The Jew, the Jew, and the Gentile

My friend Valerie and I were biking back to Clinton Hill from Williamsburg. It was evening; she wanted to take the Wythe route through the Jewish part of the neighborhood, as it was better lit and less hilly. I noticed a woman in a traditional white long sleeve blouse, long black skirt, and tights signaling quietly but clearly to me with her finger as if to ask a question. Valerie hadn’t seen and kept biking, but I slowed to a stop.
“Excuse me, do you have a moment?” she asked.
We’re trained to run the other direction in those situations (thanks, Greenpeace), but I saw no clipboard in sight. It was also a very quiet street; I wondered how long she had been standing there. I said sure.
“Could you possibly turn off our air conditioner; it’s getting colder than we expected but can’t do it ourselves.”
It wasn’t Shabbat, but I realized that similar Jewish law regarding “work” (like turning a switch on or off) might apply on holidays, so I asked if it was because of Sukkot, to which she said yes.
“Ok, let me make sure my friend will watch my bike.”I thought for a second and then realized what I needed to disclose: “I should tell you that I’m also Jewish but do not follow the same observance custom; does that matter.”
“Oh, yes, it does matter; it won’t work. Is your friend Jewish?”
“No,” I replied, a bit stunned that I couldn’t perform this mitzvah myself. I also felt apologetic. “I hope it’s not offensive that I don’t observe this custom.”
She warmly thanked me for letting her know, and Valerie agreed without missing a beat to go in and turn the switch off. I stayed with bikes and she went in.
When Valerie emerged 5 minutes later, the woman sent her out with cups of water and gave a friendly wave and thanked us again, and we hopped back on our bikes and rode away.
Everything about this little interaction was exciting to both of us. Like anyone would be, we were curious; who in New York doesn’t like seeing any and every apartment possible and how people live? I was also so thrilled that Valerie could – and proud that she willingly did – perform this mitzvah for a family enjoying dinner during the holiday. I was also a bit jealous and uncomfortable that I couldn’t perform the task myself – I had no moral issue with it – but at the same time, I felt a sense of community with a person whose reality seemed so different from my own, because despite my style of dress and relative ambivalence towards the holiday, I was still a Jew in her eyes. I loved too that traditional observance truly mattered so much to this woman, despite how odd it seems in today’s times. 
One more Brooklyn story…

Community Calls For Improved Safety Measures At Brooklyn Intersection

It makes me sick that this happened. It also makes me sick that transportation precautions to protect cyclists and pedestrians are lacking in more places than they are present, and that they would absolutely mitigate the chance of fatalities. What will it take for the City to act? Also, the Bandes family has my deepest respect for pushing for a response during such a difficult time. I hope their voice can work in tandem with Transportation Alternatives to make some changes.

Community Calls For Improved Safety Measures At Brooklyn Intersection

Bike Corrals Expanding Access to Businesses

imageClear, simply-put argument for the benefit of bike parking rather than car parking. But, that’s because I’m a cyclist. If you’re a car owner in a city of already-limited places to park, I can see where this is frustrating and continues to separate, rather than unite, a community (in this article’s case, my community). It’s a growing pain of transportation reform in this decade, I think, but the sourness and fights will get even worse before folks both car-owning and not can agree on this blown-out debate.

Bike Corrals Expanding Access to Businesses

RIP, bike. 1999-2012.

You were a good bike and we went through a lot. You got hit by a port-a-potty door, pooped on by birds, hit by a truck, and doored a handful of times; you survived the elements, crossed bridges, scaled hills, safely delivered me to work and volunteering, and did some wheelies; you were a load of fun. I see why someone would want to steal you even in your old age; I just really wish they failed.

Now, some extra-irritating facts:

  • This bike theft happened in broad daylight in the west village while I had brunch. Yes, it was locked with a U lock and cord that have served me well for at least 3 years.
  • The street was crowded with pedestrians. As we know, people sometimes don’t say something even if they see something. Just as guilty, I think.
  • I approached an NYPD traffic cop who was in a car on the block. I told him what happened and said it must have been in the last 15-20 minutes, and asked if he could look out for it. “That’s not my job.” “But aren’t bikes part of traffic.” “Nope.” “OK, at the very least can you be on the lookout and use the radio; it probably hasn’t gone far in such a short time.” “No. Not my job. You can go file a report at the first precinct.”
  • The website to register a bike was down when I finally thought to do it last week.
  • It’s harder than it seems to report a stolen bike. There’s no clear website link, and there’s no realistic action that can be taken to bring it back anyway unless it is registered. I will absolutely register my next bike immediately.
  • The 5 Stages of Grief feel weird to apply to an inanimate object, but to anyone who’s had a bike stolen, I think you’d agree that it applies perfectly.
  • This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with theft personally this year. Kinda makes you feel violated.

Anyone know where I can find a reasonably priced, stylish but not flashy, safe but fun new bike? I’m looking for a 48-50cm frame, probably a hybrid step-through with 10-18 gears. (Thanks, bike class!) Any leads would be incredible.

Biking In Heels: Cycling For Women

I took an awesome (and free!) bike class at the Brooklyn Brainery last month taught by Emily Scott, an avid cyclist with enthusiasm and smarts to boot. We covered everything from proper gear (Isle Jacobse’s great raincoats and a white helmet for increased visibility, for instance) to highest risk situations (like cars making left turns while you’re in a protected bike lane). With Emily’s permission, and in honor of National Bike Month, I share below some of the notes I took and tips that I found most interesting:

For purchasing a bike:

  • What kind of cyclist are you? Commuter? Errands? Recreational?
  • What do you want in a bike? Speed? Lightweight? Ability to carry things? Ability to stay dry? Type of frame (stepthrough or not)? How many gears?
  • No hand breaks = dangerous!
  • To determine the proper frame size, use a chart. Inseam is a more important factor than height. My inseam is 27”, so for my next bike purchase, I should get a 48-50cm frame.
  • You can often “trade up” on craigslist, meaning that when you’re ready for something new, go for it! Your old one will sell.

