2010-10-08 – Allie Compton and Chris Ryan – New York Times

Allie Compton and Chris Ryan
New York Times
October 8, 2010
By John Harney


HIS life is a fast-moving swirl of punk rock stagecraft, two-wheeled protests, film projects and occasional bits of street theater.

So in September 2008, when Allie Compton, an artist, connected with Chris Ryan, a punk guitarist and singer and a longtime participant in the bicycle rides organized by Critical Mass, she, too, soon found herself jumping on a bike and uninhibitedly wheeling through New York’s car-clogged streets.

The setting for their meeting that September was an art exhibition, called “Democracy in America: The National Campaign” at the Park Avenue Armory. Mr. Ryan, who plays with a band called Team Spider, said, half-jokingly, that he had been invited to the event along with other members of Time’s Up — an environmental advocacy group that is another of his causes — “to give some street cred or something.”

He hadn’t been there long when he noticed Ms. Compton from across the enormous room — her “bright and sunshiny face, rare in this world of cynics in New York,” he remembered.

Ms. Compton, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a painter whose grand ambition is to create art projects that the public can truly take part in, had come to take in the scene, which included an irresistible attraction: an art project called the Anarchist Ice Cream Truck.

When he saw her heading in the direction of the truck, with its menu of flavors like Know Your Rights and Graffiti Liberation, “I tripped across the room so we would both arrive at the same time,” said Mr. Ryan, 41 and a Penn State graduate who grew up in Flushing, Queens, and northeast Pennsylvania.

They began talking about art and politics and went inside the truck, which — along with gas masks and progressive literature — actually had ice cream. Because the project’s artist had declared himself off duty, they began handing out ice cream to others who walked up to the window.

“We exchanged e-mails sort of under the pretense of she could give me advice on getting grants,” said Mr. Ryan, who is something of an anarchist.

“I’ve never been much of a joiner,” he said. “If I see people protesting something, I want to protest them.” Although he initially viewed the loosely organized Critical Mass protest rides “as a party on wheels, not a political statement,” all of that changed after his arrest at a Critical Mass ride during the 2004 Republican National Convention. He said, “I wasn’t so committed” to any particular cause, “until they said I can’t do it.”

After several e-mails to Ms. Compton, and a confusing telephone call — she initially thought his e-mails were from a man who was trying to sell her fabric for one of her art projects — they decided on an art gallery tour of Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“I asked, ‘Do you want to take a bike?’ pushing my bike agenda, and she agreed,” he said, though Ms. Compton, who grew up in Richmond, Va., had not ridden since she was 10.

He borrowed a bicycle from one of his East Village neighbors, Donna Squeeze Leonard, known to all as Squeeze. Ms. Leonard realized immediately that it was no ordinary date: “You know when Chris Ryan puts on a button-down shirt things are serious,” she said. “He didn’t want to blow it because she was so beautiful and so perfect, like an angel to him.”

Ms. Compton met Mr. Ryan at his apartment building, and they rode down to Grand Street — where Ms. Compton fell while trying to maneuver around an S.U.V. that had pulled into the bike lane.

“I’m thinking, Oh great, the date hasn’t even started yet, and she’s bleeding,” Mr. Ryan said. But she got right back on the bike, and they saw several galleries.

Then it was time to go across the Williamsburg Bridge, though Mr. Ryan said he was “ sort of hoping she would call that one off because I was reaching my art saturation level by then.”

She found the ride over the bridge magical. “There’s a sense of liberation,” said Ms. Compton, 37. “Looking at the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn skyline, there was a twinkle you don’t get when you’re walking.”

Ms. Leonard, who had told them to have the bike back by midnight — Mr. Ryan called that “sort of a Cinderella deadline” — said: “When they came back, they were just both like on cloud nine. Whatever happened, it just solidified.”

BUT though Ms. Compton was quite sure that she would “remember our first date for the rest of my life,” by the next day she was having doubts. She called her best friend, who was back in Richmond, and, after relating the thrills and exhilaration of the previous night, said: “This guy has a beard. He has two cats, and he’s messy.”

She then added that she did not think she would see him again. Yet she said her friend, knowing how much she liked new experiences, told her: “I don’t want to hear it. This guy sounds perfect for you. Give him a second chance.”

Mr. Ryan had invited Ms. Compton to an outdoor film festival in Stuyvesant Cove Park called Bike Shorts, at which two of his short films — one about a trip to Paris with the members of Team Spider — were being shown.

After seeing the films and meeting some of his friends, she saw that he, too, had an artistic eye, and she envisioned him as having “a really cool lifestyle, carefree and environmentally conscious.”

Not long after, she looked at a list she had once written about the kind of man she wanted to marry — “someone who wanted to be with me, wanted to grow together and have children; cares about the environment; likes to dance.” And someone who was a collaborator.

“Next thing you know, we were dating,” Mr. Ryan said.

The collaboration bit fell into place, too, when they formed a film production company, Dedicated Lane.

“I didn’t know if we’d get married or not,” Ms. Compton said. “I just knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man.”

In early September 2009, she organized a surprise 40th birthday party for him. “When I walked outside,” Mr. Ryan recalled, “the sidewalk was full of people on bicycles” — people from various aspects of his life, whom she had brought together for the celebration.

That’s when he thought that “getting married could be the fun, smart thing to do,” he said.

A year to the day after they met, they became engaged in Central Park, arriving on bikes, of course.

“I felt like everything we were doing, every minute of every day, was some sort of adventure or struggle,” said Mr. Ryan, who noted that his decision was applauded by all who knew him. (A refreshing change, he said, because “really, no one thinks my decisions are right, ever.” )

Ms. Compton was deeply moved by his proposing. “He’s an anarchist and an atheist, but he was being old-fashioned.”

She envisioned their wedding, which was held on Sept. 18 on Governors Island, as a public art project. On the ferry ride over to the event, she was accompanied by an array of guests in suits, dresses, shorts and pirate outfits.

More pirates and a cavalcade of bicycles in a palette of colors awaited her on shore, which she viewed from the back of a white pedicab.

“The bicycles were like sculptures,” she observed. “The bicycle activists, the public space. For me, the public space is important. That’s where you get the interaction.”

After everyone settled in, Bill Talen, a performance artist known as Reverend Billy who says he is the minister of something called the Church of Life After Shopping, performed the ceremony with the Statue of Liberty rising behind them. Mr. Ryan promised Ms. Compton to “not be so concerned with winning our discussions,” and, perhaps remembering her early reservations, added, “I promise to empty the litter box more often.”

A bit of street theater then unfolded when some of the pirates — members of Time’s Up who were also getting an early start on International Talk Like a Pirate Day — pretended to abduct Ms. Compton until Mr. Ryan won her release in a battle with fake swords. Then there was a Critical Mass bike ride around the island.

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