October 2013 Archives

CitiBike. Bike Sharing. Whoop de fucking doo.

Who cares about bike sharing? Limp wristed liberals...amirite?

OK, stop right there. It IS awesome, and I will tell you why, sir or madam. Lets start with the basics of CitiBike.

All over Manhattan are docking stations. These stations hold the bikes in a "bay", which is controlled by magnetic locks. You can use a docking station key (which is bought online) or your credit card to rent a bike. A coworker of mine had a key which I could use, and gives me 45 minutes of free bike time per use. I would suggest watching a video on how to dock and unlock a CitiBike:

Docking stations are pretty convenient, and there's an app which you can download which shows you the closest docking station. Most of them seem to be within a 4 block walk of each other, so the city is canvassed with these docking stations, making them fairly easy to find (more on this later).

The city also has tons of bike lanes. If you were to be a frequent reader of another local blog in town that hates bike lanes & bike sharing & anything that Dawn Zimmer does (she could cure cancer, and they would still fault her for not curing Parkinsons) - but I know that bike lanes are important and should be enforced and respected (especially after testing them).

So, what do we know? It's easy to rent them. There's a bunch of docking stations. Bike lanes make it easy to navigate the city streets. I have a cute French Bulldog named Rocco (how did this get in there? -editor)

And the one key thing that makes it great: It "opens" up the city.

What does that mean? Opens up the city. Well, let me tell you.

I work in a great part of the city called the West Village. It's picturesque. The city that you mostly see on Hollywood TV (they film here every week for TV shows like "Person of Interest" and "Elementary"). Lots of cute boutiques, stores and restaurants but a significant lack of "lunch spots". It was a trillion times worse about 6 years ago, and it has gotten better, with new places opening up, but there was a time in which you had three choices for lunch within a 10 minute walk: a deli, Chinese food, Indian food, or McDonalds. That's it. Often we were told by delivery people we were too far away and they won't deliver to us.

Today it's not so bad, but we are still a bit off the beaten path. One day last week I said, "We should get Shake Shack."

"Too far to walk. And they don't deliver.", the Chorus from work said back.

"We should use the CitiBike. I'm sure I could ride there in less then 10 minutes from here.", I replied.

"If YOU are going to ride there, we are in!", they cheerfully replied.

And so began my experiment as a delivery guy. My co-worker gave me his CitiBike "Key", and my nearest docking station was three blocks away. I had a few problems with the key at first - I didn't understand which way to insert it (begin jokes here) & once unlocked, I found using the bike lane a bit troublesome with very crowded cross-streets (like at Houston & West Side Highway) - people basically ignored the bike lane, and its a bit like playing "Frogger" on a bike. Not for the meek.

Since when am I meek? I was able do work my way across (Out of my way people! I have a package to deliver!) - zipped down the West Street Highway bike path (its a dream!), and then docked my bike at the Battery Park Ferry. Two block walk to Shake Shack. Ordered food, went back to the docking station. I strapped down my bag full of burgers on the front of the bike which had a very handy basket with a bungee cord attachment to hold small bags in place:
basket.jpg

Back to work & we were happily munching on Shake Shack burgers for lunch. Total time was 10 minutes to bike there each way, and 10 minutes to order. Plus it was a nice day outside, and it was fun to get off the desk.

While we were basking in a post-burger glow, a co-worker said, "This was great. Next week - you gotta get us Katz's Deli with a CitiBike."

Challenge accepted!

I mapped out my route that I needed to ride & where I could dock my bike near Katz's. Rode down Bleeker Street which was really simple...until I got to Bowery Street. For those who don't know Bowery Street is a major New York thorofare like Broadway or Canal Street, but not like a "highway" like West Street or FDR drive (you wouldn't have a bike on here, anyhow). Things got a bit more tricky on these roads just due to the amount of traffic and the general disdain by these driver for people on bikes. You could feel their seething wrath for pedestrains, bike, small children and adorable French Bulldogs that have 6500 fans on Facebook (What's with the bulldog reference?? -editor).

More of a minor issue than a major one, but when planning to ride around the city its not a bad idea to stay off the major roads, in my humble opinion. I have watched enough reddit videos from China, India and Russia on what happened to motorcycles & bikes versus tractor trailers & trucks.

