MONSTER TRACK XXIII

My first experience being at Monster Track was years after first becoming aware during the 2007-2008 fixed-gear boom, after years of DC riders going up and coming back with their own stories. There was a call-out for any bands interested in playing at the finish for Monster Track XXI which was organized by Victor "I just want to have a bunch of metal bands playing" Ouma to take place on February 29th, 2020 right before coronavirus pandemic hit NYC big. That day i knew the virus was in the city, i was following this coronavirus stuff in 2019 after coming back from Java and Singapore. This year's was organized by Chris Thomson who has won the event the most times. The instagram said "1pm" at B Side which is a bar at 204 Avenue B. Hours before the sun came up i drove up from Baltimore, showing up at 11am and people working there were mad i was at their door an hour before open. They said the organizers have the place from 1pm to 3pm. At that moment i knew it was a good time to get warmed up and have a pre-ride and free-ride, up to midtown and back. Just wanting to solo ride in Manhattan, the places to see are endless. Took 1st Avenue to 42nd Street then 3rd Avenue up to 91st Street and all the way back down on Lexington Avenue to Gramercy Park, then a quick step over to 22 W 27th Street where a store was selling a lot of phone accessories. After luckily upgrading my smartphone in the past couple weeks i made a point to wait until i was in NYC so i could get the cheapest price on a case and protective glass. So right there i had put in about was 20 kilometres including a couple round-trips of the several-block-distance from B Side to where the car was parked at 133 Avenue C across from the police station at 8th Street. That energetic cycle up to midtown and back could have been little excessive right before i was riding Monster Track for the first time but i needed to ride free and for fun, to break out of my usual zone without the daily interference. Slowly, but surely, the riders showed up. Today was certainly not the coldest day for the end of meteorological winter but i did have to keep my puffy coat on. New York City is colder than DC and Baltimore more so by the wind currents coming in from the ocean than from the latitude which is only a few hundred kilometres. One by one the crowd was finally forming around B Side and the party was starting. First heads i recognized and caught up with were originally from D.C. - John "Bobby" Shackleford and Eduardo who i hadn't seen since before they completed Bobby's Underground Railroad Ride. Bobby gave me a patch for another project he organized SMILES 4 MILES which gets bikes to kids in Baltimore and DC that can't afford them, to say the absolute least. Bobby rode for Washington Express for years, Eduardo worked for City Bikes and developed a 3D-printable aero frame. Squad have been there for a long time. They have a connection to the OGs but are younger than me though not by too much, but the younger heads are hip to them who see the big picture, the empowerment that bicycle support systems bring to people and as green transportation for Earth. Then older promulgators arrived, dudes that worked in the 90s - Victor Ouma, Kurt Boone, Kevin "Squid" Bolger, Takuya Sakamoto.. just some of that 90s generation possibly the more visible but as true New York artists they have big visions. New Yorkers think BIG. Overhearing the long-timers that are supporting their own families, I can only imagine the things that have gone through their head, only imagine their witness of endless angles to the island with the rest of the city. There might have been times leading up to Monster Track where i thought about a strategy for the competition the truth is I had no plan whatsoever - other than making my own moves, how nostalgic it felt just rising out of the Holland Tunnel being in this city for the first time a couple days short of two years. A lot of OGs and it's good that some talk loud, like the OGs back home in DC.

