Calamity and the gossip columnist


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Michael Musto was knocked down and badly hurt by a “crazed cyclist.” Now he can’t wait to ride his own bike again


Photos



  • Famed gossip columnist and nightlife chronicler Michael Musto in a familiar pose, riding what he calls his "girl's bike" down Lexington Avenue in the East 20s. Photo: Streetfilms “Il Ciclista Dolce: Michael Musto” screen shot   




  • Bill Cunningham (with omnipresent bike) at the opening of the "Facades" exhibition at the New-York Historical Society in 2014. Photo: Don Pollard 




  • New York Post columnist Murray Kempton put down his bicycle and picked up his typewriter in this 1964 photo, which ran in the long-defunct New York World-Telegram & Sun. Photo: Al Ravenna / World-Telegram & Sun, via Library of Congress



Michael Musto has rather strong opinions about public transportation: “I hate subways! I hate cabs! I hate Ubers!” he says. “I don’t want to get stuck in traffic. I don’t want to be late for any of my appointments.”

He never is. For more than three decades, the downtown icon, nightlife columnist, celebrity chronicler and pop-culture fixture has scooted off to screenings, shows, premieres and nightclubs on his trusty bicycle.

“It’s a wonderful way to see how the city is evolving — to see it up close and personal in a way that is true,” says Musto, a pioneer of the Out movement as one of the city’s first openly gay gossip columnists.

That makes the former Village Voice mainstay — he penned “La Dolce Musto” from 1984 until 2013, when he was, unaccountably, laid off — heir to a grand, if eccentric, newspaper tradition whose practitioners used to be called “cycling scribes.”

Think New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham snapping women from the back of his Biria at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, a corner that now bears his name. Or New York Post columnist Murray Kempton gadding about the Upper West Side on his battered three-speed — and, rarity of rarities, stopping at every single red light.

Both Cunningham and Kempton had their share of spills and mishaps. So has Musto. Unfortunately, his most recent excursion nearly ended in tragedy. It resulted in two bad fractures. Excruciating pain. Surgery. A five-day hospital stay. And a recuperation that’s expected to last weeks.

Happily, that’s not enough to scare him off the streets. Already, he says, he’s counting “the seconds” until he can remount.

“I’m not afraid,” he says. “They’re not going to get to me!” A beloved if scratched-up, no-frills conveyance awaits his recovery: “It’s used. It’s cheap. Just $125 at Kmart. Basically, it’s a girl’s bike,” he says.

As usual, Musto was on board when the accident took place. It was the evening of June 19, and it began in typical fashion when he pedaled to midtown for an 8 p.m. screening of “Okja,” a South Korean film about corporate villainy, multinational agribusiness and an elephant-sized pig.

He wasn’t in love with it. Afterwards, the 61-year-old journalist steered himself down Lexington Avenue toward his home in Murray Hill. It was rainy, he was approaching East 46th Street, near the northwest corner, and then ...

Well, let Musto take over the storytelling since that’s what he does for a living: He now writes a column for Out.com — “Musto! The Musical!” — and another for Papermag.com, where he recently denounced, “The 10 Most Horrible Kinds of People in New York Nightlife.”

“I was riding my bike, slowly and carefully, and then, suddenly, out of the blue, someone, a crazed cyclist, came out of nowhere and smashed into me,” Musto recounts. “I went flying ... the pain was agonizing.”

He believes the errant rider was “breaking all the rules” and may have been riding northbound against traffic on southbound Lexington Avenue. But it all happened so fast that he can’t be certain.

What he does know is that the bicyclist paused ever so briefly, leaned toward him on the street, where he lay helpless, unable to stand up, trying to put on a shoe that came off, and muttered something like, “Sorry, sir.”

The memory of the moment is a little hazy due to the pain, but Musto believes the perpetrator sped away. “I was in no shape to do anything retaliatory,” he says.

The crash also brought out the best in New Yorkers.

A Good Samaritan eyewitness helped him hop into a cab and traveled with him to make sure he got home safely. She simply “wanted to help someone in need,” he said. “She was a wonderful woman,” he added. “A gem.”

What happened next was pure coincidence. But the kind that could only happen to Musto. It turns out that Carson Kressley, a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the former fashion-savvy style expert on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” was visiting friends in his building.

Kressley had been one of the “Fab Five” on “Queer Eye,” and when he spotted Musto hobbling in, he sprang up to assist, getting him first into the building and then into his apartment, later applying an ice pack to his foot and leg.

Why go home at all? Why not head straight to the nearest emergency room? “I’ve been hit before,” Musto explained. “Sometimes, you just lay down and hope against hope you will heal. This time, I didn’t heal.”

The next day, June 20, he went to a local medical center, learned he had broken both his left leg and ankle and was transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he had an operation on June 21 and stayed for five nights.

How did he like the food and accommodations? “It was like a four-star hotel,” he says. Now, Musto can be a pretty caustic critic, but he can be lavish in his praise, too, and Lenox Hill, where he had a room to himself, scored rave reviews.

“It was posh and delightful,” he said. “You can order meals in advance. And they have this buzzer for help where you can buzz at 11 at night for cookies.” The most memorable hospital food? Baked whitefish.

Musto was released on June 25, the Sunday of the Pride parade, which he always observes but had to miss. His cast is now off, the staples are out, he wears a knee-high boot, still can’t put pressure on his leg — and his walker, crutches and wheelchair are close at hand.

But he’s never stopped working or meeting his deadlines. And he never lost his sense of humor: “Hobbling on one foot, in the aftermath of what I’ve been through,” he wrote his Facebook friends, “has been like getting crippled, then made to run a potato sack race.”

So which is more perilous for the law-abiding bicyclist, drivers or fellow cyclists? Musto says bike riders are “often the worst offenders when it comes to safety,” adding, “At least car drivers are always going the right way.”

Yes, motorists will fling their doors open without looking. “But other bike riders are definitely high atop the list of dangers,” he says.

“Many of them, as they barrel towards you, don’t feel the need to pull aside and give you the right of way. Some of them are all helmeted and geared up, so it seems as if they care about their own safety more than others,’” he adds.

The ordeal was searing. The recovery is ongoing. But the cycling scribe who never had a driver’s license is very clear on one point:

“The second I am able to get back on my bike, I will,” Musto says. “I won’t let this experience ruin it for me. Nothing could diminish my love of bicycling in New York City.”

Now, it’s your turn. Have you had a harrowing encounter with a rogue cyclist on the streets of Manhattan? If so, write Douglas Feiden at invreporter@strausnews.com




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