Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How not to get exhausted on a four-hour tour of Manhattan during a heat wave, Part One

Last Saturday, thanks to Peter Meitzler of Manhattan Rickshaw, I contracted with couple from Chicago for an extended pedicab tour. They were here for the weekend and wanted to see Manhattan at a degree of closeness that a tour bus just couldn't give them. That's just the thing a pedicab driver wants to hear.
Pat and Ed are lawyers, or at least one of them is, in the Chicago building where the Blues Brothers went to pay the year's assessment on the orphanage of St. Helen Of The Blessed Shroud. That was a cool fact, because I love that movie. We exchanged quotes from it throughout the tour.
"Are you boys with the police?"
"No, Ma'am. ...We're musicians."

"It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of 'gyas,' half a pack of cigarettes, it's night and we're wearing sunglasses."
We hit it.

Pat & Ed spent the morning doing the SOL (Statue of Liberty) and Ellis (Island). They were on the first boat, the 8:30, which allows its passengers to go all the way up to the Lady's Glass Ceiling. i.e. the area just under her feet, so they can look up into the Gustav Eiffel-designed interior armature.
It's a shame people can't go to the top, after all that re-enineering from 1984 to 1986, the air-conditioning and the double-decker elevator. The air conditioning really helped, after all. Imagine the accrued heat generated within a copper statue on a sunny summer day. Multiply that by 200 people climbing the stairs. Whoo-boy, crank up that a/c!
Hunch: When the Democrats get the White House back, we'll find that The Lady's not a target of terrorists, and access will be given again. Personally, I think that the whole denial of access is simply a tool to keep American visitors to NYC a little edgy about terrorism and, therefore, in support of our six-year oil war. Oops, I mean, the war on terror.

Usually, when people take the 8:30 boat, they are there until between noon and 2:00 PM. There's a lot to see on both islands. My personal favorite is chatting with my friend Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of The Lady, who hangs out in the food garden on Liberty Island. He's a very knowledgeable guy who can open your mind to the political problems of the mid-ninteenth century, where he lives. I'm not talking about the American civil war. I mean the Frank O'Prussia war. Whoever he was.
Auguste, now that I muse on it, might be an actor.

My plan for the day was to get out of bed at 10, coffee, shower, walk the dog, kiss the Little Woman goodbye and hop a train down to my garage on 34th Street. Then drive the pedicab for about 45 minutes from 34th to The Battery, and pick up Pat & Ed. If all went according to plan, I would get to the Battery at about noon.

Naturally, nothing went according to plan. Last Thursday I was throwing stuff out, accumulating piles of drop cloths and other oddments left by our handyman, when my glasses fell off a table. I stepped on them. CLACK! Off came the right temple. Clean off at the weld. So Saturday found me walking the dog without glasses, wondering if i could drive without them. They sat lopsided on my face. If the nose sweats when it's 95F out, the glasses slide sideways. Could I drive in them? That remained to be seen. I took Friday off. Went to Cohen's Fashion Optical and got an eye test from a very sweet doctor, and lenses, and then was told the cost for the whole thing, plus a Rush, would be $796! Aside from Martin Scorsese, nobody pays that much for glasses. I'm still hemming and hawing about picking them up.

Saturday I walked the dog, and the glasses drooped on the left and rose on the right until they looked like the last moments of The Titanic. Went inside, showered and washed the bridge of my nose. That actually helped a lot. The nosepiece pretty much stayed in place for a while after that. But wearing glasses and trying not to wear glasses delayed my departure until about 10:30. "That's okay', I told myself, "they might not be at the Battery until 2." So I got the A train.
You take the A train
Will find the quickest way to Harlem

The A train has a wonderful asset: It goes express from 125th down to 59th, usually in 6 minutes. Saturday, it stopped twice in the tunnel. Okay, now I was getting edy. Could I still make it for noon at the Battery?