Registration took hours and it really ate away at me standing out in the cold going inside for a little bit where it was way too crowded and people were yelling louder and louder. Chris the organizer didnt show up until well after 3pm but a good party had formed. I was ready to ride for hours until i decided to go to the car to drop off a few things and of course on my return to B Side was when people had already started riding away to where i assume the manifests were going to be handed out. Pulling into Union Square plaza on the 17th street side where Chris shouted at people to get their bikes on the ground and everyone to get against against the wall. Directions were given out rapidamente. Stops could be completed in any order. Manifests turned in without name and spoke card number would be instantly disqualified. P.O.D. = proof of delivery = checkpoint manifest will get at each stop either a signature or a sticker. If no one is at a checkpoint, rider is to stop, take a selfie holding the manifest with the landmark clearly visible. No blurry selfies taken from moving bike. EVERYONE AGAINST THE WALL! Manifests were thrown up into the air and they landed all on one person's bike which might've been instantly forced to be the last to roll out. It was a pure frenzied mob. It looked like around 100 riders. I grabbed my manifest and put down my name and #5, naturally i followed the flash mass which was exiting the square to the northwest at a narrow corner alley created by shocked onlookers and tourists. I was not trying to look at my phone just yet matter of fact i wanted to look at that thing as little as possible. I was not in a rush to drop and crack my new device much less have it run over by 50 bicycles with no brakes. Following the big group the first couple blocks i took a look at the manifest. While i let people ahead of me clog up intersections and clear a path for me i was able to google a couple stops with speech-to-text. Everything looked to be lower parts of Manhattan and made mental notes. One stop was up at 104th Street. Next one i looked up was midtown in the 70s. Generally i don't know shit about where anything is at in this town, i was in the mentality of picking off riders. Mental notes of the highest number, i have to find out if there are any stops further uptown than 104th. It's so much easier to look for things when you are certain of the direction. I wasn't in my worst shape today but my equipment would not be up to par with helping me keep up but more on that later. Zig-zag to 18th Street one-way right into Stuyvesant Cove Park and we arrived at the first checkpoint witnessing a briefly-timed miracle dome of people resembling an oversized rugby scrum, bikers and bikes and one woman sitting on the ground in zen signing away multiple manifests per second. Everyone was patient and my manifest got the scribbled red felt marker circle next to my first completed stop - "16 STUY OVAL - MEZZANINE." Picked bike off the ground and it was off with the mass. Big straightaway up First Avenue ripping it on the way.. all the way.. the 40s.. the 60s.. the high 70s... straight up First Avenue passing all of midtown... all the way... to 97th street then cutting over to the edge of Central Park where bikers were scurrying up a short ramp. Checkpoint worker was one of the long-time G's wearing what i believe is the first Monster Track jersey, putting an orange sticker on my manifest next to "ALBERT BERTEL THORVALDSEN STATUE". Let dude know I was happy to be taking park having drove up from Washington DC and said a couple words about generations looking after the next. Sunglasses looked like the Locs, together with the original MT jersey there was some nostalgic image in my head i had seen online in someone's dump of photos into the metaverse, i just checked the couple Kurt Boone books i have looking for a name or mention next to a photo but no luck with that. At the start Chris said something about putting all the stickers on the reverse/blank side of the manifests, in case the stickers were to fall off? It was the first sticker checkpoint and thought about this while stuffing the piece of paper back into my bag, wondering if i would have to search in every crevice of my stuffed-away puffy coat for the sticker. Most of the checkpoint P.O.D.s would end up being stickers. Down the path from the statue of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and everyone was making the left and going up Fifth Avenue against traffic. Just to state as i write this the 97th Street Transverse was right there which would've put me on the other side of Central Park, going one-way to Amsterdam Avenue which is then one-way to the next checkpoint at 896 Amsterdam right before 104th. That would've been nice. Instead i kept following these idiots thinking.. when are they going to cut over to a one-way going the right direction? This part sucked. Against traffic all the way to Marcus Garvey Park at 120th Street, a useless bike lane popped up at some point in there and pedestrians were not looking despite the bright green paint job. Fucking 120th Street tho! Then over to First Avenue, when they slowed and when i caught to them they just stopped.

"Does anyone actually know where we're going?"

