Thank dog for flats and King David

August 31, 2014 § 9 Comments

I rang the doorbell. “Come on in,” said Eric, so I did. The Donut starts at 8:05, he lives about ten minutes away, and it was 7:45. “Want some coffee?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He ground the beans and started boiling water as he leisurely poured some cereal into a bowl. I wasn’t worried about being late, because Eric’s never late. I was worried about the pain.

At 7:55 he ambled off to fill his bottles and “get ready.” I went outside and waited. I was shaking because I knew what was coming.

At 8:00 he rolled down the driveway with me. “We got plenty of time,” he said. “That ride never leaves on time anyway.”

What he meant was, “We’re going to go really fast now.”

It’s a long gradual downhill after climbing from his house up to PV Drive all the way to the start of the Donut Ride in Redondo Beach, with only one brief bump. You know what it’s like when you go, cold legs, from zero to thirty-five in a few pedal strokes? It was like that.

Hanging onto his wheel for dear life, a black Suburban came up behind us but wouldn’t pass even though we were on the shoulder. I kept flicking it to come by, but it wouldn’t. We were doing forty, and finally it came through. No wonder it wouldn’t pass: Clodhopper was at the wheel. “Hop on, boys,” he shouted.

Eric dived onto the bumper as Clodhopper wrapped it up to fifty. I came off at fifty-five and Eric vanished. I caught up to him at the start of the Donut, legs completely blown before the ride even started.

The 80-strong ride tore out of Malaga Cove lickety-split, mercilessly kicking the weak, infirm, and hungover riders out the back. A month or so ago we started doing “the Alley,” a vicious little wall-and-rest-and-steep-kicker that comes early on in the ride. The Alley has eliminated the safe-haven wheelsucking that has always plagued the Donut Ride by allowing wankers to coast along until the big climb up the Switchbacks. Now, the group separates early. One group does the Alley and pays for it the rest of the day; the timid and weak avoid it, only to be swept up and spit out later in the ride. Those who consistently do the Alley get stronger or they quit cycling, what’s known in the business as a “win-win.”

Although initially despised by all who did it, the Alley is now not so much despised as it is thoroughly hated.

Today was no exception. Boy Wonder Diego Binatena led the charge; Sausage, Rudy, Aaron, and a handful of others roared after him. Everyone else was pinned, by their foreskins, with rusty carpet tacks. Shortly after the first stop light, the Wily Greek attacked and took Derek, Rudy, Boy Wonder, and a couple of others. We came close to catching them, as in “the three-legged dog came close to catching the cheetah.”

Chatty Cathy, who had hopped in at the stoplight with a bunch of other course-cutters, came up to me after the break escaped. “Nice new kit you’re wearing!” he said.

“Why don’t you shut up and get your sorry fucking ass up to the front and chase down the break instead of hopping in after the hardest part of the ride and sucking wheel like a leech?”

Chatty Cathy shrugged. “Okay,” he said. Then he went to the front and obliterated about twenty people who were already hanging on for dear life. Then he ramped it up even more and came within 200 yards of pulling back the break. He swung over. “How was that?” he asked.

I spit blood and pooped a little poop. “Urgle,” was the best I could manage.

On the way down from the Domes I spied my teammate Derek on the side of the road with a flat. There is nothing better than being on a ride, feeling destroyed, looking for an excuse to quit, and spying a friend with a flat. I pulled over, and a few other broken souls did, too. The ride roared by.

We spent the next hour riding slowly and enjoying the day. On the final climb up Via Zumaya, a miserable, steep, and endless slog, I was alone and tired and didn’t care. Midway up the climb there was another clump of riders, also changing a flat. More happiness ensued as I dismounted and sat on the curb. Some lady from the neighborhood was walking her poodle and had stopped to chat. She had a very strong South African accent.

“Are you from Texas?” I asked.

“South Africa,” she archly replied.

“Oh,” I said. “You sound like a Texan.”

