Tag Archives: new york city

Hey! I’m Bikin’ Here!

It was a slippery day to be on two wheels. A light drizzle had been falling most of the day and the streets were slick as ice. I was taking my usual route south on Chrystie Street through Chinatown towards the Manhattan Bridge – Shanghai Calling in Strava terms – a route people know is most dangerous in the bike lane due to its many potholes, double parked cars, and careless pedestrians. It was a dreary afternoon and the constant mist made visibility less than ideal. In my typical “rather safe than sorry” fashion, I was decked out in my reflective raincoat with both my front and rear lights flashing. I know how unpredictable people can be in New York City, not only while riding a bicycle, but while walking or even standing in one spot – more than once I’ve been run into while patiently waiting for a train by someone more concerned with their phone than with the hundreds of people around them. If age has taught me anything, it’s that I have gotten away with far more than I should have, and as I get older, the consequences of not being careful are often clear before the prospective risky situation rather than in hindsight.

On this particular day I was following a biker that has become the archetype of the New York cyclist. He dressed all in black, wore no helmet, and was riding a bike with no brakes. His bike was also black which made him nearly invisible given the conditions. None of this seemed to matter to him as we approached the intersection of Canal and Chrystie. I am not one to stop at every traffic light; if no cars are coming and the light is red, I will continue through. I have never thought that bikes should be required to obey the exact rules of cars, seeing that they are a very different mode of transport, but when traffic is heavy – especially when crossing Canal Street – I will always put on the brakes. My cyclist friend whom I was following did not seem to have the same concern for safety that I possess and decided to ride through the intersection without a single care. He passed unscathed through the westbound lane, causing only one car to brake mildly through the green light. His crossing of the eastbound lane was a bit more problematic. Several cars were traveling at a high speed typical of Canal Street, which caused the unnamed cyclist to execute a skid stop, a method used by bikes with fixed gears and no brakes, but given the conditions, he had a hard time staying in the median out of traffic. The cars skidded to a stop on the wet pavement, narrowly missing him. As I eventually caught up to him while crossing the bridge into Brooklyn and followed him down Jay Street, he was living the life of Riley as he stood on the top tube and surfed his bike through downtown Brooklyn amidst the heavy traffic.

I’ve been riding in New York City for over three years and have seen many cyclists like him. His riding style is carefree in a city where anything can, and will, kill you – a characteristic I simultaneously admire and scoff at, possibly due to my heightened awareness of my own mortality. There is something to be said about coming very close to death and brushing it off by performing a stunt that again brings you very close to death. When I was in my teens and early twenties I could understand this thought process much easier than I can now. Today, when I leave the house on my bike I know very well that I may become another statistic local advocacy groups will use to make an argument for safer cycling.

Life is too precious to assume that anybody cares about your environmentally friendly mode of transportation. I’ve learned that simply making eye contact with a motorist, pedestrian, or even another cyclist doesn’t mean they are going to acknowledge your right to be on the street. Many times (and I mean many) I have made direct eye contact with whomever I was attempting to pass or maneuver around and met with complete disregard to my safety. I’ve thankfully never been struck by a vehicle, but have come very close. One day, I was on my way home from work in the early afternoon. I took my usual route to Bay Ridge which takes me along a nasty stretch of 3rd Avenue directly under the BQE – a section of city riding that would have most Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope residents rethinking just how wonderful cycling in Brooklyn is due to the three lanes of heavy traffic whizzing by at 60 mph. In order to avoid a portion of this, I usually hop onto 2nd Avenue right around 39th Street, since 2nd Avenue has a more industrial, less of a highway type of traffic pattern. I made my usual left onto 2nd at the Playpen, Sunset Park’s most luxurious cabaret, when a vehicle wandered out of its lane and aimed directly towards me. I emptied the contents of my Air Zound at around 115 ear-piercing decibels. This got the discourteous driver’s attention – or at least I think it did since he looked directly at me – but his car continued towards my bike. I continued to move further and further towards the edge of the street, as did he, until I hit the curb and fell onto the sidewalk. His car stopped inches from my fallen bike as I now realized his intention – to park his car on the wrong side of the street precisely in the exact spot where I was riding. He held the same oblivious attitude as the irresponsible biker I followed home that day, except with disregard for others lives rather than his own.