After hearing that i knew i had to get the fuck away from these people that wanted to ride to Harlem for no damn reason. There were a couple close calls for some of them and it was 100% their fault, flying into intersections freezing up and shouting, getting scared. Pulled out my phone across the avenue from them but kept them in my sight as i was sure they would ditch me the second they had a chance. Hi-viz clothing is important to wear when riding bikes in the city, and it also makes a rider easier to follow/lead, but people usually think of fashion more than function. These people exist everywhere, why would there be any less of them here? If you want to *truly* drop someone in one of these things, wearing non-descript clothing can help. People are most alike when they are thinking the least. Punching into Google Maps i looked up stop after stop on the manifest. Everything was south and i was up by 115th. Champion Bicycles is at 104th Street that seemed to be the least south. If a trip back uptown was in my cards so be it but every search result was way south. A young rider saw me looking at the phone and said "Yo 1-0-4" so i was off to the next checkpoint "CHAMPION BICYCLES". This was a nice hill session climbing to the upper Upper West Side. One block away from getting my manifest more passing stares from the Hi-Viz riders, no smiling back in return from them. Weirdos. My head looking back every second trying to figure out which way they were taking but losing visual of them as i got my manifest checked meant i needed to figure out my own way around town 100%. Another sticker this one was one of those tiny bling-bling stickers, colour was pink. The next logical stop for me was "IGGY'S - 10021" helpful reminder of what the zip codes around here look like. Downhill time. South on Columbus then cut over to Central Park West another one-way going my direction. I had Google Maps rolling at this point, a bluetooth speaker would have been a great accessory because i could barely hear the directional voice. 79th Street Transverse dips under Central Park putting me back on Upper East Side. Iggy's is an Irish bar on 2nd Avenue at E 76th Street. Some homies had caught up to me asking for the next checkpoint. I had done my best to calculate this one the way here using what i got, pointing out "666 5TH AVENUE - MESS CENTER" and all of sudden homie knew how to get there, saying all we need to do is keep going straight down Second Ave to 53rd Street and make a right and we will be right there. We did just that, he pulled away on a Colnago. More homies caught up (aka riders actually being cool and working with each other helping each other whether they know each other then or not) bikes than i, so there they went. Up and down the smaller inclines but we hit right back at them.

This 666 checkpoint fucked with a lot of people. The directions took us to busy shopping area, supposedly this building we were looking at was the spot but we could only see commercial fronts like Hollister and UNIQLO... a Citibank.. uhh... ok...First search results of the address looked like the address was carved into the sidewalk or maybe it was metalwork. The Avenue side of the building was short and the Street side was long as hell. 53rd Street went one way west to 6th Avenue which i took to turn onto the one way going back which was 52nd. Circled the building back to Hollister, ZARA, that stupid shit. Nothing. No checkpoint workers and no 666 FIFTH AVE to take a picture of. More riders were showing up and getting stuck. Google maps was putting the ping for the address at the middle of the block on 53rd and that entire side of the street was behind scaffolding with too many people walking in and out of it to just ride my bike right in (without being a complete dick). I stuck my head inside and saw a busy stairwell leading down. This should have been a clue to me but i thought it was an underground shopping mall. When i reached the end of the block the second time a passing rider shouted to me that the checkpoint was in the subway station! They must've pulled up while i was fucking around on the other side of the building. Back into the scaffolding and down those stairs. The checkpoint workers were sitting on the ground with a bunch of tarot cards and candles and trinkets lots of cute pretty innocent stuff and all of my frustration evaporated. Signature was the letter "B" tilted 90 degrees in thin red ink (maybe it was actually a heart). Any time there are stairs going down beneath the street, that is the subway. It's just too expensive for any business in NYC to dig into the bedrock and not have it connected to the subway. Some bullshit that i overheard a messenger say. Next stop was "825 8TH AVENUE - MESS CENTER" and fortunately i got this checkpoint down so i wouldn't have to double-back for no reason. Some young cats stopped me asking where they were signing manifests.

"In da wood?"

"Did you already know that?"

Lots of frustration but i explained i did not know the checkpoint was down there until someone else shouted at me. It's one thing if someone doesn't answer your question because they didn't hear you (or acted) but i was getting a lot of dead stares which triggers a reaction of a smile usually from me, but no further acknowledgement. Seriously fuck these people. They are scared of everything that they don't know, they are scared of being put in their place, and it is just that. If someone is riding with me, I'm working with them. If they catch up to me, I tell them mostly anything they need to know in the hopes that i can ride on their wheel. High-visability people one stop ahead of me kept giving me that cold stare it was annoying at this point and i just hoped i didn't see them again. 825 Eighth Avenue wasn't far at all just a couple blocks. There was a backlit directory in the front which displayed a map of the elliptical walkway encircling the building putting the Messenger Center on the opposite side up and down sets of stairs that required me to cyclo-cross it up. The door was locked and no one answered the buzzer so i took a photo with the manifest, there was a convenient sign that couldn't be argued against. Three more checkpoints on the manifest and they were all on the Lower side:

