20 July 2007

Bike Gang

Way back on Wednesday, no, actually Tuesday B.F. (Before the Flood), Aaron Cometbus showed up in my neighborhood. We met at the corner cafe and sat there drinking coffee for a while, but then he invited me along to pick up his bike from the repair shop. Aaron has a habit of inviting me on exciting errands. Last time I saw him, practically the first words out of his mouth were, "Dude, come with me to the UPS store!"

I suspected Aaron of having an agenda, which is generally a safe assumption, and in this case, it turned out that he had decided it was time I bought a bike. The thought has crossed my mind numerous times this summer, especially when waiting in vain for recalcitrant trains or wishing I could whip silently and swiftly through the late night streets to Greenpoint instead of slogging along on foot for the better part of half an hour.

But I kept putting off on the grounds that a) bikes are too expensive in NYC; b) I already have a perfectly good bike in California which one of these days I'll theoretically manage to get shipped out here. But Aaron was keen on this bike repairman/dealer who operates out of his garage on Lorimer. "I think he's the real deal," he says, which is about as full-on an endorsement as you're ever going to get from Aaron.

And sure enough, before I'd been there five minutes, I was being sold a not particularly lovely but perfectly functional bicycle for $50, which included a quick clean-up and spruce-up, a new (well, only slightly used) back tire, new handle grips) and a heavy duty (albeit slightly rusty) chain for locking it to lampposts thrown in. No, it's not quite as nice as my OG bike, purchased in Willits, California for $75 in 1993, but it's coming in a lot more handy.

Like tonight, for example, when I was tied up on the phone for quite a while, making me rather later for the Gravy Train show over on the North Side. No problem: onto the bike I went, and was there in maybe five minutes, ten minutes max. True, in my bike riding clothes consisting of baggy shorts and muscle T, I was a bit out of place in the finely kempt and coiffed crowd of rather glossy hipsters who half filled Studio B (the rest of the audience consisted of, if you believe Jackie O. gay boys and their fag hags, or if you trust my impession, lots of little lesbians and a sprinkling of young men of indeterminate orientation).

For there allegedly being no lesbians there, Jackie O. sure got chatted up a lot, which was more than you could say for myself or Unlovable Frank, who stood morosely around the edge of the stage and greeted me on my arrival with, "Great drummer, eh?" He was referring to the woman playing drums for the first band, Love Or Perish, who turned out to be one Molly Neuman, late of Lookout Records, Pee Chees, Bratmobile, riot grrrl, etc. etc.

She is a very good drummer indeed, and seems to have gotten even better since the last time I saw her. The rest of the band? They were very good, too, or rather they played very well and looked good. The songs were a bit forgettable, though, and the last one went on for an unforgivable five or six minutes.

That crime paled, however, compared with what was at least an hour's wait for the next band. This being Williamsburg, of course, nobody in the crowd had to go to work the next morning (except Jackie O. and Unlovable Frank, and yes, I'm being sarcastic about the rest of the audience, too). Jackie explained that the reason we'd been subjected to this seemingly interminable barrage of cheesy dance music (which actually started out good but plummeted rather precipitously downhill for a very long time before it finally stopped) was that we were being graced with a "celebrity" DJ, namely J.D. Samson from the band Le Tigre. Why someone supposedly knows how to be a DJ because they play in a band has always baffled me, but I'm giving J.D. the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she was responsible for the good dance music in the first half of the hour rather than the reprehensible codswallop in the latter.

I also discovered, lurking in the front row, the long-presumed-vanished Rop, also formerly of Rice, the Pee Chees, Lookout Records Mail Order, and a host of other activities. The last time I saw him, in Park Slope in the year 2000, he was leaving for New Mexico, and most people I knew assumed he was still there. "Actually, I never left Brooklyn," he breezily informed me. "I just didn't come out much for a while." Unlovable Frank introduced me to the writer/illustrator Cristy Road, who I'd been hearing and seeing so much about, and we had a nice chat about Florida and books and all sorts, and STILL there was no sign of another band playing.

Okay, they finally did come on, "they" being something called VIP, which turned out to be three manic gay white rappers, two of them sounding as though they'd swallowed helium balloons in the vein of MC Chris. The gay disco Beastie Boys, I opined, whereupon Unlovable Frank responded with, "A high school talent show in Chelsea." I found them a lot more amusing than Frank did, and he eventually sulked off to the bar to wait them out.

He waited in vain, however, as they were back to share the stage with Gravy Train in the night's big production number, and also appeared in a music video/short film which aired in between bands and during the entire time Gravy Train were playing. At least Gravy Train didn't make us wait for hours; they came clattering on to the stage rather quickly, in fact, led by a rubber-limbed and gurning Brontez, who as usual was the life of the party. Seth (Hunx) and the ladies lurked behind the keyboard at the back of the stage while Brontez hectored and harangued the crowd into a frenzy, and both boys were down to not much more than their underwear (well, Brontez was down to his tighty-whities and nothing more) well before the set was finished.

Although Jackie O., Unlovable Frank and I had all arrived separately, we left together and simultaneously discovered that we'd all come on our bikes. Off we went, through the back streets of Williamsburg, like an incredibly diverse (in terms of ages, genders and orientations) bike gang with a total membership of three. It was a relatively short journey before Frank had to peel off for the bridge and Manhattan, and Jackie left me in her dust and headed off to Bushwick.

But for about ten minutes it was one of those timeless rides, mostly in silence, where we seemed to fly in formation and the streets and sidewalks belonged to no one but us, a few moments when biking through the back streets on a warm summer night seems like the best - hell, like the only - thing in the world to do. Earlier in the evening I'd been talking to a different kind of biker - his Harley was parked out in front of my house - and he told me how he and two buddies had, on the spur of the moment, ridden off to Philadelphia to get cheese steaks one Sunday night. And that's how it felt on my bike tonight: I just wanted to keep riding and riding until nothing short of the ocean or the Continental Divide put a stop to my meanderings.

But instead I came home and wrote about it just for you.


joseph said...

You are quite the resilient spirit. I don’t recall reading about any Hurricane Katrina victims hopping on their bicycles with such a devil-may-care attitude. You should carry a card that reads, Have Bike Will Travel – Flood Survivor by Day, Carefree Clubber and Cyclist by Night.

Of course, you haven’t had the opportunity to move into a formaldehyde-ridden FEMA trailer yet. That might rain on your happiness parade, mister. Have a great weekend. And if you haven’t done so already, back-up your computer files and store the data in a dry, safe, and secure place.

Hall said...

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so worthwhile as simply messing about on bicycles."
- Tom Kunich

If you're bored, check this out: Pedal the States

Psmith said...

If you turn to your Brooklyn Residents Manual, you will find that you just _barely_ made the deadline for purchase of a bicycle. You now have one year to turn it into either a fixed gear or tall bike (your choice). Failure to do so may result in lifetime ban from kickball games and confiscation of white belt.

Anonymous said...

Where is this bike place??? I need a new bike

Larry Livermore said...

Lorimer Street, maybe between Jackson and Skillman? East side of the street.

Chris A. said...

I'm still laughing at Frank's high school talent show in Chelsea comment.

I've decided I want a bike.

J.B. said...

You're wearing a helmet, right?

Larry Livermore said...

What do you think?