I did run into my first issue at Katz's Deli - empty docking stations. The problem with the popularity of the CitiBike is its success. After I dropped off my bike at a completely empty docking station, went to the deli & returned in 10 minutes, the bike was rented by someone else. Using my iPhone app, the cloeset station with free bikes was at least 8 blocks away (a station was 4 blocks away, but empty & a second station was 4 blocks away in the opposite direction I was going with one bike. I didn't want to risk walking there to find it empty - so I walked 8 blocks to the next free station).

I rode back to work, and my docking station had 2 free spots. Not a big deal, but the other problem are areas that have no free spots at a docking station - and you have to find a free spot to park. Like I wrote, most stations are 4 blocks from each other so finding a free spot shouldn't be TOO difficult. I think in the future the people who manage CitiBikes will figure out where to add more docking stations or bikes to offset this problem, depending on usage.

But - we had our Pastrami on Rye's and I had my Turkey Rachel. Co-workers were excited and the security guards eyes bugged out when they saw me walk in with a Katz's Deli bag - and pleaded with me to let them order, too, next time.

On a side note, if you check seamless.com or delivery.com for delivery - they can charge you $20 per delivery & you have to order $75 worth of food to get Katz's delivered to you. Hell, you could take a taxi for $10 each way. The bike is a much cheaper alternative to taking a taxi. I didn't find that it made me too sweaty (however, I would not recommend wearing anything other than casual clothes), but my heart rate did jump a bit versus walking.

I'm signing up today for the annual pass. Even if I don't live in the city, I have often found myself looking to walk to places that were within the 10-20 block radius, which is too short for a taxi and too far for an easy walk - just grab a CitiBike to get around for now on.

Now if only Hoboken's bike share was THIS easy...

I was on Facebook, and talking to the erudite wordsmith Chris Halleron about the subject of "man boobs" & exercise (you know, we are so sophisticated) when he said, "What does your precious little Crossfit bring to the table?".

Good question, Chris. Here's my answer:

I re-read what I wrote and basically is a good impression of what I thought when I joined. I think its more than a gym, its really more like you join a country club because you see the same people all the time, and instead of golfing or tennis you are surrounded by people who want to be in shape. At a gym, you get all kinds of people the meatheads, the moms on the ellipticals, the guido who skips leg day, the yuppies who have no idea what they are doing, the stalkers, the strange guy with the headphones and sings out loud, and others.

Most of the the people I met at the CrossFit Hoboken are a pretty "normal" sampling of Hoboken. 20's & 30's year olds - and i'm 41 yet don't feel out of place, there are other 40-somethings. I go on average 3 days a week, but I really aim for 4 when I can and even 5 sometimes (life just gets in the way). Everyone checks their ego at the door, and its just a friendly environment. Strangers patting each other on the back.

Remember this isn't like a gym where you go and workout by yourself, put on your iPad and lift, rest, lift, rest. You go there, do a group stretch with a light warmup. There's instruction on what we are doing (like deadlifts, cleans, jerks, presses, etc) on proper form and how to pick the correct weight. There's a 5 minute window to get the correct weight and then its "Go Time", and you go intense for X minutes (it varies).

I think the reason why everyone turns into Mormons over it varies. Rather than spreading the "Good News" (HE IS RISEN!) - I just think if more people did it, they would see a remarkable change in their body shape. People make a ton of excuses. "I'm too busy!" "Oh, I can't do THAT." "I don't want to be big and bulky weightlifter!" "I can't diet, I love food too much."

I have heard it all. I'm just as bad. I love food. I love bad food. I work out so I can keep enjoying food like Shake Shack and know that Crossfit will at least make keeping the weight off easier. Hey, there's some people who can self motivate go to a gym or run on a treadmill for an hour. I'm not one of them. I need someone to kick my ass a bit, but don't need a Gunnery Sergeant shouting at me. I like the people there, the trainers are awesome. I like the other people who work out there, and its a nice community. I think just some people are scared of new things and eventually people will actually realize how great it is - if they just give it a try.

Crossfit Hoboken has a free class on Wednesday at 6:45pm and Saturday at 10am.