"FATHER DUFFY SQUARE"

"FATHER DEMO SQUARE"

"60 COLLISTER STREET"

Seventh Avenue was the one-way to take me all the way down to the lowest checkpoints on the manifest, using Broadway to cut down i noticed a pile of track bikes and next thing i know someone is yelling "Checkpoint!" As i was one block away from the last stop i am assuming maybe two checkpoint parties merged into one? Another sticker checkpoint, another bling-bling adhesive stud this one was silver. The station worker also gave me a candy-cane-striped paper clip and said i had to show up to the finish with it. They kept saying i was at 825 8th Ave and after looking back on my ride in the computer this was Father Duffy Square. Whatever. Back on Seventh Street for a nice solo ride to Lower Manhattan super lit up by the screens and commercials and robots, Tesla cabs... 60 Collister Street is near Tribeca and the checkpoint was worked by organizers of the Bicycle Film Festival. Things were finally winding down for me here and it was time to think about getting back to 204 Avenue B for the second manifest. Last stop was Father Demo Square and homie from 666 5th Street caught up to me.

"You go to Father Dee-mo?"

The race started so late i'm sure that had an effect on workers leaving checkpoints early, which was the case here so did the selfie with the manifest thing the fountain or whatever in the middle visible in the background. Manifest complete! The bottom read in smaller text:

"BRING BACK DOLLAR SCRATCHER"

"FINISH AT B SIDE"

There was one person just hanging at Father Demo that was there just to tell people that the checkpoint workers left. They mentioned that 7-Eleven was the best place to get lottery-related merchandise. I searched desperately for a bodega on my way back to Avenue B. First one didn't have them, but i did grab a bottle of a mint chocolate flavour soy drink. 7-Eleven one block away from B Side was out of dollar scratchers, and i thought about picking up the $3 scratcher but my broke ass couldn't do it. None of these bodegas have lottery scratchers and seriously fuck that lottery shit it's the dumbest way to gamble. Time to call it a wrap. No second manifest for me. Chaos walking back inside the bar. Chris was yelling at people for yelling. He was trying to create some kind of orderly line where people patiently form a queue, i was just too tired for that.. i've had 6 to 7 hours of total sleep in the past 48+ hours, i'm keeping this manifest as a keepsake. There were padded benches in the back so i laid out with my sling bag as a pillow and shut out. I woke up a little bit later and was surrounded by homies including buddy that pulled up to me at Iggy's and whose Colnago i followed to 666 5th Street. I definitely got some really deep sleep in at this hour, it was warmer than sleeping in the car at the New Jersey turnpike rest stop. As people shared their stories of the second manifest i was able to analyze all of the things i got completely wrong as someone that wanted to put their all into this ride. I shouldve used a bigger ratio. Over-all my track bike was pretty weak compared to all the lightweight current generation frames... i saw a ton of Skream, a bunch of Aventon, a couple more Throne... i was riding heavy steel Tribe Haka (no brakes of course) and riding it around in its home city was great deed by itself. The wheels i've been riding for almost four years, Origin8 hubs to Weinmanns, Fyxation pedals with Fyxation power-straps. Same crank and bottom bracket that came with the Tribe. Ratio was 44x13. So heavy and not the fastest spinner, the geometry i would equate more with a trick-centric fixie build. No doubt a solid work bike, may i add it is very non descript as to avoid immediate detection from potential thieves, but my only running complete fixed gear build at the moment. It was my first attempt at riding the Monster Track and the most riding i had done in this city.