Be lawfully safe and satisfactorily dry:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • NYC law says that you must have a white light in the front and a red light in the rear.
  • Test brakes before going out.
  • Keep things off your body as much as possible, because it makes you less sweaty. Racks/baskets on the back of the bike or side baskets that fold can help with this.
  • Good temperature management means that you wear 1/3 less clothing than you normally would walking around in that weather. Strip down then you feel yourself getting warm
  • There are solutions out there for butt sweat.

Miscellaneous tips:

  • Think like a car and act like a car, but have the awareness of a pedestrian.
  • Be aware of cyclists behind you. If you’re going to go slower, hang to the right.
  • Draw attention to yourself when needed. Ring a bells. Use your voice. Make eye contact.
  • The best bike shops are where the bike delivery men go. They’re honest and no frills.
  • Keep your purse where you can see it; if you stop at a light, someone can swipe it out of a back basket.
  • 97% of people who died on bike were not wearing a helmet.

I got hit by a truck.

Before anyone worries, I’m ok minus a little whiplash (no fun). Just completely shaken up.

I was biking to work (as I like to do 1-3 times per week) and was in the Sixth Avenue bike lane. The lane is on the left side of the road, and I ride super defensively on it because a lot of cabs and trucks pull into the bike lane at rush hour. It was about 8:45am, and I was biking a normal speed.

As with anything, it happened quickly. I was next to a truck – a tractor trailer – and definitely behind the tractor and alongside the trailer. The driver seemed to be going normal speed, and I did not see a signal light on the tractor before he lurched towards a clear block of curb to the left and in doing so, hitting me on the right. Luckily, I did not fall off, but I screeched to a stop and yelled (bells don’t help here) hoping he’d see me and not continue. We made eye contact through his side mirror, and he pulled up a little onto the curb and rolled down his window. I was yelling to stop and how scary that was and he’s lucky I wasn’t really hurt and to watch before he just decides to go into the bike lane and to use his signal.

He replies “yea, I bet that was scary.” with a distinctive tone of mockery and blame. There is absolutely no way I misheard that. He and the guy in the passenger seat made no move to get out, and I was so upset and shaken and in disbelief that I wheeled my bike out around the tail of the trailer and back onto the road. As I was doing that, I noticed a small crowd of people who had been watching the whole situation. I saw some looks of astonishment, and heard someone say “what a jerk” and someone else say “at least she’s fine”, and once I started wheeling away, folks dispersed. Not that there was particularly something someone should have done, but it was a definite bystander problem where nobody wanted to step forward and offer assistance or eyewitness or support. If anything, it confirmed that I was a victim here.

As I started biking forward, I realized I couldn’t (safely) because I was far too shaken. I got off my bike and took a photograph of the license plate on the tractor:

I also took a picture of the truck, but must have been far too flustered because it didn’t save on my iphone.

The guys, meanwhile, had gotten out of the truck (parked in the bike lane and curb) and proceeded to begin unloading their goods without any follow-up. I yelled to them from the front of the truck “Not even an apology? No regret about that?” No response. Had this been a case of sincere blind spot, human nature and many past instances of accidents (for instance, a passenger exiting a cab without looking) lead me to believe that a sincere apology would have been issued. I felt unsettled and a little bit afraid, so I left.

How stupid of me not to get their information! Or the truck company! Or anything! Or to call from the scene. But when you’re a victim in a hostile situation, the last place you want to be is there. Plus, I didn’t want these guys having MY information… what if they were actually as heartless as it seemed? I called the police, and they said that since I left the scene, the best I could do was go into an NYPD office in the next 10 days and file a civilian report. I will do that, but I don’t think it will do much, so I’m hoping that anyone who cares about bike safety will share with others to at least raise awareness.

I was so super lucky that the angle of impact was what it was and didn’t cause more injury; not everyone is so lucky. Just because I’m ok doesn’t mean that this isn’t a big deal.

Some key takeaways here:

  • Being a victim often means having to suck it up and move on, because there’s not much you can do about it and it’s scary and nobody really helps you.
  • Bike lanes in the city are both a blessing, because it’s a lane with special designation, and a curse, because there are so many obstacles in them and disrespect for them.
  • Human nature can be a bit disheartening sometimes.
  • Facebook can be an incredibly supportive platform, and people have great advice. From one friend: “People blame victims all the time. The driver mocked you because I’m sure he was telling himself, ‘If I had been in her shoes there wouldnt have been an accident,’ or, ‘it was completely her fault, not mine.’ That doesnt mean it wasnt his fault!” From another friend: “If down the road it turns out your injuries were more serious, you won’t be able to get compensation from his insurance if you don’t report. Bonus: he will be forced to tell his family and friends why he is in trouble, and then they will know he is a douche. ” All good, helpful thoughts, especially when you’re flustered and alone.
  • A final note from a friend: Man, it is so disheartening that none of the witnesses stood up for you. Let’s all pledge not to be passive bystanders if we see something bad happen.  YES.

A short story. Nonfiction.

This evening

I was biking home

minding my own business

and following all street rules.

Then

out of nowhere

people start yelling CUT CUT CUT

I had biked onto a movie set

oblivious

to all the lights and people and orange cones on the sidewalk.

I felt very sorry

so i apologized to a man holding a camera 

and sitting behind super bright lights

(how did i miss this?!)

and he said

no problem maam, it wasn’t right anyway.