One Wheel, Two Towers

Greetings. I don’t come around that often, but I’ve been given the opportunity to do a little writing. Mr Beller’s Neighborhood is a site devoted to presenting bits and pieces about New York and New Yorkers by New Yorkers, professional writers and non-writers alike. I fall solidly in the latter category but have written something about my early days, in part about learning to unicycle and my inspiration.

One Wheel, Two Towers from Mr Beller’s Neighborhood.



Thanks for sharing with us,


Great story! Mixing the events of your youth with interesting and gritty details about the world at the time, and the city you lived in. I feel it needs this picture tossed in.

I first went to NYC in 1978, on a trip with my dad. I had recently gotten my Learners Permit (pre-drivers license) and did a bunch of the driving on that trip. We arrived to check out the Twin Towers early one morning, probably on a weekend, because we found a street parking spot right at the property. One unique thing I remember about those towers was their sheer verticality. You could stand at the base of either tower and it was absolutely vertical, almost to the top! Looking up at one of the corners, where were angled, it looked like a silver highway going into the sky.

It seems ironic to me that a person growing up in Manhattan would have a fear of tall buildings. Or maybe it’s more common among people that live near them? I always lived in the suburbs. Do you ever go up in the tall buildings? 30 Rockefeller Center is pretty tall on its own, but your job there was probably on a low floor, right? :slight_smile:

Photo: Riding at the WTC Observation Deck (108th floor), April, 1986

Nice photo, John. I did not include this tidbit in the piece, but the New York Times security used to let me take my unicycle up to the newsroom when I delivered photos there. The staff on the floor never said boo or even seemed to notice it. The Daily New security would not and I’d have to leave it in the lobby. Are you still allowed to bring your uni with you when you visit touristy sites?

I get very anxious around exposed heights. Looking up at tall buildings from close up induces a kind of temporary panic. Those pictures of unicyclists riding along precipices really make me anxious. I have suffered from vertigo at times, so perhaps it is related. My daughter used to love the parachute ride at some amusement parks. I’d force myself to go on with her if it was just us two, but if my wife was there too, she’d do the honors.

I’d say it was just bad luck more than irony. I imagine there are kids born on farms in Plains, Georgia allergic to peanuts. :->

Not really. Mostly I don’t try, because if they say no you have find a place to stick them. On that day, I had been traveling around the city with Tom Miller and a friend he brought from Indiana. After taking a picture with actor Richard Thomas in Central Park (on our unicycles), we made our way downtown to the WTC after dark. Three people with four unicycles (no car). We didn’t have a choice, so just walked in. It was off season, and a slow night up there. Nobody said anything, and we respectfully did our little bit of riding on the emptiest part of the floor.

While I have had permission to ride unicycles in some interesting places,

  • Bloomingdales, on my 6-footer, down jewelery aisles and everyting!
  • During Orientation at Manhattanville College
  • In a brand new supermarket during its grand opening (juggling cantaloupes)
  • In the WTC hotel for a Christmas show (parked in the underground garage that was later destroyed in the 1993 bombing)
Those were for work. A couple of other interesting places were as a result of being in bike tours. I got to ride all the way across/through:
  • Brooklyn Battery Tunnel
  • 59th St. Bridge
  • Holland Tunnel
  • Verrazano Bridge
Asking nicely helps, but usually it's a yes or no based on the opinion of the person in charge. They don't want to get in trouble.

The most interesting place I’ve ridden is along the same halls that Claude Shannon sometimes rode. But my own cube is in the same complex. (He never had to put up with cubes).

thank you … about the Philippe Petit story !

As I have told you before when Philippe started to perform his tricks in Paris (that was around 1970) with my friend Pierre we played music while he tried small tightrope tricks with a rope between two trees in front of Paris “Bistrots” (mostly in Montparnasse) . Pierre (nicknamed “petit Pierre”) played the cornet and I was playing the euphonium.

As Philippe was timid he also performed some tricks with cigarettes when we drank in these “bistrots” (this was his way to meet people).
and once, at night, he went juggling with flames (that was for a girl that inhabited a high rise building: the effect was funny!).

Once we were summoned to a police station (because we played music in early morning) and Philippe declared to the police officer that he was a pickpocket.
officer: “stop kidding please!”
Philippe: “not at all: here is your watch!”

I woud gladly meet with Philippe again … (but do not know how).

Je me souviens vos histoires. Petit habite maintenant en New York autour du fleuve Hudson. Je ne sais pas quelle ville. Je rêve de lui se rencontrer moi-meme.

Well if someone comes across Philippe Petit he should say Hello from Bear (the euphonium player from the “fanfare des architectes du Montparnasse” … I still play with the same band -though I play the flügelhorn now and the name of the band has benn changed to “à boire ou je tue le chien”- but my hair and my moustache are no longer dark brown :o) )