When the train finally chugged into 34th Street, I grabbed my Rolling backpack and did the usual: picked it up, ran downstairs two flights from the center platform, then through the hall, then up two flights to the side exit, then up another flight to the street. How much does my rolling bag weigh? About 30 pounds, with a 12-volt motorcycle battery, a fannypack speaker system, and two liters of seltzer. Fun, fun, fun. Where is the elevator? Two blocks south, outside Penn Station, so I climbed those stairs.

Walked a block to the garage, got to my bike, and the right tire was flat.
Got out the pump from under the seat and had a devil of a time seating the tube valve. Pumped it up, about 40 times. It takes roughly 75 pumps to get the tire to 60 pounds pressure. But I could only do about 40 pumps before my arms gave out. It's best to pump with the arms, not the back, so I did all the work with my arms. Then rested. Then grabbed my glasses in mid-air, as they fell off my sweaty face.
Went to the restroom, washed my face concentrating on the bridge of my nose, then towel-dried it. The glasses now sat fairly straight on my face. Went back to the trike, pumped and pumped and pumped, and finally got the needle on the pressure guage up to 60. Then I pumped up the air horn (it also has a Schrader valve), opened the doors and pedalled out onto 9th Avenue.

My plan was to take 9th southbound to Bleecker, Bleecker to Broadway, Broadway south to Lafayette, which has a bike lane, then Lafayette to Centre and down to the Battery on Broadway again. Rode the new car-proof 9th Avenue bike lane, and found that people on cell phones were walking hunched over in it, texting on their cell phones. Why the hell can't they use the sidewalk? Do you get better reception when you're risking your life?

It ought to be illegal to walk in the bike lane. After all, it's illegal to bike on the sidewalk. Fair's fair!

No problem. I blasted them with the horn. One guy stepped back and said, derisively, "Lookit THIS guy!" Yeah, a biker in the bike lane. Like I don't belong there and he does.

The right tire was going flat. I pumped it up at every red light, but it was becoming harder and harder to inflate, and it was unclear what caused that resistance to pumping. I was hot, frustrated and stymied.

I crossed 14th Street, heading southeast down 9th. Stopped to pump at Little West 12th/Gansevoort. Booked downtown a little more. Now I was getting concerned that I'd be late for the rendezvous. First the glasses, then the train, and now a flat tire. As I was reviewing my knowledge of the streets ahead, questioning myself as to whether a bike shop was around, BAM! The tire blew.

Great. There I was at 9th & Bleecker with an unusable bike. I had no spare, since I use thornproof tubes, and patch them when necessary. What to do?

It would be a right, west out to Washington Street,and four blocks walking the trike in the new bike lane, to hoof it to Manhattan Rickshaw for a new tube, so I called Peter Meitzler. He wasn't at the garage, but allowed me to leave some money for a new tube. So I hauled the pedicab down there, swapped two fivers for two 26" Kenda tubes, and set to work replacing the tube on the right wheel.

The problem turned out to have been with the valve. The valve had been twisted in place, and it resisted being pumped probably because of overlapping rubber under it. The valve had, in fact, come right off the tube, causing the blowout.

OK, out comes the repair kit and pump. Take the rear seat off the bike and set it on the curb, set the bike up on its repair tubes (upright), and set to work replacing the tube. The new tube went in, and I pumped it up again...pausing when winded... and got it up to 60. Put all the stuff back under the seat, put the seat in place, and found I'd lost one of my frozen seltzer bottles somewhere along the way. So I went to Ramon's Deli across the street, got a cold bottle of Poland Spring (having once ridden in the MOOSA Tour through the town of Poland Maine), got back on the bike and started down Washington toward the Battery. Poland Spring on the trike triangle, and frozen seltzer in its thermal wrap under the seat.

I had neglected a crucial step in tire repair: the bead wasn't inside the rim. It started making that telltale "chuff-chuff-chuff" noise and the bike shimmied. I looked down at it and saw it had expanded to double the proper width. Got off and put the bike back on its rump. Put a fingernail on the valve to deflate it before the tube could blow out. Got out tire spoons when it was flat. Worked the bead into the rim. Pumped the tire up to 20, took off the pump and spun the tire, looking for trueness. Then rotated the tire slowly with my hands, feeling with fingertips to find any anomaly in the baed-to-rim area. There was none, so I set the wheel back onto the road and BOOKED south.

