less, I repeat my prayers: be happy. Find peace. Be healthy.

So much crap has happened this year. I speak more in a general, national way rather than about my life; I grieved my fair share and limped through eleven months of injury, but really, 2012 was a great year for me. Looking around, though, I acknowledge sadness and tragedy striking. Deaths, injuries, disasters, massacres. When my ingratitude threatens to rob me of persepective, I come back to this: I am healthy, I know where to find peace, and I am happy despite the flaws, both charming and repugnant, of this life and this world.

Merry Christmas to all my ghosts, because really, Christmas Past is Christmas Present is Christmas Future, and I wouldn’t be here without you.

These Things. Some Days.

These things can calm my heart, some days:

A clutch of dahlias from my dad

A sparky laugh

A glass of wine

Potting a plant

Singing a song

Alliteration

A postcard from abroad

The breeze lifting my hair from my face

A smile, shared in secret, in a crowded room

But some days, nothing calms me. Some days, pausing only gets me another gulp of air. Have you felt so uneasy that you scratched yourself to get away from the sting? Have you been here: strung out. Have you sought reassurance from the fickelest source?

How about this: my heart twisted up, upon learning that my foe has been diagnosed with an incurable disease.

And then: I recognize my own humanity, my character defects and fatal flaws, in a friend who suffers similarly.

Some days, the only thing that will calm me down is being reminded that we’re all in it together. Some days, the best way to calm myself is to calm someone else.

These things I know to be true.

There’s No Shame in Drifting

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There’s no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Don’t let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it’s not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above

–from Swim, by Jack’s Mannequin

Hey, I freely admit this song is melodramatic and saccharine. I also kind of hate it because an ex-boyfriend had some of the lyrics tattooed on his arm, shortly after we broke up.* Despite those two strikes against this song, I can’t really argue with the sentiment of the lyrics: keep on going. Find a focal point and head there, pull yourself through the distracting and painful shit. Don’t quit.

Today though, this song reminds me that I’m a swimmer. An actual swimmer. Stupid-ass, mean-spirited plantar fasciitis has forced me to switch my self-identification from “runner” to “non-running runner” (I suppose eventually I’ll be able to choke out “former-runner”) and “swimmer.”

This week I joined the Long Island City YMCA, which has a pool. Or shall I say: this week I joined the Long Island City YMCA because it has a pool. I went on Tuesday morning for a splash.

The water felt like silk. The pool wasn’t crowded, and I had my own lane.

Apart from that, it was not so enjoyable. I always warm up doing my chickenshit version of the breast stroke (I don’t put my head underwater). Then I move into doing the crawl for about 20 minutes or as long as I can stand it. I give myself 30 minutes in the pool. It’s not torture, no where close, but I definitely am pep talking myself through the whole thing. I get winded going from one end of the half-Olympic pool to the other, so there’s a lot of endurance I need to build.

Here’s the thing with the swimming. IT FREAKS ME OUT. Why can’t I breathe when I want to breathe?! It’s very annoying.  This is what happens. I start out slow, my breathing’s OK. I get to the end of the pool and I take a rest. OK. But if I try and do a there-and-back without a rest? By the end of the lap I can’t breathe in enough, I can’t breathe out enough. I’m gasping and my face is tense and my brain is screaming at me WHY WOULD YOU WILLINGLY RELINQUISH YOUR FREE AND PERPETUAL ACCESS TO OXYGEN??!! (Note to self: do not make career change to be an astronaut.) Before you know it, I’m hyperventilating, coughing, and cowering against the side of the pool due to embarrassment.

To be clear: I am never in fear of drowning. It’s just, I cannot sort out how to pace my breathing so that it feels like I’m breathing hard but in synch with my strokes. You know: that sustainable hard breathing we do as runners, when we are running at “cruising” speed. That’s all I want to do as a swimmer, is be able to “cruise.” Oh and also, I’d really like to be able to outlast the 70-year-old Korean woman who is like the aquatic version of the Terminator. Her form sucks, she giggles when I say “Good morning,” but yet she outswims me every morning. I think these are modest goals, but they are really intimidating.

There’s no shame in drifting, but there is shame in spluttering and gasping.

*<opine> 1. I  don’t find tattoos appealing. 2. If you must get a word tattoo, can’t you at least come up with your own words? You really want to tattoo someone else’s pop song lyrics on your body, forever? 3. Insert other opinions here that are too petty and harsh to say out loud. </opine>

I have told you a little bit about Frances, my nana. When I was a girl I would spend weeks every summer with her. Instead of summer camp, my brother and I (and whichever cousins happened to be around) would spend every day at Jones Beach with her. She was an active woman up until her late 90’s. and would drag my brother and I with her on walks up and down the beach collecting shells, along the boardwalk to bring up the sun, to the West Bathouse where she’d swim endless laps. Everything was so far, and it took so long.

