I have had Christmases where I really scored. I’ve had ones where I found the perfect gifts for others. But I’ve never had Christmases that equaled the spirit of those I had with my mother, just the two of us, as we stood huddled in the cold, marveling at the magic of those windows.
Times have changed of course. This year, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if it weren’t celebrated on a bike. So I decide on the perfect tour: a night ride offered by the 5 Borough Bike Club out to Dyker Heights Brooklyn (for those who don’t know, that’s more or less at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge). The goal: to look at the legendary Christmas lights there.
The plan is to meet at Grand Army Plaza by subway. We’ll also be taking a break at a diner. With that description, my Brompton Lucille is my chosen companion. Plus she is rugged, and her tires have tread.
Once in Brooklyn, the ride doesn’t get off the ground for 40 minutes as we wait in the cold for the Sweep (it is maybe 36˚). My fingers and toes are adequately heated, but for the first time, although it’s not windy, I notice my core is chilly. And so is everyone else’s. Don’t worry, I’m told, you’ll warm up once we get started.
Finally our Sweep appears, and under the direction of our fearless leader,
We head north west to Bay Ridge following well-marked bike lanes, stopping for a “show” on 22nd Street. The show consists of an elaborate set outside a private house, where two multi-colored totem poles, lip-sync their way through “Mele Kalikimaka” (courtesy of Der Bingle) as flamingos swirl and palm trees and parcels blink in accompaniment.
Can you imagine going to all that trouble? But as a life-long musician, and New Yorker I have other considerations: did they license that music (of course not), and – what must it be like to be neighbors of someone like this who puts on “shows” with music this time of year? And most of all: where do they store all this stuff the rest of the time? These are questions which will only grow larger as the evening progresses.
The house decorations heat up as we hit 77th Street (still in Bay Ridge).
Before heading over to Dyker Heights, we take our break at a diner.
Lucille and I are warmly welcomed by the diner’s host, and ushered back near the coat racks. For others this would be “Siberia.” But in our opinion, Siberia is where the other bikers are: standing out in the cold guarding their full sized rides (though some – like A - brought locks). A and I find our seats. Our other A, fearing theft, has made other arrangements. We warm up over tea and “French Onion Soup,” an activity that is fortunately more about holding a hot beverage than actually consuming it.
Finally, our group reassembles and we pedal a pedestrian overpass into Dyker Heights proper. We have been warned that it is the height of the Christmas season. That it is a total scene. We are cautioned to leave our bikes and take in the sights on foot. But we’re cyclists – that’s not happening.
The streets are clogged with cars.
There are Santas.
If it weren’t for the cold (and the size of some of the Santas), I’m not even sure I could tell you what holiday this is. The height of it all for me is a balloon of Snoopy paddling in a jiggling canoe, to the accompaniment of banjos playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown (right of center).
Omg, it is cold but it is glorious! Totally over the top. And so American: a celebratory conflation of religious and merchandizing iconography on a massive scale. What a ride! As to where they store it, I can’t speak for the residents of Bay Ridge who probably have to fend for themselves; but here between the signage and vans advertising the service, it is clear they order it – storage is someone else’s problem. So that answers that question at least. As to why, well you’d have to ask the homeowners. My guess is by now, it’s become a roaring competition.
To get home, we have the option of pedaling back to Grand Army Plaza or continuing forward for 20 blocks to the Fort Hamilton N train stop. A&A and I opt for this as the shorter route. Which is good because by now the batteries in my gloves have given out and my fingers have begun to ache. The stop is an outdoor one (with the obligatory crazy on the platform).
I’m cold as hell but wouldn’t’ have missed this trip for the world. The ride, the night, the time of year, the lights, the crowds - the spirit. It’s nothing like the Christmases I spent with my mother. Or like any other Christmas activities I’ve done for that matter. But it’s totally great. Hooray for Christmas! Hooray for bikes!
It’s been an amazing year.