September 17, 2008

So what happened to the Bike in Bikeman?

Over the past week, I've done a number of interviews and many of the interviewers have a question...they say, "I have to ask you, what happened to the bike?"

In fact, Larry McShane, who did a terrific feature in the New York Daily News on September 7th, asked that first, before anything else. Ron Kuby, during the interview I did on 9-11 on his lively Air America broadcast, also wondered what happened to that bike. Many folks at the readings I've done also ask about it.

For those of you who may not know, the bike in Bikeman is a central icon. It was also the thing that I would not let go of even as the South Tower collapsed on us. The medics I was with called me "Bikeman" because of the bike, of course. None of them knew my name. And I believe to this day that holding onto the bike did get me out alive. I can't explain why. But it is what I believed when I was nearly trapped on 9-11 and I believe it still to this day.

The bike was a green Trek that I had bought at a Metro bicycle shop on 6th Avenue not far from my home. I used it to ride to work at CBS on 57th Street when I was in town. It is the best way to get around in this city. Bicycling is cheaper than any other form of transit, far more healthful and it is a pleasure especially when compared to being stuck in a traffic jam in a taxi or bus or worse, stuck in a sweltering subway station.

I'm guessing but I'd bet that bike was maybe two or three years old at the time I rode to the World Trade Towers on 9-11. It was a good bike, sturdy and reliable. Nothing fancy and it wasn't hugely expensive.

After getting out alive, I rode to the broadcast center on the bike which more or less confirmed what I had believed. The thing would get me out. Everyone who was near the towers when they collapsed was covered with ash and dust. So was everything. That included my bike. I parked it in the CBS garage across from the studios and headed in to work where I appeared on air with Dan Rather to describe my eyewitness account of the morning. (You can view that on this website.)

It wasn't until after leaving the studios some 12 hours later and retrieving the bike that I noticed how much dust covered it. Infused it, really. The gears looked like a small furry animal so covered were they. The chain looked like clothesline. Every working part was ash-packed. But it still worked. I rode home in the dark (it was midnight or so) and pedaled through a nearly deserted city. It was eerily quiet. That's another thing about riding a bike. It produces no noise. So if you are on a peaceful country ride or in a deserted city, you will hear the quiet.

It took some time to get through the military checkpoints set up on 14th Street but I finally got home. I locked the bike up for the night and headed for a shower and bed. The next morning I worked to clean up the worst of the ash and dust and rode back to work. That bike served me well through the winter and into the spring of 2002. It never broke down, never gave me any trouble.

What happened? I was near my home and needed to grab something at a local deli. I locked the bike at a parking meter and went in to the deli. After I paid, I came out of the store and headed to the spot where I had left the bike.

It was gone. All that was left was the clipped lock scattered at the base of the parking meter. I looked around but it was gone.

I am sorry about that. I did need a new bike. That one did have lasting damage from 9-11. But I liked it and it did work well enough. David Mehegen, who wrote a special piece on Bikeman in the September 8th Boston Globe, asked if it wasn't a bit sad that I didn't have the bike any more. I hadn't thought about it until David asked in that way.

The answer is: I do wish I still had it, though not to ride any more. I feel about that bike the same way I feel about the dogs who have been a part of my life and are gone. They were friends I could count on. They were good companions and true. And I cared for them. I wish they were all still here.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Where can the Dan Rather interview be seen?