The emptiness of kings

On the nights I race my single-speed black bicycle down Broadway from 41st to East 17th, I rule New York.

Not all at once. Not for long. This is a reign at risk with every squeaking spin of my wheels. But for sweet stretches of asphalt that sometimes last just shy of forever, I am made a king by an offering the city intermittently bears only after it has settled into its sleep like a shark to the ocean floor: emptiness.

There are times Broadway is so clear of activity, I freely swerve my bike from one side of the street to the other for no other reason than that I can. No one honks. No one screams. I hit no one; no one hits me. There are no pedestrians in my path; no delivery trucks stop before me. None of my bicycling brethren claims my space. I have the city; for once, it does not have me. I am king.

In this quiet space, I notice what I normally do not: the dark spread of sky resting atop the skyscrapers; the joy tucked inside an aggravating wind; the relief in my legs as they stretch and compress, stretch and compress. If the quiet lasts, even a few blocks, I begin to hear my breathing. If the quiet lasts, I hear more: the stilling of my mind. If the quiet lasts, I begin to believe: I need this space of silence. It is here, in a tiny kingdom of one, perched atop a throne of leaves coalesced in the stilling of the city’s clamor, that I become more than a collection of second-by-second reactions to those around me. For a moment, I am choosing a future, not dodging the present.

This moment always ends, certainly by Union Square. More often than not, it is broken by the engine whine of a surging taxi. I return to my clearly marked bicycle lane. I keep my wheels between the lines until the emptiness comes again.

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