Life on the East Coast
Jennifer and I had the great fortune to spend three years living in New Haven, Connecticut, although formulating it like this gives me a moment of pause. The reason for this is that I am not sad that I no longer live there. On the one hand, we met wonderful people and made many friends, saw and did new things, ate more shellfish and lobster than ever before or since, and in general got to know a very different part of the country than the one we call more or less home.
On the other hand, I do not miss living in a city nor raising children in a city where within three hundred yards of our house, the following activities regularly took place: prostitution, drug dealing, assault, burglary, vandalism, and intravenous drug use on playgrounds. Expand the scope a little bit, and I could add mugging, murder, and random shootings. At one point, a dead john surfaced in a car less than a block away from our house (tip: never solicit a hooker when you have a weak heart, and certainly not in the back seat of your car), and in the context of living in New Haven, this was more a source for bemusement than alarm.
Recently, I heard from a friend there (who still works in New Haven, but lives elsewhere) that The Devil’s Gear, my favorite bike shop in New Haven and a candidate for favorite anywhere, was just looted. This had nothing to do with some larger protest or riot getting out of hand, just a bunch of high school kids out for “teen night” at a bar. One can only hope that those who were arrested get punished and are the better for it.
What makes me particularly sad about this senseless act is that The Devil’s Gear is exactly what New Haven needs, a locally owned business that exists to better the community. The owner, Matt Feiner, is by anyone’s definition a mensch, and tries really hard to help out any customer, large or small, rich or poor. Whether he knows it or not, he strongly influenced my behavior on a bike for the better (and I was an experienced cyclist when I met him) and particularly how I behave towards those not on bikes. He is an urban and urbane fellow, whose business deserves nothing but respect, not looting.
Matt sold me my current and much beloved road bike, and when I ride it, I occasionally glance down and see his shop sticker. I feel like a better person for having purchased my bike from a shop that supports cycling as a means to better cities, and to have supported the kind of businessperson we need to have, no matter where we live. New Haven is a rough place, but The Devil’s Gear should be a source of civic pride.