The Blessing of the Bicycles

Posted May 5, 2011 by Jane Rubinsky
Categories: biking

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What’s a nice Jewish girl doing getting sprinkled with holy water? Well, it was at the Blessing of the Bicycles at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine last weekend … and the annual ceremony was actually started by a Jew 13 years ago, so not to worry. Besides, who doesn’t want to feel they have a little extra protection as they ride the streets of New York City?

Moving downtown has landed me right in the thick of things … and it turns out that the American Diabetes Association (the force behind the Tour de Cure, which I biked in last June for the first time) is just two blocks away. When Tour manager Jessica Rosa began contacting the early registrants for this year’s ride back in February, I was delighted to be able to apply some of my skills toward increasing visibility for the event.

One of my projects (in addition to starting a community blog featuring personal stories behind the upcoming Tour de Cure on June 5) was a press release tying the story of one of our Red Riders to the somewhat offbeat ceremony that is the Blessing of the Bicycles at St. John the Divine. The event was originated by Glen Goldstein in 1999, partly as a goodwill gesture to ease the rivalry between the Five-Borough Bicycle Club (billed as “New York City’s friendliest bike club) and the New York Cycle Club, which puts more emphasis on riding for speed and endurance. (Not that they’re “unfriendly” … but their annual “newcomers’ ride” will just about kill you if you’re really a newcomer.)

Cyclists arriving at the cathedral.

Even at St. John the Divine—a place that bills itself as “A House of Prayer for All People” (and where French high-wire artist Philippe Petit has been one of the artists-in-residence for decades)—it’s a sight that turns heads: as news trucks and camera crews lurk on the sidewalk below, several hundred cyclists carry their bikes up the cathedral steps and share breakfast pastries while they patiently wait to roll their wheels in through the massive bronze doors. A motley procession of messengers, recreational cyclists, racers, commuters, kids with training wheels—even one woman with flower-bedecked bike bearing a pug in a basket—parades in to the skirl of bagpipes, taking their places beneath the historic Gothic stone arches.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin.

For 13 years, the lovely 20-minute ceremony (performed with a gentle dignity by the Reverend Canon Thomas P. Miller) has remained essentially unchanged but for the fact that the participating cyclists now line the cathedral nave three rows deep on either side. No matter what our motivation for cycling, pointed out Reverend Miller, we were united by the fact that we coursed through the city’s streets powered by no internal combustion save for that within our own bodies—which is only a good thing, he noted, for ourselves and for the air quality of our metropolis.

The prayers are brief, but eerily resonant; does the Bible really mention cyclists?  A reading from Ezekiel offers the vision of great-rimmed wheels moving in tandem with the spirits of living creatures: “When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

Bless this sea of cyclists!

The highlight, of course—what everybody’s there for—is a sprinkling of holy water onto the bikes, as Reverend Miller glides efficiently down and back, hurling droplets over the handlebars of all present. (I wiggled my front wheel back and forth in a few drops of water on the stone floor, for good measure.)

The bagpipers (two in kilts; one in bike shorts) played as a riderless bicycle was escorted solemnly up the aisle, honoring the city’s cyclists who had been killed in accidents during the past year. After a moment of remembrance, the celebratory ringing of bicycle bells punctuated the Benediction … but surprisingly, no one seemed to notice that, as we headed out of the cathedral with our bikes, the tune that resounded from the great organ was “A Bicycle Built for Two”!

Soara-Joye Ross (in helmet) and Jessica Rosa before the camera.

Heading down the steps at the back, I broke into a huge grin when I spotted Soara-Joye Ross—veteran Broadway performer, “divabetic,” and personable Red Rider who was featured in my press release—dazzling a camera crew. Now, that truly was a blessing!


… And Tons of OLD Things!

Posted May 3, 2011 by Jane Rubinsky
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It bugs me when people say, “Oh, you’re moving … it’s a chance to get rid of stuff!” There’s only one reason I get rid of stuff: because I don’t want or need it anymore.

