After a relentlessly long and rainy June in New York that seemed to literally dampen summertime spirits, during a time that has many questioning how they can personally manoeuvre this changing urban economy, following what must be an unusually dark, often bizarre and fast news cycle for the summer, the dawn of a serene 4th of July weekend seemed like a gift from the heavens. Saturday was a tad breezy, but our city managed to get through the whole day and into the night for the spectacle of fireworks on the Hudson and the opening of the Statue of Liberty's crown without one drop of rain. Given our state of mind, it felt like a miracle.
Sunday the 5th turned out even more miraculous weather-wise - low humidity with a cool morning with the clearest of skies. After walking the dogs, I felt an instant urge to see the city. Many residents had abandoned the city for beaches, and while most Sunday mornings prove a quiet time, I knew the moment of this particular Sunday morning, the 5th of July, provided a rare time to sail uptown on a bicycle with hardly a soul in sight. While I may have enjoyed a walk uptown equally as well, I woke up craving a jaunty and faster pace. Looking at the blue skies from my balcony, I wanted to get to Central Park as fast as possible, and without resorting to waiting for a train in a dark subway station below the earth.
Under this cloudless blue sky I biked straight north via 6th Avenue, stopping rarely, but after 49th St., I was forced to weave slowly and carefully through a group of vendors setting up a street fair for the day. Reaching the park, I cruised around at a slow pace, choosing to let the serious cyclists (the guys with striped jerseys and the gear) speed around me. I dismounted and walked my bike up The Mall, stopping and gazing for a few minutes on the lovely Bethesda Fountain down below me on the terrace. On 72nd Street, I found the bike route that directed me home, to the west and to the southwest, to 59th Street and Broadway.
View Cycling Off the Big Apple: From the Village to Central Park in a larger map
A bike ride from Washington Square Park uptown to Bethesda Terrace & Fountain in Central Park and then back again takes in an impressive number of New York attractions, especially for the return trip downtown via Broadway and Fifth Avenue. On the way up, I passed by Chelsea, Bryant Park, the Theater District and Radio City Music Hall. On the way home, I sailed through Times Square and Herald Square and then past Madison Square Park where I had a good look at the oncoming Flatiron Building, and then I soared down Fifth Avenue to the Washington Square Arch. At the end of this modest 7-mile ride, I felt triumphant, as if the Arch marked my own finish line of the last stage of the Tour de France.
I have played my share of video and computer games over the years, but riding a bicycle through Times Square on a Sunday morning seemed so surreal that I can only compare it to simulated virtual reality. With the newly-painted bike paths, riding a bike through this electric part of Manhattan is not only easy, but it's encouraged. Seeing this part of the city by two wheels is nevertheless a strange excursion, because the cultural history of New York has little reference to experiencing Times Square and the theater district in quite this way.
Reading the city's cultural and literary history prepares us for taxis, limos, cars, cigarettes and cigars, engine exhaust, dressing up for the play, pretty women and handsome men in elegant clothing, martinis and doorman, someone opening the car door, the city at night. We don't yet have a body of literature that includes, for example, episodes like biking past the Palace Theatre at 10 a.m. on a Sunday holiday morning and crashing into a set of disposable lawn furniture. I'm sure that will come.
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from July 5, 2009.