Archive for the ‘NJ / NY State trips’ Category

I follow the weather obsessively on my I-phone.  I had just bicycled in the mountains of North Carolina.  Where else could I bicycle tour during a pandemic with cooler weather?  It seemed just plain hot everywhere.  How far north would I have to drive to find weather not so oppressive?   What type of 2 -3 night bicycle tour could I take in cooler weather during a pandemic that would entail minimal risk either to myself or to others?

I picked a spot on the map ten miles south of the New York State line, a Walmart parking lot on the north side of the town of Warren PA, on the northern edge of the huge mountainous forests that cover northwestern Pennsylvania.  Here is the bike ride I did over 3-4 days.

It had been a ten hour drive from Chapel Hill NC.  At four in the afternoon I pulled the Bike Friday from the back of the Prius in the parking lot of a Walmart in Warren PA.   Other people there did not seem to notice.  I was making a big assumption that Walmart would not care if I left our car here for 3-4 days.

 

After the long drive I needed to do some bike riding to clear my head and loosen my body after sitting for so long.   It was eighteen miles north on US-62 to the small city of Jamestown NY.   The temperature was eighty degrees, about ten degrees cooler than North Carolina.

 

In ten miles I bicycled across the New York state line.   Once in New York the two lane road had a shoulder even wider than Pennsylvania’s, making for less stressful bicycling.   Geography fans take note:  this area is nowhere near New York City.  It is 400 miles from New York City, almost as far as the 560 miles back to Chapel Hill NC.

 

Jamestown NY is the birthplace of not only Lucille Ball but also the band 10,000 Maniacs and their lead singer Natalie Merchant.  I have always found far upstate New York fetching;  to me it just seems exotic, so unlike my native South.   A factory town, Jamestown was the birthplace of the Crescent wrench.   Jamestown used to claim itself Furniture Capital of the World but the city was more run down than I had expected.   It has been losing population for years.  (Its population in 1910: 31,000; in 1950: 43,000; in 2019: 29,000.)

 

 

Entering Jamestown I saw an attractive small house for sale:  $64,000.00

Other houses were not as well kept up.   In a region where many buildings do not have air conditioning there were lots of people hanging outside in the early evening.

 

I was a little worried that my Airbnb might be also in a sketchy neighborhood but the vibe improved just a block or two before I biked up to the house listed as my Airbnb address.

It was about six thirty in the evening.   During this pandemic where and how to enjoy food safely while on a bicycle tour becomes a major hurdle.   I was not interested in a crowded restaurant even if there had been one to go to.  Having found the specific location of my sleeping accommodations, before checking in I bicycled a mile downhill to downtown to look for some kind of dinner.  Many restaurants downtown were closed but a few were open for takeout including an Italian place called Sauce.   I phoned in an order for eggplant Parmesan, to go.   They said it would be ready in twenty minutes.   While waiting I noodled by bicycle around downtown Jamestown.   Sights included the Lucille Ball Museum and their new hopeful attraction, the National Comedy Center.   Jamestown also joins my list of cities where the tallest building even now was built during the 1920’s building boom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My to go dinner was ready.

 

 

Balancing a styrofoam container of eggplant-with-cheese-and-penne-pasta-and-tomato-sauce on the handlebars of a bicycle is challenging but I managed to cycle the one mile uphill back to the house where a couple slightly older than me Airbnbs their spare bedroom.   I met the man in his driveway at a distance.

The house has an attractive front porch on which I laid the styrofoam container of  eggplant.

 

This Airbnb turned out to be quite nice, but after leaving the next day I resolved to do better next time, to be even more vigilant at keeping physical distance.

On arriving I told the man I wanted to take a shower and then could I eat on their porch?    I put on my mask before we got close and entered his house.  He told me not to bother with the mask but I kept it on anyway.   I made sure not to get close to him and his wife, especially indoors.    I had wanted to eat alone on their porch.  When I finished my shower and came outside he or his wife had picked up my eggplant in styrofoam (without asking me) and put it on their porch dining table, inviting me to eat and talk with them outside while he and his wife played a board game similar to Scrabble.    Because of the pandemic it made me uncomfortable but as they were nearly six feet away, across the table, and it was all outdoors, I decided to stop being uptight and enjoy the evening.   I talked to them for about an hour; they were very friendly. She was born in Sicily.  He has worked mostly in construction.  They have three grown sons who all still live in Jamestown; the oldest is fifty.  For thirty years they lived just outside of Jamestown in a house with a large yard but they moved into this city house three years ago.  Our conversation danced around the political situation.  I think he is a Trumper but he never said so explicitly.

Keeping an Italian-American tradition, my fried eggplant and pasta portion from the restaurant was huge;  enough for about three people.   My hostess encouraged me to put it in their refrigerator and “save it for lunch tomorrow.”    During a pandemic that is not such a bad idea.

My room upstairs was fine.  With a window unit it was the only room in the house with A/C.

 

In contrast to the other decor in the room, maybe because Jamestown used to be Furniture Capital of the World, the dresser in my bedroom was mid-century modern, probably an original from the 1950’s-60’s.    I really like it.

My hosts had both departed the next morning at 7:30 AM leaving their house to me, telling me to just to lock the door on the way out.   At about 8:30 AM I packed up my stuff.   After putting my trunk bag on the back of my bicycle, on the way out I went to the refrigerator, got the container of leftover eggplant parmesan, and strapped it on top.  Lunch!

For breakfast I cycled downtown and found coffee (almond milk latte) and oatmeal at the locally owned Crown Street Roasting Company.   I could sit on the sidewalk and be socially distant.  It was very pleasant, totally relaxing.  It made me want to sit there all day.

 

I got back on the bicycle and started cycling westward along the southern shore of Chautauqua Lake, which is seventeen miles long and up to two miles wide.  I realized pretty quickly that the residential money and energy of Jamestown had been transferred to the lakeshore, starting with Celoron NY, adjacent to Jamestown,  which claims to be the REAL birthplace of Lucille Ball,.

 

As I biked along the shore I could see Chautauqua Lake between the houses or on a dead end street.

 

I had first heard of the Chautauqua Institution from my late mother, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, when she was in her late seventies or early eighties.  She was going with a friend to some kind of two to three day event at this place, quite a long distance from her home in Virginia Beach.  Chautauqua Institution was started by Methodists as an adult education movement over a hundred years ago.   It is a now a tony summer resort that has “serious” events such as lectures and concerts.   I had assumed I could just noodle through on a bicycle.   I had not expected an almost military level of security which appears to pre-date this pandemic.

 

I did not want to get involved in any personal contact, even if they might let me in.   I just biked on, occasionally looking through the fence.

In the next town Mayville NY I found a park with nice empty picnic tables under a shelter.   I pulled out the eggplant parmesan.   I assumed since there was no meat it was fine even though it had been out for several hours without refrigeration.

water skiing

It would be another twenty something miles to my day’s destination of Dunkirk NY where I had booked a hotel room.   Mayville NY has a nice paved bike path along the north shore of Chautauqua Lake.

 

I then bicycled through the New York State countryside.

 

 

I saw quite a few horse drawn vehicles used by what I assume are Amish.

 

As I neared the Lake Erie coastline there were enormous fields of grapevines.   I saw them both this day and the next.   I wondered, what kind of wine is made here?   This sign answered the question; Welch’s Grape Juice.

 

 

 

I had never heard or thought of Fredonia NY before, but it seems a nice town, home of State Univ of NY at Fredonia.   Following a trend I have seen all over America, where “normal” towns usually look worse for wear “college” towns almost always appear prosperous.    Fredonia looks much more put together than the Jamestown I had left that morning.

Fredonia and neighboring Dunkirk NY are pretty much one continuous town in the four miles from downtown Fredonia to the Lake Erie waterfront in Dunkirk.   The previous evening I had booked this hotel which fronts Lake Erie.

 

Where to have dinner without getting near anyone?   There was a quite good Mexican takeout across the highway from the hotel.   I got two tacos plus beans and rice, all to go.   I had bought a bottle of wine earlier in the day.

 

The hotel’s restaurant was closed because of the pandemic and the outdoor seating clearly had not been used since the previous summer. I found a spot among the empty chairs and tables and had waterfront al-fresco dining by myself from styrofoam containers.   It was nicer than it looks, very relaxing.

After dinner I strolled around the Lake Erie waterfront at sunset.

 

 

I was paranoid about germs on the remote control so I used a tissue when watching TV.    The room was nice; unlike most mainstream hotel rooms in the South, up here they have windows that open, with screens.     I could listen to the lake at night.    At first I thought clucking sounds were of birds, it turned out the repeated noise was the boats knocking into the piers with the gentle waves of the lake.

It would be about fifty miles the next day along the Erie lakefront north to the big city of Buffalo NY.    I booked an Airbnb in South Buffalo and headed out from Dunkirk .   Because of the pandemic the hotel did not have their normal breakfast buffet; instead they had to-go paper bags each with an apple and a packaged granola bar.   And coffee.   It would have to do.

I rode through various towns along the lake.

A Great Lake is amazing, it seems like the ocean.    Along Route 5 one could occasionally see Lake Erie through someone’s yard.

 

 

 

There was one point where the highway came right along the lake and this old guy had stopped for a swim.   He was talking on the phone.

I passed this place; statues for sale.

Highway 5 runs through the Seneca Nation for several miles.

 

This was at an American Indian-run gas station.  I had thought these caricatures were considered offensive.

 

Twenty-three miles south of Buffalo is the small lakeside working class community of Angola NY.   I remember from 1988-92 watching Duke basketball on TV and a figure that many UNC supporting friends consider sent by the devil himself.   At the start of each Duke game at the announcing of the lineups “from Angola New York Christian Laettner.”    Angola is mostly residential but has a couple of beach-town looking bars opening onto the lake.

Also in Angola was the kind of grocery store we hardly have in North Carolina;  a locally owned grocery store that has an Italian deli selling submarine sandwiches.

In the South we have all sorts of ways of excluding people but uniquely Yankee is the practice of using stickers and badges to denying access to public parks to those who does not live in that specific town or county.  I ignored the sign and set up an outdoor lunch of the delicious sandwich from the grocery store.  People usually do not bother people on bicycles.  (on the sign “No Bikes”)  It was peaceful, no one else was around.

