Well, I hope you found the recounting of my childhood misfortune in Part One to be entertaining. Rest assured, although it sounded beastly, I suffered no major injuries. Only scratches, skinned palms, and a bruised ego.
As promised, I now humbly present Part Two: An Occurrence on Central Park South. Off we go, down once more through the horrors of Memory Lane. [Warning: this post turned out to be fairly lengthy. You may want to go get a cup of coffee or something.]
The time is the mid-Nineteen-Nineties, the place is the teeming metropolis of New York City. I was a gung-ho go-getter working my cool job on the West Side and living on the East Side. (It’s a little known bylaw of NYC that one is forbidden to live on the same side of Manhattan as one works.) My salary was meager, significantly more meager than it is currently (which isn’t saying much). With little money but lots of enthusiasm, I didn’t have a social life to speak of and worked long hours. Yes, up in my ivory tower, burning the midnight oil, enough clichés to shake a stick at.
Most of the time my commute was a walk, an idyllic constitutional that took me past the exclusive boutiques of Madison Avenue and through Central Park. I’d vary my route from day to day so as to see all the windowfronts: Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Vera Wang, the even more hoity-toity places that only have a handful of shops worldwide. In the Park I did the same, passing by The Mall, Bethesda Fountain, The Bandshell, The Dairy, Sheep Meadow, and so on.
I even worked on weekends, Dear Reader(s).
Those weekends, however, were different. During most of the day, Central Park was too mobbed to traverse comfortably. Going around the southern end was no better, as the route encompassed a bevy of tourist meccas, including FAO Schwarz, Bergdorf-Goodman, the horse-drawn carriages, Columbus Circle, the Dakota. My solution was to ride a bicycle to and from work, early in the morning and late at night.
I know many people are intimidated by the idea of navigating via bicycle a city as big and chaotic as New York, but it was never a problem for me. I grew up in the environs and often rode the 20-plus miles into Manhattan to spend most of the day pedaling in and around it for fun. And then I would ride those 20-plus miles home again.
Back then, the City was well underway with its now-famous sanitization process, with the rapidly Disneyfying Times Square as the epicenter. Even so, it still wasn’t quite safe enough to, for instance, bicycle through Central Park at, say, 3AM. It was one such night, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning that our intrepid heroine was pedaling along the perimeter of Central Park, first down the west side, then turning east along Central Park South. For those of you unfamiliar with New York, CPS constitutes some of the most expensive real estate anywhere. It’s the home of the Plaza, the Ritz-Carlton, the Essex House, and other astronomically expensive hotels and ultra-clubby restaurants.
Central Park South itself is a wide, boulevard-type affair (two traffic lanes and one parking lane in each direction), clogged during the daytime with carriages, taxis, perplexed motorists, and dazed pedestrians. At 3AM on a Sunday morning it’s practically deserted.
So there I was, gliding under the yellowy benevolence of the sodium streetlamps, anticipating the cozy embrace of my bed, when I spied some distance ahead a smallish sedan tootling down the middle of the right lane. After a moment’s analysis, I determined that the driver was most likely looking for a parking spot. Sure enough, the car slowed and drifted rightward, just as anyone would do when trying to figure out if a potential spot is “real.” He came to a complete stop. I prudently steered my bicycle to the middle of the eastbound left lane, giving the vehicle wide berth in case something unexpected happened, such as a door being flung open. Just as I was about to pass, the driver (without signaling) cut his wheels to the left and stomped on the accelerator, initiating a u-turn and causing the car to leap in my path. I had not even a millisecond to react, to swerve, to white-knuckle the brakes, nothing!
The bike slammed into the car like a torpedo, impacting just forward of the left front wheel and instantly ceasing all forward motion. I, however, having no impediments, was flung at full speed through the night air. Such was my momentum that I found myself travelling head first, fully horizontal, arms outstretched just like Superman. Once again, time slowed (although not as drastically as during the Front Wheel Fiasco described in Part One), to a leisurely enough pace that I was tempted to look around and admire the view. But my reptile brain wasn’t having any of it; he hijacked my motor controls, instinctively crunched the trajectory calculations like a three-legged cricket and bade my body to his will. Hands touched pavement, arms collapsed with controlled precision, head tucked to the left, right shoulder coyly offered itself to asphalt, torso and legs deftly curled into a smooth arc. These incremental actions allowed the forward momentum to carry me through an exquisite somersault, the end of which left me standing upright, unscathed and placid as a panda.
Yes, you read that right. It was just like an acrobat’s flourish or an Olympic gymnast’s flawless dismount.
Subsequent to this stunning display of athleticism, shock caught up with me and I was left standing listlessly in the middle of the street. A couple of doorman-witnesses rushed over to check on me. The driver’s hurried footslaps echoed as he ran toward me, exclaiming breathlessly that he was praying to God I was wearing a helmet (of course not), and was I all right? Was my bike damaged? Did I need money?
Unprepared for all this attention, I shrunk my world down to something discrete and manageable which I could focus on with at least the semblance of competence; I examined the bicycle (someone must have brought it over) and declared that both I and it were absolutely fine and that I just wanted to go home. It was about then that the shock began to wear off and I grasped what happened. I started babbling, petitioning the doormen and the driver, “Did you see what I did? Wasn’t that amazing? Wasn’t it great? Wasn’t it just the most amazing thing you ever saw?”
· EPILOGUE ·
The driver, having been exonerated before witnesses, shrewdly absconded before I could come completely to my senses. I declined the offer of a taxi and trudged home, exhausted. With morning’s light streaming through the window, I examined the bicycle. The saddle was grotesquely twisted and realigned, a nose in a Picasso portrait. The front wheel slithered like a snake when I spun it. Absolutely fine.
I’ll never forget what the big, friendly Jamaican mechanic said at the repair shop when I brought in the sorry specimen. “The wheel, she’s doing the Mambo!”