Up until now, every move has been to a bigger place. As my neighbors and I prepared for a mass exodus from our building on East 50th Street some six years ago, most of them obeyed the mantra. All kinds of stuff began appearing on the “give-away table” outside the laundry room: books, a blender, a lamp, ceramic bowls. Me? I was grabbing a lot of it … secure in the knowledge that my square footage was about to increase by 50 percent. Never mind the expense of having everything I owned packed and put into storage for a month in between apartments; this time, I was about to upgrade to a truly adult-sized abode, where I could entertain 12 people at a time without praying that nothing got knocked over. (Okay, so some things would be shoved into the bedroom, off-limits to guests.)

The sunny uptown living room empties out ...

Uptown, my capacious apartment with the 20-foot-long sunken living room began absorbing even more stuff: new furniture; cooking and decorating magazines; kitchen equipment and plants from a friend (who was downsizing for a move to a retirement community); glass, china, and family mementos from my mom’s house (and a good portion of her wardrobe); boxes of stuff I had accumulated in my office. Over the years, I found new places to tuck things, new ways of maximizing space. Okay, I’d never be a minimalist. So what?

But my new apartment at Penn South was going to be SMALLER.

You could say that the “one new thing” would have been to bite the bullet and downsize. And I tried; I really did. But under great pressure, I tend to get “clutchy” … it’s the worst possible time to de-accession, as I can’t make decisions and nearly everything seems a valuable part of either history or possibility.

A two-day tag sale trimmed less stuff than I’d hoped. Lots more went off to the Temple’s rummage sale (including a crewel coverlet that I spotted in a magazine a week afterward and turned out to be an antique worth $1,500 … THAT hurt!). My Nancercized biceps carried numerous stacks of magazines downstairs for recycling. But when a second-hand bookseller combed through my shelves and offered a few dollars each for beautiful, illustrated volumes, I balked.

"I'm going, too ... right?"

My plan was to transfer everything in the closets first, giving myself a head start with my closets organized downtown before the boxes and furniture arrived. I’d pack breakables and art myself for hand-transfer by car (and subway, each time I headed downtown), saving money on professional packing (and not needing to cushion everything as if it would be drop-kicked off a truck). The “big” movers would do the furniture, books and magazines, CDs and LPs, and file cabinet contents, and I’d pack as much beforehand as possible (with the help of a couple friends).

Sounds like a plan … right?

Have you ever seen that circus act where the Volkswagen drives into the ring, the doors open, and then clown after clown after clown gets out … until you think there can’t possibly be any more clowns, but there are?

That’s what my closets were like. In fact, that’s what my whole apartment was like.

It was endless.

Friends with cars offered me trips downtown when they could; one dear soul even rented a Zipcar to help out. The bemused doormen uptown lost count of how many times I waited in the lobby before scuttling out and though the curbside snowbank schlepping my big blue Ikea bags.

The movers worked away upstairs ...

On the day of the “big move,” the guys from Oz were heroic, especially with a January snowstorm complicating the proceedings. We were running late, and I called Penn South to alert them. Still, there wasn’t a single security guard around to man the door for 25 minutes after we arrived. I ran back and forth between my apartment and the service entrance, alternately holding the door for the movers and racing upstairs to guide them into my apartment.

After bending over backwards to obey the rules—not propping the door open in the absence of the promised guard; keeping hallways clear; and only using the padded elevator (despite the fact that people kept piling into it while ignoring the perfectly good one beside it)—I was rewarded by Penn South with the door shut in my face ten minutes before the 5:30 deadline we’d been given.

... while the truck awaited in the snow.