 

 

I chilled for a while in the park but eventually got back on the bicycle for the final stretch into Buffalo.   After a few miles I rumbled to a stop with a flat tire.    There was a bench on the edge of someone’s yard next to the highway where I could sit in the shade while I pulled off the wheel and patched the tube.

 

Starting in the late 1800’s Buffalo’s elite started building big summer houses fronting Lake Erie on Lake Shore Road.

 

 

I bicycled by the entrance to a large house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is usually open to the public but was closed due to the pandemic.   A fence and hedges blocked the view.   Here is a photo taken from the internet.

At a park called Woodlawn looking in one direction you could see downtown Buffalo in the distance.

In another direction it just looked like the ocean.

 

Slightly further on was this interesting public library building.

 

I am not sure what to say about this house.  It was trashier looking than the photo indicates.

 

I was getting close to my Airbnb in South Buffalo.    It is startling how many Catholic facilities one passes in the Buffalo area.

In an otherwise nondescript suburban area surrounded by gas stations I stumbled onto this impressive place of worship, Our Lady of Victory Basilica.    Completed in 1928, it was built mostly due to the lobbying and fundraising by one man, Father Baker.   I think the architecture looks a little Mussoliniesque but it is more likely that Fascists copied church architecture than the other way around.

This is the neighborhood of my Airbnb.

My Airbnb took up the entire first floor of this house.

 

It was larger and more expensive than I needed but it was the only Airbnb I could find that was totally accessible by key code.   In this pandemic I did not have to interact with any human and I had the whole space to myself, a lovely and very clean early 20th century two bedroom apartment decorated with all sorts of posters promoting Buffalo.

 

What to do about dinner?   There were several restaurants within walking distance but most were Irish pubs or similar types of bar food, mostly for takeout only.   I had been eating out greasy meat for three days and craved vegetables.  I had just bicycled fifty miles and was really hungry.    A nice grocery store was within easy bicycling distance.   The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen including a few staples, like olive oil.   I could cook for myself!

Biking to the store I enjoyed looking around this Buffalo neighborhood by bicycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After going to the grocery store here is what I came “home” with, total cost $ 8.32.   A roll, a small head of broccoli, one ear of corn, a package of sliced portobello mushrooms, a package of three uncooked hot Italian sausages, and one head of garlic.

 

These ingredients were available in the kitchen.  (Someone must live here when not Airbnbing!)

 

I made this up as I went along.    I first cut the stem off the broccoli and cut each floret into bite sized pieces.

 

I boiled a saucepan of water and boiled the broccoli for about three minutes, then drained it and rinsed it with cold water.

The store did not sell less than three sausages so I conceded that I would have to leave two sausages unused here at the Airbnb.   I took out one sausage and cut it in half.

 

I took the half of a sausage out of the casing and squeezed it into a frying pan.

After a few minutes I took the sausage out to a plate and then added the sliced mushrooms and garlic with a little olive oil.

After the mushrooms had reduced by half I cut the corn off the cob and added this to the mushrooms.

 

I put the cooked broccoli and cooked sausage pieces back in the frying pan, keeping it all cooking for a few more minutes.

For a moment I panicked because I realized this kitchen had no SALT.    Luckily they had this steak seasoning which added a lot of zap.

I cut the bun in half and put it in the toaster.

 

 

I cooked the other half of the piece of sausage in another frying pan.

 

I still had the wine from the previous day.

 

 

Dinner!

 

The next morning I had a plan.  It would start with a fifteen mile bike ride, from my Airbnb to downtown Buffalo, then through Buffalo’s trendier districts in the north of the city, before turning east and cycling to the Buffalo/Niagara airport, where I had reserved an Enterprise Rentacar.   I would drive the car two hours back to an Enterprise office in Warren PA, drop the car off and then cycle the two miles back to my Prius that I had left at the Warren Walmart.    I would then put the bicycle in the car and drive home ten hours to North Carolina.    It was a lot to do.  I had to start early.  (I always wake up early anyway!)   I bicycled out onto the street in South Buffalo at 6:15 AM.   It was a lovely cool morning.

 

The city of Buffalo has lost half its population in the last sixty years.    Obviously there are going to be empty buildings somewhere.   Once out of the Cazenovia Park neighborhood where I had spent the night and got closer to downtown Buffalo, I started to see more empty buildings.

 

I had no idea Buffalo has a huge Tesla factory, it makes solar panels and cells at the site of a former steel mill.  I just stumbled onto this by bicycle at 6:45 AM.

Even closer to downtown Buffalo, which to an alien-from-another-planet should be the most valuable real estate in the city, I watched the sun rise over streets that must have formerly had houses and were now sitting empty.  The collective racism of our real estate market?

Here is a Trump flag in the window in a nearby desolate neighborhood.

When I lived in New Orleans with Tootie in the 1980’s we were taught the racist idea that a white person should never go anywhere near public housing.   Those ideas are dated and wrong.  In 2020 I biked passed a Buffalo project at 7:00 AM.

 

I know how to solve the urban problem!  Let’s build a casino!   Buffalo must have bought the same consultant’s  report as many other cites.  I biked past their casino just immediately south of downtown.

 

In the casino parking lot was a Covid-19 test site.

 

Downtown Buffalo has some lovely tall buildings.

 

North of downtown are some attractive residential neighborhoods.

I turned right and started cycling eastward towards the airport.   The neighborhoods got poorer.

 

 

These were definitely sketchy neighborhoods but I never felt threatened bicycling through them, certainly not at 7:45 AM.   I really did not see many people.   I eventually arrived at the Buffalo airport, which feels like it is right in the urban fabric.   In this pandemic the airport parking lot was nearly empty.

It really was not difficult to bicycle right up to the airport terminal.    I got a car (Mini Clubman!) with no problems.   It was only 8:10 AM when I started driving.   Chapel Hill NC was more than six hundred miles to the south.    I first had to drop the rental car off two hours south in Warren PA.  The Enterprise Rentacar office was near downtown Warren.    I had to bicycle two miles out to the Walmart where I had left my car.  I was surprised how attractive Warren PA was, a place I had never heard of prior to this trip.

I got home to Chapel Hill at 9:00 PM, in time to eat dinner at home.

This trip had been on my bucket list of many years, to ride the length of Long Island.   To a Southerner,  Long Island seemed this exotic place, its New Yorkedness accentuated by its physical isolation.  (Those living on Long Island essentially have to go through New York City to go anywhere else.)   Was this idea true?

To find out, from my home in Chapel Hill NC I drove by myself up to Richmond VA and took Amtrak from there to New York City.  Amtrak regulations allow a folding bicycle and I have taken my Bike Friday on Amtrak many times.   On previous trips I was always able to put the bicycle in a set of luggage shelves just inside the railcar entrance.    This time these shelves were already full.  I just put the folded bicycle in the overhead rack!   No one said anything.

I arrived Penn Station in Manhattan just before four in the afternoon.   Most of the station is underground.

I hauled the bicycle down from the overhead and hauled it the very short distance out the train door and onto the Penn Station platform.   In a few minutes I had assembled the bicycle and strapped my trunk bag onto the back.   I could wheel everything away up into the Big Apple that lurked above.

I pushed the bicycle up an escalator and then through the maze of crowded hallways lined with stores that comprises Penn Station.

My brother Alex lives in Park Slope Brooklyn, about nine miles from Penn Station.   My son Sam has been living in Brooklyn as well.   To get to Alex’s place I first had to bicycle down Manhattan’s crowded Seventh Avenue.  (Mick Jagger: “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue!”)  This is what it looks like in front of Penn Station.

 

 

Bicycling in traffic in Manhattan is exciting but not as crazy as one would think    I cut over to Second Avenue, then to the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.   I looked back at lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I had brought my own bicycle but New York City did institute bicycle sharing in 2013 and calls it Citi Bike.  I had predicted that bicycle sharing for New York was possibly a good idea but it would be a bloodbath of tourists getting run over.  I was wrong.   There are currently 62,000 public shared bicycle rides in New York EVERY DAY.   It was four years and millions of rides before a woman was run over and killed by a bus.    You see these bicycle stands all over the city.

New York also now has bike paths.  From 2007-2013 the NYC Transportation Commissioner was someone (now somewhat famous) named Jeanette Sadik-Khan.   She discovered that she controlled almost no money or power to build things like bicycle trails, but had almost unlimited power to direct how existing New York City streets were PAINTED.   She directed the painting of bike lanes as she saw fit and did this with abandon across the five boroughs of New York.   Among many streets she had a bike path painted to narrow a prominent street in Brooklyn called Prospect Park West.    Living on this street was and is Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall,  herself an important politician.   Iris Weinshall hated this bike path and used her considerable political influence to try to kill it.   It made news to bicycle supporters all over the country that Chuck Schumer was trying to axe a bike path in front of his apartment.   He failed; Sadik-Khan won, and I thought about that as I biked on that very path on the way to Alex’s apartment, Prospect Park on my right.

I had a wonderful sushi dinner that night with Alex, his teenage son Max, my son Sam, and my nephew Danny.   I slept on Alex and Kristi’s sofa and parked my bicycle in their living room.   In addition to Max they have a one year old daughter named Eleanor Claire.

The next morning I headed out.    First I stopped by Sam’s apartment in the neighborhood of Bushwick.  He is in the process of moving out, going to Vietnam.

 

My four days of cycling out Long Island ended up looking like this:

 

On my first day out  I would cycle across Brooklyn, over to the Rockaways and Rockaway Beach, then Long Beach before turning back inland to Freeport.

Brooklyn has neighborhoods of lovely brownstones.

 

In the poorer neighborhood of East New York this guy was bicycling with his dog in one of Sadik-Khan’s bike lanes.

I followed two other bicyclists as we rode by the enormous field of apartment “towers in the park” Spring Creek Towers, formerly called Starrett City.

 

 

 

On the water side of Shore Parkway there is a quite nice bike path along Jamaica Bay.   A bicyclist here feels divorced from the city.  It was quite peaceful if you could ignore the scream of the cars and trucks on the parallel expressway.

 

 

The path leads a bicyclist by the former airport Floyd Bennett Field, now a park.    I rode on a narrow pedestrian walkway across Marine Parkway Bridge that separates Brooklyn from the Rockaways.

