Happy Three Kings Day, everyone! For most of us, the holiday season starts the day after Halloween (whether we like it or not) and ends the day after the day after New Year’s (to sleep off that hangover). Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Agnostics and all others can agree that throughout our exhaustively commercialized culture, the season really starts when those Holiday colors hit the window displays, and don’t end until we pull out our hair, screaming for mercy. However, for a large part of our city’s Hispanic residents – 27% out of 8 million, according to the 2000 census – the most important holiday of them all is the Festival of the Three Kings. Predominately significant to the Caribbean countries and fellow member states, like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Greater Latin America and even Mexico, the holiday, falling shortly after the new year, celebrates the Epiphany when the Three Magi / Wise Men / Kings delivered gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus.
That was back then. Now, we had two major celebrations one weekend apart: Manhattan had their party on Friday and we Brooklynites rocked out on Sunday. East Harlem’s parade started at El Museo del Barrio on Upper Fifth Avenue, and ours took off from under the BQE along Graham Ave in Williamsburg. As shouldn’t surprise a soul, the party in the city was slightly more subdued: live camels, sheep and goats, children dressed up in colorful costumes, and many a festive float. Brooklyn had all that and a plate of arroz con frijoles – Hot 97 provided massive thumping speakers as well as sponsored the dozen or so classic cars from half a century ago – Cadillacs, Chevys, Fords, all gleaming and gorgeous. Along with the beautiful 4-wheelers, the Brooklyn celebration of Three Kings Day was accompanied by the Classic Riders — a group of Nuyoricans who take their love for classic Americana bicycles to a healthy, if astonishingly obsessive level.
These bikes are exquisitely maintained. From glittering spoke wheels to detailed kickstand, to chrome inlaid chain guard, to stainless steel skull icon on the pump-action pressurized air horn, these bikes define the term “tricked out.” But it’s not bling for bling’s sake. All the riders want to do is show off their love for bicycling. In a city like this one, that’s hardly an easy feat. Roberto, one of the leaders of the loosely defined “gang” (although they do sport matching leather vests with a classic Schwinn cruiser embossed on the back) told me how much fun it is to ride around the city with his posse. (I couldn’t make out most of his words, it was the end of the night and he was pretty sauced.) A gentleman in his 60s, refined and dignified, with deep lines cross-hatching his face and smooth grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, Roberto threw his arm across my shoulder, standing outside the one-room social club the Riders maintain, out in East Bushwick by the elevated trains. What he said, I couldn’t translate. Not one word. But he said it with conviction and defiance. Possibly about riding bicycles in a city so congested with cars and exhaust pipes. Possibly about doing what you love, and loving what you do, and letting the whole world know about it. Possibly about not being shy or quiet about who you are and who your friends are. The Classic Riders do this everyday, on their tricks about town. They make people smile and laugh and wave and cheer, and embody the real gift of the Three Kings —the gift of joy.