The Pogues are on the radio singing their Fairytale of New York . Here’s a real life experience of being an Irish cyclist in New York . It ‘aint no fairytale .
In 1993 I lived and worked in New York city with my friend Bernard . We rented the upstairs apartment of a two family home in Maspeth , Queens from Bernard’s sister Eileen andher boyfriend ’The Bull’ . I brought a bike over with me and my steed of choice was an Allsop Softride or as Bernard once called it ‘ The bike with the big black mickey ‘ .
Working as a plumber meant that locations varied from Fifth Avenue Manhattan to Fourth Avenue Brooklyn and all points in between . The bike was always the fastest way to get to and from work and it also had the added bonus of making each day into a huge adventure . The journey along Queens boulevard set the tone for dodging yellow cabs and Ford Econoline vans . Then riding over the 59th street bridge looking down through the steel mesh at the cold waters of the Hudson below before looking up ahead at the towering peaks of the Manhattan Skyline gave me goose bumps each and every day . Then as I exited the bridge and hit first avenue it was like the first lap of the National crit champs .
There is only one way to either drive or cycle in new York , flat out and never hesitate . One day I hit over 40 mph going along first avenue between two buses as I was attempting to change lanes . I never felt self conscious in my Tipp Crystal Carrick Wheelers gear when I was on the bike . It is after all the global capital city of multiculturalism and diversity . That would all change once I reached the jobsite .
The plumbing company that I worked for was Henry Myers and son based in Bay Ridge Brooklyn , a real New York outfit . My boss was Timmy Myers and he seemed to be the model for Joey from friends . Most of their work was for Irish companies so arriving onsite dressed in my cycling gear always managed to raise a few eyebrows . One job in particular on 72nd street just off of Park Avenue had a full contingent of nine bikers ( the motorised kind) from Oughterard in County Galway . Their standard uniform of jeans , white t-shirts and black leather waist coats clashed with my Lycra .
A good example of their non-conformity was a ski trip to Hunter Mountain in the Catskill Mountains . At five am one Sunday morning as they were pouring out of Sidetracks bar on Queens Boulevard onto the snow covered footpath ( they would never call it a sidewalk ) a suggestion was made that it would be a bit of craic to go skiing . Four hours later a Chevy G10 van with a three person bench seat left from outside The Stop Inn ,Woodside carrying eight passengers plus driver bound for the Ski resort .
When they arrived and poured out into the stylish ski resort it was quite easy to pick them out . In a sea of Columbia, North face and Lowe Alpine multicoloured ski wear the nine Irish bikers dressed in Jeans , Denim Jackets and black leather waist coats stood out like lighthouses in the sea . Ski passes were purchased and ski’s were hired . A suggestion was made that the view from up top might be worth a look . They hopped into the chair lifts but as the first two reached the top and waited for the front safety bar to lift automatically ( it has to be done manually ) they decided that it must be broken and tried to slip out underneath as they neared the top . The lift had to be stopped and all nine had to be helped off of the lift .
They were now at the top of a black double diamond , with no clue as to how they were to get back down . The nine denim and leather clad bikers from a small village in the west of Ireland stood at the snow capped summit of the American mountain and did what came naturally . They sparked up a doobie .
A park ranger noticing the very unusual gathering skied over to take a closer look . As he approached the group he noticed a pungent fragrance in the air . He saw an individual puffing on an unusual looking cigarette . He stood on the edge of the group and in an attempt to assert his authority asked in commanding voice ;
‘What is that your smoking ?’
The reply came in a thick County Galway accent ;
‘A doobie ! ‘
‘Are you aware that it’s illegal to use or be in possession of narcotics in this country ?
‘I am ‘
‘I want you to dispose of that illegal substance immediately ‘
‘You do ! ‘
‘Are you going to ? ‘
‘I will ‘
‘When ? ‘
‘When I’m finished ! ‘
Sensing that he was in the midst of a group lacking in a fear of authority he decided to move on himself . He probably choose wisely .
The nine now found themselves stranded on a mountain top with no other option than to ski down . The first few hundred yards saw more tosses and tumbles than any crossing of the cobbled pave of the forest of Arrenberg during Paris Roubaix . The skis were then removed and nine denim derrieres spent the next three hours sliding down the mountainside , never to be seen near a ski lift again .
And they thought I looked funny in my cycling gear !