 

 

It’s not hard, not hard to reach.   We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.

All I really knew about Rockaway Beach was the Ramones song released in 1977.   I have been listening to that song for over forty years but had never been to Rockaway Beach.   I always felt the song was tongue in cheek, sort of making fun of the New York beach.   But maybe not.  I recently heard a version recorded in about 2012 by the all-female Japanese band Shonen Knife from their tribute album Osaka Ramones.   Here it is performed live.   Listen for a minute, it grows on you.

 

 

I have never much thought of New York City as a beach town but it really can be, apparently.   On this Friday the 31st of May in Jacob Riis Park the lifeguards were out but the summer had barely begun.

 

The residential area of Belle Harbor it could almost pass for my mother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

Eventually there was a boardwalk to bicycle on.

 

It is interesting that while beach real estate in and near New York City can be expensive, it is certainly not THE most expensive place to live in New York.   In a few places on or near the oceanfront there is public housing, subsidized housing for the poor.  Fascinating.

Big airplanes landing at JFK airport passed overhead,  There were coming in from far-away places.   The first photo in an Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft.  The second photo is an almost as big British Airways 747.

 

 

I threaded mostly on the oceanfront through various municipalities collectively known as “The Rockaways” until I came to Atlantic Beach Bridge onto the next barrier island, which contains Atlantic Beach and Long Beach.  For cars there is a $2.00 toll on this very short bridge.

 

 

The preponderance of tolls in New York reminded me of the longest book I have ever read, a 1300+ page biography of Robert Moses; The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.

OK, who is Robert Moses?   He was never elected to any office, yet he was so powerful that even President Franklin Roosevelt was sometimes afraid to take him on.   He controlled much of New York City and New York State from about 1928 to 1968.   A major basis of his power was obsession with legal details, especially bond issues.  He personally wrote the fine print for the bonds sold to build stuff like this Atlantic Beach Bridge.   In most cases he hard-baked into the project these tolls and made them impossible to remove.   He made himself director of the Authorities that controlled the toll money.    Robert Moses was instrumental in building many of the nation’s first freeways, New York state parks and “slum clearance” projects.  He got involved nationally in projects to promote what we now call suburban sprawl, tearing down inner cities and building freeways.  Much of the public infrastructure, both good and bad, in the New York area, has the fingerprints of Robert Moses.   On this bike trip I was always looking for Robert Moses projects, his 1930’s freeways and art-deco public buildings.  The toll plaza above and this 1930’s looking traffic sign were among them.

 

On this trip I passed many of Robert Moses’ cloverleaf intersections, some built as early as the 1930’s, to Parkways that prohibit trucks and bicycles.

I walked the bike across the bridge to Atlantic Beach, then started biking east.   For about a mile covering the oceanfront was a series of beach clubs.   Each had the same schtick; “members only” and valet parking.

Another factoid:   Sonny and Vito Corleone lived in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, adjacent towns.  The location of the the Corleone gated compound is not mentioned in the movie but is in the book.  The scene where Sonny was rubbed out was supposed to have been at the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza.

In downtown Long Beach I had lunch at a “Mexican” bar / restaurant.    It was quite good, in its own way.   Who I assume is the owner stared at me all during the meal.

There was only one other table occupied.

 

 

I biked through Long Beach and the adjacent towns.  They did not look at all Godfatherish, just a beach town look.   For much of the way I could cycle on the boardwalk.

 

 

A Robert Moses legacy was that he loved to build Parkways.   These were freeways that prohibit trucks and buses.   I made it easier for him to keep public transport (and poor people) away from his glorious Jones Beach State Park.   I wanted to but could not bicycle to Jones Beach and see the famous Art Deco bathhouse planned and built by Robert Moses.  Loop Parkway that connects Long Beach with Jones Beach prohibits not only trucks but bicycles.     Ocean Parkway along that beach also supposedly prohibits bicycles.

For this night and the following night I had already reserved and paid for rooms at Airbnbs.    This first night would be in the “town” of Freeport.    I put that in quotes because western Long Island is filled with continuous urbanism but politically divided into a series of towns.  Freeport looks all-American.   Compared to Long Beach, which looks all-white, it took me a while to realize that everyone in Freeport, at least everyone I could publicly see, was either Hispanic or African-American.

 

This is the house of my Airbnb.

 

My room was the front upstairs bedroom.   It was clean and tidy but you clearly were staying in someone’s house.   I shared the bathroom with the family, and at night when I walked out of my room to the bathroom I could see the open door to the seventy-something host couple’s bedroom.   They spoke little English but were super nice and accommodating.  Compared to a cheap hotel, it was totally NOT sleazy.

I am now safe to say that this neighborhood is majority Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic.   A few blocks away I walked into a restaurant.  I had never been to a Dominican restaurant before.

It was brightly lit. There was a bar in one corner.  Being Dominican, they were watching, what else, baseball, or in this case women’s college softball.

I wanted something simple and a seven dollar bowl of chicken soup really hit the spot, accompanied by a side dish of rice and a side dish of beans.

 

This was my route the next day.

 

My ideal schedule when bicycling is to get up early, ride ten or fifteen miles, then stop for coffee and a light breakfast.

The streets in this part of Long Island are relatively well connected so I could bicycle for miles on minor mostly residential streets on this peaceful Saturday morning.  I had come to Long Island expecting, I dunno, the home of My Cousin Vinny.   Instead it all looked pretty normal.

 

 

 

New York Beanery in Amityville had a good almond milk latte and a superb egg and avocado toast.

 

I did see several mega-diners, we certainly do not have these in North Carolina.   I consider these real cultural icons, nowhere else in the world (except maybe New Jersey!).

 

 

Note the two luxury cars in front of this one, a Range Rover and a Lincoln.

Plus this place, not exactly a diner.

I passed by a Saturday morning lacrosse practice.   At the college level lacrosse is an exciting sport to watch.  My alma mater Washington College in rural Maryland had and has a very competitive team and some of the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen were Washington College lacrosse games in the seventies.   I learned then that a huge percentage of great lacrosse players came from either Long Island or the Baltimore area.

Apparently lacrosse is still a big deal on Long Island.    I do not think most areas would have organized lacrosse for very young girls.   How old do they look, about eight?

 

Is was able to bicycle on minor highways and most had pleasantly wide shoulders, almost like a bike path.  In North or South Carolina the highway below would have stopped at the white line.   Maybe in the Northeast wide shoulders are needed for snow removal.

 

 

My accommodations that evening were nice but really unusual.  In an area where motels were expensive this Airbnb cost a low eighty dollars, tax included.   Vectoring off the main road I biked through a normal looking upper working class neighborhood with ranch houses; pickup trucks and RVs in the driveways.   Near the end of the road, in contrast to the other houses were a couple of much larger lots with wooded front yards and long driveways.   I checked the address again and hesitated.  Was I in the wrong place?   The gate and driveway did not look well maintained.  I called my Airbnb contact but no one answered.  The woman finished her voice mail with mas salam malek kum, which I know to be an Arabic greeting.   Whatever.  I took a deep breath and bicycled up the driveway.

 

 

There were a couple of cars that looked like they had not been driven in a while, including a Lincoln Navigator.

 

I walked up to the front door.   The trim was peeling paint and there was a old plastic water bottle on the door sill.

 

I sucked it up and rang the bell.    Thirty seconds of silence. It was answered by a South Asian looking guy, sixty something.   He smiled and said in accented English, yes, he was expecting me.   Come on in.  He walked me through sparsely furnished or totally empty living / dining rooms to a bedroom at the back of the ground floor.   The room was huge.   I took this picture after I had already messed up the bed; the room was clean and well furnished, with the kind of enormous master bathroom one would expect from such a giant house.   The carpet was spotless.   He had left three fresh oranges on the table.   I ate one the next morning, it was delicious.

If you look at the top right of the photo above you will see water stains where the roof had been leaking.

There was a recently used looking pair of slippers on the floor, size small.

There was a large walk-in closet full of women’s clothes.   Are these Middle Eastern or South Asian garments?

Being nosy, I opened the nightstand drawer on left side of the bed and it contained nothing but a freshly printed stack of paper having something to do with medical school tests or applications.

The nightstand on the other side had only the TV remote and a copy of the Quran.

Because I left early the next morning I was not able to talk to the guy again.  I left the key under the mat.  Regretably I never learned anything more about these people.

I did need to go out to dinner.   After showering and and changing clothes I biked about a mile back to the main road and La Volpe Ristorante, which sat by itself on the highway.   Sophie Loren and other famous Italians had their portraits on the walls.   I love to cook and my current obsession is Italian.   We do not have many good Italian restaurants in North Carolina.

 

I had a nice seat at the bar.  The guy next to me commented on my Southern accent.   Fascinating.  Yes, I am from Virginia Beach and live in North Carolina but I never thought I had any kind of accent.  In the South I am practically a Yankee.   Only on Long Island, I guess.  The bartender who served us was a real pro.

 

I love clams and especially prefer those from colder water in the north.   The further south you go clams apparently get worse.  My buddy Lyman from warm water New Orleans has an innate fear of clams.  At La Volpe in the town of Center Moriches NY fresh cavatelli pasta with clams, mushrooms, beans, and arugula was the best meal of this entire trip.

 

The next morning I slipped out early.   This is a map of my third day out.   My destination was Montauk, the last town near the end of South Fork.

Out on the road on an early Sunday morning it was peaceful and slightly foggy.

 

 

Quite soon I started cycling through The Hamptons.   Towns are named Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, Hampton Bay, Bridgehampton.   On and on.  Clearly real estate is worth more if the word Hampton is included.

Westhampton is the first Hampton.  Almost ten miles BEFORE the actual town of Westhampton the name game begins with this development.  One can tell the neighbors: “We bought a house in The Hamptons.”

 

In the same area, likely undocumented workers stood around waiting for a job.

 

In the next three hours I passed dozens of fancy houses that are probably only occupied a few weeks per year.   Most do not have water views.    People are apparently willing to pay millions of dollars for the privilege of having a house in The Hamptons.

I could see more detail when I bicycled off the busy main highway and onto side roads.  Yes, these houses really do cost millions of dollars each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past East Hampton there actually is quite a bit empty pine barren.   Much of this is public land like Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks.