The furniture was in, but most of my boxes were still on the truck. In the ensuing half-hour spent haggling with security over whether we’d be allowed to finish (that night or the next morning … getting “no” to both requests, though I had been teased with “maybes” several times by staff who then walked off and disappeared), we could have actually finished. I was looking at three nights of overnight charges (not to mention that my plan for unpacking that weekend before the rest of my things came downtown the next week was dashed). Oz Moving was gracious enough to compromise on the overnight charges, displaying flexibility and intelligence in the face of unforeseen circumstances. Penn South, not so much. Tell me again, WHY did I think this move would be a good idea? I hated the place already.

Chaos in the kitchen as things get packed.

As my apartment emptied out uptown and poor Billy ran out of hiding places, he got creative. After a frantic search, I opened a base cabinet in the kitchen, bent down … and found him hunkered at the back of the shelf, gold-green eyes staring at me.

Still more trauma awaited: the beautiful, high-quality, expensive, queen-size futon couch I had carefully selected for my previous apartment—figuring I’d have it forever—had to be disassembled and dragged onto the snowy sidewalk after several potential takers had deemed it too big … and I had run out of time.

Waiting to exhale ... and unpack!

Did I mention rising at 5 AM my first morning downtown, to head back uptown and clean out the fridge before the tenants arrived? Did I mention having no phone or internet for weeks while I waited to be cabled for FIOS after the SNAFUed move? Did I mention waiting for my stove to be hooked up … the intercom directory to be programmed … my sanity to return? No? Come to think of it, this move made my previous one … the one for which I was homeless in between apartments for a month … feel like a giant pajama party.

Despite the odds, there finally came a day when everything I owned had been transferred downtown, and  “all” I had left to do was … unpack.

One HUGE New Thing!

Posted March 9, 2011 by Jane Rubinsky
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Okay, okay … I know you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to. Well, maybe not … but some of you might be thinking: “What? Has this chick entirely given up on new things?”

Well, no, I haven’t. In the past six months, I’ve appeared on television (MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show), joined the Five Boro Bike Club and gone on a weekend bike trip in Cape Cod, spoken about Meetup to a group of HR professionals, jumped into Facebook (after years of resisting), and shed 30 pounds (ya-a-a-ay!) … all of which I should have written about. But part of it is that I’ve been busy with the biggest, most unexpected and all-consuming New Thing of all: MOVING! Read the rest of this post »

Riding For a Cure

Posted July 13, 2010 by Jane Rubinsky
Categories: biking

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If you had told me a year ago, as I hobbled around on an arthritic knee, that I’d be completing a 15-mile group bike-ride through Manhattan streets (in 89-degree heat, yet) I’d have suggested you see a good psychotherapist. But on a fine June Saturday, I did just that—riding in the Tour de Cure, an annual cycling event that raises funds for the American Diabetes Association. Read the rest of this post »

Life in the Bike Lane

Posted May 30, 2010 by Jane Rubinsky
Categories: biking

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About three years ago, our co-op building created a bike room and held a lottery for spaces. I’d wanted a bike for years, but never trusted the unlocked storage room of my previous residence. So I decided to toss my hat into the ring, and if I got a space, I’d go buy a bike. Bingo! Read the rest of this post »

I’m Ready to Lose It

Posted May 16, 2010 by Jane Rubinsky
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As crises go, I suppose it’s not huge. The tooth I broke two weeks ago at my temple’s monthly Shabbat dinner—which will cost two weeks’ worth of unemployment checks to crown (and that’s after what my dental insurance, maxed out in one fell swoop, will cover)—was a bigger one. But when climbing temperatures prompted me to begin dragging out my summer clothes, I discovered nothing fit. Not one single thing. Read the rest of this post »


Posted April 13, 2010 by Jane Rubinsky
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Job-hunting completely alters one’s sense of the relationship between effort and results; long shots and shoo-ins get pretty hard to tell apart. I’ve applied for scores of jobs that looked absolutely perfect for my background and experience, and never heard back; one might as well fold resumes into paper boats and sail them up the Hudson. (Hey, it would be a lot more fun!) After a few months of this, buying lottery tickets can actually start to look tempting—how different can the odds be? Read the rest of this post »