Top speed on a Main Street pedicab, empty (no passengers), is about 12 MPH on a flat surface. Now I was scared. It was about 12:50 PM and it would take at least 15 more minutes to the Battery through TriBeCa, or DeNiroland. Turn to the west on Canal, and go several long blocks, to turn south on the lovely cobblestoned VanDam Street, or was it Varick? Whatever, it's not lovely when you're biking.

Straight down then, past the original NYPD stables, past the firehouse from The Ghostbusters with the anti-ghost plaque still up on their wall. Seeing tourists walking now, all going south, looking tres Americain in their white tops and blue shorts with white shoes and white socks. (And we wonder why, when traveling abroad, the foreigners can discern the fact that we're Americans). I picked up the phone and left two messages for Pat & Ed (Remember Pat & Ed? This story's about touring with Pat & Ed.) Said I'd be at the Battery shortly.

Wanted to go west to Broadway, on Chambers Street. But Chambers was, as usual, filled with NJ motorists on their way to the Brooklyn Bridge at Centre Street, so I went a block south to Warren, over to Broadway at City Hall Park, and biked to the Battery, tipping my NYPD Emerald Society hat in Irish-Catholic tradition to the Episcopal churches of St. Paul's and Trinity.

Finally, Battery Park loomed. And a pedicab driver was down there! The only first-year driver I'd ever seen at The Battery. A South African named Kyle, and a pretty decent guy, I must say (channeling Ed Grimley). He was sitting in the shade, which was smart considering the temperature was over 90F now. I gulped my 1.5-liter of Poland Spring, and found a message on my phone, that Pat & Ed were just getting onto the boat back to Manhattan. So I asked Kyle to watch my bike while I used the restroom, then walked down to Castle Clinton (the fort where you buy tickets for the SOL) to meet them when they arrived.

As we walked back to the bike, we looked at The Sphere, the old 1970s sculpture that had been at the World Trade Center Plaza until The Attacks badly damaged it. It is a reminder, to everyone who goes to the SOL, of the murderous results of bigotry so bad that the bigots are willing to kill themselves in order to kill thousands of others. Pat took several shots of it before we turned and resumed strolling back to the pedicab.

Just as we approached my trike, the new tire blew with a sound like a .22 rifle in the woods! Brand new Kenda tube. Empty trike. I stood the trike up on its rear end and spooned the tire off, then took the tube out. Felt aroudn the inside of the tire with fingertips, but there was nothing lodged in the tire to account for the flat or the previous de-valving. The new tube had done something I'd never seen before: it split along its seam, a split more than a foot long! The blowout had taken out one of the seams by which it had been stored flat in the box, shipped from Taiwan. Both Kyle and I checked it carefully, and neither of us could see any flaw in the tube, other than that the blowout was on the seam. That is, there was no bit of glass, grit or wire in there. The seam had been weak and blown itself up.

Kyle offered me a spare thornproof, for which I thanked him heartily, because thornproofs are just way better for pedicabs. They're much stronger tubes. I gave him my remaining Kenda and shook his hand. One doesn't really need a spare when one has a thornproof and a patch kit.

So there was the first half of my working Saturday. I had been very late, but it turned out that my passengers were just taking things slowly. So the second flat delayed us by just ten minutes, and that really was the only delay. I suggested they spend the 10 minutes by either hanging out in the Citibank ATM in the old U.S. Steamships office across the street (air-conditioned, with oceanic trade-route maps on the walls), or the lobby of the American Indian Museum (likewise a/c) or touch the hacksaw marks from the night the Revolution began, on the fence at Bowling Green.

Pat & Ed milled about the area where Battery Park meets State Street and Broadway for a few minutes while I did a little more bike surgery, and then, FINALLY, we got underway. It was just about 2:00.

NEXT: From Battery Park to Central Park, talking the whole way.