Let me just tell you a lot of these NYC couriers stand tall i recognize a lot of faces in the many photography books that have bicycle couriers as the subject. That is why i have to be here on the ground and get my own picture of the NYC story so that i can at least attempt to tell some of the DC story, at least from what i've gathered in my experience going on 13+ years. The bicycle messenger, the urban courier what better subject and example of pushing the limits of the real world. They are still out there. It isn't about the money. People always are quick to not think about the possibility a courier work themself up to be more independent with their own clients after years of being fucked over by these savage small-scale trucking companies, and much less just applying that refined tested sharp wit to the bigger stages of industry and politics. Delivery is an/the most essential element of commerce. But this stage here it may seem small but it's clear to everyone about doing what you love, just as much as Paul McCartney and Drake or whoever is worshipped/monetized by likes and follows. More humans are lost to a computer generated metaverse including myself, which isn't really as bad as it sounds as i am returning to the computer more as i turn away from the bicycle courier career, or mentally step up to development and management of my own company or cooperative. My father taught me how to navigate computers, and my focus tended to be more on the creative side mainly music and audio with imaging and video having their own trajectories. Recently the one piece of video entertainment fiction i set out to watch on a streaming service in the past several months was "The Matrix Resurrections" because of the rare fusion of a digital realm we are calling the meta-verse with arena-sized action and awesome music and sound which is just fine for an average non-impressive adrenaline junkie like myself. Riding a bicycle around midtown Manhattan really is a computer, and not just because its a bunch of video displays but there is a human computer. The human computer i know from my mother who was born and raised in Jamaica and moved to Boston to earn degree in civil engineering from MIT. Computers brought my parents together in the early 1980s and tonight office-building-sized screens of LCD light up Broadway and I will think about the discussions and the boardroom meetings and the amount of money spent being a number i cannot even fathom but supposedly there must be some democracy that brought things to be like this because i am enjoying a vision. Growing up this scenery would only be in a movie like Akira or Blade Runner, in a book by a science-fiction or fantasy artist, but people brought it about, of course most people that have to look at it don't have a say, and if they did maybe it was blinded out, but seriously, why would they? Why would we? Capitalism as an adventure, whatever they say on Wall Street in that journal. Now i am one of the little ants running around the floor of the island at the center of the world. Cyborg ants creating a hyper-intelligent constellation, the hyper-emotional population in the middle of a hyper-experiment of hyper-advertising. This place reminds me of January 6th, 2021 which i look at as one of these new digiterrestrial hyper-experiments - huge crowd thousands of people simultaneously filming video and being GPS tracked, like a Starlink of obese men, one giant amorpheus super computer and if they were all just mining crypto-currency for someone in China or Russia while they were at it i would not be surprised. Not that they would know about it... i have PTSD from passing the U.S. Capitol that evening on my way to deliver CBD pens. Reasons like that why i moved back from Denver after working out there. It was a battle to give up looking at snow-capped mountains everyday, but when Trump became president i had a feeling i could be having some interesting experiences back home.. and i could be closer to a place like NYC which i've been visiting now and then for my entire life, early on to visit family and later on playing gigs as a musician. Williamsburg, Brooklyn was host for the North American Cycle Courier Championship (NACCC) in 2016 so i signed up online from Denver immediately after dates were announced and registration opened, i was looking forward very much so but i was working for Confluence Courier Collective who told me i had to stay and work while everyone that registered after me flew to New York after being self-described "bicycle courier" for a year or less. They were couriers sometimes but they were more interested in being little bosses and meeting up for coffee every morning to brag amongst themselves and unfortunate adults around them about how great it is to manage a start-up. They flew on jet planes so i had to cancel my cross-country drive with my bikes and told my family members i wasn't able to visit them. When the guys flew back i heard that a bunch of messengers came up from DC and it was so cool without me! Twinjet courier software, there are companies out there that know how to use it right. I totally understand why there are all-women all-queer companies and i bet they are awesome to work for because let me tell you a lot of these self-described "men" really can't step out of the middle school skateboarder mindset. But yo.. Monster Track! That's why I'm here cuz i put up with so much BULLSHIT and when is it ever going to stop? I can't just go around to all these guys and say what's up, dudes have been looking at me mad skeptical side of their eye type shit listening in to what i'm saying and i respect that. Next time i come through i will holler at faces that i recognize now and will recognize more another day.

There was a documentary playing on the tele in the back of B Side, about the history of the Isle of Man time time trial up until the modern area. It was a good watch as i sobered up to ride back to the car, then passed out inside. Woke up to Manhattan in the early morning light, streets empty save for tall stacks of trash. Back to Maryland, and later back to DC.

PAUL JOYNER
01/MARCH/2022