This is much of how I remembered it. Long. Far. Endless. The parking lot was vast–hotfooting it to the bathrooms was a major annoyance. The ocean was miles away from where we planted our beach chairs at the top of the beach. Walking the boardwalk from Field 6 (where Nana always parked) to Filed 2 (the end of the line) took hours and hours. 

I suppose I’ve been back to Jones Beach since I was a child. I’ve definitely been there for concerts (Rush, Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Tears for Fears, The Fray, Blues Traveler, the list goes on). But when I went to Jones Beach this Labor Day to lay on Field 6, it seemd like the first time I’d been back in 25 years.

The nostalgia was so powerful, I wept.

In this new life of mine, I cry more often than I would have ever thought I would allow myself, or find acceptable. I’m not even embarrassed about it, and it doesn’t always mean I’m sad.

I drove my Nana’s car. I took the Meadowbrook State Parkway. I drove thought those aqua toll booths that were made famous in The Godfather. I remembered nights spent dancing to New Wave with my high school friends at Malibu dance club (the exit sign to Lido Beach was what reminded me). My heart swelled with joy and homecoming as I sailed over the bridge. Then, the pencil! (If you don’ tknow what the pencil is then you definitely did not grow up on Long Island.) I remembered how Nana would keep me and my brother occupied in the predawn hours as we drove to the beach, looking in the grass next to the highway for Josephs (ducks) and Marias (rabbits). Oh, the rituals. The food, the friends, the walking, swimming, poppylols*, tanning, eating, more walking, then heading home before the rush. We never sat in beach traffic, I didn’t even know what that was until I was in high school and started going to Robert Moses with my friends.

Nana would back her car right up to the sand. She got there early enough to easily park in the first row. Field 6 is special in that you can literally use your trunk as your “office” if you put your chairs and umbrella down right there. So, I did the same thing on Labor Day (except I walked down the beach to lay closer to the water). Nana used to put her car keys on her car tire for safekeeping! For a girl who loved the beach, I hated sand on me. I was constantly at the faucet to rinse off my feet, and clean out the crotch of my one-piece after jumping around in the ocean.

My nana was an early-adopter of sunblock. She was slathering it on my and my brother before anyone was fretting about skin cancer. She was a wizard with a can of Solarcaine, too, because sometimes my brother and I got lazy (and burned).

So as I walked along the boardwalk–noticing how quickly I got from the car, to the bathrooms, to the boardwalk, to Field 4–I cried. I cried for who I had been as a girl, before I was pushed around by my classmates, by my 20’s, by my 30’s. I cried for Jones Beach, which had apparently spent the last quarter century shrinking. I cried for Nana, who was so vivacious, so active and fun to me. She had such a way with children. It may be her greatest gift, the way she can engage and love children. There was a time in my life during which she must have been my one true love: she held my attention and esteem, and all I could see was her burnish and her delightful unconventionality.

It was a little awkward, all the crying. I mean, the beach wasn’t crowded (it was windy and not so hot) but there were enough people there that my solitary walk with tears was a little, shall we say, out of season. More suited for January. Despite that, it felt good to emote for a while, in a place so comforting and familiar.

Lately, I’ve been carrying this kind of pre-grief around with me. I am sad for my friend Dan, who has greatly deteriorated from his Parkinsons Disease and is now in hospice (though not the palliative care ward yet, thank god). I’ve missed him for a while, as PD has taken him from us bit by bit. I visited him a month ago. While being near him was a relief and a joy, I was heartbroken to see how greatly he was diminished. And my Nana, who can still be sharp as a tack when she is interested, is not the same either. She’s in better shape than Dan, but it’s a wrench to see this once proud woman struggle with dentures, with drool, with all of the indignities that come with extraold age.

I walked along the boardwalk, I smelled the friend food from the concessions, I stood online at the bathrooms, I cooed over the trashcans stenciled with the classic crabs. Also, I felt superior. Superior to everyone else on that beach–that’s how sure I was that I was the only woman there with this unique, poignant, significant experience of Jones Beach.

That’s a crock. The supeior part, I mean. I have no doubt that my experience of Jones Beach is truly and solely mine.

When I was born, Nana drove to Jones Beach and praised God as she watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the very, very few things she and my dad have ever agreed upon: apparently, the sunrise that day was one of the most beautiful to have ever happened in the history of the world. How’s that for some love.

When Nana leaves me to carry on her life in some other dimension, I will have to come to Jones Beach to bid her proper goodbye. Even though she hasn’t been the queen of Field Six in decades, it’s her place. More precisely: it is our place.

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