She laughed politely and the conversation seemed poised to end, which was bad since the flat had been changed and that meant I would have to remount and keep riding. “Where did you go to high school?” I asked her.

“In Johannesburg.”

“Really? I had an old girlfriend who went to high school in Johannesburg.”

The nice lady could now tell she was being hit on by some idiot who didn’t know South Africa from Texas. She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Yep,” I said. “She went to King David.”

The lady’s jaw dropped. “You’re joking.”

“Nope,” I said. “But you wouldn’t know her. You’re way too young; she’s fifty now.”

“And how old do you think I am?” she coyly asked.

I looked at the landmine and deftly stepped over it. “Early 30’s max,” I lied.

She blushed. “I’m fifty. What was your girlfriend’s name?”

By now the other bikers had regained their composure and stood there, laughing. “I like your style, Wanky,” said Aaron. “Ride up and swoop in. Nice work.”

I ignored him. “Her name’s Annette. Annette Davis.”

The blood drained out of her face. “This can’t be happening. We were best friends.”

By now I had thrown a leg over my bike and got ready to pedal off.  I looked at her intently and paused. “Yes,” I said. “I know.”

END

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Trouble

August 30, 2014 § 21 Comments

He was the kid your mom didn’t want you to play with, but you did.

“Dude,” I said as I rolled up to his shop, a small mountain of surfboard shavings piled in the corner. “I gotta be back by 10:30.”

“No problem,” he said. Even for him, 10:30 sounded like a reasonable time to start the day. “What’s going on?”

“I have to get a couple of documents back to clients and they need the drafts by noon.”

“What were you thinking of doing?” He had that smile, and fastened his helmet.

“Santa Monica, then Amalfi, down Sunset and over to Mandeville. That should put me back with a couple of minutes to spare.”

“No problem.” Smile.

In Santa Monica we started up Amalfi. “Hey,” said Surfer Dan. “You ever do Sullivan Ranch?”

“No,” I said.

“Wanna do it? It’s got a little stretch of pretty cool dirt.”

We were on our road bikes. “I don’t care what we do,” I said. “But I gotta be back by 10:30.”

As anyone who doesn’t know Los Angeles will tell you, it’s a concrete jungle. Surfer knows every nook and cranny of the city, and before long, high above the millionaire mansions of Brentwood, we were past a locked gate and climbing a steep dirt trail. “Glad I got these CX 2-mm’s.” I muttered a prayer of thanks to Moonshine, who had given me the tires a few weeks back. I dodged rocks and slogged uphill, barely keeping Dan’s ass in sight. We’d been climbing for miles now, ever since the base of Amalfi at sea level.

“You okay?” asked Surfer, smiling.

“Yeah,” I grunted. “Glad I got this 28-cog on the back, though.” My frame shuddered through another chughole.

A couple of mountain bikers came by, hanging on for dear life and giving us the crazy look. “You can’t do that,” their faces said. “You’re on road bikes.”

We came to another gate. Beyond it was a dirt road that went on forever.

“Wanna keep going?” Surfer ask-smiled.

“Look, man, I don’t care, but … “

“… you gotta be home by 10:30.”

“Right.”

“Let’s keep going, then.”

Now we were far from anything. There was only the sound of our tires crunching the dirt and our frames bouncing along the washboard and my labored breathing as we climbed, climbed, climbed, and Dan chattered on.

A long time later we reached an old deactivated Minute Man ICBM silo. We finally descended to pavement. Our bikes and we were covered from head to toe in dust, which made sense because I’d cleaned my bike that morning.

The road dumped out at Sepulveda and the 405, smack in the center of the worst traffic in America, as magical as if we’d walked through Alice’s looking-glass, from silence and endless green vistas that reached to the glittering sea to the thrum and impatience and sweating frustration of a million cagers locked in their steel coffins.

“How far are we from home?” I asked.

“Two hours if we drill it.”

It was 10:30.

“Let’s go, then.” I grinned at him and he grinned back. We put our heads down and pinned it, me and Trouble.

