Tom Clyde: Lost in New York
This year’s bike trip was in the Hudson River Valley above New York City. It’s about the 35th year of bike-based vacations with the same group.
As the group has, um, matured, more of them have started riding e-bikes. There were only two of us on regular road bikes and it was a bit humiliating finding that I had trouble keeping up with octogenarians in very hilly country. As long as I was in the neighborhood, I thought I should see Gotham.
For starters, I’d never been to New York City. Most of what I knew came from Batman. I’m pretty uncomfortable in crowded places, so it was a challenge. In a city of iconic skyscrapers, there are no landmarks. In New York, all you can see is the storefront across the street, and they all look alike. With the exception of a few hot spots like Stephen Colbert’s theater, there are an identical subway stop, Dunkin’ Donuts and two Starbucks on every corner, all hidden behind construction scaffolding.
When you add the residents, commuters and visitors, there are more people crammed into New York City than in the entire Mountain Standard Time Zone. That it functions at all is amazing. That it actually works reasonably well is shocking. But it does, in its own way. Construction materials are unloaded from trucks and delivered the last several blocks by hand carts. Everything moves on pushcarts. The UPS guys work in teams — one guy stays at the truck, moving it before it gets towed. Two people push the cart through the mosh pit, and then one stays with the cart while the other delivers the packages inside the building. If anything goes wrong, they are about 48 hours from cannibalism.
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Everybody is either having loud arguments on their cell phones, or, like me, trying to use them to navigate around town, so nobody pays attention to where they are walking. It’s like playing rugby, only with bikes, scooters and cement trucks in the scrum. The subways were something out of Dante’s “Inferno” in terms of ambiance, but move you around efficiently, if not comfortably. I got pretty good navigating the downtown area on them. As a lifestyle, it was lacking charm.
There is garbage piled up in the streets in front of flagship stores and luxury apartment buildings. I didn’t see any actual rats. That was kind of disappointing, since that was on my list. Sadly, I did see a lot of people sleeping in the subway stations or on the streets, and came to recognize the turn to my hotel by the homeless guy who had staked out that corner and seemed to be there 24/7. He was a landmark.
But there was a lot of great stuff to see and do. I saw the Statue of Liberty. It was extremely satisfying culturally. There were people from every corner of the world there, speaking every language imaginable. We all stood side-by-side at the railings and gawked at the skyline across the water, to America.
I hit the rest of the list, Empire State Building, saw a show, and biked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I broke the charger for my phone and went to the Apple store. There was an hour line to get in to pick up a phone, but for a charger, you could go right in. There were more people in the Apple store at 10 p.m. than there are in Kamas.
I spent time in a Home Depot store. It was a tiny storefront with an escalator down to a 40,000 square foot basement full of everything we have here, minus the lawn mowers. Everything you’d need to remodel your condo was there, and you could haul the cast iron bathtub or a new fridge home on the subway. For an extra charge, somebody would deliver it by push cart.
The plan had been to go to Trump Tower and clog up the plumbing. But the place was so heavily guarded by the Secret Service that there was no way to get into the restroom without buying a MAGA hat from any of a dozen Trump-named businesses. So that didn’t happen.
I averaged a little over 12 miles of walking every day I was there. Mostly just walking and soaking it all in. Central Park, 5th Avenue, Broadway, museums, all of it. I was feeling pretty alone in that sea of strangers. I was walking the High Line, an abandoned elevated railroad line that has become a parkway. The place was packed, and I had just come to the conclusion that there was truly a dog from every village there when somebody called my name. In 15 million people, I ran into Councilman Roger Armstrong and his family. Talk about random.
It was great to get home, but it seems eerily quiet with car alarms blaring all night.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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