I pedaled north on 1st Avenue. The bike path was meant to protect me, but construction and distracted cabbies encroached on my space. At 103rd street, I evaded a pincer movement executed by a garbage truck and a construction site flagman.
I pedaled across the Willis Avenue Bridge to the Bronx, the borough of my birth. The cabs disappeared. The new construction ceased. Manhattan madness gave way to a landscape of auto body shops and Latin American groceries. I rode north on 3rd Avenue, then Webster Avenue, to Fordham Road. I biked through the convergence of crowds, off-price commerce, and diesel-bus fumes.
At Southern Boulevard, where Fordham Road winds through the Bronx Zoo and the Bronx Botanical Gardens, the traffic accelerated to autobahn speed. I was wearing a short-sleeved polo, shorts, and a cheap bike helmet. I was vulnerable. I jumped the curb and pedaled along the mostly empty sidewalk. A pothole, broken glass, or some other totem of neglected maintenance pierced my front tire. By the time I reached Pelham Parkway, I was riding on rim.
I stopped at a “24-hour flat fix” gas station. The mechanic detached the front wheel from my bike and removed the tire and tube. “Five minutes,” he said.
I bought a Diet Pepsi. Would I wind up stranded on Boston Road in the central Bronx? It was a long bus or subway ride back to Manhattan. And what would I do with my bike? By the time I drained my soda, the mechanic had replaced my tire’s inner tube and reattached the front wheel to my bike. “What do I owe you?”
“Five dollars.” I love the Bronx.
I continued down Pelham Parkway. Jake LaMotta once lived here. A neighbor from my childhood, a New York City cop, retired to this neighborhood. The buildings are well maintained, some with art deco flourishes. No graffiti. The neighborhood is green. Parks, an equestrian center, golf courses. Pelham Parkway is almost suburban—a car is a must—but with an urban density and vitality that the suburbs lack.
I dismounted at Pelham Bridge. A tugboat guided a barge down the Hutchinson River. Co-Op City, all utilitarian massiveness, loomed on the distant shore, a display of the government’s power to establish an instant population center on top of reclaimed marshland. Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor once lived here, as did my sister-in-law. The nondescript architecture evoked a tinge of melancholy.
The barge passed. I crossed Pelham Bridge and then City Island Bridge to City Island. City Island is in, but not of, New York City. There’s not a single Starbucks. The island is marinas, sea-food restaurants, boat and sail making workshops. Small single-family homes sit on tidy plots of green, more Merrick, Long Island than Bronx, New York City.
I bought a cup of coffee. A young mother pushed a stroller along the sidewalk. An FDNY fire truck idled on the other side of the road. Cars gathered on either side of City Island Bridge for ingress into, and egress from, the big bad Bronx beyond.
I retraced my route. Rather than return to Manhattan via the Willis Avenue Bridge, however, I took Fordham Road to Sedgewick Avenue. I rolled down Sedgewick, then climbed Undercliff Avenue past the Stadium Motel, a halfway-house throwback to “the Bronx is burning” 1970s. At the High Bridge, the oldest bridge connecting two boroughs in New York City, I pedaled back to Manhattan, 138 feet above the Harlem River roiling below. I landed in Washington Heights, Edgecombe Avenue, and pedaled south. The journey was complete.