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“You Be Safe Now”: A Brooklyn Biking Vignette

Street Biker

Image Credit: Marc Gautier, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I was biking home from work one evening, coming from Downtown Brooklyn, riding down Fulton street to my place in Clinton Hill. Fulton street doesn’t have a bike lane, but generally is pretty ok for riders traffic-wise and for me is a straight shot from the office to my house.

Just before the intersection at Grand street and Fulton, the biker ahead of me, a fairly young and fit maybe early 30’s Latino guy, had a foot slip from one of his petals and lost control a bit. He managed to just stay on the bike, which wobbled and swerved as he braked, but he didn’t regain his balance in time to prevent himself from whacking into the back of a car that was double parked just ahead of him. He wasn’t going really fast as he collided with the car, maybe about 7 or 8 miles an hour, and he hit with his front tire which bounced up and looked like it absorbed most of the impact. He stumbled and staggered, then flopped over in this rag doll sort of way with his bike between his legs as his final bit of momentum dissipated.

Right behind him as this was unfolding, I had slowed down and immediately went over to make sure he was alright. He said he was fine, but was visibly shaken. It was a little bit of a close call – something could have easily gone much more wrong, all things told.

He was regaining his composure and did seem to be generally ok, but as the drivers side door opened of the car he had back ended, a black SUV, I braced a bit for the expected road rage. The woman that stepped out of the car was probably in her early 60s, african-american, wearing a pea coat and a pillbox hat. She felt immediately grandmotherly. She went over, and in a sort of half concerned, half maybe irked way, glanced at the back of her car, but really briefly – almost immediately she had gone over to the biker, and smiled on seeing that we looked alright. She was sweet – she kept on sort of checking in ever after he signaled that he was just shaken but not injured. “Are you sure? You’re really ok?”, as the biker re-affirmed, amidst also being clearly a bit nervous and assuring her that her car was fine. At a certain point she just turned wholly motherly and affectionate – “You be careful, people drive crazy in the city! Do be careful sweetheart.” He kept saying “Yeah, yeah I know I’ve gotta be careful… I should be more careful”, all the while still a little discombobulated and catching his breath.
“Alright, be safe now…” She half started to turn to go back into her car, but then stopped and said “You know what? C’mere. Lemme give you a hug – can I give you a hug?” The guy was still sort of dazed, but opened his arms and embraced her as she just gave him a little squeeze. “You be safe now!” He smiled, and thanked her. She popped back into her car, and he onto his bike, and they rode off, leaving me sort of scratching my head and wondering what the heck just happened, and marveling at the capacity this city has for small moments of beauty.
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Labor Day note: Studs Terkel on America’s Short Memory

Ok, it’s technically past midnight, but I thought I might post a lovely anecdote (of a larger interview) from the great oral historian of the Great Depression, Studs Terkel, as this Labor Day comes to a close. 

“Oh, one quick thing. Before we close, we are suffering what I call a national Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why Bush and Ashcroft [have] no memory of yesterday, as though there were no Depression, as though the free marketeers (I call them marketeer to rhyme with buccaneer) … The free marketeers, during the Great Crash of 1929, fell on their knees and begged the government, “Please help us out.” And so the New Deal helped them out with regulations. And [now] their grandchildren, whose granddaddies begged the government, say, “Too much big government,” when it comes to health, education, and welfare, and not Pentagon. So there’s this loss of memory. The young have been deprived of this. Many young kids are anti-union. 

So here I am — and this is the anecdote — I’m waiting [for a bus]. I talk a lot, as you can gather, and sometimes down the street I go, talking to myself. I find the audience very appreciative. And so they know me at the block. They know I wrote some books. But they also know me as the old gaffer talks to everybody.

So I’m waiting for the bus. But this couple, I cannot reach. There’s a couple, I have to call them yuppies, because they are. Most young people are not. Most young are lost in the world, and wondering what … but these two are. He’s in Brooks Brothers, and he’s got the fresh-minted *Wall Street Journal *under his arm. And she’s a looker. She’s got Bloomingdale, Neiman-Marcus clothes, the latest issue of *Vanity Fair. *But I can’t … they won’t recognize me. My ego was hurt, you know. Everybody knows me! We start talking. The bus this day is late in coming. So I said, “I’m going to make conversation with them.” So I say, “Labor Day’s coming up.” That is the worst thing I could possibly have said. He looks at me. He gave me that look that Noel Coward would give to a speck of dirt on a cuff, and he turns away.

Now I’m really hurt, you know, my ego is hurt. The bus is late in coming. So when I say something, I know it’s going to get them mad. The imp of the perverse has me. And so I’m saying, “Labor Day, we used to march down State Street, UAW-CIO. ‘Which side are you on?’ ‘Solidarity Forever.'” He turns to me and he says, “We despise unions.” And I say [to myself], “Oh, I’ve got a pigeon here — no bus!” Suddenly, I fix him with my glittering eye like the ancient mariner, and I say, “How many hours a day do you work?” And he says, “Eight.” He’s caught! “Eight.”

“How come you don’t work eighteen hours a day? Your great grandparents [did]. You know why? Because in Chicago, back in 1886, four guys got hanged fighting for the eight-hour day — it was the Haymarket affair — for you.” And I’ve got him pinned against the mailbox. He can’t get away, you know. The bus [hasn’t come], and he’s all trembling and she’s scared. She drops the *Vanity Fair. *I pick it up; I’m very gallant. I give her the *Vanity Fair. *No bus. Now I’ve got them pinned. “How many hours of week do you work?” He says, “Forty.” “How come you don’t work eighty hours, ninety hours? Because your grandparents [did], and because men and women got their heads busted fighting for you for the forty-hour week, back in the thirties.”

