Stop 1: Brooklyn Bridge
The first half of the route is all up-hill. No matter how hard I peddle, my pace is slow and labored. I am breathing hard and fighting the voice in my head, the Resistance that matches the incline of the bridge. At the half-way point, Papi and I both stop for pictures and to take in the view. He FaceTimes his father in the Dominican Republic so Papá can also enjoy the grandness of the suspension bridge over the East River.
The second half of the bridge is all down-hill. Papi warns me to keep my hands on the breaks. He reminds me of the danger of going too fast, even when it feels good. Even when I want to fly with the decline because one pebble, one hollow-hole or swell on the surface could send me flying off my bike. I listen because over the years, I have learned the hard way that my dad is usually right about things like this.
When we get to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, we decide to attempt the almost 12-mile ride home. We figure the worst that can happen is that we get tired and have to hop on the closest train. We’ve never been ones to back down from a challenge.
There is no rush, an uncommon phenomenon for both of us. Two people who keep their schedules busy with work, service, and family. We make our way back to Queens, stopping along the way to observe, talk, and document our journey.
Stop 2: Walt Whitman Park
Here, we sit in the grass for a few minutes breathing in the fresh air before Papi’s eyes land on the tree to our left. An elderly white gentleman has just finished a set of pull-ups on the tree, and I look at Papi, the challenge waiting at the tip of my tongue.
“Think you can still do that?” I ask him.
“Only one way to find out” he answers, standing up from his spot on the grass.
Stop 3: Domino Park
Here, Papi tells me how he loves the water. I take pictures of him with the city skyline as his backdrop.
Stop 4: Greenpoint Avenue Bridge
Here, Papi smiles and points to the ferry that is making its way through the opening the drawbridge has created. He is not bothered by the unplanned break. He takes pictures and waits patiently for the signal that we can start riding again.
Stop 5: Cumbia Sabor (Sunnyside, Queens)
Here, Papi sips his coffee and starts to tell me how much time he spent with trees in his childhood. When he wasn’t climbing them, he was being tied to them in an attempt to keep him out of trouble. He tells me about the one time he set a mango tree on fire, just because.
He laughs with his entire body when he recounts the bit about the mango tee.
He shares that the best memories he has of his own father were when they used to grab a guitar and a bible and head to the hospital to encourage the sick in Bonao. He tells me how, when he retires, he wants to go back to this practice. He wants to spend time with the people who are almost always forgotten: the homeless, the sick, and the disenfranchised.
“I know you want to know these things. You want to write them, and I want to tell you,” Papi says as we take turns talking during our second breakfast.
Stop 6: Home
Here, Papi lifts both hands in the air like the champion he is. We both shower and take much-needed naps.
Before heading out to dinner, he grabs the Kathy Khang book I lent him. “I know I probably won’t have time to read, but I hate to be without a book when I’m out,” he says. I shine a knowing smile.
Stop 7: Black Tap Craft Burger & Beer
Here, Papi indulges. I do too. I am my father’s daughter, after all.
Stop 8: The Lion King (on Broadway)
Here, Papi kind of gasp smiles when I tell him that we are going to see the Broadway show and not the new movie. This experience has been on his bucket for as long as I can remember.
We sit down in our Orchestra seats, and I cannot stop the tears from flowing. My father looks at me and stretches his arm over my shoulder to pull me in for a hug. I inhale a mixture of his hair-spray and cologne. “I’m just so happy right now,” I tell him. “I’ve wanted to take you here for years.” He doesn’t say anything, but I notice when he lifts his glasses and dabs at both his eyes.
As I write this, I am listening to the Lion King’s “He Lives in You” and thinking about the legacy my father has passed on to me. There is no mountain too high when I am reminded of who I am and why I’m here.
Tremenda. Primogenita. Daughter of Giovanni Sánchez, the sweet-toothed storyteller, trouble-maker, and servant of the Most High.
Happy birthday Papi. I pray to shine a light in the world that is as bright as the one you’ve shown me.