November 21, 2015
Due to the cancellation of the original ship to Southampton, the bikes are still waiting at the dock in Dartmouth as we prepare for our early flight to New York City. We arrive at the airport at four in the morning and for the first time in my life I fall victim to airline over-selling. It’s a ridiculous practice that can only damage the brand and reputation of the airline in question. At this point it’s Delta, and even though we’re practically first in line at the check-in counter, we’re immediately told that we’re unlikely to get a seat on the plane because we didn’t check-in online. Eventually we’re given a boarding pass, go through security and are rejected at the entry into customs because we have no seat assigned. We return to check-in where we’re told that the flight is now full.
Ninety minutes in at this point we ask if the woman can check us in to a new flight and we’re told that it’s impossible for her to do so, and that we’d have to call Delta directly. Another half-hour on the phone and the guy lets us know that it’ll cost us another $100 each to change our flights. I’m furious. Storming back to the check-in counter the woman says she’ll book us on the next flight. Suddenly the impossible is possible! The downside is that we have a nine hour wait at Halifax airport. Nita and I find a spot in front of a window and fall fast asleep. For our trouble we receive nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even a cup of coffee. It’s only after an email to the airline that we each receive a $100 credit towards future flights.
By the time we finally get to New York, twelve hours have passed from our original arrival at the airport and we’re both completely knackered. After a quick ride from LaGuardia we’re immediately bombarded by elastic bands raining down from Michael and Nuri’s home. It’s our traditional welcome and this time Michaels spared no expense! There has to be forty elastic bands on the sidewalk by the time I get out of the car; not to mention a fair share on the roof of the car that brought us here.
Michael and Nuri are extended family to us so meeting up with them is always an emotional affair. Simply put, they’ve been the best of friends to us over the years and our world is so much brighter for having them in our lives. In fact, it was on a ride with them through the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a hot-tub at Little Switzerland, that Michael threw out the idea of sharing the same wedding day. The idea was an immediate hit with a plan to meet every year on September 21st to celebrate together. And this year is our first anniversary.
The plan for this first year of a new tradition was pretty large. Nuri picked up tickets to see Bruce Springsteen, in Jersey, at MetLife Stadium. Hometown hero in front of a hometown crowd. I’ve never seen Springsteen, but since seeing my grade 7 math teacher pining over missing him it’s an idea that’s been indelibly seared into my pop-culture conscience. We’re excited. Pulling into the stadium it’s size is awe-inspiring; at 80000 seats it puts our Calgary Saddledome to shame. And, except for a few thousand seats behind the stage, this show is sold out. For three nights! The parking lot is filled with folks barbecuing, drinking and blasting their favorite Springsteen song. Inside the stadium, every beat is met with tens of thousands of fists pumping into the air. I’ve never been to anything like it. Three and a half hours later (with no breaks!) all of us stumble out into the warm evening air feeling very satisfied.
Music is a theme for us. We love seeing live performances and every place we visit has something unique to offer. Music is a thread that weaves it’s way through all humanity. Our dear friend Mark Hamilton, who really is Woodpigeon, happens to have a show in NYC just down the road at Joe’s Pub; a wonderful venue with a fairly misleading name. Touring with the wonderfully theatrical Patrick Wolf, the small stage somehow doesn’t seem large enough for the personalities this night and, along with our friend Jon Parker, we enjoy two performances that seem intensely intimate.
Another friend, and NYC native, is playing during our time here too. Vita Izabella did us the honour of singing at our wedding last year and may have stolen the night with her rendition of Skyway Bridge. This night is more along the lines of what it is to be a working musician in the city; an unorganized, double-booked gig at the far end of a tiny club. It’s packed in tight and the grand-finale sees the bands battling it out during a jam, bringing more folks in from the street and some raucous cheers from the crowd. Another great night in NYC.
In many ways, New York is like a second home for us. We’ve been many times to visit Michael and Nuri, and while our time here is always packed I always fail to do one thing – visit Coney Island. It’s a place that’s been burned into my conscience and, at the end of Marks show, we make a plan to visit the Brooklyn mainstay. After some amazing perogies at Café Glechik in Little Odessa, we walk the length of the boardwalk down to Coney Island. I’ve never been on a roller coaster before and, perhaps mistakenly, I mention to Nita that if I were to try one, I’d want it to be an old wooden coaster. Nita, being a closet coaster nut leads me to The Cyclone – a famous, eighty five year old wooden coaster that seems to be missing plenty of important parts. As it rumbles around with a small load of passengers on board I hear their screams, and see the track shaking wildly at some points. I’m terrified. As the expression goes, my mouth has written a cheque my ass can’t cash.
