Do Not Enter

Last week I mentioned that over the holiday weekend I was hoping to get caught up on the Tour de France.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

I really wanted to watch, but the best I managed was to have the race on in the background while I prepared to do other stuff. As for watching later, that’s never going to happen, either. For me, the race is something ethereal, existing only in the moment–a rainbow of undernourished athletes on bikes of crabon. Sure, pictures of rainbows are nice and all, but it’s only when you happen upon one in the course of your day that you actually experience delight. So for now I probably have to file following the race under “Stuff I’ll do years from now when I finally have the time again,” like building bicycle wheels, or reading.

One thing I did manage to do however was to put a new chain on the Jones LWB, with which I had a joyous reunion:

The bike is running flawlessly now, though not too long ago I noticed the sidewalls were weeping sealant a tiny bit, and to my horror I found that they’d since become moldier than a college student’s shower curtain:

I subsequently removed the mold in about four seconds with a brush. As for the integrity of the tires, I’m reluctant to replace them since the tread is still perfectly good and I don’t think the tiny amount of seepage is a cause for much concern. (I’m knocking around on the local roads and trails for a few hours at a time, not going bikepacking for six days, so I might as well wear them out before replacing them.) Still, I am this close [indicates tiny distance with fingers] to coating the sidewalls with Armor All. This idea is either brilliant or stupid, and I’m sure someone will weigh in to tell me which assessment is correct. If anything, the mold spores are probably helping seal the tire, and perhaps I can make a killing by marketing environmentally friendly organic sealant that basically lines the inside of your tires with moss, fungus, and mold.

Speaking of metaphors (Tour de France/rainbows), consider the DO NOT ENTER sign:

The DO NOT ENTER sign is, on its surface, entirely unambiguous. It’s also full of foreboding: surely what lies on the other side must be nothing short of certain death. However, as any cyclist knows, in practice the DO NOT ENTER sign is often discretionary, and can even bely the existence of a veritable Shangri-La beyond. Such is the case here, where the sign is to dissuade people from using the newly-paved Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park:

This is probably the most-used “closed” trail in New York City. The paving has been complete for weeks (months?) now, and it sees plenty of regular runners, walkers, and cyclists. For awhile I respected the closure, but lately I’ve grown tired of waiting for the official green light, and last time I used it I came across this guy:

I’ve since consulted a popular Internet search engine, and from what I can tell it’s a “spicebush swallowtail” caterpillar, which is camouflaged to look like a snake:

(I mean from these photos it’s obviously a caterpillar, but when you see it from above it totally looks like a snake’s head, at least at first glance.)

I can certainly relate to this creature. In my own larval stage I also camouflaged myself as something scary, cladding myself in leather and heavy boots and t-shirts with garish graphics, and generally cultivated a brooding demeanor. However, this was merely to hide the fact that I was (and remain) a total “woosie,” as soft and mushy as that caterpillar.

Then again, the spicebush swallowtail does eventually metamorphize into this:

Whereas I am now, at best, the sort of garden-variety, haggard-looking moth that flutters stupidly against your window screen.

My own unremarkability notwithstanding, in contemplating DO NOT ENTER signs and intimidating camouflage it occurs to me that this general theme of forbidding and foreboding is, at this moment in history, completely dominating our lives–basically at this point there’s a giant DO NOT ENTER sign over much of the world. Closer to (my) home, there’s also been lots of press lately about people fleeing New York City, because of The Pando, or the rising crime, or the incompetent leadership, depending on the political agenda of whoever’s doing the reporting, and finger-pointing aside I will say that last time I was on the Upper West Side there certainly were a lot of moving vans:

The response to this doomsaying has been an essay by Jerry Seinfeld, presumably penned in his Hamptons home, about how great New York City is. There’s also been a steady stream of social media posts in which people post photos of their (usually wealthy) neighborhoods and mock the notion that this city is dead:

Being the sort of infuriatingly pragmatic person I am, I subscribe neither to the notion that New York City is reverting to some sort of abject hellhole, nor to the idea that people blithely dining outside in the city’s well-to-do precincts is an accurate metric by which to judge the city’s economic, cultural, and spiritual well-being. At the same time, I do recognize that things can still get worse, and that urbanist porn such as tableaux of outdoor dining is a particularly cunning and insidious form of camouflage, because it belies all the shootings, and all the people who can’t afford to eat out, and all the restaurants and other businesses permanently closing their doors.

It’s foolish to ignore a DO NOT ENTER sign without trepidation, but it’s also tragic to live life in fear, and ultimately there’s only one way to find out what lies on the other side–this is true of riding your bike, or moving your home, or pretty much anything. You could find paradise, or you could find disaster, or you could just find more of the same. Life is the process of navigating that uncertainty, while I’m as ill-equipped to chart a course through it as anybody I will say there’s not a day that’s gone by since March when I haven’t thought of this scene:

And no, before you freak out, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy or anything like that. I do however think it’s safe to breathe. Safe enough, anyway.

Powered by

Up ↑