NYC for BFF.

NYC for BFF.

Time travel does exist. Unfortunately in nothing as cool as a DeLorean, but Friday June 11th- I boarded a plane at 8:30am. After 5 hours- spent watching TV with no sound, reading, and occasional napping, I landed 2500 miles from where I started, having lost 3 hours of my life that would theoretically be regained in my return flight across these United States.

This was my first non stop transcontinental flight. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the US over the years and have sat on many flights from Alaska to California. My coast to coast travel however, has been done on trains, autos, or buses. These other, non airborne modes of travel offer a much more gradual transition- the body adapting easier to the time changes and the corresponding sleep schedule. Not so on the airplane. You hit the ground running- sometimes quickly, sometimes hitting a wall.

While in New York City, I met many people that flew in from everywhere- my measly little 3 hour time difference is nothing in comparison to the jetlag experienced by those coming in from halfway around the world.

I landed at Kennedy Airport at 5pm and found my way to the Air Train from the massive Jet Blue terminal. From there, I caught the A train. I usually feel pretty good about figuring out public transit in Metropolitan areas… if there is something to work with- like a map. I didn’t see a sign or map for the subway anywhere in the station- until I boarded the A (the train that the airport information desk told me I needed to be on.) Once I was on the train, with the doors closed behind me- I saw a map and attempted to familiarize myself with the system’s layout. A man sitting nearby asked me where I was headed, as I must have looked a little confused and out of place. When I told him that I was headed downtown he kindly informed me that I was headed the wrong direction. I was headed to Far Rockaway Beach. Oops. Off the train I went, over the cross over and there I waited, much longer than I expected for the next train to Manhattan. I used my phone to download a map of the Subway-as I still couldn’t find any info in the station.

On the train ride, I spent the time looking at the map on my phone and trying to make sense of the transit system that, though new to me in practice had been often referenced in movies and referred to in stories over the years. Though a much bigger fan of the bicycle for getting around- I love public transit, especially trains- and the New York subway was one I had always wanted to experience.

It took almost 2 hours to reach the stop closest to the Bicycle Film Festival office (or “HQ” as it’s affectionately called.) In a smallish 3rd floor office in a nondescript building on 17th st and 6th ave in Chelsea, you will find the people that work hard to bring the Bicycle Film Festival around the world. The walls are adorned with bike art from artists known and unknown, bikes are piled sometimes 5 or more deep and pizza boxes lie here and there, brought by a local pizza shop that sponsors the NY festival. I got to meet Brendt Barbour, who I’ve only talked to over the phone and through email. Brendt- who has put so much of his blood, sweat and tears into the festival over the last 10 years that he deserves a metal… or should have his head examined. The love he has for the Bicycle Film Festival is similar to that of a father for a child. He guards it- and will protect it if he feels it’s being taken advantage of (which I saw first hand as an unaffiliated nightclub tried to promote the “official Bicycle Film Festival afterparty”.) Brendt has put together the Bicycle Film Festival for over 1/4 of his life- it’s in his blood. He has put together one hell of an event.

2010 marks the 10th year of the BFF- which got it’s start after Brendt was hit by a bus riding his bike in NYC. Rather than being negative and angry about the way the cyclists were treated in NY- he turned his frown upside down and started the Bicycle Film Fesitval as a way to bring together art, music, and film- celebrating the bicycle and riding in the city. The BFF has become wildly successful world wide and plays an integral role in bicycle culture on a global scale. The quality of programming is fantastic, with a diverse collection of films in the archives- both old films as well as new submissions each year.

The BFF team in NYC, though relatively small, makes amazing things happen- helping producers (like me) step up the quality of everything in their local BFF. The final weeks before the BFF NY, especially for the 10th anniversary- had the NY team burning the midnight oil. Brendt, Brendan, Jen and Nora- ran themselves ragged to ensure that the Joy Ride art show, Bikes Rock rock show, all the films and all the after parties went off without too many hiccups. As more people showed up that have been with the festival longer, like Benny and Lucas, they did whatever they could to help out. It felt very much like a family reunion. People from around the world, coming back together to take part in the festival that brought them together in the first place. It’s really great to see.

