Sunday, May 16, 2010

Central Park Jungle

With great weekend weather comes a stupid amount of people in Central Park. Now of course I can't blame them for being there, as I would encourage everybody to enjoy the great outdoors.  And living in (or visiting) New York City creates the need to escape the debilitating concrete and asphalt frying pan to the great oasis of green in the middle.

Normally, even the densest of crowds tend to manage themselves.  Multiple overlapping frisbee games in the Sheep Meadow somehow work out. Throngs of people walking in all different directions do so without collision. Usually, on those busy days, thousands and thousands of people just seem to exist harmoniously.  Usually.

Within the last 2 hours from writing this entry, I experienced two striking exceptions to the rule. At 2pm I had a double-header softball game in the Great Lawn. While the games were exciting and well played (we won both), the frustration kept building as picnickers, drum circles, soccer dribblers and football throwers continuously ventured into my outfield. That's right, my outfield. Dallas Braden doesn't like it when A-Rod steps on his mound, and I don't like it when some oblivious chump meanders into my realm. And they just don't care, not in the least. No where else do I have kind words of guidance be so ignored and slowly escalate into a screaming tirade of threats. This happens with the following people groups: Spoonfed Manhattan highschoolers in desperate need of haircuts, foreign futbol "stars", parents pushing strollers, cold beverage venders, kids selling packs of M&Ms, eastern Europeaners wandering aimlessly, and the occasional Hasidic Jew.  Only about 10% of people who walk right onto the field actually react and in an appropriate manner when they realize their flaw. The rest just play it cool. They just keep walking. Slowly. Like they own the place. If ever there was a time in my future when I just snap, go berserk, go postal, just lose it completely, it will be in the outfield of field #3 at the Great Lawn. I really hope this doesn't happen, as I would like to think I have a promising future. But why to they tempt me? Why?

The second instance of a crowd gone wrong happened as I was heading home after the game. It was one of the rare times I was walking my bike since I was going south down the crowded north-bound East Drive. I was in no rush as I trying to just take in as much park air as I could. Then in the left corner of my eye up ahead I saw a convergence of people, a scream, arms flailing, and more screams. I jumped on my bike and rode down the hill approaching the scene. When I got close I saw an old man lying still on the ground, blood running from his head in a steady stream along the asphalt. A younger woman was frantically yelling "Dad, Dad, get up! Wake up!" My heart dropped. I looked up at a cyclist with scrapes on his elbows. He looked scared as hell.  Within seconds a nearby Park Ranger was present, attempting to stabilize the situation.  I stayed back, not wanting to crowd the scene but wanting to do everything I could to help. I figured the best I could do was at least position my bike as to divert oncoming pedestrian and bicycle traffic away from the scene.  All I heard were the cries of the daughter, the radio calls, and the interesting commentary of people around me:
"Those bikers just never look where they are going..."
"look at all that blood..."
"Hey what's this crowd of peop...OH MY GOD!"

Medics arrived within a minute or two and police officers began maintaining order. As I stood there, still semi-frozen, I heard a sharp yell directed at me, "Hey get lost!" I looked up to an angry cop trying to clear the scene. I hesitated in response, as I was still partially stunned. "Get the hell out of here, now!" he yelled as I saw he was looking right at me. "I saw what..." I started to explain as he interrupted me "Get out of here now!" Not in the mood for another confrontation, I started to walk away, thinking about what possesses people to be such assholes at times.  After about 10 steps I heard, "Hey, wait" as I looked back and saw a different officer jogging towards me. "You were a witness?" he asked, in a much more polite manner than his counterpart.
"Yeah, I guess, I mean I kind of saw it just as it happened."
"Did you happen to see if the light was green or red?"
"No sorry, I was a bit up the hill, I saw it from pretty far away, sorry I'm not really much help"
"It's OK. Mind if I get your name and number just in case?"
"No problem"
I wrote down my info on his pad and continued on my way, walking my bike until I reached Fifth Ave.

I'll never know who'se fault it was. Bikers, myself included, have a tendency to always keep going, even if it means swerving around people. Especially right there. No biker trekking up hill wants to stop their momentum for a park road traffic light. On the other hand, pedestrians have no clue. They don't have a clue out on the real streets when there are actual cars, let alone in Central Park when most of them aren't even aware they are walking on a road. They have it in their mind that they are in a park and therefor safe from collisions. It's probably a mixture of both, but the outcome is tragic nonetheless. I hope that old man is OK, for his sake, the sake of his daughter, and for the sake of the biker.  He did start to move and moan before I left so hopefully he pulls through.

It's instances like this when we all have to reevaluate our cautions. No convenience is worth a bad accident, not for the biker or the pedestrian. Us bikers need to stop even when pedestrians are wrongfully occupying our path. And pedestrians need to...well pedestrians just need to look where they are going, whether they are crossing a busy avenue, walking on the sidewalk, walking in the park, or walking anywhere. Don't be oblivious. That should go without saying but I guess it needs to be said.

It's also instances like these when they enact knee jerk regulations like biking speed limits or something crazy like that. Be careful out there people, don't hurt yourselves and don't ruin it for the rest of us.

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