The first step in the evolution from Village rat to Upper West Sider is getting a bicycle. Living in a tiny East Village apartment, I felt no inclination to ride a bike and had no room to store one. Everything I needed was within easy walking distance and living space was too precious to waste on a pair of spare tires.
Then I moved uptown to a building with a bike storage room. Central Park was just down the hill and the roads were wide. That’s when owning a bike began to make sense. Once you get used to having a bike around for fun it’s just a matter of time before you start using it instead of the subway. In my case, an intrepid Yorkie who fit easily into a basket set the stage for a happy three-fer: exercise, errand running and quality time with my four-legged buddy.
The development of the Hudson River Greenway is another major factor in any New Yorker’s switch from LES sofa spud to Hudson River rider. A couple of years ago I attempted to reach the New Jersey Palisades from Upper Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge on my new wheels. After maneuvering my bike through an obstacle course of ravaged pavement, and braving the riverside carnival that takes place every summer weekend in Washington Heights, I followed an Amazonian path around a soccer field and –praying a commuter train wouldn’t come barreling over the tracks to my right– emerged like Pizarro in Cuzco near The Little Red Lighthouse.
Every year since has brought small improvements and today the same path is a nearly seamless belt of velvety blacktop.
Last week construction on the short waterfront path that runs along the FDR Drive between 83rd and 91st was completed, reuniting the two riverside paths it had separated since the 1930’s when Robert Moses built the Westside Highway around a Metro North tunnel. I had grudgingly humped it up the Morningside Park detour for so long, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
I’ve taken the greenway south to get things done and north to relax at least once–usually twice– a week for years. Despite having done the ride hundreds of times, I never tire of it. The river glimmers and broods, it’s brackish scent seeps into my clothes and remarkable people cross my path.
My transition from Village rat to river rat was gradual and roughly concurrent with New York’s transformation into a greener city. Hudson River Stories is an on-line journal I’ve launched to document the tales of people like me who are renegotiating their relationship with the city as access to the river grows.