Getting into NYC, off the subway and not having eaten for 8 hours, I did what anybody else would have and got a couple slices of pizza. I don’t know really what I was expecting when I bit into that first slice. Was I expecting to hear Angels singing? To see the sun to come shining through the smog? Or maybe for everyone to look at me and welcome me into this club of people that are “in the know” when it comes to what is good for street food in the “Big Apple.” None of that happened. The pizza was greasy, plain, and it’s saving grace was that it was cheap.

Backstory: This was technically my second trip to NYC (and my second slice of pizza in NYC.) My first was with an ex girlfriend and her family. When I asked to be taken to a NY pizza place, they brought me to Sbarro’s- oddly enough it tasted like the same Sbarros pizza that was served in the mall that I worked in while I was in highschool- on the West Coast. I was under the assumption that they just weren’t “in the know” and that they happened to bring me to the worst place to get pizza in all of New York because they didn’t have a clue about the city, having moved from Eastern Europe. I may be spoiled by brick oven pizza that I’ve had here in Seattle, but the pizza I had upon my arrival was only slightly better than pizza served at Sbarros 9 years earlier.

I brought some beers back to the office, met the rest of the team and we talked a little about the festival- and how I was leaving to go back to Seattle the day that the films started. “I know, I know….” I said. “The Go Means Go 9 to 5 Scavenger Hunt is my event and I just can’t miss it. I can’t change the date because it is based on the solstice, and I can’t change the sun.” Then there were remarks about how I didn’t seem like a hippy- and solstice was a hippy event…. Well, I stuck to my guns- and didn’t change my travel plans, because, well- I love the solstice.

Photo of some of the filmakers and producers at HQ- taken with the BFF camera
Photo of some of the filmakers and producers at HQ- taken with the BFF camera

I stayed with Nora and Greg (later with new Danish friends Lau and Rasmus, the Copenhagen BFF producers) in Williamsburg which was great. It’s a central location, with plenty of cheap food and drinks, right by the bridge that would take us back and forth into and out of Manhattan. I got to experience the Puerto Rican pride festival as well as the Hasidic Jews in the streets on the Sabbath, both of which were completely foreign to someone that has spent the majority of their life in the Pacific Northwest. It was incredible.

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There was a folding Dahon coaster brake single speed in the BFF office that was lent to me so I could get around. Nora and I met up with Ralph at McCarren Park and I borrowed a lock from him. The TSA aren’t too keen on locks in your carry on baggage- or more bluntly- they won’t allow you on the plane with them. Rather than get mine confiscated I figured I could borrow one from ol’ Ralphy.

The next few days I rode around town- visiting a number of bike shops- Chari & Co., Affinity Cycles, Heavy Metal Bicycle Shop, Spokesman Cycles, Bicytcle Renaissance, King Kog. I found out that TrackstarNYC closed a few months back. I got coffee at Verb in Williamsburg, coffee at 9th St Espresso, coffee at Grumpy’s (I like coffee,) a sandwhich from Graham Ave. Deli in Brooklyn (where I ordered a “Godfather” and was a given a sandwich large enough for 3 other people) I passed out programs for the BFF, rode through Central Park- I really got to see the city from the saddle. I even got to see the Bespoke exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design which was incredible! If being in New York is a good time, then riding in New York is a great time. You can see so much more of the surface. Transit is ok, but to really get a feel for the city- any city- the bicycle is the way to do it. Riders on the street consisted of business men, messengers, food delivery folks, tourists, crazy people, commuters- riders of different speeds and ability levels- with the drivers of cars the same.

People warned me about riding in NYC. My girlfriend was especially concerned. Since I’ve lived in Seattle I haven’t raced many alley cats, though I don’t view myself as particularly slow, I generally err on the side of safety. Stopping at lights and proceeding with caution. It didn’t take me long to realize that you don’t stop in NY. It felt a little like playing Frogger- but it felt way safer to keep moving. Sitting at a light just felt dangerous. With all the one way streets it’s easy to see when it’s safe to proceed. The blatant disregard for crosswalks by everyone in the city was bizarre. When there is an opportunity to go, you go. I loved it- and got right into the groove. The only thing that was difficult was that the bike, the Dahon, though I really enjoyed it- seemed a little light duty for a 210lb. dude mashing around New York City. It creaked and groaned under my weight and the stress of my pedaling hard. It never failed on me- and if I were to ride it on the streets of Portland I would have felt much safer.

