Park It, Mister

May 11, 2003

My purpose is to wish a happy 150th birthday to Central Park,
where my wife and I were both mugged, though not at the same
time. In 1988 Laura was bike-jacked in broad daylight by a group
of teenage boys near Lasker Rink in Harlem. Aside from a
fair-sized hematoma on one of her shapely buttocks, she came out
of it just fine. I was attacked a year or so later, at dusk, a
hundred yards from the park's Sixth Avenue entrance. Thinking
quickly, I struck my assailant a blow under the chin with the
wooden handle of a golf umbrella. Rather than fall unconscious,
he wrested the umbrella from me and beat the crap out of me with
it.

A dozen years ago Laura and I packed a rented Budget truck and
drove it to San Francisco, our home ever since. While it didn't
help that we'd both been assaulted, that wasn't the only reason
we bailed on the city. How shallow a person am I? One of the
biggest draws of the Bay Area, for me, was the world-class biking
it offered. You spend seven years pedaling the same
counterclockwise, 6.2-mile Central Park loop, you're ready to
expand your horizons.

After a year or two of mountain biking the superb trails of Mount
Tamalpais, of long road rides on the scenic byways of Marin
County, I had this odd realization: I missed the hell out of the
Central Park loop.

How to explain this perverse jones? Put it this way: Rattling
down Repack, a storied and rutted trail not far from my home, is
exciting. But you are never more alive than when holding your
line at 20 mph into that dicey merge just south of the Boathouse
as a hostile cabby keeps his fender 12 inches from your right
leg. One afternoon, after some hack grazed the hairs on my calf,
I deposited a loogie on his windshield as he idled at a red
light. (I deserved to be bludgeoned with that umbrella, no?)

In Central Park there were none of the serene and solitary rides
to which I have become accustomed in Marin. This is New York
City. No quarter is given. You're trying to overtake riders in
front of you even as the riders behind you put a bull's-eye on
your back. Amid this jockeying, it is understood among cyclists
that we stand united against our natural enemies, the in-line
skaters, who weave erratically, take up far more than their share
of the road and deserve, frankly, our obloquy.

Business brought me to the Big Apple on April 29, the same day
Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood near a Gothic cottage called the
Dairy and announced a series of events celebrating the park's
sesquicentennial. Observing my own private celebration, I
borrowed a road bike and, for the first time in 12 years, took a
spin on the old track. As I crossed into the park from Sixth, the
tang of horse whiz hit my nostrils just as I flushed a pigeon,
which then buzzed my face. A yellow cab streaked past going much
too fast.

It felt good to be back in the game.

My heart soared at how gorgeous the park is looking. It is in
beautiful shape--much cleaner and safer than when Laura and I bid
it goodbye. Inside of five minutes I'd ridden past a Japanese
bride in a flowing white dress, a half-dozen watercolorists, a
five-piece Dixieland band called the Blue Vipers and a man in a
Yankees jacket holding an ice cream Drumstick and a conversation
with himself. "How you doin'? I'm doin' all right! It's all
good!"

So it was. This being Manhattan on a warm spring day following a
prolonged interval of foul weather, I also noticed a hundred or
so spectacularly attractive women and remembered why the park is
such a great place to exercise. One is constantly diverted from
one's suffering.

I spun for a couple of hours, up the modest hill by the Boathouse
(you want to pass as many people as possible here, but you want
to make it look as if you're not trying), past the reservoir,
north toward Harlem and the loop's only challenging climb, a few
hundred vertical feet now crowned--thank you, Central Park
Conservancy--by a riot of white tulips. As I rode, I could not
help smiling and blurting "good morning" to New Yorkers who knew,
from my bonhomie, that I was not one of them. If few of them
returned my greeting, that was cool. Let it be my punishment for
taking so long to truly appreciate this place.

The next SI Adventure will appear in the June 16 issue.

COLOR PHOTO: CHARLIE SAMUELS URBAN SPRAWL A ride around the loop is one vicious cycle.

The tang of horse whiz hit me. A cab raced past going much too
fast. It was good to be back in Central Park.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)