I ride alone in the dark across the Manhattan Bridge at 7:03 AM on Monday morning, the last day of 2012.
From the frigid, commanding height it seems as though I’m flying in a small plane above the East River rather than pedaling my bike. The city ahead lies in shadows, save for lights from the apartment windows of a few early risers on a day when much of the city won’t be going to work. Below, car lights glide northbound and south along the FDR Drive.
I imagine a driver in one of those cars, huddled in a warm parka, pleading with the heater to heat up, his hands clutching a warm Thermos of coffee. He leans forward to wipe frost from the windshield, which falls in tiny snowflakes upon the dash. As the driver looks through the windscreen he happens to see me, a tiny point on two wheels way up high, moving slowly across the bridge.
“Is that guy freakin’ nuts?” the driver exclaims. “It’s freezing out, and that guy’s out riding his freakin’ bike!”
“Fair question,” I’d reply.
Actually, It’s the question that I’ve been quietly asking myself during the 20 minutes since I left home, during which I’ve seen exactly zero other cyclists (in this city of 8 to 12 million residents).
So, in an attempt to reassure myself that I am sane, I try to take rational stock of my situation. It’s really cold out, but I’m not cold at all. Maybe, then, this is a dream.
Oh, wait. I AM cold at the fringes. My nose is chilly and my cheeks feel a little stiff when I smile. My fingertips, particularly those of my pinky and ring fingers, are cold but not desperately so.
I feel cold at the extremities; Therefore I am (really here).
I’ve also had a good ride so far. Little traffic, no noxious clouds of truck exhaust to endure as I rode through downtown Brooklyn. I’ve even had a tailwind and, despite the fact that my body is only now waking up, I’ve been jammin’ a quick pace and enjoying a rare symbiotic groove with my bicycle, carving turns and gliding over the city’s rough and potholed streets like a mountain goat glides over boulders.
And, yes, I got up early. But the fact is one of the kids would have gotten me up soon anyway if I hadn’t escaped from the apartment, so no real opportunity cost there.
Now, back in the present, on the bridge, a Q train clatters by. Inside fellow commuters sit in somnolent trances under way-too-bright-for-this-early-in-the-morning fluorescent bulbs. Many mornings I’m one of them.
But this morning I’m in my Cessna above the city, breathing rare fresh air and catching the sunrise that the driver below is too preoccupied to notice, that the catatonic subway riders likely don’t see, and for sure won’t see once their train disappears into the city’s bowel. My legs are feeling good and no, I’m not cold.