Washington Street Coal Tunnel in Hoboken

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I was reading a news article on Philly.com about a root cellar that was unearthed in West Chester. I love reading about things that are hidden under our cities like this.

Did you know that in the middle of Washington Street in Hoboken there is a old coal tunnel? The older buildings on Washington Street all have connecting tunnels from the basements of their buildings to the coal tunnel, too. Most are bricked up. Some aren't, and I have first hand knowledge from people who have explored the tunnel.

Now before we get to thinking that this is some grand, amazing tunnel that is like the old, abandoned New York subway tunnels:
abandonedtunnel.jpg

It is nothing like that. From what I was told by the explorer, it was very dirty and dusty - and you could barely stand up in it. There were quite a few cave-ins and lots of debris. But you did have the ability to explore it, and it wasn't that exciting. I wonder what other hidden structures are in Hoboken.

I saw this update on Hobokenmenus.com:

WindMill Hot Dogs Hoboken has closed! "The WindMill of Hoboken was off to a running start and then BAMM..... Hurricane Sandy hit! Although the restaurant itself did not sustain damage, the Path Station was severely affected, as were many neighboring homes and businesses. Due to flooding and the closure of the Path Station, locals had to find alternative ways into NYC. The commuters stopped coming and pedestrian traffic in front of the once busy location thinned daily. As a result, The WindMill of Hoboken's steadily growing business began to shrink more and more each day. Simply put, after Hurricane Sandy, things were just never the same."


I don't understand how people with money to open businesses don't see what we need now. Hot Dogs? Really? The demographics of Hoboken have shifted. This may have worked in 2003, but 10 years later you have people buying $800,000+ condos and raising their kids here. #1 thing that 'downtown' Hoboken needs is a Wine Bar like Bin 14 or a craft beer bar like The Jeffrey:


For example the owners at Biggie's who are scratching their collective heads and wondering why they are dead on a weeknight should simply look around and see what this city needs, and not more of "Deep Fried food and Bud Light/Guinness/Blue Moon/Stella on tap" and think the crowd is going to come running. Open a great wine bar with small plates to nosh on, with comfortable seats and low lighting, soft music that caters to first dates or groups looking to try new wines picked by a in-house sommelier and hire a chef that graduated from an accredited institution. After working as a bartender for 10+ years in town, I know who cooks our food and often they are just hard working guys from Third World countries that make chicken wings, quesadillas, hamburgers and other basic "American" things.

Recently I have been on a wine bar binge in the West Village. I wrote about Anfora, Vin Sur Vingt Lelabar and Gottino. They are, in a word all fantastic. Each have different characteristics, like Anfora has some ridiculously good crostini. To a point where even writing about it now, I find myself thinking to find an excuse to take someone there to have some more of it.

I walk around town and see clone after clone of everything when it comes to restaurants. Why is that?

I can give you one easy reason. I forget which year it was, but I think it was 2006 Dave Roberts was mayor and decided that, for quality of life issues, that the City of Hoboken would no longer issue "new" liquor licenses. The only way to obtain a liquor license was to buy an existing license. Now, what do you think this did to supply and demand?

The original cost of a liquor license in Hoboken wasn't expensive. After they enacted the law, the cost jumped to over $500,000. Question - do you THINK that someone like Dave Roberts, who from what I understand owned Amanda's and Cafe Elysian would profit from this change in the law?

Second - how difficult would it be for someone to open a new restaurant in town. The law's rule is you can't open a new bar within 500 feet of an existing bar with a liquor license. So basically the same old crappy bars and keep selling the same old crappy food because they have no incentive to work harder. Where is the competition? You need people who have a million dollars or more to open new restaurants in Hoboken. Its certainly not impossible, if you look at how well Little Town NJ has been doing.

My solution would be simple. Create a new Class of liquor license that allows for sale of wine & beer, but not hard liquor - and can be opened near existing establishments. At least that would allow craft beer or craft wine restaurants to compete a bit with the existing bars and restaurants in town. I'm sure every bar owner will gnash their teeth and such a suggestion, but i'm not a fan of suppressing free enterprise. Don't we have enough nail salons, real estate offices and sushi restaurants?

Seriously, if I had a million dollars I could make a million more by opening up a craft beer or wine bar in downtown Hoboken. Man, do I need to win the lottery.

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