Montauk NY.  Just because of its location I have been wanting to come here for a long time.   On the map it has that aura of Provincetown or Key West, a town at the end of the road.  It really is just a small beach town.   My friend John Soehner says Montauk is a great place.   I should have brought him along to show me around.

 

I stayed in Daunt’s Albatross Motel.

 

The restaurants in Montauk are expensive.    I grew up in a beach town and know that spending a lot on fancy food might not get you that much.   I ate in a pizza joint, listening to two Catholic priests at the next table loudly talk shop, problems at their work, one an older white guy, the other younger and black, with an African accent.

The next morning I was really ready to get out of town, back to some kind of less touristy America.

There is an hourly ferry to Connecticut at the tip of the other fork, the North Fork, at Orient Point NY.   That would be my destination this fourth day out.

 

I first cycled back fourteen miles back to East Hampton and and got breakfast at Starbucks.   Starbucks seemed like one of the few gathering places in East Hampton for all social classes.   It was a weekday, there were guys who could have been electricians alongside some very tall and skinny blond women talking some language I did not recognize.

 

The rest of the downtowns in The Hamptons are mostly sanitized, many storefronts turned into real estate offices advertising multi-million dollar houses.

I turned north towards the town of Sag Harbour.   It looks less cutesified that The Hamptons but I now know that it is almost as expensive.

To get to the Orient Point Ferry towards Connecticut I first had to take two smaller ferries,  to the south shore of Shelter Island and then from the north shore of that same island.  It was a beautiful day.

 

It was something of a relief to arrive into the town of Greenport, that last real town going out east onto the North Fork.   Compared to The Hamptons and the rest of the South Fork, Greenport looked and felt like a real town.   I got a sandwich for lunch at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.

 

It is nine miles further out the North Folk to the tip, Orient Point, where the ferry leaves.

On the side of the road was this beautiful saltbox house, built in 1656.   It did have a historical marker but otherwise I think it is just somebody’s house.

At the end of the road there is a ferry terminal and a small marina / bar / restaurant.   I stopped in for a beer.

The ferry ride to New London CT took about an hour and a half.

 

I had a place to go when I arrived New London CT, an Airbnb booked online.

This part of the country does not get many tourists.    The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area was built around coal mining and offshoot heavy industries.    The cities have been losing population for the last fifty years.

I chose Wilkes-Barre specifically as a starting point because it is right on I-81 which comes up through Virginia.   I was able to drive to Wilkes-Barre from Chapel Hill in a little over eight hours.

This trip would also give me an opportunity to bicycle up to Binghamton, New York; a city on the skids that I have also been wanting to visit for a while.   Why, I am not sure.   I guess it just seems exotic to someone from Virginia and North Carolina.

 

I parked my car in the lot of a Walmart on the northern fringes of Wilkes-Barre.   Walmart is fundamentally American in its outlook and Walmart projects a tired American creed: parking should be free and available to anyone, anytime.    I feel safe leaving a car for three or four days in a Walmart parking lot.  I pulled the bicycle out of the trunk.   My parking space was catty-cornered between the Walmart and a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area is built in an area called the Wyoming Valley, and the cities are strung together in a line between mountains.   For there to be space to build a Walmart and other suburban sprawl, Wilkes-Barre has grown north into the steep slopes of a mountain on the south side of town.    I biked out of the Walmart parking lot and descended a couple miles downhill into Wilkes-Barre.    The first big building I saw was this impressive abandoned brewery.

I descended a little further into downtown Wilkes-Barre.    This used to be an important city.

 

 

The hour was later than planned, and I decided to not try and bicycle further but just stay here in this city.    Luckily I found a nice motel right downtown.

Even checking with Yelp, there did not seem to be many fine dining options here in downtown Wilkes-Barre.


On this warm and pleasant evening I stumbled onto this bar downtown that was spilling onto the sidewalk. It was quite the scene, even if my dinner was just bar food.

I strolled around in the dark alone after dinner, and discovered that Wilkes-Barre (and Scranton, and Binghamton) have something that Raleigh, and Durham, and Charlotte, and Richmond,  (and probably Atlanta) no longer have:  an old-school multi-story department store downtown.   From searching the web, I learned that the regional chain Boscov’s is privately held; this may be its saving grace.    If it was publicly owned I am sure shareholders would have insisted someone cut the cord.    Here in downtown Wilkes-Barre it stood impressively open at 8:45 PM.

I went inside and was confronted with the obligatory first-floor cosmetics department.    There were several floor levels, and escalators.  I found the men’s department and looked for something to buy, just to do my part.   Sadly, I could not find anything I liked.  I admit, I am picky.

The next morning my plan was to cycle upriver towards Scranton and then, I hoped, head off in the direction of Binghamton.   The Scranton / Wilkes-Barre area has enormous amounts of walkable neighborhood that I wished we had more of in the Raleigh/Durham area.   In the linear strip along the river and Main Street, Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and beyond;  early twentieth century residential areas go on continuously for over twenty miles.

I have noticed in my travels of struggling white working class areas people reach for that last stretch of entrepreneurialism:  drag stuff into your front yard and try to sell it.    On this sunny Saturday morning the Garage Sale scene was humming.

 

It is about twenty miles from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and I got to downtown Scranton about eleven in the morning.

Scranton is named after the mid-nineteenth century businessman who founded the place; more or less a company town.  The city grew up around what became one of the largest steel works in world.  There are also coal mine tunnels running underneath this entire area.    The coal mining industry here came to an end with a mining disaster in 1959; a coal mine punched through to the Susquehanna River, drowning twelve people.

Now unfortunately the steel industry is pretty much all gone.   Among other industries Scranton had an enormous railroad maintenance facility that also closed many years ago.   In 1986 this area’s congressman got federal funding to make a national park out of that maintenance facility; it is called Steamtown.    It is perfect for old guys like me to walk around and gaze at huge machinery.   They even have a crew on the payroll here who rebuild and maintain working steam locomotives.

I could have spent all day at Steamtown, but after walking around awhile I got back on the bicycle and headed through the northern part of Scranton.   I found an Italian deli and something called antipasto salad.  Three twenty somethings were at the other table and while I ate lunch I surreptitiously listened to them talk about their lives and careers.

It all sounded optimistic.  The young woman had just gotten a nursing degree.   The guys had jobs and all sorts of plans.  It was comforting to know that not all educated young people with a future were leaving Scranton.

Americans have always romanticized about certain parts of the country; Bob Dylan sang:

I had a job in the great North Woods, working as a cook for a spell.  But I never did like it all that much and one day the axe just fell.   So I drifted on down to New Orleans where I happed  to be employed.  Working for a while on a fishing boat right outside Delacroix.

But very few people have romantically escaped to Wilkes-Barre, or written a song about it.  I suspect people do leave town,  but very few come here, especially educated young people.

After lunch I headed further through the valley, through more of this this linear city, municipalities with names like Dickson City and Blakely.

All these towns had signs on the utility poles honoring veterans, from all wars since World War II, dozens and dozens of signs.  I knew that there had been a lot of immigrant groups settling here a hundred years ago, particularly from Poland.   I made a point of surveying the names on these war memorials; in one stretch well over 50% of the last names on the memorials ended with “ski” or “sky.”

 

As I biked further up the valley I had thoughts of where I was going to stop that night.   I called the one hotel listed in Carbondale and they said they were full.   A wedding.   Nothing seemed available on Airbnb either, so I had to turn around and head back to North Scranton, where I had found an Airbnb.

I chilled in the room for a while before looking for a place to eat dinner.   I particularly like to eat Italian when I am in the Northeast.

Casa Bella is really nice restaurant.    On a Saturday night people were dressed up for an Evening Out.   I do not mean to be snide, but there are key differences in what I will call Red America Restaurants, and those in Chapel Hill (or New York City, for that matter.)  The principal one is that prices, even at quite nice places, are lower.   And almost always the salad is included, rather than having to order and pay for an appetizer and an entree.    The wine prices are six dollars a glass, rather than nine or ten or eleven.

As an Italian restaurant it had the obligatory signed photo by an aging rock star, and higher-ups in the Catholic Church.

The wait service here was top notch, middle aged professionals who were always available but never hovering.   And the food was really good.

The salad came already dressed Italian style.   Sure, there was a lot of iceberg lettuce, but that is my only complaint.

My body was craving a good tomato sauce.   Homemade three cheese ravioli was delicious.

After dinner I walked in the dark back to the Airbnb.

The next day I did something that (I swear to you my readers)  I have never done before.   It was almost seventy miles, over a mountain range, from my North Scranton Airbnb to an Airbnb I had already booked in Binghamton NY.      A huge mountain loomed over Scranton.    So, my bicycle and I took an Uber at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning.

The Uber was just to cover the first six miles, but six miles that were almost continuously uphill,  a mountain climb to a Scranton suburb appropriately called Clark’s Summit.

It became apparent that a large proportion of what is upscale in the Scranton area is up here on the mountain of Clark’s Summit.   I saw a Talbot’s women’s clothing store, for example.   There is a Starbucks’s.  There is also a really nice locally owned coffee house called Duffy’s.    They make a mean breakfast sandwich.

The baristas were fooling around.

I got back on the bicycle and heading down the road on highways through the mountains.

US Highway 11 more of less parallels a railroad that was put in relatively lately, about 1915.     Crossing these mountains, when it was built it was considered an engineering marvel.  Of course, today, it is abandoned.    Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to get it re-started as a commuter rail line to New York City;  a way to bring progress to Scranton and Binghamton.

 

Another rail bridge, even longer and higher.

 

Most of this bike ride was through woods.    There is not much out here.  I did go through two or three very small towns.

Compared to other parts of the country, the Northeast has a lot of small independent old-school ice cream places, usually out on a highway.    I stopped for a chocolate swirl just outside of the town of New Milford.

Back on the bicycle I rode through a mixture of woods and small towns.   It all felt very remote until US-11 crossed I-81, where there were many more cars and strip shopping centers.   I stopped at a Subway for lunch.

Just north of I-81 my highway (US-11)  crosses the Pennsylvania / New York State line as it passes through the quaint small town of  Corbettsville.  Pennsylvania must be a better place to buy guns.

