I’m just back from having purchased a bike. I rode it home, five miles, from the Atlantic Avenue Target back to Bay Ridge, following 4th Avenue as it goes from Mexican to Puerto Rican to Chinese to Arabic.

Buying a bike in New York City is harder than you might think. Well, that’s assuming you don’t want some kind of titanium, high-tech, stealth-technology-enhanced super-bike that costs more than most Americans’ cars. If you’re up for spending giant sums of money, there are scads of boutique shops to cater to your needs. And most of these boutiques will even cater to folks who want to spend a mere $400 or so on a bike, though the salesperson will probably look at you with a mixture of pity and disdain. Apparently one is supposed to enter these temples of bikeitude with either an extensive knowledge of alloys or the humility of a religious seeker. The reaction I get when I ask for the cheapest bike is what I imagine I’d get if I went to Bergdorf’s around Christmas and said, “Show me your cheapest handbag, please.”

What makes this state of affairs particularly baffling is that one so rarely sees fancy bikes actually being ridden around New York. Is there some kind of delivery-guy underground I’m just missing? Where do their thousands of lightweight, perfectly functional, obviously cheap bicycles come from? And who wants a thousand dollar bike in the city anyway? My Schwinn came from Target already broken — it won’t change gears properly — and I assume this is a clever anti-theft system provided by the store for my benefit. Still, I’m semi-resigned to the thought that one day I will go looking for my bike where I left it, and it won’t be there. That’s what happens to bikes in the city, and I’d rather it happened to a bike that costs less than my phone.

Once you drop below about $400, you get into the realm of bikes that cannot be purchased at bike shops. These lowly vehicles must be sought out at toy stores, sporting goods stores, or big-box generalists like Target. And at Target, it’s actually remarkably hard to buy a bike. I had to wander across the store in search of someone who could get on a walkie-talkie and find out how much the bike I wanted actually cost. And forget about getting it adjusted. I guess that’s what you pay the fancy places for. The bike is sold as-is, and you just have to hope it does what it’s supposed to.

Mine does, more or less. No, you can’t change the gears very well, and I’m not convinced the handlebars are completely straight, and the rear break is a joke. But the bike cost a mere $178, and it got me from there to here.

As for the getting, it was harder than I’d like to admit. Today was muggy but not excessively hot, and 4th Ave. is not exactly mountain terrain. Still, as I came up the rise from 30th to 50th Street, my heart was pounding and I felt myself overheating. I pulled off the street, locked my bike to a subway entrance railing, undid my new helmet and staggered into a bodega to buy a bottle of Gatorade.

I remember overheating like this as a kid sometimes, especially as I hit the top of the hill on Las Gallinas, back in Terra Linda, on the way to the mall. There, I would just keel over on the side of the road and wait for it to pass, hearing the pounding of blood in my head as I lay on the sidewalk. It was a private experience, an internal crisis that I could experience alone. Riding a bike in the city is a different experience, a public activity that involves engagement with others at every moment. It’s fun, though, and I hope to do much more of it. I just need to get in better shape!

[hello from ca]

Just a quick note to say that I am home in Marin County, CA, with my crazy family, enjoying the lush greenery and remembering why I choose to live three thousand miles away. It’s Passover, an adventure in eating, and the jet lag didn’t help me get through last night’s Seder, which lasted until 1 a.m. Tonight I get another chance. Ugh. All we do on these holidays, it seems, is eat, sleep and pray. I’m bored of all three, and there’s another day to go.

Still, home is home, warts and all, and it’s good to get out of NYC and away from the pressures of work. And mixed in with all the eating, sleeping and praying, there’s also been a little walking around in beautiful Lucas Valley, and even a dash up the hill, knee deep in wild grasses, to a knoll I used to climb when I was a kid.

Tonight is another Seder to get through, with even weirder people than last night’s. Wish me luck!

[dizzy in frisco]

Dizzybam (MySpace)

Okay, so maybe you had to be there. Maybe you had to be packed into the Berkeley Square on a Saturday night, in a crowd that mixed university kids, cholos, skate punks, backpacker hip-hop kids from Oakland. Maybe you had to wait while the band set up their instruments — a couple guitars, a trap set, congas, horn mikes — dancing in the meantime to some song you’d never heard before, some kind of psychedelic masterpiece built around a broken Gene Chandler sample, while Japanese anime porn played on the screen in front of the stage. In those days, before the Web, these kinds of sights and sounds were something you had to travel for. And then the DJ would cut out, the screen would go up, and a crowd would pour onto the stage, as mixed up as the crowd on the floor, and led by Fredimac, a tall blond rapper who would whip us into a bouncing frenzy.

Dizzybam never went anywhere. Most of the bands from those days didn’t — Fungo Mungo, MCM and the Monster, Bl├╝chunks, Aztlan Nation — but that was never the point. And the demos never seemed to do justice to the experience of standing there at the edge of the stage as the horns hit and the singer started jumping and the crowd pressed in from behind. Dizzybam’s no different in that respect: the record that remains is a shadow of what was. But I’m glad I found it out there to remind me of those amazing Berkeley nights when Dizzybam rocked the house and for a moment the world felt real.


I just received the startling and sad news that one of my high school classmates, Robert Paoli, has passed away.

I was never close to Rob. I remember him as a very big guy who played football and wore shorts all winter. In the years since I last saw him, he rose to captain of the volunteer firefighter corps in Marinwood — the fire department that would put out the grass fires that broke out on the hills around my Lucas Valley home every summer. He also went to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In my memory, Rob was never unkind. His obituary makes it clear that he was loved by many. It’s a sad loss. He is survived by his wife and his five-year-old daughter. A trust fund has been set up for the family, and the information for donating is in the article.