Exploring NYC: Bagel and Bike Tour
The teacher’s summer is a gift and a curse.
On one hand, you get seven weeks off of work, which is tough to complain about. On the other hand, you have seven weeks where people constantly tell you all the things they would be doing if they had time off from work. Which leads to a situation where each day feels as though you’re living it for ten people instead of just one.
The pressure can be a bit troublesome at times.
My plan to alleviate some of that pressure this year has simply been to explore this city that I grew up in. With my finances tied up in a rental house for the month of August, long trips were pretty much out of the question. After two weeks of doing nothing besides sitting on my ass (whether it was productive and writing or not productive and watching TV), I decided it was time to find something to occupy myself and feel like I was making use of my time.
If not for me, then for the countless people who kept telling me about the exotic trips they would take if they were in my position.
I made a list of places to see and activities to try over the course of the summer. While some (like a nearby graffiti exhibit) turned out to be a bust, other opportunities presented themselves out of the blue, like when a friend discussed a drunk debate he’d had with a mutual friend about the best bagel in NYC. What resulted was the idea of a bike tour around the city, trying to most reputable bagels they could think of. Without a moment’s hesitation I was in.
The tour started with an arduous warm-up ride from Tribeca to 107th street and Broadway after a high school friend swore Absolute Bagels was worth the trip. Considering I made him venture downtown on weekends for the duration of our high school years, I begrudgingly made the trek, but I wasn’t optimistic.
Upon arriving together in front of the shop, the five of us began our day in earnest. There were no real rules or judging criteria, just the knowledge from years of eating bagels and the opinionated nature of native New Yorkers.
At each place our order would be the same: one everything bagel with nothing on it (to test the quality of the bagel), one sesame bagel with lox and cream cheese (because you need lox if you’re doing a bagel competition), and one whole wheat bagel with that store’s specialty (our first stop was whitefish). When it came time to eat, instead of worrying about cutting the bagel or splitting it into equal portions, we simply traded off bites, passing bagels back and forth amongst the five of us like hot potatoes.
Whether it was the long bike ride or the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything after a long night of drinking, that first bite was incredible. Despite my five years in Texas, and my subsequent love affair with the breakfast taco, there is still nothing more satisfactory after a late night than a well-made everything bagel.
So the day began on a high note. We made some obnoxious fake foody comments on the texture of the bagel, the freshness of the lox, and the saltiness of the whitefish before heading back to our bikes and being on our way.
It was in this fashion that the next three and a half hours passed. We stopped at Murray’s Bagels on 13th and 6th, Russ & Daughters on East Houston, and Black Seed on Elizabeth. We ordered our bagels, kept a running tally to Venmo each other money later, and ravenously consumed a ridiculous amount of carbs while making our way around the city. The bike seat hurt my ass and we almost got crushed by two or three opening car doors, but we certainly worked for our bagels.
There was a moment when I took a second to snap a photo on our way to Russ and Daughters when I realized just how ingeniously simple the plan was. Each one of us had access to a bike and four hours to kill on a Sunday. Between that and what amounted to $25 each, there was nothing more that we needed.
It’s funny that after 29 years of living in this city (well, 23 really), these facts still surprise me. There is an endless array of things to do to occupy your time. What’s more, every time you think you’ve discovered what this city has to offer, there are hundreds of new options.
People like to travel for new experiences. I understand the value of trips abroad, and try and take one a year, but there is something to be said for experiencing the city you live in as well. There’s something great about thinking that you know a place and then seeing it in a whole new light. In the corners that exist everywhere in this city, there are acres that unfurl to be explored, like some sort of magic trick.
Like many great moments in life, it took a drunken debate to make the experience possible. But I know it won’t be the last time I make use of the clown car nature of NYC, with so many possibilities shoved into one tiny space. There are still breweries and distilleries to tour, BBQ joints across all boroughs to taste, and Governor’s Island to explore.
I only have a few weeks left in my summer, but that seems like more than enough time to fill it with travel.
Oh, and for those who are curious, there was no clear winner in our bagel challenge except for us. Absolute Bagels may have had the best combined sandwich, but the sable and lox at Murray’s were tasty as hell, the herring at Russ & Daughters was surprisingly delicious, and we made it Black Seed as they closed so were only able to try a plain everything bagel, which was delicious and almost preztel-like in taste. Maybe we’ll have to go back on take two.