Living in New York City circa 1979-1980 was a test of fortitude, not the least of which involved the rats. The rat harvest was plentiful that year because of a tugboat strike, which stranded the city’s garbage, which piled up on the streets because the tugs weren’t moving to haul it to Staten Island. Then the New York City Opera shut down when contract negotiations with the musicians stalled and while that didn’t devolve into rodent anarchy, it was a disappointment to opera fans. When 1979 spilled into 1980, the city’s transit workers went on strike.
All of this made it a great time to be a journalism student there. We covered these stories. Both Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama came to visit the city that fall and we covered them, too, and that was exciting, but the real drama for me was the 1980 transit strike. That’s when I learned that with beshert, the only difference between “cosmic” and “comic” is an S.
With the subways and buses parked like the garbage, we had to find other ways to traverse the city. Nobody had a car; we were students. We couldn’t afford taxis. You lived in New York, you took public transportation.
So, bicycle. I’d been too afraid to ride mine in city traffic. I used to walk it to Central Park to ride it. But I had a feature to report, so I tried to stay calm long enough to sail from the Upper West Side to East 62nd Street. It was a long ride, as far east as you could pedal without ramping onto the FDR Drive.
The morning traffic was terrifying. I was riding way too slowly for the city flow. That turned out to be lucky because just as I got where I was going, a vehicle sideswiped me on my left and I fell onto the sidewalk as gently as could be expected. My jeans were ripped, my right knee was bleeding and scratches from the concrete criss-crossed my legs through the shredded denim.
The beshert in this was that I was on my way to a hospital to interview some doctors. Only it was a veterinary hospital. They took me right away and patched me up in the ER while a St. Bernard underwent liver surgery in a nearby glass-walled room. I know because I asked. They were very nice there and nobody tried to restrain me by the scruff of my neck.
I don’t remember how I got home. I probably walked the bike back across Manhattan and up 46 blocks, where it was stolen some months later. That was probably beshert, too; I clearly couldn’t be trusted with spoked wheels there. And, anyway, the subways and buses were back in action. So were the tugboat workers and musicians.
I want to thank New York’s Animal Medical Center here for that lesson about the S in “cosmic.” Beshert sometimes cracks me up.
Pam Janis is Moment Magazine‘s Beshert editor and the author of Thank You, Everyone: A Lifetime of Gratitude in Letters. She also writes speeches and ghostwrites books. She lives in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter @pamjanis3.