Of course I ended up being late, but I wasn’t, really.

Shoot the messengers, but ride with them first

August 29, 2014 § 13 Comments

This is gonna be short. (That’s what he said.)

On Wednesday, September 3, the LA County Bicycle Coalition is rolling out from the crash site on Mulholland to hand deliver a letter urging the Los Angeles County District Attorney to revisit the decision by assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon not to file charges against Deputy Andrew Wood for killing cyclist Milton Olin, and to consider prosecuting him for vehicular manslaughter.

I hope you’ll join us for some or all of the route, which is:

  • 4:00 p.m. Meet at crash site (around 22532 Mulholland Hwy, Calabasas, CA 91302)
  • 4:15 p.m. Moment of silence
  • 4:30 p.m. Start ride
  • 6:30 p.m. Leave from the L.A. Zoo parking lot (5333 Zoo Dr, Griffith Park, CA 90027). Other riders can meet up here.
  • 7:30-8:00 p.m. Arrive at District Attorney’s office (210 W Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012)
  • 8:00 p.m. Candlelight vigil

See more information on the LACBC website: la-bike.org/milt-olin

It will be a slow pace, no-drop ride.

This is a great way to get off the Internet and venture out into the “meatspace,” where real shit happens. Let’s all take a stand for Milton Olin and the other bicyclists who have been killed because some cager decided that texting was more important than watching the road.

This one’s for Milton.

END

P.S.: While you’re at it, you can sign this petition demanding that the District Attorney file charges.

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License to kill

August 28, 2014 § 65 Comments

Welcome to America, kids, where justice is for those who wear a badge. Everyone else, your life isn’t worth squat.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney just released its report on the death of Milton Olin, Jr., who was killed by L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood. Olin was riding his bike in a bike lane on Mulholland Drive when Deputy Wood, instead of following the curve of the road, drove straight into the bike lane and spattered Olin all over the pavement.

Deputy Wood was typing a message into his mobile digital computer at the time, responding to a non-emergency query from a fellow officer. Prior to the accident, a witness following Deputy Wood had noticed Olin in the bike lane. After killing Olin, Deputy Wood stated that he never saw Olin and didn’t even remember what he was doing prior to killing him.

With no one to contradict him, Deputy Wood then offered up the explanation that Olin had swerved into his travel lane, claiming that Olin “appeared” to have driven in front of the patrol car. Dead men don’t testify, and neither did Olin.

Deputy Wood, however, had been actively texting up until the time he hit Olin, so it’s no surprise he “didn’t see” him.  With nine text messages to and from his wife, beginning at 12:51 PM, the final text message sent by Wood at 1:04 was just before the moment of impact, 1:05. Neither Verizon nor Deputy Wood’s computer record seconds.

If you or I had been texting at the moment we mowed down a cop, we’d be sitting in jail right now awaiting trial on felony charges for second degree murder. Deputy Wood, however, faced no such danger. The district attorney investigated this as misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, but Wood needn’t have worried.

The prosecutor declined to believe the text records showing he was texting at the moment of impact, and instead accepted Wood’s claim that at the time of impact he was typing on his mobile cop computer. This of course shouldn’t absolve Wood from looking at the road, since it was a non-emergent, routine response to another officer asking if he’d finished his earlier run.

Ignoring the fact that one of the witnesses saw Olin, ignoring the fact that Wood was going 3 mph over the speed limit, ignoring the fact that he was texting non-stop leading up to the accident, ignoring the fact that Wood was not responding an emergency, ignoring the gentle curvature of the road, and ignoring the fact that Woods’s claim of Olin “driving in front of him” was self-serving and not in keeping with the road or the experience of the rider, the district attorney declined to file charges. Click here to see the putrid whitewash of a report penned by Assistant D.A. Rosa Alarcon.

Deputy Wood can breathe a sigh of relief while Olin’s family picks up the shattered remnants of their lives. The rest of us should also get the message: Your life is worthless if it’s taken by a cop.

