Thursday, August 26, 2010

The city that never… sleeping giants

I awoke tonight and finished the book I was reading, got out of bed and found that my internet was out, so I decided to go for a bike ride. When I left my apartment just before Zero O'clock I wandered for a bit, just seeing what there was to see in The East Village... very little. There were drunks wandering home, or stumbling along in groups, some people just out and about, like me, with no apparent destination. The occasional bark of laughter. I rode down along the southern tip of the island and up through Battery Park then up the west side of the island, along the park, the water. I dashed the cold river northwards..., pilot of night flight, stealth journeyman.

I got to the west 50's and decided to cut into the city and do a few loops of Central Park.

Now, in the late 1970's and early 80's, as you might know, Central Park at any time of the day was considered the most dangerous place on earth. There was little reporting of events outside the United States. Rape and murder in New York was the very best that American news agencies had to offer, apparently. Sometimes it was the only news at all that we would get in Florida. It was as if the only thing to worry about in the world was this dark and dangerous park, especially at night. I could never figure out why anybody would enter such a place. Even the police seemed afraid of it.

One might think that riding a bike in this park as a grown man of 40+ years that I wouldn't have any fear. That those times were long ago and much has changed since then. Tell that to the demon under the bed, or trotting along just behind you, breathing heavily, gaining ground, arms outstretched... reason with him.

I first rode the smaller southern loop in the park, expecting to see other riders. When I saw none I thought that certainly it's just because I am riding the same way that they are, so I turned around and rode the opposite way, noticing then that there was nobody in the park at all. Nobody. I finished the loop backwards and then decided to do the entire park loop. Up past the backside of the Met, lit up at night like a massive operating room, familiar parts of it so alien at this hour, along the reservoir named after Jacqueline O. I thought out loud: the only person that's going to get 'jacked' is going to be me. Pinned northward, up the corridor between 5th and The Jackie O. Reservoir, I could see the renovations of The Guggenheim. Oh Mother, where there be art... oh, mother art, don't fail me now... etc... The shrubbery that separates the reservoir from the road creeps out onto the pavement in a suggestively malevolent manner at this hour. The northern part of the loop gets darker and seems less kept. As I rode I felt like I was jogging nude into Africa, covered in honey and gold...

I knew that I was getting into more dangerous territory. But the northern part of the loop is a better ride, more hilly, more challenging. As I reached the northernmost part of the loop and started heading back south I felt a relief that I wasn't going any further, past the edge of the park back into the city, Harlem. As I shifted into a higher gear going around the gradual down-sloping westward curve, gaining speed, I felt that I was safe again. It had been a while since I rode the full loop here. As I came around the western side and started heading south in earnest I hit what I remembered to be a series of semi-steep hills and curves. I had forgotten what they were actually like. My legs were weakened, not used to a ride this long, I was short of breath. Each curve I rounded delivered another winding hill upwards and further into the park, into more darkness. I felt like I was powering a lone rickshaw expedition up Kilimanjaro, at night, with the devil in tow. The shifting peripheral sight and the shadows of trees all became advancing marauders. Each bush on the side of the road was certain cover for some new horror. I prepared mentally for action, peddled on, saving strength for any sudden danger, and eager to be be back on the coast, at a trading town, the hotel paid many days in advance, my ticket aboard the outbound boat confirmed.


My fears were all mine. I shared the park with no one, ill or otherwise. I crossed a bridge and saw some sign of life. A truck with the headlights on and the sound of industry. There must have been road workers repairing the road that ran underneath, but I saw none. There were, at least, I thought, others. I never stopped, I was eager to get back below the 80's, below the 70's, back to the streets and times of safety. Across The Great Lawn there was nothing, only an eery phosphorescent glow, "The Shining" without snow, or Jack Nicholson wielding an axe. Ahead, I could just glimpse the Museum Of Natural History through the trees and felt some certainty return to me. Silly, that.

I longed to tell of my adventures, my exploration into the darkest, most dangerous place of my youth. I felt like a brother for real, friend to rapist and murderer and drug-dealers alike. At this hour.... who can ever tell.

By the time I reached Sheep Meadow I was already wanting to do another loop of the whole thing but knew my legs would be twice as tired, more. Always darkest before the dawn, etc.

Who can tell? The ride home from the park seemed much more dangerous. Taxi cab drivers are the biggest threat to my safety.

Those who have never ridden a bike down 5th Ave. do not get to talk to me of terror in New York City.