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Not familiar with the city, who to call to make things happen, yet wanting to help- I was enlisted as errand boy. I was happy to run around and pick and drop things off. It left the NY team free to do what they needed to do, and I got to get out and ride- see the city- and well, ride. I was asked to go pick up the Cinelli from Continuum for one of my errands. When asked how I planned to do that I explained that I’d just ride the folder, fold the folder, and carry it back in my pack. Easy. I don’t think they had much faith in my scheme- but less than an hour later, I showed up in the office with the freshly built Cinelli Vigorelli Pista- with a shoulder bag that I couldn’t walk straight through a door with. And a heavy bag at that. For being a small, 20″ wheel bike- the Dahon website says it weighs in at 22lbs. I think it weighs a bit more than that- and it’s very awkward to carry on your back.

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I was then told that it was loaner bike- and I was asked if I wanted to borrow it. “And turn in the folder? I don’t know…” I didn’t think they were serious at first. I’d never ridden such a nice bike on the street- Campy record hubs to Dodici rims, Cinelli bars, stem, Dura Ace cranks (given to the BFF by the Keiren Association) it was parts that were given to the festival by it’s sponsors over the years, and it came time to build it. I feel so thankful to have gotten to ride that very special bike for the remainder of my time in NYC.

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To further expand on what I learned: If being in New York is a good time, and riding in New York is a great time, riding in New York on a bike that is built for speed is a fucking amazing time. It was so nice. In all my riding I learned that cotton is not your friend if you sweat as much as I do. Rasmus gave me a sweet Schroder jersey and cap that I kept with me at all times and changed in and out of before and after riding. It ensured that I would be wearing a dry shirt when I was at my destination.

The press screening was incredible- with a sneak peek of some of the films that will be showing in Seattle. 2010 will be a great year for the BFF. Well attended in a swank clothing store- with beer and wine. People were spilling out- the heat inside was only tolerable because of the ice cold beer provided by Brooklyn Brewery.

Of course it wasn’t all fun and games and riding around- being one of the few folks with a current drivers license- I got the “opportunity” to drive a rented UHaul truck full of beer around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Thankfully, Bjorn from MPLS acted as navigator with his smartphone. There is no way I could have gotten from point A to B to C to D without him. 7 hours, doing one of my least favorite things (driving in traffic) in a vehicle that was not only foreign to me, but in a city who’s streets are more like a 3rd world country (with the pot holes and traffic) and who’s layout was completely foreign to me. I found myself laying on the horn, cussing and yelling, and parking in the bike lane in order to offload beer for the Bicycle Film Festival. After all that, and needing to refuel the truck before returning- the only fuel station I could find was BP… Oh, sweet irony.

I went to NYC for the BFF- not necessarily to see the films, because I will get to see them when they come to Seattle, not to see how the parties in NYC are, though I did get some party time in- but I wanted to see how the festival works. To see the team in action. I was very impressed. The different personalities of those that spend so much time in the office come together to form some sort of super force- like Voltron or something. I’m thankful for the time that I spent there- for the new friends made- and I very much look forward to a return trip.

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PS- this is the real sign as you get onto the car portion of the Brooklyn bridge!

And of course- you should be getting excited for the Bicycle Film Festival when it comes to Seattle this summer.

3 thoughts on “NYC for BFF.

  1. So excited for the films to arrive and for the 10th anniversary. Loved reading this entry and all the mini-adventures within your trip.

  2. Other things I learned while in NYC:
    -New Yorkers don’t like the phrase “take it easy”
    -Though difficult to find, good coffee does exist in the Big Apple
    -most food delivery folks ride crappy mountain bikes with huge Wald baskets that have the front end cut (so it flops down), to carry pizza boxes
    -It’s really muggy and synthetic/quick drying clothes are necessary
    -many bars in Greenwich Village despise (assumed) bike messengers (they wouldn’t allow us into one because I had a bike helmet and mess bag)
    -It is possible to eat well for little money- at least outside of Manhattan

    Things I didn’t get a chance to do, but are on my list for next time:
    -Coney Island- ride the Cyclone, and eat a hot dog
    -Visit Ellis Island
    -Get closer to the Statue of Liberty- from the Brooklyn Bridge she isn’t that impressive
    -Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    -Ride all the bridges in one day

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