Is this how people feel in Ferguson?

I’m guessing it is.

And really the only question is, “Are we going to take it?”

END

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People over money

August 26, 2014 § 28 Comments

Matthew O’Neill was an extraordinary man living an extraordinary life when he met his death in the most pedestrian of ways. A 16-year-old driving a pickup and hauling a horse trailer struck Matthew from behind, killing him instantly. The driver, son of local politico Abel Maldonado, may have been breaking the law at the time. He was carrying an 18-year-old passenger, even though state law forbids youth drivers to have such passengers unless an adult driver, minimum age 25, is also in the car. For his part, Matthew’s reflectors and lights made him “lit up like a Christmas tree.”

In addition to being one tough guy on a bike — Matthew was riding a 1,200-km randonneuring event at the time he was killed — he was a force for good in the world. Whether advocating for the handicapped in Los Angeles, or advocating as a Ph. D. student working on his degree in special education, or simply mentoring riders who were trying to finish their first 1,000-km “rando,” Matthew lived his life in the service of others.

For his fiancee Jennie Passwater, his parents, his fellow students and teachers at the Gevirtz Graduate School of education, and his cycling buddies, the trade was horrific: The convenience of some careless punk in a pick-up in exchange for the life man who bent his back to make the world a better place. No amount of rational thought will ever make sense of it.

The things that we’ve all become accustomed to as we seek to find a word less frayed and tattered than “tragedy,” are all here. There is a memorial ride on September 7; a memorial service is being planned by the graduate school; and there’s a memorial Twitter account to which you can donate money.

These are all important ways to express your support for his friends and family. But the most important thing you can do is also the hardest: Be a person with a voice.

Here’s what I mean.

Matthew’s parents, his fiancee, his friend Stacey Kline, and some of his rando buddies have decided to use this awful occurrence as an opportunity to do what Matthew would have done: Educate people. And what they need to be educated about is the 3-foot passing law that goes into effect on September 16, 2014, CVC 21760. Had Matthew’s killer given himself adequate room to pass, Matthew would be alive today.

When we think about help and advocacy, especially political change, we think about asking for and making donations. Money is the way we’re taught to express our desire for change. I’ve donated money to all kinds of causes, and have solicited on behalf of others and on behalf of my own pet projects. And while money is important, at best it’s second best.

Why?

Because people are more powerful than dollars. That’s why a thousand angry letters to a congressman means more than $10,000 from a lobbyist. It’s why the political system whispers in your ear that your vote doesn’t matter, your voice doesn’t matter, your pen doesn’t matter — all that matters is money, and you don’t have enough of it.

This message of counter-democracy is a lie. One person calling, or writing, or showing up to talk in person is worth a thousand dollars in advertising, or more. Matthew made change in the world as one person, as a person with a voice. He helped people not with donations but with his voice, his mind, his spirit, and his time. He reached out, and there’s reason that “reach out” is such a powerful metaphor: It is a human hand holding another, it is the essence of giving, it is the soul of humanity.

The times that I have seen change happen, it has happened because people dropped what they were doing and went out and made themselves heard. Whether it was Greg Seyranian and Gary Cziko and Ron Peterson riding two-by-two on PCH, or Ralph Abernathy refusing to be silenced, change is at its most powerful when people speak their voice to those who are, by law, paid to listen to it.

Change happens on a personal level too, when you take the time to tell people what you think. In this case, California has a new 3-foot passing law that many cyclists don’t know about, and hardly any drivers are aware of in a state where cagers and the other minions of motordom regularly shout at cyclists to “Ride on the sidewalk!”

Your voice matters, just like Matthew’s did. His friends and family are committed to getting the word out about the 3-foot law, even if it’s one person at a time. You can talk about it with a friend, a co-worker, or another rider. Every voice counts, every person you make aware is a potential saved life. People over money.

