Opening Days

Bike riding season historically commenced in earnest during the week or so surrounding St. Paddy’s Day. By that time this year, we’d already made a dozen or more forays to the Garden State’s Highlands region, to our favorite barrier island, and through the familiar streets of N. Central Jersey, where the bicycling tradition originated in 2003. Call this year’s early start our chilly spring training.

When I accompany students to a pier at the foot of W. 70th Street, I ask what is the most striking feature of our presence there. The fact we are there; on a site in the great metropolis never witnessed by ‘civilians’ across the half-century plus when Irish waterfront business was conducted there in deadly earnest, or during the several decades more of decay and neglect that followed. Today our class visits constitute a lively new form of waterfront work.

Charlie and I rode right past that pier on our inaugural bi-state ‘port authority’ jaunt last September. Our bike rides do make for a form of witness, but as time passes the elements of our respective human conditions that would once have made these daily journeys together unlikely–if not impossible—subside as obstacles. Riding bikes together is what we do; goes long way toward affirming who are we. Blessed indeed.

We were out riding while the Pirates were losing their home opener Thursday. I remembered a moment from last year’s riding when Charlie suddenly pulled over, dismounted, then gracefully pirouetted. I’d seen that spin move before, but on this occasion he paused before hopping back a-bike, placed one hand over his chest, and slowly rolled raised his chin skyward. It looked and felt like this, from where I quietly stood:

When Charlie was an infant I looked forward to sharing stories of Roberto Clemente from my own childhood. Then followed a period of mourning and no little self-pity, to be sure, even as Charlie was finding his own way, absorbing the stories of others and sharing his own. Non-wordy wise, albeit with bumps aplenty. The bikes have proved best vehicle for his preferred mode of communication; I slowly caught on as we built our own team.

The Buccos lost today, but success on the road last week finds them with a winning record, ten days deep into the season! They’ve not ended a campaign in that rarefied state since 1992. But as a fan since 62, what’s a little drought so long as memories of Clemente and his dashing teammates endure: new manager Clint Hurdle has reportedly worked to instill a sense of that bold tradition in his youthful ballclub.

It’s just a game; we simply bike riders, but I’d be concealing too much not to acknowledge those fleeting moments in motion—speaking strictly for Jim here not Charlie the Gent–when it’s just as Brian Friel caught it (and Dr. Chew and I witnessed, gloriously incanted by the late Donal McCann in New Haven in 94), in Faith Healer: that ‘trembling intimation: that the whole corporeal world—the cobbles, the trees, the sky—somehow they had shed their physical reality and had become mere imaginings…And that intimation gave way to a stronger sense: that even we had ceased to be physical and existed only in spirit, only in the need we had for each other.’

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