Mendel Letters 76 – 5 Boros, 40 Miles, 30 times, 72 Years
May 7, 2022
You bought me a sleek red bicycle for my tenth birthday. Mommy was already very sick and looking back that is probably why you bought it for me. I remember racing Georgie X and smashing the front wheel into the side of a building because I wouldn’t slow down at the end. Don’t remember what you said.
Because of your eye sight, you couldn’t manage a bicycle by yourself, but I remember once on a weekend in Atlantic City you and Mother rented a two-seater to ride on the boardwalk.
When I was sixteen I inherited an English racer from my stepbrother Harold and I started taking longer ride around the Bronx and eventually up into Connecticut. I loved to ride then and I still love to ride today. It gives me a sense of freedom and calm.
When Solomon was a toddler I put a child’s seat on the back of an old woman’s bike, without the center bar it was easier to mount, and I used it to take him to and from day care.
The first time I rode in the New York City 5-Boro Bike Tour was in 1990. I cycled with Solomon, who was age 12, on old three-speed bikes, and five of my students from Franklin K. Lane High School. Sol and I stayed together but the Lane students took off fast at the beginning and we never saw them again. I think the weather was pretty nice that day, but who really remembers thirty-two years back.
The ride typically begins just north of Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan and proceeds up 6th Avenue through Central Park. You turn right on 135th Street in Harlem and then left over the Madison Avenue Bridge into the Bronx for about ten minutes before swinging back to Manhattan and the FDR Drive on the Willis Avenue Bridge. The ride heads south on the FDR and then there is a steep upward climb onto the 59th Street Bridge. The downward end of the bridge into Queens is smooth, curvy, and fun and then we ride on 21st Street to Astoria Park and the Triboro (now RFK) Bridge. After Astoria Park there is a long ride along the East River, first in Queens and then in Brooklyn until will climb onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and over the Verrazano Bridge. The Verrazano, including the ramps on and off, is about two miles long, half up and half down. Until this year there was a festival at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. This year it was moved to a mall by the Staten Island Ferry. Most of the riders then take the ferry back to Manhattan and head home.
Over the years I have ridden with different groups of friends and family members. My longest companion was my Hofstra colleague Maureen Murphy. From 2016 to 2019 I rode with Rutgers sociologist Allan Lichtenstein and along the route we got into heavy academic and political discussions. In 2019, Allan’s son and daughter rode with us, but sadly Allan recently died. This year our team included Allan’s son Edan, daughter Merav, and two of their friends and we dedicated the ride to honor Edan and Merav’s father.
In recent years I’ve met my friends at the Starbuck’s on 6th Avenue and Waverly Place and we enter the ride there because the staggered start and wait at Battery Park just meant we were getting stiff from arthritis. This year we had to walk much of the way up on the 59th Street Bridge because construction narrowed the bridge to two lanes and my team took our first break at Astoria Park and then ate lunch at a falafel place off of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The weather was perfect, the river views were beautiful, and the ride was wonderful. Unfortunately the organizers mismanaged the ferry lines and the wait time approached two and a half hours to board. Next year we will probably leave the route before the Verrazano just to avoid the mess at the end.
At the age of 72, I’ve now ridden in the 5-Boro 40-mile bike tour 30 times. Thanks for that sleek red bike.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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