Binghamton has a current population of 47,000, about the same population as it was in 1910.   The population was 80,000 in 1950.    I read that in the 1950’s over 15,000 people worked for one shoe manufacturer (E-J).     Binghamton’s current economic engine, if there is one, is the SUNY campus, called Binghamton University.

I had booked an Airbnb the previous day.   It is in an older neighborhood about two miles from downtown.   This duplex house is the nicest on the block.

I hung out in the room for a while.   It is pleasant where houses frequently do not have air conditioning, so you can sit in a room with the windows open.     I eventually biked downtown to have some kind of dinner.

A brewpub downtown that looked quite new had a few people at the bar.   The old guy with the white beard was quite talkative.

It turned out the the old guy, his wife, and me had something in common.   We were all tourists in a city that certainly does not get many tourists.   The retired married couple were from Australia.   (Tasmania!)  They had only been to America once before in their lives.  This trip they had spent a week in San Francisco and a few days in New York City.   The wife wanted to see Niagara Falls.  They thought that ten days driving around New York State would give them a good slice of what American life is like.   I thought, is this true?

The next morning I biked all over the Binghamton area.    Similar to Scranton, Binghamton looks gray and down on its luck.   It does NOT look completely abandoned like a Detroit or Bridgeport CT.   This lovely 1930’s looking building was behind a warehouse.

I had found a good deal on a one-way Enterprise car rental for the drive back to the Scranton airport.    Two hours later I dropped the car off and then had a couple hours to again bicycle around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre before going back to the Walmart, to get my car and the drive home.

In downtown Wilkes-Barre there is this huge building that looks like a mosque.    It was built in 1907 as a Masonic lodge (Shriners!).   It is currently empty and decaying.

It is hot in North Carolina in July.    Seeking to go cycle somewhere with less oppressive heat, I searched the internet for air travel deals.    While not a summer destination as ideal as, say, Burlington, Vermont, I could travel nonstop on American Airlines to and from New York City’s La Guardia airport on a free ticket for only 15,000 frequent flier miles.

I came up with a plan to bicycle north from La Guardia the almost 200 miles to Albany NY in four or five days, take the Amtrak ($43.00) back to NYC, then bike back over to La Guardia airport for the flight home.

Tootie dropped me off at Raleigh/Durham Airport about 6:30 AM.   The flight departed the new Terminal 2 at 7:45 AM.

 

 

 

On a sunny Thursday morning this was a painless journey, landing La Guardia about 9:00 AM

I had checked as luggage the PBW folding bicycle which fits in a standard suitcase.   A complication of traveling this way is that the bicyclist has to find somewhere to store the hard plastic suitcase while bike riding.

Tootie and I own only one car, a 2004 Honda we inherited from her late mother.  We end up renting cars a fair amount,  almost always with Enterprise, where I have a frequent renter account.  Enterprise has a company culture that encourages good customer service.   I have rented cars many times as part of my bicycle tours, and on several occasions an Enterprise office stored my empty bicycle suitcase.     On this New York trip even though I was NOT renting a car, I audaciously emailed Enterprise at La Guardia and asked them if I could leave my empty bicycle suitcase with them for five days.  Jason Imperiale and the rest of the team at Enterprise La Guardia could not have been more helpful.

Having taken the rental car shuttle over to the Enterprise office about a quarter mile from the airport, I found a shady spot and put the bicycle together.    I took this picture when I was 3/4 done.

 

I finished packing up.   Enterprise accepted the suitcase with a smile and I bicycled off into Queens, NY.    A residential grid of streets, which is ideal for bicycling,  starts almost immediately in front of La Guardia airport.

I did a pretty lousy job of escaping the heat, at least the first day; the temperature by 2:30 PM  in Queens was 93 degrees.  (The temperatures did fall on following days.)

My brother Alex lives pretty far away in another part of New York City;  Park Slope, Brooklyn.    He took the subway up and met me for lunch at Telly’s Taverna in Astoria, Queens.   There has been a large Greek population in Astoria for many years.   We got grilled octopus, among many other things, including a bottle of Greek white wine.

My proposed four to five day route to Albany would mostly go up the west bank of the Hudson River.  This afternoon, to get to the west side of the Hudson, I would need to cross much of New York City; from the borough of Queens across the East River to Ward’s Island, then cross the Harlem River into Manhattan,  then across Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River into New Jersey.

First I crossed the East River on the RFK bridge.    I had had to circle the block several times before I found the bicycle/pedestrian path.   A sign said to walk your bike but I gave up and biked most of the way.

 

 

The Ward’s Island Bridge across the Harlem River is reserved for only pedestrians and bicyclists, and it takes one into Harlem/upper Manhattan.

Although Manhattan is long and skinny, bisecting it through Harlem it still felt huge.    There is dense city for several miles.  Where in the past Harlem had a negative connotation, now it seems like a vibrant mostly African-American neighborhood.  There were people hanging out on the street.

 

 

I finally got to the George Washington Bridge and the entrance to its pedestrian/bike path.

 

 

 

Once across the Hudson the scenery got rural quite quickly.   The George Washington Bridge deposits a bicyclist into the northeastern corner of New Jersey.  US-9W going north along the Hudson for first two or three miles was dangerous and busy, but after that Route 9W continued through a series of parklands, where it passed back into New York State.  The highway safely had wide shoulders and there were other bicyclists on the road.

 

I had not made specific hotel reservations for this trip except for this first night, for which I had booked in advance an Airbnb in Nyack NY, about twenty miles north of the George Washington Bridge.

It started to rain about four miles from my destination.   I texted my Airbnb person, and she said she was not home, she was at a bar having a drink with a friend!   I was to stay in the basement apartment of a two story suburban house.   She told me on the phone how to get in though her garage by punching in a code.

 

The apartment was quite nice, and I chilled for a while, trying to dry off.  Dina, my hostess, had said she wanted to cook me dinner, even though this was not part of the Airbnb deal.   She called me from downtown Nyack about 6:30 and said she and a friend were still there, did I want to come down to this bar?   She said she would buy me a hamburger.

The rain had stopped and I biked from her house about a mile into downtown Nyack.    Dina, her friend and I sat at the bar while they watched me eat my hamburger.    They both liked Trump and asked if I was a liberal.  What else could I say but;  yes?

I got up the next morning and looked outside.   While the previous day had been North Carolina hot, the second day was predicted rain all day and high of 66 degrees!

I find that I can focus better on my reading while I am on these bike trips.   Two days earlier, the night before I left North Carolina, I had seen my friend Daniel Wallace at a concert and talked with him about his new novel Extra-Ordinary Adventures.  I told him that I hardly ever read novels.   He encouraged me to read it anyway. This morning I sat with my Kindle in this Airbnb apartment listening to the rain outside and reading the interesting story of a “boring”  guy at an apartment complex in Birmingham.   I was to finish the book during this trip.

Dina, just to be nice, fixed me breakfast.    Afterwards, she had to go someplace, and left me alone in her house, to let myself out when the rain stopped.

 

The rain had stopped for a while, so about noon I headed down the road.   While the cycling on route 9W is fairly safe, I was able to get off and ride on side roads for much of the way, which made it more pleasant.    I got a flat tire in the drizzle, and had to stop and fix it.

Towns and cities in upstate New York, even more than North Carolina, seem a land of haves and have nots.   Some towns were benighted as being “cool” and were prosperous looking.   Others, like Haverstraw NY were, to me, beautiful towns, but looked down on their luck.   It probably would be even more abandoned if not for the Mexican immigrants.   Maybe the locals leave when they feel the immigrants are “taking over.”

 

Looking for somewhere to eat lunch, one of the very few restaurants had a management and a clientele that looked entirely Mexican.   I ended up sharing a table with this little guy who did not fit at his parents table behind him.    I ate beef tacos and washed it down with horchata, all delicious.

 

After lunch, I headed back into the drizzle, biking near the river on small roads.     At one point I ducked under  a railroad overpass to check my map and get out of the rain.

Unless you go out of the way, one cannot bicycle along the west bank of the Hudson here without passing through West Point, the United States Military Academy.   It sits on a high rocky bluff overlooking the river.  I rode up to the guard shack and asked if I could bicycle through.   He directed me back to a visitor center, where I had to apply for a “pass.”   It was like going to the driver’s license office.  I had to sit in a room for about 45 minutes and wait my turn, have them take my picture and examine my driver’s license, then print me a hard plastic “pass.”    (It is good for a year!). I thought about taking snapshots of this security process, but in the current political/security environment I figured the  authorities might not appreciate that.

I did ask at the guard shack if I could take pictures within the Academy and they said, sure.   It continued to be a very gray day with light rain.

 

 

 

It was all uphill from the center of the campus to the gate exiting on the north side.   After that, state route 218 for the next 6 – 8 miles north is one of the lovelier roads I have travelled in the eastern U.S.    It passes not only through dense forest but winds high above the river like I remember the coastal roads on the French Riviera.

A little further up the road I stumbled onto New York Military Academy.    The Donald’s alma mater!   Don you remember during the campaign when he said that he had “military experience”?   I have biked recently through a similar school in Virginia (Hargrave) , and it currently looks quite shipshape.   This place did not, the grass was not even mowed properly.

From Wikipedia:

On March 3, 2015, NYMA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, facing serious financial difficulties from low enrollment. Instead of opening for the fall semester in September 2015, NYMA closed and was sold at auction to a group of Chinese investors who reopened the school in November 2015.

I had been bicycling in the chilling rain for many hours.    I needed to stop.    In the town of Cornwall-on-Hudson I paused for a hot decaf latte.

 

I looked at my phone for a place to stay in the upcoming larger town (population 28,000) of Newburgh.   I telephoned a lady running a bed and breakfast in Newburgh.  She said she was not physically in Newburgh but employed Mike who lived in the building and ran things.  She said it would cost $155.00; I said that was way too much.   She came down in price considerably.  The B&B is in a formerly nice neighborhood near what used to be the downtown before they tore it down.

 

Newburgh is clearly on the wrong side of the winner/loser line that divides New York State towns.   It used to be a prosperous place and has and used to have many historic buildings.   It rivals my father’s hometown of Norfolk, VA for being a place where huge sections of an historic city were wiped off the map by clean sweeps of “redevelopment” financed by federal money during the 1960’s.   Some sections of Newburgh were still preserved; I took this picture the next day.