Old time rock-and-roll

August 24, 2014 § 14 Comments

I got invited to hear a band play on Friday. They started at 3:00 PM, which is a perfect time for replacement hip-sters like me. The days when I could sit around until ten o’clock waiting for Foghat to come on and get home at one in the morning? Those days are long gone. What really works now is for the music to start in the afternoon so that I’m in bed by nine.

To make matters better (worse if you’re under 50), the band was a biker band. Not the leather-clad, knife-toting Hell’s Angels type biker band, but rather a mostly clean and wholesome lycra-clad bicyclist band. When I saw Foghat in 1978 at the Houston Coliseum with Marcello, I was in 8th Grade. Marcello was in 8th Grade, too, but not by choice. For some reason the school system thought that the best way to handle a very tough guy and first-class drug dealer was to hold him back year after year so that he wound up in classes with small, hairless, easily frightened kids much younger than him.

Marcello had a deep voice, he shaved, and from the locker room I had visual confirmation that he was what we all aspired to be: A man. I had gotten tickets to the Foghat concert from my brother, who had been grounded for selling drugs, or for stealing the car late one night, or for getting straight “F’s” on his lack-of-progress report.

Marcello would have never gone to the concert with me were it not for the free tickets. I remember my dad dropping us off out front as the long-hairs, freaks, and dope merchants streamed in.

“What kind of band is this, anyway?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” I lied.

“Well, have a good time. When should I pick you boys up?”

“Midnight?” I said, praying it didn’t sound like a question.

“That’s pretty late.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m with Marcello.” Marcello nodded and smiled politely.

“Okay, then.”

We got out and he drove off.

The concert, which started at eight, started at nine when Judas Priest came onstage. By then we’d had a solid hour to smoke Marcello’s concert goodies and the haze was so thick we could barely see the stage. Foghat followed and played until midnight. I don’t remember anything about it except that when we got to the car Marcello said, “Snap, man!” and jabbed me in the ribcage when my dad pulled up. Somehow, I snapped.

How times have changed. As I entered the Stag & Lion in the middle of the afternoon, the crowd thickened. My biker pals on stage were completely sober, and the cyclists packed into the bar were sipping at the one beer they would be drinking all day. No one was smoking, of course, as it was a no-smoking establishment and a bar, an impossibility back in the 70’s on a par with squaring the circle.

At three o’clock sharp they started to play, and at five o’clock sharp they stopped. The music was phenomenal, the band was tight, and on top of that the songs were original. In fact, the music was better than any concert I had ever attended during the heyday of 70’s rock and roll — ZZ Topp, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, the Stones, even Foghat. Then I remembered that I’d never actually heard any of the music at any of those concerts, or if I’d heard it, it had been through the 100-yard concrete brain filter that comes from being inside the THC equivalent of an oxygen tent.

“Wow,” I said to Mrs. WM. “Music sounds so great when you can hear it!”

She gave me a funny look and kept sipping her margarita.

My buddy’s biker band laid it down for two solid hours and not a single song was off the “B” side. Afterwards we went out and had dinner. One of our group, Surfer Dan, had ridden down to San Diego from LA, a solid little 100-miler so that he’d be sure to get his ride in before the festivities.

At dinner it was a typical bike racer dinner. Calories were counted, low-cal menu options were selected, and everyone finished in time to hurry home, put on the leg compression devices, and rest up for the big Saturday ride.

The band’s name? HTFU, of course.

I told you they were cyclists.

It’s black and white

August 22, 2014 § 30 Comments

Bicycling in Southern California is not always fraught with racial issues. They exist, but cyclists from different backgrounds spend most of their time talking about bikes rather than race.

But even though this topic isn’t addressed much while riding, it sometimes makes its way into the cycling community via current events, which are then “discussed” on fora like Facebag. The discussions follow a familiar pattern. Someone remarks that an action (shooting an unarmed kid in the head) is racist. Then someone says it isn’t. And things go sideways from there.

