05 August 2010

The Lone Cyclist

Yesterday I took a short and totally un-noteworthy ride locally through some local streets between my place and the World’s Fair Marina.   And I finally got the new phone –and phone plan—I’ve needed. 

Today, ironically, I found myself thinking—and talking—about cycling even though I didn’t ride and I spent the afternoon with my parents, who aren’t cyclists in any way, shape or form.
I met them at a place incongruously called Airport Plaza.  For years, it was the first stop for the bus that runs from the Port Authority Terminal, at the western end of Times Square, to the Jersey Shore.  Airport Plaza is one of those shopping plazas—It’s too old and small to be called a mall—that always looked rather forlorn and even a bit dusty even when business was booming.  It always seems to be filled with stores that started a couple of years too late and seem to hang on for a year or two longer than they should.  The Wetson’s restaurant that anchored one end of the plaza during the first few years my family lived in New Jersey may well have been the last of a chain that lost out to McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s about thirty-five years ago.

When Mom and Dad were living in Middletown, I occasionally took the bus I took today, and got off at Airport Plaza.  Other times, I pedaled to their house and spent a night or weekend with them.  When I was at Rutgers, the ride was about thirty or thirty-five miles, depending on which route I took; from New York, I’d pedal about fifty miles by the time I saw them.

Usually, I’d detour a bit through the areas just on the other side of Route 36 from Airport Plaza.  They were webs of streets that paralleled, skirted or ended at Sandy Hook Bay. 

Those streets wove through the towns of Keyport, Keansburg and a section of Middletown that used to be called East Keansburg, but is now called North Middletown.  They were Bruce Springsteen country before anyone heard of him:  Streets lined with houses that were everything from tidy to shabby, depending on the amount of money and time the blue-collar families that inhabited them could or would devote to their care.  Not even the best of them would have been considered for Architectural Digest; the worst looked like somewhat bigger and better versions of the shacks seen in rural Appalachia.

And, yes, it seemed that at any given moment, at least half of the late-teenaged and young adult males were torquing wrenches or strumming guitars or pounding drums in the garages of those houses.  Then, as now, American flags rolled and spilled in the breeze in front of many of the houses; some also had banners for whichever branch of the military in which the fathers or sons served.  Many of those houses also had boats and trailers parked in their driveways. 

In those days, I used to enjoy pedaling along that stretch of the shoreline because the views were actually quite nice and because, in those houses and the people who lived in them, there was an utter lack of pretention—even though I knew most of those people would disagree with me on just about everything. 

Also, while some of those people would swim, sail or do any number of other things in the water, they did not turn it into a commodity.  There was no status in living closer to the water.  So, riding along it was a calming experience.

Oddly enough, it was during those rides that I could most readily imagine myself living as a girl and, later, a woman.  The artist/romantic in me says it had something to do with the waters of the bay and the billowing sails on the boats.  What’s really strange, though, is that I could feel as I did in an environment that could be fairly called “redneck.” 

Along the shoreline, multistory condo buildings and stores have replaced the older one-and two-story, some of which, in their splintered and peeling condition,  looked as if they’d been left there by the tides.

Mom, Dad and I had lunch in Ye Cottage Inn, a restaurant that, so far, has survived the changes.  But, even though it’s been updated and has some nice views from its windows, I have to wonder whether it will survive the changes I’ve described.  The food was pretty good, if unexciting.

The place was about a third full, which, I guess, isn’t bad for a Thursday.  However, about half the people eating there were part of the same group of senior women who seemed to be having their “girls’ lunch.”  And I was the youngest person eating in that restaurant.

Not that I mind older people.  Back in the days when I was riding down that way, I used to enjoy talking with two of my mother’s friends.  In fact, I preferred them to nearly all of my peers. 

But most of the people one sees in that area are very old or very young.  Those shoreline condos are, I’m sure, full of commuters who are young.  There is a ferry nearby that goes to the Wall Street area, so they probably don’t see much of the town besides their condos and the ferry.  When those young execs and execs-in-training are promoted, decide to have families or have some other life-changing event.  Will they stay?  And when those old people die, who will replace them?

Finally…Will anybody there take up cycling?  Although some of the streets are very cyclable, I cannot recall having seen, besides me,  anyone but very young children on bicycles.

If I pedal down there once again, will I be the Lone Cyclist?