We walk around the park and try more gentle rides like the Wonder Wheel, a ferris wheel with cars that slide back and forth along rails giving the rider the sensation that they’re about to plummet to their death. After the first couple of slides I’m feeling pretty good. I start walking toward The Cyclone though I’m not feeling brave. Rather I’m feeling like I’m just putting one leg before the other so that I can try it. “Walk to the corner. Good. Cross the street. Good. Buy a ticket. Why the heck did I do that!?!” It’s the inner dialogue that keeps me moving towards my fear. Suddenly, I’m strapped into the car and it’s an impossibly tight fit for someone of my size. But here I am. I enjoy the climb to the first drop; the chunk, chunk, chunk of the chain pulling us up is everything I want it to be. The butterflies build in my stomach and then, one by one, the cars in front of us disappear over a cliff. I grit my teeth and nothing comes out. “Why would I do this?” is honestly the only thought I have. Nita’s screaming like a banshee. “Scream babe!” she keeps saying to me. Finally, I scream and it all somehow starts to feel better. Not great, but better.
Once it’s over I’m elated but still unsure as to how I feel about coasters. Mark Hamilton feels the same way and when Nita asks if we want to try another we politely decline. Still, as we walk around the park (and for the next week) I keep thinking about The Cyclone and feel braver about the experience. Perhaps I’d try it again? The answer would come two weeks later when, joined by Mark Hopkins, Michael and Nuri, we all head to Coney Island for another round of terror. This time I start screaming immediately and it’s so much better! After The Cyclone we hit the other coaster in the park, The Soaring Eagle (which, by comparison, seems pretty tame) followed by Nita and Mark getting shot into the sky on the Terrifying Ball of Doom. Okay, technically it’s called the Sling Shot and after their ride, they both try to convince me that the experience is actually peaceful with “…a great view at the top.” I remain unconvinced.
This second visit to Coney Island falls on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and it’s an amazing sight. The grounds are filled with folks in orthodox clothing and, mixed with the heavy fog, produces a wonderful counterpoint to the park itself. We feel immersed in a different culture right where we were. A man in a black suit stands and watches as his boys and daughter play in the ocean – also in suits with their pants rolled up. It just reminds us that whoever we are, wherever we are, we all seem to want, fundamentally at least, the same things; love, health and happiness.
Another part of NYC that has been a part of my psyche, but not my everyday life, is the FDNY Dream Bike. That’s in stark contrast to Michael who was a firefighter on 9/11. During the ordeal that followed after the planes hit the twin towers, Michael lost all but three of his firehouse including a young man by the name of Gerard Baptiste. From the website:
During the summer of 2001, FDNY firefighter Gerard “Biscuits” Baptiste purchased a used 1979 Honda CB750 motorcycle. Despite the advice of his fellow Ladder 9 firefighters/motorcycle enthusiasts, he bought the bike for $100 and stored it in the back of the Engine 33/Ladder 9 firehouse with plans to restore it for use as his first motorcycle. Following his line of duty death during the 9/11 tragedy, a Ladder 9 member decided to restore the bike in Gerard’s memory. What followed is truly an amazing story – over the course of 15 months with the support of his fellow FDNY members, motorcycle enthusiasts, Backroads Magazine, American Honda, a motorcycle restoration shop in New Jersey and financial support from corporations, the bike which was in deplorable condition was completely restored to the pristine condition.”
Since my first visit to NYC I’ve been hearing about this bike and yet this is the first time I’ll get to see it. Nita and I have the honour of helping Michael, Nuri and Motorcyclepedia director Larry Mosca move the motorcycle from it’s last home, the FASNY Firefighting Museum to its current home, Motorcyclepedia in Newburgh, New York. It’s a delicate operation but all goes without a hitch and the incredible folks at Motorcyclepedia quickly set up it’s new display, helping to establish a fitting tribute. Even with the museum being closed, the staff have no problem letting our friends Jason, Grace and their kids in for a private tour. Having the kids get their photos taken on the various “photo bikes” placed around the premises is a real treat for them – and us – and between Jason and the kids, it’s hard to tell who’s more excited about the museums TRON bike. After everything’s done, we head into Newburgh for dinner at the local barbeque joint where we catch up with everyone.
Michael and Nuri venture out for a weekend bike trip with friends Brian and Shira from Backroads Magazine, leaving us to look after Rising Wolf Garage. Our friend Stephanie is in from Montréal for a quick visit before we leave the continent and, as with most visits here, its a walking and eating affair. It’s so good to see a face from home! The day and a half visit doesn’t seem to last long and we fill up the moments that we’re alone with writing and working on the website. Soon enough we’re rejoined by Michael and Nuri, though a case of e-coli has Nuri down for the count. It’s five days before she eats again!
Her return to eating comes at Yankee Stadium for a Yankees v. Boston game. While in no condition for a ‘Dog, we grab a bite at the restaurant, NYY Steak, and it’s superb, but the rain is falling and we’re just hoping the game is still on. It’s our first time to the new stadium. The house that Ruth built was demolished some years back but we were lucky enough to see a game there before the bulldozers arrived. The rain eases and stays away most of the game, and the Yankees who trail by one, rally to a tie in the 9th, blow a bases-loaded opportunity, but hit a homer in the thirteenth for the win. I love this game.