No resolution is ever reached, it seems. The black person remains convinced that the event in question was racist, and the comments of the white person usually end up coming across as racist as well. The white person denies being racist and gets furious at being called one, even as he suggests reasons why black people are “the way they are” or why they are in “the situation they are in.” For good measure he might say “you people.”

This hurts our cycling community, some of whose most successful and illustrious riders are black, and injects doubt and suspicion into relationships.

I don’t think it has to be this way.

Part of the reason we have such a hard time resolving racial issues is because we — and I mean we white people — are not very good at talking about race. Most white people, whether they believe we live in a racist society or a fair society, when they talk about race they talk about black people. They analyze black communities, they criticize, the explain, they give advice, they compare statistics of blacks versus whites, they talk about black culture, and they may even talk about black history. The worst ones will quote Martin Luther King to try and prove some essentially racist point.

This to me is bizarre for two reasons. First, white people really don’t have anything to contribute to the analysis or understanding of blacks. Whether you think racism is rampant or whether you think this is the most equal country on earth, as a white person you don’t have anything to add about what it means to be black. So when you talk about black behavior, you’re already losing the battle of discussing race. You’re talking about something you’re unqualified to speak on, and you’re talking in way that is offensive to the very people you’re supposedly trying to convince.

As a white person, the thing you should have expertise about is being white. But white people are strangely unable to articulate how their race affects their life. Unlike blacks, who seem keenly aware and articulate when it comes to talking about their black experience, I’ve never heard a white person talk about what it’s like to be white.

So the conversation is terribly one-sided, with blacks talking about their racial experiences, and whites talking about blacks’ racial experiences. It’s ineffective and it’s insulting.

How can you start to understand race as a white person? It’s pretty simple. Ask yourself what kinds of things happen to you because you’re white. Everyone’s experience is different, but here a few that apply to me.

  • Because I’m white, I’m not afraid of the police if I’m not breaking the law.
  • Because I’m white, people assume I’m a law-abiding citizen.
  • Because I’m white, people assume I’m hard-working and smart until I demonstrate otherwise.
  • Because I’m white, I can buy or rent a home in almost any place that I can afford one.
  • Because I’m white, potential clients trust me.
  • Because I’m white, when I lived in Asia I was treated well.
  • Because I’m white, when I travel in most of Europe I blend in until I open my mouth.
  • Because I’m white, none of my forebears in this country were slaves.
  • Because I’m white, my great-great-grandfather was a slaveholder.
  • Because I’m white, I’ve always been free to vote and encouraged to do so.
  • Because I’m white, no one ever called me a racial epithet.
  • Because I’m white, I graduated from a good college and a very good law school.
  • Because I’m white, I live in a neighborhood with lots of other whites.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. “Those things didn’t happen to you just because you’re white. They happened to you for other reasons as well. You worked hard, your parents helped you, you’re financially responsible, etc.”

And you’re right. There are lots of factors that have made my life the way it is, dumb luck being the biggest. But we’re not talking about those things, remember? We’re talking about race, and we’re trying to understand its importance for ourselves. How has it helped us? How has it hurt us? Has it hurt us? How has our racial identity been used to hurt others? Would our daily experience be the same if we weren’t white?

The best explanation of white racial identity I’ve ever seen was the satirical blog, “Stuff White People Like.” It was good because it talked about race from the standpoint of white culture — making fun of it, to be sure, but couching the discussion in terms of what white people think, how they are treated, how they behave. Although much of it was silly, all of it was racial without pretending to talk about what black people like, or how black people are, or worse, how black people should be.

It viewed the world from the satirical perspective of how being white shapes our lives. It was wildly successful because of its rarity. Thinking about our advantages and disadvantages from the lens of being white was out of the box.

Unfortunately, most white people take their race for granted because it’s rarely an issue. Instead, they use “race” to mean “other people’s race.” And when terrible things like Ferguson or Trayvon Martin happen, what’s needed is for all of us to try and understand how our ethnicity plays a role.

Rodney King asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” Apparently not. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

END

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