 

 

There is a successful looking strip of restaurants on the Hudson waterfront of Newburgh.   The area is wedged between railroad tracks and the river, separated from the original part of town.   It feels more suburban, less “ghetto” than the original Newburgh, even though it is within walking distance to my B&B.   There is lots of parking.

On that strip I ate at a large, flashy, expensive restaurant called the Blu Pointe.   Spelled this way, Blu Pointe.   Billed as “steaks and seafood” the dining room overlooks the river.  Coming from North Carolina I just don’t see restaurants like this and I don’t see people like this.    Men dressed in tight fitting and expensive looking clothes,  with slicked back hair.    I would think these people had nothing to do with organized crime, but about the only place I have seen people dressed like this was watching The Sopranos.   Entrees were like $ 43.00.   The place was packed on a Friday night with people waiting for a table.

I stood around for about twenty minutes before a seat opened up at the bar.   I ordered a bowl of clam chowder ($10.o0: delicious) and then an appetizer sized octopus salad($15.00: also delicious) and with the free bread and accompanying free caponata, it filled me up nicely.  I sat next to a retired Delta Airlines pilot and a similarly aged guy who bragged about the number of Italian restaurants he owned back in “the city.”   We all had a nice chat.   As I was leaving, I pointed my phone camera back at the crowd at the bar.

Since I was staying at an actual B&B instead of the Airbnb variety, breakfast was included.   Mike said that breakfast was to be at 9:00 AM.   I awoke much earlier and had some time to kill.   Honestly, I had never figured out how to watch television on my I-Phone until this very day.    I spent some time fiddling with Amazon so I could watch Claire Danes in episode 10 of Season Five of the series Homeland.

Yes, this B&B was in an old house and was quite ratty around the edges.   The electrical plugs in my room were a disaster.   But the view out the window of the Hudson is lovely.   And Mike is a good cook.   There were only two other guests here, women from Salt Lake City who talked about their liberal politics.   They were in the Hudson Valley to look at art museums.

 

I had a nice talk on the porch with Mike about Newburgh and its problems and safety issues (“just don’t walk in THAT direction”) before I bicycled down the road.  I told Mike I was headed to Kingston NY as the day’s destination (“in that town, watch your bicycle carefully”).

Even though Newburgh has lots of abandoned buildings, just north of town there were brand new houses sprouting up the hillsides.

 

The ride north, angling slightly away from the river, was lovely but involved steep hills,  passing through miles of apple orchards.  Before Kingston I would have as an intermediate lunch stop in the town of New Paltz.   Home of a State University of New York campus, New Paltz is a winner among small upstate New York towns.   The streets were filled with people who looked like students, prospective students,  and their parents, plus the typical young eccentric looking people who would hang out in a college town.     I found a coffee house where I could chill a while after lunch and read more of Daniel Wallace’s novel.

Biking north of New Paltz the scenery was just as lovely as the ride before lunch but this time there were almost no hills as the terrain flattened out along the Wallkill River.    Although it is not continuous, there is a rail trail much of the way to Kingston.

 

The gentle twisting country roads along the flat landscape were even a more pleasant cycle than the bike path.    America has become so politically polarized that I could see how people were voting just by the brand of cars (or trucks) in their driveway.

 

 

As Mike had said it would be, Kingston is a rough looking town.  Kingston was once the center of America’s cement business.

Later that evening I looked on Wikipedia and compared Kingston NY to Raleigh NC.    It really tells the story of urbanization in America.   These figures are rounded off.

Population 1900

Kingston NY : 25,000

Raleigh NC: 13,700

 

Population 1920

Kingston NY: 27,000

Raleigh NC: 25,000

 

Population 1960

Kingston NY: 28,000

Raleigh NC:  94,000

 

Population 2017

Kingston NY:  23,000

Raleigh NC:  458,000

Enough of statistics: let’s have a drink!

I have a new theory, if you bicycle up to a place and just want a nice friendly place to drink a beer, look for a brewpub.    They are popping up all over America; they are in almost every town now.  All kinds of people like bars that make their own beer.

Sure enough, on Google Maps I found Keegan Ales in a “transitional” neighborhood.   There was delicious beer and fascinating people of all political persuasions and ages.

At the bar, on my left were two seventy something guys that had worked most of their lives in blue collar jobs.   They liked Trump, but were really nice about it.   On my right was a fifty something couple that lived in New Jersey and thought Trump was crazy, but they were nice about it also.   There were younger guys across the bar that I did not have a chance to talk to.

After the drink at Keegan’s I got back on the bicycle and rode to another part of Kingston where I had booked an Airbnb.     It is in a house owned by a woman about my age who moved a year and a half ago to Kingston from Manhattan.      The said she was a “minister” but this was the business card she had available in the room.  Because I left so early the next day I did not have a chance to talk to her much.

 

It was a really nice room,  on the second floor in this picture behind the leaves.   The house is bigger than it looks.

 

North Carolina has almost no old-school Italian-American restaurants.   Frank Guido’s in Kingston does fill that bill.

There were celebrity posters on the walls.   Wood paneling.   Gambling machines.  Red sauce.

This guy I sat next to was the chauffeur of a limo.

 

Of course I got eggplant parmesan.

 

 

 

The next day was predicted to be sunny, so I got up and out early, to beat the heat.   It was clear and 61 degrees when I bicycled off at 6:50 AM.   I was to cross the Hudson River on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, from where I would cycle the rest of the way to Albany on the east side of the river.

 

 

 

The village of Red Hook, and pretty much everything else on this side of the river seemed what Kingston and Newburgh had not been; cutesy, wealthy, pretty.

 

 

In Red Hook I got a coffee and a roll at this coffee house.

 

Just a couple miles west of Red Hook is an area called Barrytown.   It is not even a real town, about as much of a town as Calvander NC, if you know that area.    I thought of Barrytown because of the 1974 song by Steely Dan which I have had in my head for the last 43 years.      Steely Dan lyrics are always difficult to decipher.   I remember that the two principals of Steely Dan went to Bard College, about five miles north of Barrytown NY.   I know now that the song is referring to prostelytizing by members of a religious cult that lived there.

I’m not one to look behind I know that times must change.

But over there is Barrytown they do things very strange.

(and later)

I can see by what you carry that you come from Barry…town.

It is such a great enough song that over twenty years after its initial release, North Carolina’s own Ben Folds Five played their version of Barrytown on Late Show with David Letterman.

 

 

 

I spent this night in Hudson NY, a pretty little town that is clearly on the positive side of the winner/loser divide of New York towns, with art galleries, fancy restaurants,  and real estate offices,.  There were upper-class looking people walking around.

For a late lunch, at least in terms of decor, the Italian-American scene at this place called Oak could not have been more different than Frank Guido’s the previous evening in Kingston.    Good but pretentious $ 17.00 clam pizza.

My Airbnb was an entire small apartment down the main street in Hudson on the third floor.    The stairs up to it reminded me of certain scenes from The Godfather.

 

The view from apartment window

 

The next morning as I rode out of town, Hudson looked beautiful in the morning light.

 

My plan for the day:  I was going bike the thirty-something miles to Albany, catch an afternoon Amtrak all the way back to New York City, then sleep the night in Alex’s apartment in Brooklyn.

I cycled through lovely country roads.

In the town of Kinderhook I stopped for my morning decaf.     I have never been a huge fan of bagels.   Broad Street Bagel Company makes their own; and toasted, with hummus spread on top, I cannot remember a better bagel.

 

Further I cycled through the streets of Renssesalaer, across then river from Albany.

 

I crossed back across the river into downtown Albany; the 1960’s Brasilia-esque Empire State Plaza rising up from the streets of the old city.

 

The two and a half hour Amtrak ride into New York City was a breeze.  At the Albany station, I ran into  two bicycle people; Paul Winkeller, Executive Director of New York Bicycling Coalition; and Harvey Botzman, an author from Rochester NY.   Ten years older than me, Harvey has been doing the kind of bicycle touring I have been doing, but more or less full time, for over twelve years.   He has bicycled around all of the Great Lakes, some several times each.    His folding Bike Friday is in the black case on the left.   He rode with me on the train and we had lots of time to compare notes.

Because of congestion at Penn Station, our train deposited us instead at Grand Central Station.   I had never been there before.   It is what a train station is supposed to be like.

My sister Betsy had come up from Princeton NJ to meet me.   She held my bicycle while I took pictures.

 

Betsy and I had a nice meal at a Sicilian restaurant in Manhattan.

 

I slept that night in Alex’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.    I got up around seven and headed out by bicycle for the thirteen miles to La Guardia airport.   I bicycled through all kinds of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, some residential, but many commercial and industrial.

 

This felt like a scene from The French Connection.

 

I biked up to the Enterprise office and retrieved my suitcase.   With the bicyclist inside I got over to check in at the airport.   I was home in Chapel Hill by mid-afternoon.

I drove in a rental car up to Princeton to stay with my sister Betsy, and see my brother Alex and his band perform in Brooklyn.

My major plans for a huge New Jersey ride went out the window.   The weather, in New Jersey style, was just too unpleasant, and I scaled it back to a day trip.   I biked out on a Saturday morning to see what I could find of the real New Jersey, if such a thing even exists.

Betsy and George live in a nice house in a conventional looking neighborhood of Princeton.

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Being Princeton, looks can be deceiving.  They have told me that their neighbor across the street in an even more conventional looking house is always on the short list for the next Nobel Prize in some scientific discipline.  Like Chapel Hill, there are a lot of Volvo station wagons and Priuses.

Just down the block from them, there are about twenty almost identical small tract modernist houses, built in the 1950’s.

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Some have had additions to them as real estate values in the area have gone through the roof.   The neighborhood recently rejected a proposition to declare these houses historic, fearing loss of property value.

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To bicycle out of Princeton and go east,  one has to find a road that crosses both the massive U.S.1 highway, and the Northeast Corridor rail line.   Google Maps helps a lot with that.  Once across those barriers, until relatively recently much of this was farmland.   Now housing developments are growing like weeds.  This is the epicenter of the recent controversy in the local majority Asian school district, which is separate from the Princeton school district.   The administrators and many “anglo” parents felt their high school children were under too much pressure.  The Asian parents did not agree.   Just study harder.

