NEW YORK, NEW YORK, HELLUVA TOWN, and a helluva time getting here yesterday. From Rhode Island it was three hours to the Bronx River, then another three to the East River. At the toll to the Triborough Bridge, one of the port authority cops told me there was a fire in Queens, lanes closed on I-278. So at two points on the approach to the bridge and one just over the apex, I was squatting by the iron piggy while she cooled down.
Got quite a lot of sun exposure for just one day, but I had water with me and kept it going in. My clothes were streaked with salt. You know you’ve gotten baked when you don’t take a leak for six hours before going to bed and when you wake up in the morning you still don’t. I was drinking plenty of water all evening, just definitely down a quart. But I woke up feeling good, my arms and hands are as vascular as they normally are. So the water got in.
Second pit stop. Piggy was running seriously hot, not moving enough to keep air flowing over the engine. I did a little lane splitting where I could but the lanes are so narrow it would be dicey on a sport bike let alone the wide piggy, so… pretty much had to stay in line. And traffic was too slow to stay in first gear. Clutch in, out, clutch in, out… very hot work on motor, primary and gears at an ambient 85 degrees. Whenever the oil pressure at idle dropped to 15psi, I pulled over and shut the motor off. Piggy idles at 20psi at normal operating temperature, and normal is plenty hot enough.
The coolest motorcycle engines on earth run hot, the boring ones run cool. That’s just the way it is.
Manhattan, from the lovely N’s condo in Queens. She and I worked together at the Providence Journal some years ago. She got back from a work-related trip to China 48 hours before I got here. Pretty impressive that she wasn’t jet lagged, I thought.
Third pit stop, just over the apex. When you pull off on places like this, you want to watch what kind of road trash you’re rolling over. Avoid the sharp stuff. Here, it was a lag bolt, a tangle of wire, and bits of hard plastic from car headlights, the detritus of many a fender bender and maybe worse. See that latex glove on the middle right? Just this side of the expansion joint in the highway? It was probably cast off by a paramedic tending to someone hurt in an accident. Badly, who knows?
Not a great spot to roost for half an hour, but if you like not knowing what happens next, this is sometimes it. It’s a part of riding. But the body knows what to do when you get heat-stressed; pituitary starts pouring out the vasopressin. Keep the water going in, roadie.
That glove, my afternoon in a nutshell. When I showed this to N she laughed and said, “That’s the New-Yorkest New York road trash I’ve ever seen.”
I was so baked by the time I got off the bridge I didn’t even look for N’s place. She had left a key out for me, but I pulled under the bridge to soak up the shade. It was 5 p.m. It had taken six hours to cover 176 miles, with half that time on the final few.
Broke open the big bear can, enjoyed carbs with my water. The old standby, Fig Newtons. Roadworthy.
Got a text from N, which started a conversation that went like this:
Hey! Did you make it OK?
Took hours to get across the RFK Bridge. Piggy’s seriously hot. Temperature-wise, I mean, as opposed to just HAWT. We’re cooling off in the park under the bridge.
Damn, that sounds awful. You’re pretty close to my house—think you can get the rest of the way over there? I’m gradually progressing toward an exit from work. Thinking I might arrive home sometime in the area of 7:30.
I’m sure I can but will just roost here and enjoy the cooler air. Got grub, water, an interesting inner life, not bored. Will see you when you get out of work.
I put the piggy in the garage overnight. It seems secure enough that I leave the traveling gear aboard and don’t worry about it walking away before I set out for Pennsylvania in the early a.m. I’m aiming to get through Queens, Brooklyn, and over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before the sun’s up.
Today was cloudy, breezy and 25 degrees cooler. It felt wonderful to get out and walk the neighborhood. It’s urban living, loud, gritty and wonderful. People everywhere, music, horns honking. A mom holds a baby with her back to the window and the baby’s gaze follows as you pass. Dogs woof at you from windows. Street vendors cooking on the corners…
I had a surprise email from our friend Vincent Ogutu, a Fulbright Scholar from Kenya studying economics at Rutgers. He’s in the home stretch, about to earn his Ph.D, finish up his teaching duties and journey home next fall or winter. We arranged to meet at an El stop near here and find a place to get lunch. Start asking New Yorkers for recommendations and directions and pretty soon you’ve gathered a crowd. Chris, a 74-year-old native of Greece not only knew “the best diner in Queens, the Neptune,” (“He’s right! He’s right!” another man said) but offered to walk us there because it was on his way home. Chris has iffy knees and uses an umbrella for a cane, but is a pretty fair walker.
New Yorkers love that latex-glove image of their toughness but that doesn’t mean they’re not friendly. You meet great people here all the time. I lost count yesterday of how many times someone on the bridge asked if I was all right, if the motorcycle was stuck, if I needed help. Nope, doing good, gonna squat here for a while.
Chris came to America in ’66, got a job in a restaurant and made a life. I think he said there are 50,000 Greeks living in Queens.
The roast chicken at the Neptune, Astoria Boulevard and 31st Street. Protein, carbs, oil—nicely recharged my stores from the rigors of the ride. Best of all, I enjoyed the conversation with Vincent. We talked about travel, geography, family, varieties of coffee, public policy, education, positive action in the world, what it means to be a member of a community, the rise of China, you name it. With a philosopher about to become a Doctor of Philosophy, how apropos to get lunch among the Greeks. A warm and intelligent personality, Vincent’s all about soaking up information and acquiring new skills. Which I guess is why he’s fluent in Luo, Swahili, English, French and Spanish, and nearly so in Italian and Portuguese. Meanwhile, I’m futzing to remove a 34mm nut with a 36mm wrench… ay, chihuahua…
On the plus side, I’m pretty interested in these rooftop inscriptions left by ancient aliens.
Tony DePaul, May 28, 2014, Queens, New York