No... it isn't Television.
No... not the Chicken McNugget.
It is the humble bicycle.
When I was in Portland, condisdered the most bike-friendly city in America, some friends felt I wasn't enjoying life there to the fullest, and urged me to get a bicycle. They said that not only would that make life in PDX way easier, and give me a much greater appreciation for the town, but I'd be bitten by the biking bug and become a cycling fanatic (like everybody else there) as well. That all sounded just fine to me.
I got a crappy used one off a homeless guy asking $5 (I gave him $6). And I rode a few places with friends on occasion. But it never really grabbed me. My reaction: "Eh."
A few months after I returned to NYC, my friends Martin and Elke invited me to join them on a Saturday outing to the Whitney Museum of American Art for the "Summer of Love" psychedelic art exhibit that had just opened. We were all in Brooklyn at the time, and they were planning to ride their bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge, then all the way uptown to the Whitney and asked if I could borrow someone's bike and ride with them, or if they should just meet me up there.
Normally, I would've been too lazy to borrow a bike and ride along with them, but I'd just heard the guy behind No Impact Man, interviewed on NPR, and found it inspiring. It also happened to be an unusually nice day for that time of year and the thought of a bike ride was more appealing than being cooped up underground riding the subway (which I also usually enjoy).
My friend Petra has a really nice hybrid bike, and since she is tall, the bike is even comfortable for me to ride. Best of all, she was happy to let me borrow it for the day. So I met M&E at the foot of the stairs to the Brooklyn Bridge bike path, and off we went.
That was when I was, in fact, bitten by the biking bug. Instantly hooked. Totally, utterly, irreversibly... addicted.
The next day, I sat at my computer rubbing my aching legs, yet scouring craigslist for a cheap but half-way decent used bike that would fit me. A russian guy out on Staten Island was selling an old mountain bike, a Giant Rincon, in just beat-up enough shape to feel right, for $80 or so. Bingo.
I rode the ferry over. He picked me up at the terminal. I tried out the bike. It was good enough. Bought it. He drove me and the bike back to the ferry and I arrived in Manhattan with the ability to ride the rest of the way home under my own power. It was freakin' glorious.
Eventually, I hack-sawed the handlebars to make them much narrower, bought a more comfortable seat, got lots of serious locks, and started feeling like the thing was really mine.
A boy and his bike.
I was starting to think I might never buy a metrocard again...
[more next time]