There is no commuter more unqualified to weigh in on the effects of the transit strike than a cyclist who lives and works in Manhattan – which is me. I have been riding a bicycle in the city for the last 12 years and have become so reliant (addicted might be a better word) on it as my means of transportation that when the frame of my beloved 10-year-old bicycle cracked last winter I took the afternoon off from work to buy a new one. I ride in the rain, the snow, the heat, the night and I rode on 9/11. Anyone who cycles in Manhattan will tell you without hesitation that there is absolutely no better way to get from here to there. A cyclist will beat, by a considerable margin, cars, cabs, buses and, yes, subways.
On the first three days of the transit strike I left my apartment on First Avenue near 14th Street the same time I always leave: 9:30 am. I headed west on 26th Street, which, happily, remained closed except for emergency use, and rode unmolested all the way to 12th Avenue at 26th Street. Each day, I arrived at my desk the same time I always arrive: 10 am. In short, the transit strike has afforded me the most pleasant commute I’ve ever had.
The problem with my delight, however, is that it’s not the reality of the average New Yorker and has left me feeling a bit like an outsider looking in on my own city. There’s a communal experience of hardship taking place in New York that I’m not privy to. It could be likened to someone having had a back-up generator during the blackout. Sure it was convenient, but …
A friend from Los Angeles called me yesterday and said, “So tell me, what’s the transit strike been like?” It’s the same question I’ve been asking people. One friend told me she had paid $45 dollars for car service from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to her job in Chelsea. Another friend from Long Island was caught unprepared, spent the night at his sister’s in Hell’s Kitchen and the next day spent $40 on a change of clothing at the Gap. My sheltered life, on the other hand, has continued unchanged.
Last night I took 14th Street home and found the traffic intolerable, with several intersections being blocked by inconsiderate drivers, forcing me to weave slowly between the cars. At a red light in front of the Circuit City in Union Square I watched as a disheveled man, obviously poor, wearing a thin jacket and carrying a small plastic bag, approached a taxi. “I need to get to Brooklyn,” I heard the man say through the open cab window. The driver must have declined him because the man replied, “But you’re on duty. You have to take me.” This seemed to be a reasonable argument, but apparently the driver thought differently and the automatic window rolled up, ending the conversation. The man looked around for another taxi, but there were none, so he began to walk, bag in hand, towards Brooklyn. So this is what life is like, I thought. Then the light turned green, the traffic moved, and I pedaled off.
Five minutes later I was home.
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is at work on a memoir about growing up in the Socialist Workers Party. An excerpt appears in the current issue of “Granta.”