Bipedal Stories

Exploring the world on two feet

City Island: The journey

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.

The vortex

We parked our rental car, a sprightly Chevy Sonic, in a lot off Highway 180. Bell Rock loomed in the near-distance, rising from the sage brush and crushed red-rock soil. To the right was Courthouse Rock, another natural formation that betrayed the handiwork of a master sculptor.


We checked our water bottles. We reapplied sunscreen. After months in the Northeast’s sunless desolation, our complexions were fluorescent-white. We had no melanin to protect us from Arizona’s beneficent brightness.

We followed the hiking path, empty at this hour, into the desert. Lizards darted before our footsteps. We stared at the face of Courthouse Rock, a rocky facade of footholds and ledges. Our son raced ahead, scampered up the facade’s footholds. He paused on ledge, smiled down at his water-bottle-toting, sunscreen-daubing parents. We were in the West. The sun shone. The blue sky, brushstroked with cumulous clouds, unfurled before us. We were free.

Sedona is, by some New Age accounts, a locus of energy vortexes (not vortices) that promote improved mental and physical health. Bell Rock is among the most powerful of these vortexes, enhancing our masculine vitality, our feminine empathy, and the balance between the two. We hiked past juniper trees, which were plugged into the site’s spiritual power plant. I felt something between awe and gratitude. So much power, so much beauty.

A butterfly landed on my daughter’s shoulder. She allowed the creature to rest. Our son returned from his climb. We still had several miles to hike. Our shoes and socks were already caked with red dust, oxidized iron particles. The energy within us was strong. “Let’s see whether we can scale Courthouse Rock,” I said.


South Beach: Miami

I exited the Lord Balfour Hotel on Ocean Drive. I walked north. To my right, the blue-green Atlantic sparkled in the 10 a.m. sun.


To my left, cleaning crews scrubbed the previous night’s revels from sidewalk cafes outside Ocean Drive’s Art Deco hotels.

At 12th street, I entered the lobby of the Tides Hotel. I was looking for a Wall Street Journal. A deck of The New York Times fanned across the reception desk. The concierge, a pretty woman with dark hair in a blue suit, smiled at me. I nodded. No Journal.

The Tides

The lobby was mostly empty, three Swedes on a sofa, sipping mimosas. The wallpaper was copper and gold, luminescent in the subtropical light. The wainscotting was polished coral.

In the early 20th century, Carl Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur, developed South Beach as a winter retreat for the beautiful people. By the 1980s, it had gone to seed, a scruffy backdrop for the fluorescently attired Crockett and Tubbs on Miami Vice. Today, the glam is back, exemplified most famously by the Versace Mansion.


Medium-sized Art Deco hotels change hands at $90 million. The sidewalks are a bouillibasse of Latins and Anglos, Europeans and Chinese. We’re here for the sun, a drink, a few days’ respite from the brutal winter at home.

I walked north to 17th Street, an outdoor mall/plaza/shopping mecca. Young hostesses called to me from the doorways of their cafes, their English inflected with Scandanavian affricates. “Breakfast?” “Bottomless margarita.”

At a sporting goods store, I bought a swimsuit. I ate a nondescript salad at an overpriced coffee house. I returned to the hotel, suited up, and crossed Ocean Drive to the beach. The mid-March subtropical sun burned the northeastern gloom from my brain.

I awoke the next morning to a warm rain, a strong wind blowing in off the Atlantic. After coffee, a morning with the Journal, and a 3 mile stroll through the pavered path that winds along the Atlantic, I drove to Miami to wander around Coral Gables. Not much there. That evening, I repaired to Puerto Sagua, a down-at-the-heels Cuban diner on South Beach’s Collins Avenue, for my last meal in the subtropics.

Puerto Sagua

I met a group of runners from Brooklyn, in town for the Miami Marathon. We traded stories about the Apple. I checked my watch, headed back to the hotel. Time to pack and catch my flight back to the cold.

South Street: Philadelphia

“We have 45 minutes. We can get a drink.” A group of women walked past me. Saturday, a day of freedom unshadowed by anticipation of the week ahead. They laughed, energy in their step. Bright sunshine chipped away at the bitter cold that had encased Philadelphia for the past week.

“I’ll have a beer.”


They had come to the right place. South Street’s ramshackle head shops and fast-food grease pits have given way to Whole Foods, Starbucks, and taverns with craft beer on tap. Just east of Broad Street, new condos rise above the bones of shuttered warehouses.

I felt light on my feet, giddy at the hint of spring. At 11th street, I stopped to contemplate Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens, mosaics of glass on either side of the alley. Tourists photographed the installations, laughed at their reflections, refracted and scattered in a million little pieces of glass.


I checked my watch. I wanted to get at least to 5th Street before heading back to Broad Street for a concert at the Kimmel Center. I needed to stretch my legs, inhale the outdoors. The winter had been tough. If I picked up the pace, I could make it with time to spare for a Starbucks.

Rose Hill: The Bronx

I got off the 4 train at Kingsbridge Road. I ambled up the hill, away from the winter winds skating off the Harlem River. The sidewalks bustled. A linguistic mix of Spanish, English, and New York echoed off the grey-granite-faced buildings. A mother pushed a child in a stroller, led an older child home from grade school. A balding gent sold churros from a grocery cart.

I reached the Grand Concourse. A few blocks south, on a patch of green in the middle of the Concourse, was a small, white clapboard cottage. In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe and his wife Virginia moved to this workingman’s hovel in what was then the countryside. Virginia died in 1847. Poe remained in the cottage until his death in 1849. I toured Poe Cottage with a group that included a literature student from China and a Poe-obsessed father-daughter duo from Chicago.

The sun had poked through the baffle of heavy grey clouds. I walked south to Fordham Road, a bazaar of off-price clothing stores, cell-phone shops, and cash-for-gold. I turned west. There, set apart from neighborhood’s chaos of commerce, bus-lane congestion, and Manhattan-bound diesel-pumping truckers, was Fordham University.



I walked along the perimeter. At Bathgate Avenue (are you there E.L. Doctorow?), I doubled back and entered the campus through Fordham Avenue. The city receded. I followed a winding tree-lined path to the center of the campus. The Bronx was still out there, beyond Fordham’s gothic palisades of brick and stone. Inside was birdsong, contemplative quiet. A student reviewed her notes as she entered Walsh Library.

I followed the path to the northern edge of the campus. Across Southern Boulevard was the Bronx Botanical Gardens. I checked my watch. It was time to get going.



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