While I am still terrified each time I leave my house on my bicycle, that fear has yet to stop me completely from cycling. I have given it up in short spurts – generally after near-death experiences such as the one previously mentioned – but those are only small speed bumps in my journey on two wheels. The freedom I experience when riding is unmatchable. After Superstorm Sandy struck New York, there was a citywide gas shortage that had drivers lining up at stations for hours or siphoning their unsuspecting neighbors’ tanks in an attempt to keep going. I felt joy, pride, and even a small amount of superiority knowing that my method of travel did not require the prized commodity that we as a society are so dependent on. The safety of cyclists depends not only on courteous drivers, but also rule-following pedal pushers. I get equally upset when I see a stupid biker as I did the day a car almost parked on top of me. Just the other night, I yelled at a cyclist in Union Square as he blew through a red light and nearly hit my wife’s car. He was riding east on 14th Street in the dark dressed completely in black. “Get a light! They’re not that expensive!” I yelled. His headphones likely drowned out my suggestion.

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Last Act of Defiance Record Release Party

I was feeling a little ill – both physically and mentally – but knew I should go anyway. Sick of it All was holding their record release party at Irving Plaza for their new album Last Act of Defiance
and I had already purchased two tickets. Despite the fact that I had paid the ticket price (plus the extortion fee of $12 per ticket to Live Nation), three of my favorite bands were on the bill: Wisdom in Chains from Stroudsburg Pennsylvania, H2O, another legendary New York Hardcore band, and of course, Sick of it All. It would be a real shame to miss this lineup because my Thai food wasn’t sitting well and my brain was acting a fool, so we decided to drive into Manhattan and make the best of it.

We arrived right before Wisdom in Chains was scheduled to go on. The band that preceded them was called White Collar Crime, and although I missed most of their set, they sounded like a band I could get into and will mentally bookmark them for later reference. Although I’m not from Stroudsburg, or anywhere near it for that matter, I spent a lot of time skateboarding in the area growing up. I know it’s a rather small town in the Poconos of which I’m accustomed to, and feel that small town people from PA share a common bond. It makes me a proud Pennsylvanian when one of the hardest hitting bands in modern hardcore are from my home state. They make me want to cover myself in keystones and scream from the mountaintops about cheesesteaks and whoopee pies. The set list was great as usual although they skipped their ode to PA – Land of Kings – which I’ve never really seen get the love it deserves outside of the keystone state. The crowd was rowdy and more into WIC than I’ve ever seen in New York, which helped get my blood flowing and purge the negative feelings I was having that evening. The closing song, Chasing the Dragon, a tribute to the godfathers of the scene, was punctuated by Mad Joe Black earning his name by reaming out a bouncer who decided to throw a crowd surfer to the floor instead of simply helping him out of the barricaded area. Had this been a smaller, less prestigious venue than Irving Plaza, I could have seen a small riot breaking out, especially since the conflict took place at the buildup of the heaviest part of the song. Security at Irving Plaza should know better than to rough up fans at a record release party for one of New York’s finest.. must have been a new guy.

My wife joined me down on the dance floor for her favorite band, H2O. Being small and not the moshing type, she prefers to stay in a low action area, usually off to the right side of the stage. She has a remarkable ability for finding the tallest people in the crowd and standing behind them, securing the fact that she won’t be able to see anything. As soon as Toby Morse took the stage, all hell broke loose and I soon lost sight of her. H2O is probably the most user-friendly style of hardcore still to be considered hardcore, which is why they attract such a diverse range of fans at their shows. This is both good and bad because the pit is occupied with everyone ranging from teeny bopping pop-punk girls to meat-head chooches in their local pipe fitter union t-shirts. In my experience, it’s always a mixed bag of nuts at an H2O show. During their set I rode the crowd to the front for my chance to sing, and in the process came very close to hitting my wife. I later sent her a text, “sorry for almost kicking you in the head”, an exchange forgivable in few contexts, hardcore shows being one of them. In between songs and Toby’s shout outs (of which I counted around 27 for the night) he made a short speech about how we are never too old for hardcore.