One of the nagging issues we’ve been dealing with over the past month while riding in the colder climates is our visors fogging up. A number of people have recommended Pinlock systems and so, after a little hunting, we find some that fit our Shoei Hornet DS helmets. We place an order for them and some other little bits and pieces hoping that they wont arrive while we’re away in Chincoteague for the annual Oyster Festival. Of course the plan quickly falls apart; the shop is close enough that the order, even with free shipping, is set to arrive the day we leave. I’m not complaining though as good service is such a great thing to experience! Still, on the day of our departure, the tracking page shows the package is out for delivery. I try a little stalling but by 11am it’s still not here. As we leave, Michael (who knows the UPS guys route) turns a couple of corners and see’s Alex unloading his truck! We pull up behind him, honking away, and he looks at us. “I have two packages for you!” he says shooting us a great smile. We jump out, grab a few pics with him, say thank you and head off towards Virginia for the weekend. Packages in hand.
Chincoteague Island is famous for horses. Tiny horses. Our hotel has some of these little guys stabled, but they also roam free here. It’s also famous for it’s Oyster Festival which is why we’re here. We’re meeting a group of people who’ve all spent years riding together through various Backroads Magazine gatherings and it’s a great bunch of folks. The festival attracts thousands of people and usually takes place at a campground where, on the previous night, Brian Rathjen gathers us in a huddle to determine the strategy for claiming a good spot. He looks right at Nita and me. “You guys are young, your knees are good. We’re going to give you a bike.” Then, drawing an imaginary map on a bar table, he explains how we’ll line up, where the bathrooms are and how, when the gates open, we’ll “…peddle as hard as your little legs will take you and get us a spot!” It sounds solid enough, but in the morning it proves moot. The location has changed and in the confusion Brian and Shira simply drive to a spot and claim it themselves.
The festival is a riot. People dress up their spaces in the hopes of winning competitions, and everywhere we turn there’s fantastic food being served. Even the salad station is packed! Mostly it’s oysters; fresh, fried, baked – you name it. Unfortunately, Nita and I don’t eat oysters so we’re there for the company and the barbeque that was also brought along. A live band is kicking out the jams, everyone is in full party mode – especially a woman in her sixties that asks me to hold her drink while she talks to us. I think she knows she’ll spill her drink when stationary. Once moving again, she scoops up her drink and stumbles along harmlessly. It’s a great day, in a beautiful setting. At 4pm it’s all over and we travel around the island finding a lovely beach to relax on.
After a couple of quiet days in Chincoteague, we head back to the city. The new phase of The Highline has been calling our names and we make a plan with our friend Grace to take a walk along it. Grace was a bridesmaid at our wedding and it’s always a joy to see her. The Highline is a marvel; a conversion of unused space into something of beauty within the city. Based on the decommissioned rail system on the west-side, the city has built a public park that’s elevated above the city streets. It’s design incorporates wonderful elements that reflect it’s railroad heritage while providing a fantastic inner-city green space. We love it here. There’s even a great coffee booth along the path. Perfect.
Our last week in NYC is a mostly culinary affair spent visiting our favourite spots: Mono+Mono for Korean-fried chicken, Via Della Pace for Italian (with our friends Julie and Jason), and Keens for steak. Keens, especially, is an incredible place. It’s a restaurant that’s steeped in history that dates back to 1885. The walls are covered in playbills, photos, paintings and news articles from that time and the ceiling is where clients would store their churchwarden pipes for smoking during their visits. As you enter, a display to right showcases famous folks who have a pipe here including Einstein, Wild Bill Cody and General MacArthur. It’s quite something.
Tonight, our friend Larry is joining us for his first visit to this place that’s hallowed ground for steak lovers. Michael and Nuri have ridden with Keens Executive Chef, Bill Rodgers and, about half-way through dinner, he joins us. In fact, before we’ve even started dinner Bill sends out an amazing selection of seafood for us to sample while we decide on what we’ll be eating! We’ve met Bill before and he’s a wonderfully warm man. His smile and laugh are contagious and we enjoy a great evening with him talking bikes, Keens and anything else that comes to mind. We feel incredibly fortunate to share time with him and, before he leaves, he brings out a selection of deserts then offers to take us on a tour of the restaurant. We walk through the premises’ back rooms and Bill takes his time telling us the history of each room – including a glimpse of the playbill that’s said to be the one held by Lincoln on the night of his assassination. The history in this restaurant is astounding.
Bill says his “goodnights” and we make our way back home. Every day spent with our friends here is a gift. Sincerely. All too soon it’s over and we find ourselves at the end of three weeks. We feel like we’ve never had a busier time in NYC, and we want to remember every minute of it as we move forward; we know it’s going to be a while before we’re back. Our last day is spent quietly with our dear friends, soaking them in and enjoying the moments we have until we see them next. With Michael and Nuri you never know when they’ll just pop up and we know we’ll see them on the road. But for now, we’re on our way to the airport for a flight to London, via Iceland, and believe it or not, we’re really looking forward to this particular flight!