While there may be a lot of recent immigrants, the developments look All-American.

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This farmland is now a tract development; I guess they just kept the name.

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It was at this “farm” that I saw a lady in a Toyota Camry making a left turn into the very conventional looking housing  development.   She was wearing a niqab, with only a slit for her eyes.

Biking further out, if you looked across the cornfields you could see houses coming up.

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Both in the morning and later in the day, I passed lots of construction.   Much of it is large houses.

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Eventually I got into open farmland.   Because this is New Jersey, even this does not happen automatically.    There were a lot of signs about agricultural easements, where the farmer sells development rights.

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Even further out, I crossed another major barrier.  As Simon and Garkunkel said  “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America.” 

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Pretty much standing by itself along a cornfield was the East Windsor Deli.    The chain sandwich store Jersey Mike’s is all over North Carolina.   The East Windsor Deli must be the kind of place that Jersey Mike’s tries to replicate.  I had corned beef on sub roll with lettuce,  tomato, oregano, oil and vinegar, no onions.

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On the way back, once I got into developed areas, I weaved through housing developments.   I guess there must be a lot of artists who live around here.

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New Jersey towns change from one to another like night and day.  This ride up the south Jersey shore accentuated that.

I arrived at Cape May, the southernmost tip of New Jersey,  by ferry from Delaware.    I had been to Cape May a couple times previously, but many years ago.  I was prepared to say that Cape May is the best looking beach town in America.  It has an intact infrastructure from the late 1800’s.   Maybe I like Cape May because it looks like I imagine my hometown Virginia Beach used to look, before it was torn down in the sixties, to be replaced by modernist motels, which have now been pretty much torn down as well.      My current judgement of Cape May is that it is indeed great looking, but maybe a bit too cute, too precious.

Cape May oceanfront

Cape May

Cape May is like almost every other beach town in New Jersey; they have this insidious practice of Beach Tags; you have to pay to go on the beach.

Beachtags

As you bicycle up the coast the fifty or so miles to Atlantic City, you pass through town after town.    Some areas look undeveloped, even like the North Carolina Outer Banks.

 

Beachwild

 

There is serious commercial fishing going on here as well.

 

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The Wildwoods, just north of Cape May, have tried to protect modernist motels of the fifties and sixties.   Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach should copy their actions, if it is not too late.      A lot of the motels in the Wildwoods  have the same types of plastic palm trees.

Caribbean Motel

 

Motelss

Motelsbetter

Motels2

Motelbetter

 

RoyalHawaiian

 

 

Many of the Jersey beach towns are purely residential.    One of these towns Ventnor City is just before Atlantic City.   This block between the main road and the beach appears even nicer than my mother’s neighborhood in north Virginia Beach, except that in a half a mile all hell breaks loose, and it becomes casino and slum madness.

Before Atlantic City

Atlantic City is a complete mess.   A lot of the slums have been torn down, so there is a mix of empty lots, gaudy casinos, and slums.

 

Tropicanabetter

 

 

The boardwalk is actually OK; families walking around in a dirty carnivalesque atmosphere.

boardwalkacy

bird

Away from the beach and boardwalk, and if you are not in one of the garish casinos, the street life is pretty scary.   I was tired from all the bike riding, so on my cellphone I booked a room at the Trump.    I feel guilty that I spent money on a room there.

trump

For dinner, I really did not want to eat at a chain restaurant, or anywhere in those gross casinos.   I found an Irish bar on Yelp,  half a block from the boardwalk towards the slums, and it is on your left.   Once inside, it was really quite nice; great roast beef sandwich.   One complaint:  on overhearing the others at the bar, there was semi-racist talk from middle aged white people.  They felt this place was their final refuge from the hoards of people of color outside.   They felt this country was going to hell.

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The bar had great genuine old pictures of Atlantic City on the walls, including this one of Jack Dempsey.   Looks like Boardwalk Empire.

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There is a Sopranos episode where the city boys coming to the Jersey Pine Barrens find out that doing a mob hit  in the wilderness can get much more complicated than expected.

This area of south central New Jersey really does sometimes feel like a wilderness, although in places it is as close as thirty miles to downtown Philadelphia.  While bicycling inland from Atlantic City and passing the airport, the topography starts to look similar to rural areas of coastal South Carolina that I had recently visited, even down to the high percentage of pickup trucks.    Betsy says that because New Jersey has such limited wilderness areas, they pass laws that restrict development and keep the area wild.       On this lonely stretch of highway, I saw a dog standing in the road, not within sight of a house in either direction.   From the bicycle, I also saw a snake slither off the road.

 

RoadPineBarrens

The places people live out here also looks a lot like South Carolina.

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I will confess that I cheated a little on this ride, and about twenty miles from Central City Philadelphia, I caught the commuter train, so that I could stay in the big city that night, and also avoid bicycling through Camden NJ, described by some as The Most Dangerous City in America.   On my cellphone, I bid  low on Priceline dot com for an anonymous hotel, and got this art deco gem.    It tries hard to seem hip; bicycles in the lobby windows, yoga mats in the rooms.

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I had dinner that night at the Dandelion, a gastropub around the corner from my hotel.   The British,  if they actually invented the gastropub, should be proud of themselves.   A pub has always been a warm inviting space, but traditionally the delicious beer was offset by terrible food.  

British dishes like bangers and mash, or shepherd’s pie,  need not be that different in quality from French dishes like steak frites,  if the cooking is done with quality ingredients and careful (French) technique.    At the Dandelion,  I had welsh rarebit followed by salmon, and it was all delicious; washed down by British import IPA, manually pumped.

Lyman and I delayed starting our three day bike ride from Brooklyn to the eastern tip of Long Island because of weather:  rainy, with temperatures in the thirties.   We finally started Monday morning east of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, with a prediction that the weather would clear by noon.    A mix of drizzle and snow pelted us as we slogged through heavy traffic in the bike lane up Bedford Avenue, turning towards Queens in Williamsburg.   Trucks would park in the bike lane every couple of blocks, and we would have to swerve out into the melee.   It was a genuine good time.

Lyman sums up the three day trip:   Riding through the diverse neighborhoods beginning with Prospect Park transitioning through Chinese, Korean, Jewish, various Hispanic and what have you ‘hoods in Queens onto Long Island and ending in waspish Hamptons was interesting and intimate on a bicycle. We borrowed a sink in a Chinese tire shop. The grinning ear to ear mechanic did not speak any English. We were aliens gliding on small bikes.

We ate at the counters and engaged conversation easily with bartenders and local patrons. The Italians with those amazing heavy accents. And the women, their fashion sense so exuberant. Leather pants, high heels, painted nails out to there, huge hair and ear rings.

 

That first day passing through Queens,  we crossed Flushing Meadows to check out the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, also where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones chased aliens in Men in Black.  

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Chinese neighborhoods in Queens go on for miles and miles.   In  Bayside, near the border between New York City and Nassau County, we stopped for a late lunch at an Italian restaurant,  where the neighborhood was transitioning from Asian to Italian.   Most of the employees and customers looked Italian.   A sixty something gentlemen entered and sat by himself at the bar.   At the suggestion of the bartender, he ordered seafood salad.   One by one, several men in the restaurant came and greeted him like they knew him, but as someone who was owed respect, often with a kiss on the cheek.   It was like something we had seen in the movies.

Cycling further that day, we transitioned from city to suburbia.   We stuck to the North Shore, as the car traffic that a cyclist avoids is almost always safer in high income areas, where big houses sit on quiet streets.   That evening in Roslyn NY, we sat at the bar of a very expensive steakhouse, and ordered low cost appetizers.   The bartender struck me as a true professional.

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Over the next day and a half, what I can only call suburbia went on and on.   We transitioned from the wealthy neighborhoods of the North Shore to more conventional middle class tract housing.   Late the afternoon of the second day, we were sixty miles by car from Manhattan, and still really had not seen much undeveloped land;’ the sprawl continued.   We stopped for a beer at an Irish bar in a strip mall near tattoo parlors and motorcyle shops.     I spoke briefly to these women.   All three were originally from Brooklyn, but say they hardly ever go back there now.   They spoke of all the crime in Brooklyn.  (photo by Lyman)

 

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It was not until midway through day three that we started to see sumptuous “second homes”, interspersed, finally, with farmland and open space.     I did not know that “The Hamptons” refers to a series of towns at the end of the south fork of Long Island;  Westhampton, Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, etc.   As soon as towns started having “Hampton” in their names, we started seeing these large houses, not even necessarily on the beach.   Yes, the deer is fake.

 

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We had a great ride along the beach on the barrier island by Quogue “Village”.    In the off season, it was desolate and beautiful.   Lots of big ocean front summer houses.  This one would have made Tony Soprano proud.

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Southampton is a beautiful colonial town completely inundated with money.    Realtor ads in the windows downtown seriously offered oceanfront estates for over two hundred million dollars.  This spread, by the water downtown, is practically modest for this area.  And I guess most people do not even live here, these are just vacation homes!   We need higher taxes.

 

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This trip was to be about the New York City suburbs.    Don Draper lived in Ossining NY.   He commuted every weekday on the train to the advertising office in Manhattan.   Sometimes he drove the distance in his 1962 Cadillac.  As fate would have it, due to Hurricane Sandy, I never made it to Ossining;  I got no closer than White Plains, about fifteen miles away.   But I still dedicate this trip to Don,  who inspired me to do this.   Before I biked away from Max’s soccer game in Prospect Park in Brooklyn on a Saturday morning, near Alex and Kristi’s apartment in Park Slope, Alex reminded me that Rob Petrie had lived in New Rochelle.  And New Rochelle is closer, just north of the Bronx.

 

This trip would take me from Brooklyn, to Manhattan, to the Bronx, then through suburb after suburb all the way to Greenwich, on the Connecticut line.  Then I would cycle across Westchester County to White Plains to spend the night.

Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn to Chinatown Manhattan

I first cycled through to downtown Brooklyn, then over the Manhattan Bridge.

