My Experience as a Tourist d’Utica
September 13th 2012 · 0 Comments
Over the weekend, I was able to participate in the 4th Tour d’Utica, a bicycle-riding event to encourage greater two-wheeler ridership in Central New York, to also promote and encourage local investment within our community, and also to raise donations and awareness for the Rescue Mission on Rutger Street. The Tour was sponsored by Utica Velo, Utica Transportation, Mohawk Valley Food Action, CNY BAP, The Dev, Bagel Grove, Rust2Green, the Rotary Club, MVBC, and Mindfunk Studios. All told there were about 45 ride shepherds and participants.
I must disclose that I am a neophyte bicyclist, having only been riding intermittently in my 40+ years of having learned on the old training wheels transitioning through those easy rides to school during junior high and high school, right up to my rickety performance this past weekend. I’m not complaining, and I was quite grateful to other participants, most notably Victor from Utica Transportation and Elroy Heseltine of Utica Velo, who gave me much needed pointers.
The route began at the Rescue Mission, and from there, we rode to the Linwood Place Community Garden which is maintained by For the Good, Inc. Hilde Lowenstein was on hand to speak about the efforts by local gardeners to sow, nurture and harvest produce right in their own neighborhoods. (For the Good, Inc. also manages gardens at Mohawk on Jay Street, as well as on Noyes Street near Lenox.)
From there, the cyclists made the longest length of the journey, bicycling over to Napoli Bakery on Culver Street, which had a tomato pies available for us to nosh on. The cyclists were pleased with the pizza, but since I am on a restricted food plan, I got some of their antipasti, sun-dried tomatoes (oo-la-la, slurp, slurp!), and a container of Kalamata olives.
Along the way to the next venue, Café Europa, we attracted the attention of residents who were outside enjoying some time with neighbors before the impending rain storm. It was on this stretch of the road where I got to talking with Lauren Eadline of CNY BAP, which is another bicycling enthusiast group. We spoke about a few different initiatives that are bubbling up in and around Utica, and a bit of the history of different ventures that have started up over the years and which ones were still around, etc.
At Café Europa, the staff treated us to breaded chicken sandwiches and libations. Again, we were all well-treated. I must admit I got a kick from seeing their paper menus which were not only in English but in Bosnian. I am filing this place in my mental database as a place to return to again, with its festive and Old World charm. I also got a chance to talk with Tour d’Utica organizer John Ossowski about how the event had come together, as well as a common interest in the Transition Town movement, and its potential as a model for Utica’s future.
“Cycling in Utica ….”
From Europa, we cycled over to the Oneida County Public Market, which evidently will end its 2012 season in just a couple of weeks. While there, a bagpiper was on hand to play “Happy Birthday” to cyclist Savannah. We got a chance to walk around the Market and to purchase any fresh produce that we wished. I did buy some carrots and tomatoes there, as well as some coffee from Utica Coffee Roasters, which had its table right by the entertainment. I had the chance to applaud the duo playing, when they performed Adele’s “Someone Like You,” a song I’ve come to love.
We cycled next past the bricks-and-mortar version of Utica Coffee Roasters, where Frank Elias spoke to us about his establishment, and also owner Chris Talgo of the neighboring Tailor and the Cook, who spoke of the restaurant’s support of local farmers. The restaurant purchases its produce locally.
Next on the tour was Zeina’s Café on Varick Street. The Lebanese restaurant was packed with its Saturday clientele, and Albert Zeina spoke to us about his support of the bicyclists in the region.
At this point, the weather was beginning to threaten, and we hurriedly pedaled over to the last stop on the Tour, which was Pulaski’s Meat Market at 1201 Lenox. We pulled up and set our bikes where we may, and were treated to a sampling of various meats they had on hand. I found the Ham-Kielbasa particularly tasty. I loved wandering around the store, looking at the various grocery items they had on sale as well as being quite curious about their homemade sauerkraut. One pleasant surprise was that they sold a Polish-brand rice cake package.
The impending rain was now becoming a fact of rain, and it started to come down rather heavily. All told, we only lost one cyclist during the course of the Tour, to a work obligation, and the bulk of us pedaled back toward Varick, and then up Court Street toward the Rescue Mission again. My awkward cycling, and unsure shifting of gears improved during the course of my short ride, and I was quite gratified. The Rescue Mission had a soup available as well as more pizza for those who could indulge. Debi Kenyon spoke to us about the campus and its programs, and also served to draw the winning tickets for the raffle.
The rain continued intermittently through the after-ride festivities and one-by-one the cyclists drifted away. All told, I was quite grateful for this opportunity to get to know Utica better, as the fresh pup that I am, and to meet some good folks along the way.