The LEDs Still Flicker in My Eyes
By Stephen Troiano
I broke up with Marina a few months ago. We still see each other from time to time, or when she tempts me, but it hurts to go back. She doesn’t let me heal.
Disclosure: Marina’s my bike. I hurt my knee mid-November while working as a bike messenger, forcing Marina and I apart — a stress fracture right in the epicenter that I kept biking on even after the initial injury, making the recovery 3x longer than it had to be. It’s a shame, letting an intimate relationship like that wither and die because I forced it too much. Maybe I’m being dramatic. Maybe I’m not. We were inseparable through our time together and she opened my mind to all sorts of adventures.
Our relationship began as co-workers, as I’ve worked as a bike messenger on-and-off since I was 18. What started as a working relationship quickly blossomed into long rides to the beach, rainy day museum trips and discovering New York’s hidden gems together. Times with her seemed so bright. When something ends it’s only natural to reminisce, right? It’s been over between us for a few months now, but I could see it in both of us that we’ll be reunited again. Her frame and figure is too fine to collect dust in the corner of my apartment.
Looking back, I’ve noticed my cycling habit was tied together with certain mental states and behaviors. When I’m on the bike, it’s raw freedom. Think about it in the context of the city: no parking costs, you could park your bike anywhere, it’s faster than traveling by foot or by car (and most of the time faster than public transit), zero cost to use with almost zero limits to where you could go (minus the Verrazano Bridge).
With all of these positives, it’s easy to adopt a sense of carpe diem. Everything that’s discoverable in New York on a daily basis becomes much more available. Sure, there are days where all you want to do is sit in your apartment, smoke weed and watch TV. However, when you have the freedom to get up and seize the day via bike, it makes each day more precious with plentiful, accessible opportunities.
It is hard at times when a friend doesn’t bike, but I’ve learned it further teaches independence. On countless occasions, I’ll have an idea to go somewhere only to find myself going at it alone because nobody would want to take a train or bus moving at a snail’s pace. MTA sucks the fun out of any adventure. By biking alone, I’ve charted new territory I would have never discovered. This independence has carried over to most aspects of my life off the bike. Traveling around New York by myself gave me the comfort and confidence to backpack through the Spanish countryside alone, resulting in one of the best experiences of my still inexperienced life.
I’ll miss Marina. We might get back together, but at this point who knows when that’ll be? While everybody else is getting back on their two-wheeled ponies and breathing in the spring air, I’m still nursing a braced knee. All I can do during time of uncertainty is to try and fill this empty void in my lifestyle and to keep my mind from shrinking back to a narrow-minded state.
Based off of memory, these five biking routes rank as my all-time favorites in New York. Each one contains stops along the way that make the aching backs and sweaty shirts all worth it:
Yellow – Coming from Bushwick, bike north through Maspeth and Elmhurst. First stop is in Jackson Heights, where you could get momos (Nepalese dumplings) for cheap. You could find them all around the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue & Broadway, but Amdo Kitchen, a food truck usually parked on 37th Road between 74th & 75th Streets, has been my favorite to-go spot for momos. Another good place in the area is Thai restaurant Khao Kang located on Woodside Ave. between 76th & 77th Streets. A sit-down restaurant with inexpensive plates of authentic (and incredibly spicy) cuisine. After this pit-stop, bike west towards the city and check out the Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria. Since you’re already in the area, bike across the water and see what Roosevelt Island is all about. My first impression of the island between two islands was how ghostly it seems being ironically isolated from the rest of New York.
Blue – Coming from Bed-Stuy, bike through South Williamsburg and cross the bridge into Manhattan. This ride can feel long, but it’s easy. Separated bike routes make up a large majority of this ride so you don’t have to deal with a lot of traffic. Bike up the east side of Manhattan, through Central Park, Harlem, and along the Harlem River. Before going to the main destination, The Met Cloisters Museum, check out Inwood’s Dominican & Puerto Rican food scene and grab some mofongo, made with fried plantains. You’ll burn those calories right off biking up to the Cloisters, which sits on-top of a steep hill. The ride from the Cloisters is an easy descent all the way down the West Side Highway.
Purple – This is the shortest ride of the five. You’ll get a true sense and feel of Brooklyn’s industrial relic past. Bike along Flushing Avenue, through DUMBO and past the Brooklyn Bridge piers. You’ll eventually find yourself in Red Hook, with views of Staten Islanders going back and forth between S.I. & Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty resting in the Harbor. Steve’s Key Lime Pies lies at the end of Van Dyke Street and is perfect for a summer day. If you’re looking for a real meal and not desert, Hometown on the corner of Reed & Van Brunt Streets offers, in my opinion, the best barbecue in New York. The real destination on this route lies in Gowanus for the true urban explorer. Depending if it’s still in existence, 595 Smith St. is an old abandoned factory right on the Gowanus Canal. Go around the back (you might have to hop a wall or two) and find an entrance inside. Once there, be careful for rotted out floors because you’ll fall right through and be careful for potential squatters inside. If everything is good, look around. You’ll see tags and artwork from New York’s talented street artists as well as decades-old signs written in Hebrew for those who previously worked in this now time-machine.
Red – Perfect for a beach day, I’ve done this route many times. Coming from North Brooklyn, bike south through Crown Heights, Brownsville & Canarsie until you hit Jamaica Bay. Once you reach the Canarsie piers you’ll see fishermen catching an abundance of fish from the Bay. Bike south along the water and Belt Parkway until you have the option to make a left towards the Rockaways. On your left will be Floyd Bennett Field, an old airfield which is now a campground. Right before you reach the bridge to take you to the Rockaways, cross Flatbush Avenue and find the nature trails leading to Dead Horse Bay, New York City’s garbage disposal. This little beach is where the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, New York Harbor & Jamaica Bay brings a good amount of our trash (you’ll want to wear shoes). Once you’re done, go back to the bike path and head west towards Brighton Beach, Coney Island’s less visited next door neighbor. Brighton is a Russian neighborhood and there’s delicious street food all around. If you want to sit down for authentic pierogies, check out Varenichnaya on 2nd St. on your way to the beach. To head back north, go up Ocean Parkway for a good distance until you hit Prospect Park.
Green – One of the best solo bike excursions I’ve had was a summer joy ride through Queens with no real destination in mind. I biked up through Flushing Meadows, biked along the water of the Long Island Sound, and discovered the fishing ponds and bocce courts of Kissena Park. Apparently, there’s a velodrome track in the park, which I must have biked past that day without noticing it.