New York City has vastly improved its bicycle infrastructure, and bicycling through many parts of the city is actually quite safe.   I think Manhattan cycling is the diciest, although the west side bikeway is a dream.   You can safely zoom up the island without having to stop at any lights.

I eschewed the west side riverfront route, and went up the east side of Manhattan, along First Avenue.  I crossed over to the East Side Esplanade bike path near fifty-seventh street, just north of the United Nations.   I then went over a small bridge to Roosevelt Island, then over another bridge to the Bronx.

I had expected somewhat for the Bronx to look crime ridden and scary, but it was fine.   It actually looked almost third world, in a good way.   It seemed explosively multicultural and entrepreneurial.           It is very urban, both in atmosphere and density.

Southern Boulevard, Bronx NY

From the northern part of the Bronx there is a nice bike path that runs down the center of Pelham Parkway.  (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three!)    From that,  one crosses into some parklands, then across a couple of bridges.   After cycling past the New York City owned Pelham Bay golf course, just north of the Bronx, it was a sudden shocking change to suburbia, like having been transported there by Star Trek transporter.

New Rochelle, NY

I continued further north past large houses for several hours.   I came within a mile or two of the Connecticut state line, but turned around because  it was getting dark, and the particular road there in Port Chester NY had hazardous traffic.

On the way to Port Chester, I had passed through miles and miles of prosperous suburbia.   These  “towns” each pretended to be some kind of quaint village, rather than continuous stream of rich neighborhoods that they really are.

Welcome to Mamaroneck!

Welcome to Harrison!

The high school in Rye NY looked like a university campus.

Rye High School, Rye NY

I spent the night in downtown White Plains, which has a mix of “small town” suburbia and a giant upscale shopping mall called The Westchester.    The crowd at the bar that night for dinner was well dressed, sort of like a cleaned up version of the cast of Jersey Shore.

Because of the approaching hurricane Sandy; I felt I had already pushed my luck far enough.   I got up early Sunday morning, hit the road at first light, and was back thirty miles south in Pennsylvania Station by ten thirty a.m.     There were some very nice bike paths twisting through the fall foliage.

I managed to get on an earlier Amtrak train leaving New York Penn Station at eleven, and was at my car in Richmond at about five, home by eight.    Back in New York, in the next few hours,  all hell broke loose with the hurricane.

This is a story about a bike ride,  the buildings we saw, and about the people.    Since I did not do this alone, this ride was  about Lyman and Steve.

We rode about 190 miles in five days, Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse, old industrial cities along the old Erie Canal.   The Erie Canal authority does a good job of maintaining a bike path on this route.    Since the Erie Canal has been rebuilt several times in sections, the path moves around.   Most of it follows the current canal, but in other places it follows  abandoned canals, or country roads and former rail lines.

Lyman along the Erie Canal

We had some great times on this trip.   Dinner at Garlock’s in Lockport NY was legendary; a kitschy place lined with decanter figurines and fifty something women at the bar, a throwback from what a fancy restaurant was like back in the fifties.   One specialty is the chopped sirloin.  The economy in Lockport is clearly a problem; along with the twenty something dollar beef entries, Manhattans on this Tuesday night were only $ 2.75!   ($ 2.25 if you did not want top shelf liquor!)

They say you should not talk about politics or religion.   Steve, Lyman, and I pretty much agreed on politics anyway, but on this trip we had several discussions about religion, usually over cocktails.   We had a particularly testy exchange over house rye whiskey at a dark bar in Syracuse.   Steve, as usual,  was defending God.

This trip went through areas that seemed stuck in time, that is a part of America that progress has passed by.

breakfast, Gasport, NY

The Buildings

Boyton House, Rochester NY

There are at least six Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Buffalo proper, and Lyman and I rode around to see some of  them on Monday.    We saw an additional house in Rochester three days later.   These are all Prairie School buildings, from his 1900-1910 phase.   Lyman the architect described how Wright pushed the feasibility envelope on his cantilevered designs;   he said most owners have had replace the the original wood support beams with steel, in order to keep the houses from falling down.   These houses were stuck like curious gems into neighborhoods of otherwise conventional rich people’s houses of the same era.

Heath House, (1908), Buffalo NY

The Train Station

Central Station, Buffalo NY

Buffalo Central Station sits three miles from downtown, in a direction it appears few people ever go.   The side of Buffalo most people visit, the North and West side,  is full of leafy neighborhoods, bars and restaurants; even Frank Lloyd Wright houses!    Go to downtown, which is somewhat depressing, and then turn the other direction,  south and east down Broadway, and you enter another dimension.   The street ceases almost immediately to have buildings alongside it;  it is like entering the countryside right next to downtown.   Redevelopment has torn down most of  the buildings but replaced very few.   There are very scattered newer suburban style houses, mixed with the odd preserved iconic building, sitting by itself in a field.   There were one or two prominent Catholic churches, sitting abandoned;  fenced in for preservation.    Young men in oversize white tee shirts loitered around on the corners.    Lyman and I  rode quite briskly at about six PM through this somewhat threatening scene, occasionally having to stop and check the map on my I-Phone.

another view, abandoned Central Station

We finally did arrive at our planned destination.    Central Station sits forlornly by itself at the end of a wide dead end  street with  no cars, overlooking some slums.   The empty office tower is seventeen stories.  The empty central waiting room was said to rival places like Grand Central Station in New York City.   Buffalo Central Station was built to process 3200 passengers per hour.    It was put in this remote location because it was thought that the rapidly growing Buffalo of 1927 would catch up to it.   The current citizens of Buffalo have done a good job of raising enough money to at least lock the building, to prevent further vandalism.  They sometimes even use its central hall for things like parties and art shows.  It is large enough to have a regulation hockey game on the central floor.   But the building this day was locked, so all we could do was circle around it on the bikes.

2012, current Amtrak station in Buffalo

The Golden Plates

Palmyra NY

Palmyra, New York is right on the Erie Canal bike path, about thirty miles east of Rochester.    Lyman, Steve, and I rode into town on a Friday morning.  This is where Mormonism began, this is where Joseph Smith grew up, where the angel Moroni told Joseph Smith about the golden plates, and Joseph Smith translated the golden plates from their mysterious ancient language, which became the Book of Mormon.    After Joseph Smith translated the plates and inscribed the Book of Mormon, Joseph said he gave the plates back to heavenly messengers, and the golden plates were gone forever to this world.    On TV,  South Park did a surprisingly complimentary episode about Mormonism, but one of the cartoon kids  summed up his  reaction to the story of the golden plates with  “OK, that makes sense.”

There is an 1830 print shop in a storefront downtown that printed the first five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon.  We met a very cordial young woman who gave us a half hour tour of the building, showing us the 1830 printing press, and describing to us the depth of her faith.   She is from Utah; she was there in Palmyra on a two year assignment.  On leaving, we thanked her for the tour, and we passed more staff of the printing museum, including one older man whose look of certainty combined with authority kind of gave me the creeps.

It was a hot day, but we could not be prevented from searching further for Mormon sites.  We cycled to a large temple about five miles out of town, but skipped visiting that and the Smith farm, (although we did use the restrooms there!). We instead pedalled up a large hill to the prominent statue that commemorates the arrival of the angel Moroni.   Some friendly Utah visitors corrected our pronunciation of the name of the angel, which is pronounced mo-ro-NY.  Steve took their picture for them in front of the statue.

Steve taking pictures at the statue of Moroni

Lyman

Lyman

Lyman told me he has had two lives, and is getting ready to start the third.   A New Orleans native (Gentilly!) (Brother Martin!)  whose family there goes way back, he graduated from college in the early seventies.  His first life continued when he worked for a steamship company (where he met Steve) before continuing on to start his own real estate company.   He said he had as many as twenty agents working for him before his divorce and the crash of the New Orleans real estate market convinced him to shut it all down in the late eighties and escape for a second life in Austin, Texas.

There, in his thirties,   he went to UT architecture school and became an architect.   For the past few years he has worked for the Texas Historical Commission, a state agency,  helping to restore the monumental courthouses that are in the county seats of all 254 Texas counties.   Now at a relatively young age, he has qualified for retirement with the state, and is looking forward to the new adventures of his third life, probably to be based still in Austin.

Steve

Steve

I first met Steve at the Princess Anne Country Club swimming pool when we were both about twelve years old.  He is from a Navy family, and before landing in Virginia Beach he had the stress of moving constantly, including living twice in France.   Because  his sister is ten years older, he was essentially an only child.

Steve is an alumnus of Episcopal High School and got his undergraduate and law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans.

Steve has since continued to live all over the place.  We used to joke about guessing how many different apartments he had lived in in just New Orleans.   He worked as an attorney at multiple law firms in New Orleans before moving to Houston and then Saudi Arabia.  He has two wonderful children, now grown, who spent their early years at the Aramco compound in Saudi Arabia.

He has been back from Saudi for quite a few years now, and since his return has lived in New Orleans, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Gainesville, Salt Lake City, Bali, and maybe a couple other places I forget.  His career has been fruitful, and he now is splitting his time between Salt Lake City and Bangkok, while visiting his son in New Orleans and his daughter in California.  Every morning on our bike trip he called his girlfriend in Bangkok, talking to her in broken English.

Steve’s most recent revelation is the “paleo” diet and lifestyle.   This (I hope I get this right) means we should return to the diet and exercise of the hunter gatherers.   For exercise, you should not run continuously, but do lots of stops and starts.  For food,  this means fruit, vegetables, and meat, but no bread.   Personally, I try to eat right.   I try to shun bacon, sausage, red meat, and butter, and try to be heart healthy.   Steve throws this pretty much out the window and says that it is the grains that are killing us.  No wheat, no rice, no oats.  Steve looks fit and healthy, so who am I to argue?   Every morning Steve would get bacon and eggs, no toast.   I would eat oatmeal.

Steve would conduct various complicated international phone calls while cycling down the Erie Canal towpath.  In one morning he was calling his furniture broker in West Palm Beach, his son-in-law in Los Angeles, his girlfriend in Bangkok, and his landlord in Salt Lake City.  He was also working on some land deals in Indonesia.

Doing some kind of negotiation by I-Phone

Steve is a great storyteller.   Some stories are classics from his childhood.  His description of drilling a hole in his bedroom wall  so that he could watch TV in the next room remains incomparable.