Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
ride_to_nowhere.jpg

This weekend's City section of the New York Times featured a
mind-blowing essay by children's-book writer Sarah Shey about her habit
of taking her one-year-old son out for drives in the city -- drives
with no destination or purpose in mind, in which she crossed and
recrossed the Brooklyn Bridge endless times.

Shey, who is
originally from Iowa, writes that she missed "the pristine geometry of
vacant blacktops, where a car can travel at
least mile a minute, stair-stepping from field to unclothed field and
not meet a patrol car." So she decided to try to recreate her family's
bygone post-supper aimless-driving ritual here in the big city. You
really have to read the whole thing to believe it, but here are some highlights:

Supperhour didn't work for us in Brooklyn. We had both traffic patterns andmy son's schedule to consider. So early Saturday morning it was. Myson and I got to escape our cavelike apartment. My husband got tolounge in bed for a few extra hours. And the best part of the deal: I got to concentrate on the road - not, for a change, on my family.

Our nondestination of choice was the Brooklyn Bridge. Back and forth we'd drive - sometimes 10 or 12 times - as if we were on autopilot.I leaned back into the bucket seat of my hatchback, whose posturerecalled a dromedary. My hand squeezed the automatic clutch as if itwere a stick shift, and for the first time in a week I felt in control.

My destiny was clear: to span the East River. Thegreen light flashed above Tillary Street. I smashed down theaccelerator, and with its 130-horsepower engine, my car attacked the1.5-mile route with exhaust streaking behind us, I imagined, like acontrail.

Shey discovers a few little hitches in her unfettered freedom, like traffic regulations:

Forthe first couple of times, I took the Manhattan-bound Chambers Streetexit, ignoring the "No Turns" sign, and spun around as soon as I passedthe triangular traffic divider, a risky maneuver. I didn't want to makethat a habit; I was well acquainted with the New York PoliceDepartment. Once, on Tillary Street, opposite Brooklyn's main postoffice, I got pulled over by a police officer. He had found fault withmy decision to circumvent a backlogged entrance to the Brooklyn Bridgeby cutting across two lanes of traffic while waving my arm out thewindow. I pushed open my door.

"Ma'am, stay in your car," the officer said. "Do you realize what I pulled you over for?"

"Gosh, I know I did something terribly wrong, sir. It felt terribly wrong."

He looked into my eyes. "Ma'am, among other things, you ran a red light. " I'll let you off with a warning.

"Oh, thank you, sir. It's a very confusing approach. I'll do a better job next time."

Luck wouldn't always be on my side. It was time to find a legal route.

Luck
was indeed with Shey, and the hapless pedestrians and bicyclists
cluttering the streets she felt called to zoom down, unhampered by
silly conventions like traffic lights and lane markings. Not because
she didn't get a ticket, but because she didn't injure anyone as her
car "attacked" her chosen route.

It apparently never
occurred to her that she might need to create a new family ritual for
Saturday mornings, one more suited to life in New York -- like, say,
going for a walk. For Shey, evidently, standing on her own two feet
doesn't afford as much freedom as burning oil on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo: Todd Heisler for the New York Times

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Thursday’s Headlines: Paris is a Lot Cooler than NYC Edition

The City of Light has figured out how to reduce the heat island effect. Plus other news in today's daily digest.

July 18, 2024

Exclusive: Legal Team Announced for Suit Against Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Attorneys from three firms have inked a joint defense agreement to fight "the governor’s illegal decision to cancel congestion pricing," Comptroller Brad Lander said.

July 17, 2024

Brooklyn BP Wants Mayor Adams To Do More To Reduce Parking

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso's recommendation on City of Yes: Eliminating parking mandates is not enough!

July 17, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines: Citi Bike By the Numbers Edition

Haters of Citi Bike are really going to detest the new website. Plus other news.

July 17, 2024

Once Again, There is More Evidence that Safer Streets Help Local Business

...and there's more insight into why people simply don't believe it.

July 17, 2024
See all posts