By this time the bus comes; they rush on. I never saw them again. But I’ll bet you … See, they live in the condominium that faces the bus stop. And I’ll bet you up on the 25th floor, she’s looking out every day, and he says, “Is that old nut still down there?” 

Now, I can’t blame them, because how do they know? Who told them? What do they know about unions? So that’s what I mean about a national Alzheimer’s disease. It’s that aspect.”

Surprise Industries ftw

surprise-logoLast night I went to one of the most delightful and eclectic parties I’ve attended in New York a long time. My friend Tania, whom I’m so glad to have met about a month ago, was launching her new startup, Surprise Industries. The concept is this: for twenty five bucks a pop, they will provide you with a surprise experience that can range anywhere from the absurd-yet-fun to the challenging-yet-rewarding, while always staying true to the mission of providing the unexpected. All you get is a time and place, and the rest is left to fate. (And Tania.)

Fittingly, she threw a surprise party. Basically, everyone invited was told the location, a huge industrial yet posh space in the West Village, but no one was told what they would experience. And Surprise Industries didn’t disappoint. Among the many highlights were an incredible Indian dance performance, a great improv group, an aerial yoga demo, and delicious Ethiopian food followed by flavor tripping for everyone. (Yum!)

Also present at the party was an astrologer giving readings, a henna artist, a face painter, a photographer that took pictures of attendees jumping on trampolines and a whole smattering of other random (and yes, surprising) experiences for the guests to partake in. At a certain point the whole crowd was even invited to join in for a rousing Happy Birthday for one of the attendees, which was quite fun. (I’m pretty sure he was surprised, not often that a group of like 150 strangers sings you happy birthday!)

firebreathing-mayaThe party closed out with a kicker, one of the founders of the startup swallowing and breathing fire. So awesome!

I admire Tania and her co-founders a lot, they’ve got a unique idea and they’re running with it. I think that promoting spontaneity, fun, the unexpected and even the uncomfortable are good things, and I wish Surprise Industries the best of luck as it gets off the ground.

Merry Merriment

chanuka-table-donutWhomever you are, where ever you may be, and whether or not you even celebrate the major holiday in your life around this time of year (if any), I wish you and yours a happy, healthy new year. Make it one of joy and celebration, even in the face of challenges. One of abundance of spirit and of life, even in the face of a world that sometimes seems lacking. Create the world you want this year, with the people you love and the values you hold dear. It’s the only way that world will happen.

Photo of Table Donut taken at Jewltide party in a Brooklyn bar. Sketchy, yes, but somehow festive.

What is “Integral Life”?

Since I shared this blog with the world, a number of people have asked me what exactly “Integral Life” is, and why I chose it as part of this blog’s name. This goes back a bit to college, where my first deep engagement with the contemporary academic fields began.

I attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, in which all of the students had the opportunity (or yoke) of designing their own major. Students were able to form their concentrations through study across all of NYU’s schools and departments, and while some came to the program because they had an esoteric interest but clear direction, others in the program simply had no idea what they wanted to study discipline wise, but wanted the freedom to explore.

I fell into both categories. My fundamental interest in school was this idea I had in my head that there was a certain way that people operated in the world, some principle that governed human behavior that was discoverable if I just delved deep into the question. I jokingly called my major “How People Tick” when describing it to others, though this was always a tongue in cheek way of pointing to what I felt was a much deeper concept.

In pursuing my study of how people ticked, I didn’t really have a good sense of where to begin, so started in the most obvious of places: Psychology. And then I moved onto Sociology. And then to social work. Then Politics. Theology. Mysticism. Quantum Philosophy. Photography. Culinary Arts. International Development. Pretty soon I found myself out of credits and sitting in a Buddhist monastery in India writing my senior paper, though thankfully by that time I’d come to a pretty good sense of what I was looking for.

Continue reading ‘What is “Integral Life”?’

Hello, World.

hello-world

Look ma, I’m on the internet. Not the first time it’s happened, of course, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a dedicated space of my own to share my thoughts and perspectives. Back when I lived in India, I kept the blog Live From Bombay, documenting my time living in that city while working in an NGO and exploring what it meant to be immediately out of college and in a city very far from home.

This, I think, is a little different. I’ve settled down a bit since then, am back in my home town of NYC, and have made what is sure to be a temporarily comfortable little life of work, family and community with a smattering of travels and projects peppered in here and there. And I’ve felt settled long enough that I thought it might be time to start another blog to share some of the insights or random thoughts and experiences that punctuate my life.

I don’t have a full sense of what this blog will be, but for me it starts with the intention to make my presence on the internet a bit more intentional. Beyond that, it’s an experiment, and one which I look forward to sharing with you. Cheers.

Photo by Oskay, licensed under Creative Commons.

Hi there.

Rafi in thailand, smiling

If you're reading this, then you've reached the web log of Rafi Santo. This is my little slice of the internet where I can share my passion (or whatever) with the world.

Research. Meditation. Learning theory. Spirituality. Activism. Cooking. New Media. Pedagogy. Photography. It's all fair game, and will likely coalesce into some unholy mixture thereof. But hey, that's the integral life.

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