For one week in August I took an energy efficiency class up in the Bronx. I headed “up North,” riding my bike the 10 or so miles from midtown Manhattan through Times Square, alongside Central Park and on into that Other Borough. On my back I carried a pack with a notepad and pen, a sack luck, a water bottle and a change of clothes.
I’ve often thought that if I could play God or Mayor for a day, my first task would be to demolish the highways. As in the city of Detroit, neighborhoods in the Bronx have been bi-sected pureed and splayed out by highways. Back in the 70’s people paved over neighborhoods and truncated others with the myopic hubris that justified those roads as quite literally a means to an end (the end being Manhattan in the case of the Bronx, the end being The Suburbs in the case of Detroit).
With highways come overpasses, and that commute was the first time I had occasion to cross over a pedestrian overpass in New York. In the sweltering heat of that baking city in late summer, I carefully navigated around what appeared to be human feces* and entered into that beleaguered borough. Who knows what the temperature was that day? Even if I remembered the date, which I don’t, I wouldn’t feel like checking the historical weather records so I’ll tell you what I think: 150 degrees, that’s how hot it was that day in New York. When I finally reached my destination I had successfully transferred all of the fluids from inside of my body onto my skin. Naturally I was feeling a touch thirsty. I opened my bag to a soggy disappointment: my water bottle had spilled onto my dry spare clothes. Not only did I have nothing to drink, I had nothing to change into.
I dragged myself into a sparsely stocked bodega to make a wholesale Gatorade purchase and was greeted by rather shocked looks from the other patrons. As I stood lingering in front of the refrigerated cases a bit too long, the cashier approached me with an intense look on her face and grabbed me by the arm. I half expected her to reprimand me for wasting energy (the very thing I had come to the Bronx to learn how not to do!) or for just generally being someplace I didn’t belong, but that was not the case. With an air of confidentiality, she leaned in and hissed a secret to me in a strongly accented voice that I’ll never forget “your pants is wet!”
That sweet kind woman hadn’t told me anything I didn’t already know– yes, my pants was wet. Yes, it looked like I pissed myself or, at minimum, put on a soaking wet thong under my shorts. I did my best to explain the situation to the skeptical woman, emphasizing the origin of the moisture by gesturing to my helmet. It was a wasted effort. I was the unaccompanied woman who should be wearing adult diapers and nothing I could say would change that. I paid for my drinks and set off down the road with my ass lifted off the seat in a feeble attempt to air-dry, hopefully leaving that good Samaritan with an enduring image of the glamorous lifestyle of a New York pedal-warrier.
*Idea for future expose: Become an investigative journalist, establish turf on an overpass, explore the question “Where do the 100,000 NYC homeless shit?”