In the movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray finds himself locked in time, repeating the same day over and over again, thousands of times, until he’s finally learned his lessons and has opened his heart to love. He sees the same people and encounters the same circumstances, gradually learning that he cannot change them; he can only change his actions, his reactions, and the choices he makes in dealing with what comes his way. He recalls every repeat of the day, while the people he encounters are only experiencing this day for the very first time.
Every day I bike to my day job on 34th Street and Ninth Avenue, starting from my apartment on West 168th Street. I leave the house at approximately the same time each day, biking along Broadway, then turning right onto 158th Street, and biking down a significantly steep hill, past the two Riverside Drives (an anomaly of city planning), then to the ramp that takes me to the entrance to the Greenway, a highway of sorts for cyclists. skaters, walkers and runners. Wending my way past the open fields near the Hudson River Sewage Treatment Plan, then the Harlem Fairway, I enter the Cherry Walk. The Cherry Walk is unlike any other part of the Greenway. This section has no lighting at night, is lined with various trees, including cherry trees, and winds a curvy path along the Hudson River, only a few feet from the water to the west, and only a few feet from the West Side Highway to the east. There are geese that make their habitat along various parts of this section, and on turbulent days, the river water will splash hard against the rocks, more like an ocean. There are, throughout this section, secret sculptures made of driftwood. The sculptures are often just pieces of driftwood fastened or arranged together. I’ve seen the artist, a fellow who bikes around his driftwood and goes to work. I once even helped him right his cargo wagon that was attached to his bike, after a wheel broke and the entire thing tumbled over.
It’s usually in the first quarter mile of this ride that the first of my “regulars” appears. An attractive woman, thin, with a face that reminds me a bit of Meryl Streep, with straw-colored hair and no helmet, rides her bike just about every single day in the opposite direction of mine. The first thing I ever noticed about her was the blue basket attached to the front of her bike. I’d always smile at her, and she would either ignore me or give me what seemed like a dirty look. She wasn’t there to connect with anyone. She would always ride slowly but with purpose. I’d usually see her again, hours later, on the way home. We’ve never once traveled in the same direction.
I usually, but not always, see my next “regular” within a half-mile of the blue basket lady. A gray-bearded, big bear of a man, with a black Brompton. I have the habit of always “dinging” a passing Brompton with a single ding of the little bell on the handlebars. I feel it should be like a special salute to other members of our exclusive club, kind of like “the nod” that young black men like to give each other, the nod that says, “Hey brother, I recognize you because you look like me, and I’ve got your back.” Sometimes Brompton owners “get it” and ding me back. For the longest time, Bearded Brompton did not get it. He’d usually not look at me, or wonder why I was dinging him. After many consecutive days, however, he realized that hey, we’re both Brompton owners, and we should salute each other. Again, this “regular” is always going in the opposite direction from me. I’ve run into him all over the Greenway, at various times, and almost always see each other in both the morning and the night. We’ve never shared a word, but only the occasional smile. For about a week, he rode without a helmet, revealing a surprising full head of thick hair, a dashing figure under that helmet, though I’d never have guessed it.
Finally, there’s Fast-Walking Older Lady, a woman I’d estimate to be in her mid-to-late 60’s. She’s petite, with a cute figure and silver/blonde hair. She’s not unattractive, though she’s seen better days. For quite some time, she always wore a ghee, a karate outfit, and would always walk in a determined manner, never allowing her eyes to connect with anyone. Unlike my first two regulars, this one sometimes walks in the same direction that I am going, though more often than not, she’s walking towards me. Also unlike the other two, I generally see her only once a day, in the morning.
I sometimes would see my “regulars” all in a row, within minutes. Sometimes I’d just think, “Where’s Bearded Brompton Guy today?”
There was also a fourth, Red Kerchief Lady. I usually would see her going southbound on the Greenway after work as I rode north. She never wears a helmet, but always wears a red kerchief, red lipstick, and a scowl. My smile has never been returned with anything but an angry scowl. Still, I had made up a song in my mind for a while, “The Lady With The Red Kerchief,” but I never finished it. She now rarely appears in my Groundhog Day.
For a period of nearly a year, Fast-Walking Older Lady disappeared. I stopped seeing her on my trip. The funny thing is, I missed her. Worse, I was worried about her. I made up stories about her in my head – she walked every day because she was recovering from a stroke or a heart attack, and she’s not longer here because it happened again. She’s dead, Jim. Or maybe she got tired of the cold and moved to Florida.
Last month, she reappeared. I was oddly elated and relieved. Finally, one morning as I was passing her, I slowed down, and said to her, “You know, I don’t know you, but I was very worried about you, because I saw you every day, and when I didn’t see you, I was quite concerned.” She responded, “That’s so nice to hear, thank you so much. I was away for awhile, but I’m back now.” I still didn’t get her name. But the next day, I said hello to Blue Basket. She said hello back. We now wave or say hi to each other. My little community of nameless people in my Groundhog Day.
So what’s the lesson here? How many of us go through our lives, seeing the same people every day, yet never acknowledge their existence? Do you notice these people who ride the bus with you, shop at the same supermarket, or simply walk past you on a daily basis? These people are part of your Groundhog Day. They’re like some odd extras from Central Casting. So here’s my challenge. Start to notice the people who are around you on a daily basis, but with whom you have never had any contact. Smile, wave, or say hello to them. An even bigger challenge? Introduce yourself. “Hi, I see you every day, and I have no idea who you are, so I thought I should finally introduce myself.” Let me know what kind of response you get!
I’m thinking I should invite my regulars to lunch.