“I’m 44 and feel 24 because of hardcore. You never, ever get too old for this… You never grow out of this music. This music is embedded in you for the rest of your life.”

“Fuck yeah!” I said to myself. Shortly there after, I got kicked in the face which had me rethinking my “fuck yeah.”

When Sick of it All took the stage, I was primed and ready to rumble. It’s rare that I stay on the dance floor for three full sets, but as mentioned before, my mental state wasn’t 100% and felt I really needed this – plus, this was a killer lineup. The most accurate description of the feeling I get when going to shows, specifically being in the pit, I’ve only found in the movie Fight Club.

Fight Club Hardcore wasn’t about winning or losing. It wasn’t about words. The hysterical shouting was in tongues, like at a Pentecostal Church. When the fight show was over, nothing was solved but nothing mattered. Afterwards, we all felt saved.”

I needed “saved” this particular night and knew this was the answer. Sick of it All is, and will always be, my favorite hardcore band. Before I knew what hardcore was, I had an educational conversation with a straight edge kid in Utah about the genre. He said there is one band that you’re going to like regardless of whether you like good hardcore or bad hardcore – Sick of it All. They are at the top of the food chain in the scene, and while they won’t sell out stadiums (at least here in the States), they are true legends. I feel grateful to have been able to see them so many times and still get star struck when front man Lou Koller says hello to me.

They played a lot of classics, opening with one of my favorites, Good Looking Out, which has always reminded me that, “when life’s not fair, true friends will always be there.” About a third of the way through the set, I positioned myself in the front of the crowd in a prime sing-along and finger-pointing location when suddenly I saw stars. As much fun as it can be being in the front, you will almost surely get used as a prop for someone who wants to be a little farther up front than you. This particular kid (accidentally) gave me a G.I. Joe head stomp while clawing his way towards the stage. I’ve been hit in the head many times at shows and my first reaction is always to check for bleeding. I placed my hand on my face and felt something wet. “Damn it” I said, and started to make my way to the back of the crowd. I felt a bead of blood trickling down my face as I snaked my way through the crowd while trying to take off my flannel to use as a bandage. Head wounds tend to bleed more intensely than others; I must have looked like a wreck the way the crowd parted like the Red Sea for me to pass through. When I got to the bar at the rear of the venue, I asked a man standing there to take a picture of it to see what it looked like.

“Oh shit…” he said. “You’ll probably need stitches.”

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Photo credit: Guy at the bar

I promptly texted the picture to my wife who was stationed upstairs out of harm’s way, with a message “Got hit in the face. Coming up.” Had I been 10 years younger I may have used my blood smeared mug as a way of continuing to mosh and keep people away from me, but time has taught me to recognize when it’s time to stand in the back. I stood upstairs getting medical advice from every passerby that noticed I was holding ice on my eye. The best advice was to “will it away”, from a drunk guy named John, a talent that I’ve never been quite able to apply to physical injuries. John explained how he broke his toe and repaired it with willpower. I wondered if his willpower was strong enough to fix my eye but somehow didn’t think it would work. About twenty people told me to put a “buttah-fly” on it to hold it closed. I attempted to take their advice later when I got home and nearly ripped my eyelid off in the process. My final solution ended up being a good old-fashioned Band-Aid.

I made the best of my remaining time at the show, singing along in the balcony with an icepack on my eye and bloodstains on my shirt. If even for a few minutes at a time, I forgot about the outside world and focused on the beautiful screams of Sick of it All’s 25 years worth of music. They consistently destroy every show as if they are doing what they were born to do. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only listened to their new album once the entire way through, but I have no doubt that it is as moving, relatable, and hard-hitting as their recent releases. As I mentioned in a previous post, hardcore music happens at shows, and albums are simply to learn the words to prepare for those shows. Although I complain about living in New York sometimes, I know that I’m lucky to have access to this scene. It’s a special thing that few understand. The shows that are thrown here are one-of-a kind, and as long as I live in New York I’ll continue to go – regardless of how many times I get kicked in the face.

Check out Sick of it All’s new album Last Act of Defiance
. If you’ve never seen them, make sure you catch them on tour – you won’t be disappointed

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