Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saint Patrick's Day in NYC

The Green Stripe
The day dawned clear and sunny, a far cry from the usual Saint Patrick's Day weather! I drove to work in the Smart Car as usual. This first photo shows the view of the pavement on Fifth Avenue. It's the annual St. Patrick's Day Green Stripe.
Here's the story, as recounted in the mid-1980s by WMCA-AM's news reporter Danny Meenan: He, an Irish-American, was a copy boy at the NY Daily News in 1947. He and another News employee kind of "borrowed" a Daily News delivery van around midnight on the night before St. Pat's Day. This particular van was chosen because a hole had worn into the bed in the rear. With one driving and the other in back with a one-gallon can of green paint, the van drove down the center lane of Fifth, on the block in front of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Meenan, in back, carefully poured the entire can of paint right down the middle of Fifth Avenue. Nobody saw a thing.

Next day, paradegoers were very pleased to have that green stripe to march down, and applauded the city for having laid it out. But the City denied all knowledge. So did Meenan and his associate...for years.

However, City government striped Fifth Avenue from 50th to 51st the following year and for many years after. Since the 1970s, not only has the entire parade route been given the green stripe, but other stripes are laid down for other ethnicities and persuasions: orange for Steuben Day, blue for Friends of Israel Day, and the Lavender Line of the Gay Pride parade.

But the luck of the Irish was not with The Green Guide for St. Pat's 2010. My pedicab had a serious problem, brought on by bike braking. Every time a bike brakes with pads, bits of road grit get caught in the space between the brake pad and the wheel rim. That grit slowly wears away the rim, weakening it. Once, about five years ago on a rented pedicab, I had a sudden rim failure and extremely loud blowout! BAMMO!! It sounded like a rifle at close range. Rim, tube and tire all were destroyed at the same time.

I own my own pedicab now. The Armadillo tire and Kenda tube on my bike are pressurized to 60 PSI. All that pressure pushes hard against the rim and, when the rim goes, so do tire and tube.

I left my garage on 55th Street, across 9th Avenue from Liberty Bicycle, at about 9 AM. My plan was to pick up Irish revelers at Penn Station, and give them fun rides to the parade. At $25 per ride, I hoped to make about $100 by kickoff at 11 AM.
But, at about at Ninth & 42nd Street, I felt the rim giving way when I used the front brake. Got off, took a look, and sure enough, there was a split in the rim, as seen in the photo above as a black line. I lowered the tire pressure from 60 to 30 PSI so it wouldn't blow out, and walked four blocks to City Cycles on 38th Street. But they had no heavy-duty BMX rims, which most pedicabs need. Sooooo... I wheeled it over to Eighth Avenue and walked north, pushing the pedicab, from 38th to 55th & Ninth again. I had now walked the 'cab for about an hour.

Liberty is a good bike shop for pedicabbers. They had the BMX rim I needed. Narrower than I was used to, but it served. The bill came to $81. I had to pay with a credit card, since I had not made a cent. Installation would cost something like $20 - $30 more, so I gingerly walked the bike back to the garage to do it myself. It was now after 11 AM.

I had to stand the bike up on its repair legs, take the front wheel off, deflate and remove the tube and tire--which looked good despite the ordeal--and put everything back together again: new rim first, then a rubber strip to keep spoke heads from touching the tube. Then the tube, then the tire, then insert the Mr. Tuffy Kevlar strip between the tube and tire.

It was 12:45 PM when I got back on the street. I still had not made a dime. The bike and I tooled up Eighth Ave to 59th, where the scene below caught everyone's attention.

Someone's Saint Bernard was taking the air in a second-story window at 30 Central Park South. That is, next door to the millionaire Yorkie at the Park Lane Hotel, one building to the west. The Saint Bernard was wearing a glittery green necklace, in the spirit of the day. And he or she had many admirers, most of whom were photographing the scene.

Interspersed with a lot of pedaling and too few customers, I kept the camera at hand, to capture the following costumes. Costuming has become part of the Saint Patrick's Day Irish or Irish-American culture in NYC. In the 1960s everyone wore green. The 1970s brought oversized green-and-white KISS ME I'M IRISH buttons, the 1980s had various iterations of these and similar sentiments. The 1990s brought cheap shiny green plastic you-name-its from China: bead necklaces, flashing beer mug necklaces, beach-ball-sized leprechaun hats, and green Mylar balloons.

And the T-shirts! "TIS HIMSELF!," "IRISH BY INJECTION," "IRISH YOGA," "HUG ME I'M HALF IRISH," et cetera. What the minds of the Irish dream up, everyone wears on their chests the following year.

The past few years, though, have seen costuming more reminiscent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. "IRISH BEAD WHORE" T-shirts on girls burdened down with a dozen green plastic bead necklaces from China. Last year I spotted a guy wearing a sort of kelly-green body stocking that covered him from head to toe.

So, this year, here are some green people, courtesy of the green tourguide. As for me, I wore my lucky long-sleeved NYPD Pipes & Drums T-shirt, which I had bought at the Widows & Orphans fundraiser, held annually the week before September 11 at the Park Central Hotel. I've never had a bad day in that shirt.

The hat above proclaims that its owner is an "IRISH DIVA."

My day turned out to be a bust. I worked until 11 PM, then called it a night. I returned to the garage a defeated man. Fourteen hours of pedaling around Manhattan, and I had made just $90. Put another way, I cleared nine dollars more than I'd spent, though I can write the new rim off next year's taxes.

Danny Meenan's mentoring advice--not to me--had been, "Do what you're good at, and do what you love." I love being a tourguide, and I love biking. I'm glad, even on days like today, to be able to do both in the greatest city in the world.

Hope everyone's Saint Patrick's Day was as sunny and warm as ours was in New York.

Best wishes,
Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
member, Guide Association of NYC
member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association

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