I had been threatening to do it for weeks. Months I tell you. Perhaps even a year. All of my friends had heard about it ad nauseum. My family, too. I was at the point where I decided to just stop talking about it because I was beginning to sound like, well, one of those people who talks about doing stuff and just doesn't. One of my pet peeves. That and cuticles. Oh, and cheese.
I moved to NYC a little over a year ago, with big sights set on finding another glorious job back in the music industry. I quit my job working at CAA - picked up everything, and just moved. I was born and raised in Los Angeles - Hollywood in fact. I love it out there, but at the time it just wasn't doing it for me. I believe that some great decisions are just made - I just wholeheartedly went for it. I called up JetBlue (well, went to the website), and bought a one-way ticket. With $10,000 in savings I made the jump. My father moved to L.A. at that same age by car. I did the same thing by Airbus. My shiny black Jetta was sad to see me go (much to my parents' chagrin - they're still begrudgingly making payments for it).
I really didn't do as much research as I would have liked. I tried going the Craigslist route, but it can be a bit overwhelming, and full of scams and people in Staten Island or Stamford trying their best to get you to go out there to look at their $100 Schwinn "perfect for someone 6'3''" (even when their friend who was 5'9'' owned it??). Also, in the back of my mind I was 60% afraid I would be killed upon meeting someone to check out their bike.
Through word-of-mouth I checked out a couple of bike shops in the area - Williamsburg. Ok, so I checked out one bike shop off the Lorimer stop. It wasn't really a shop at all, no storefront or store at all, just a room filled with what looked like hundreds of bikes. The air was heavy with that oily smell that reminded me of my grandfather's workshop. Bodies of aluminum and metal leaning against each other in eternal rest, waiting for the right person of the right height and weight proportions to pick it and make his own. The shop's owner was Pete. A bit of a husky, middle-aged guy with a heavy Brooklyn accent and a thick head of hair. I couldn't tell if he was trying to give me a deal or trying to make a buck off my naïve L.A. ass. He went inside, and emerged with a blue, large-framed road bike that needed some work. I wasn't thrilled about the color, but it fit me well. He wanted $250 for it. I told him I'd call him on Friday to give him time to work on it. It was Tuesday. I guess some sort of deal was made?
Ever since I became transfixed on the idea of getting a bike, like some sort of cycle-stalker, I found my gaze following the frame of every passing bike on the street. Inspecting the brand, the color, the condition, the frame, the wheels - every aspect. I became obsessed with getting a road bike, a Trek in fact. It was a painful reality check when I realized that spending $600 on a used one wasn't a reality for me.
I returned to see Pete on Saturday with cold feet. He brought the bike out for me, and I just couldn't do it. I had the overwhelming sense that somewhere out there, I could get a better deal, perhaps a bike in better condition. My friend who accompanied me told me about a place in the East Village on E 3rd and Ave. A. We postponed our afternoon Fourth of July drinking plans and headed there.
Same story, albeit in a more presentable setting. The area was definitely hipper, but the bikes they had to offer for my price range were less than visually stimulating. Scratches here, rusty gears, etc. I finally settled on a Sentinel "Californian" (I actually didn't notice the "Californian" part until later) - a burgundy one. It was between this one and a black and "green" bike ("green" is in quotes because the green was essentially scratched off). I paid the bike lady in cash to avoid the tax. The bike lady that looked more suited to be working in a cute boutique somewhere in the area, not at a bike shop. After handing over the cash, I had no clue if she even knew anything about bikes. I suddenly missed Pete who seemed more dedicated to his craft. I ignored my buyer's remorse, mounted, and rode off...slowly because I had a friend on foot with me. Damn!
Right up there with my white iPhone, it was the best purchase made so far in NYC. I don't actually have to rely on the MTA or get heart palpitations when the L sits at every stop for 10 minutes, making me late for whatever obligation I have! I can just get off the train and ride to my destination. Case in point: I was already late to my 9:30 AM reoccurring Monday therapist appointment. The L was parked at Third Avenue for what seemed like an eternity, doors open, taking a breather. I got up and just rode to Chelsea. What a concept! I will bet anything I was there before the train made it to 8th Avenue. Imagine that.
The ultimate gift of having a bike in NYC is riding over the Williamsburg Bridge. One of the great beauties of this city is its bridges, I believe. There is something surreal about peddling high above the East River, watching the ferries pass beneath you, eyes darting from the road in front of you to the lower Manhattan skyline, trying to soak it all in; getting goose bumps as the J or M heavily pushes past you. Nothing like it in the world. I'm still learning my way around the East Village on two wheels, but I'm learning fast. Plus I have my GPS-assisted Google Map iPhone app with me at all times. I'm not getting lost.
It's so ironic because this amazing city is known for its heights and lights, but I've discovered my own personal beauty much closer to the ground. Being in touch with all the colors and textures, personalities and smells, potholes and odd bugs that land on you.
Follow Justin Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jambk