Progress

July 13, 2014 § 43 Comments

As a result of the rants posted on this blog, the videos taken by Big Orange, the letter sent by LA County Bicycle Coalition, the voices of individual cyclsts, and Gary’s green wrinkled shirt with the tomato stains in front, a small step forward has been made with regard to riding 2×2 in the lane on PCH north of Temescal up to LA’s county line.

Captain Pat Devoren, who runs the Lost Hills substation, reached out and suggested a meeting to further discuss the issue of cyclists on PCH. Eric Bruins of LACBC, Greg Seyranian and Dave Kramer of Big Orange Cycling, cycling instructor Gary Cziko, and I met on Thursday with the captain, three of his officers, and two traffic officers who work for California Highway Patrol.

After about two hours of discussion, we learned that there is resistance on the part of all law enforcement to allowing bicyclists to control the lane by riding 2×2 all the way up PCH. The resistance is based on disagreement regarding where on PCH the CVC 21202 exceptions apply, and because of the concern that so many cyclists will begin using lane control that the right-hand lane becomes, at certain times, so filled with bicycles that it impedes traffic. Impeding traffic involves a separate section of the vehicle code.

What we were all able to agree on is that there are some sections of the roadway on which it is legal for cyclists to ride 2×2 and to fully control the lane. The disagreement is where we cannot. Rather than engage in an theoretical legal dispute about exactly where the lane is either of substandard width or where it is reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, Captain Devoren make a great suggestion which we immediately agreed to: Let’s do a ride-along with law enforcement on PCH so that we, the cyclists, can point out the points of the roadway that make riding as far to the right as practicable … impracticable and unsafe.

We improved on the suggesting by agreeing that we’d do part of the ride-along following a group of cyclists so that law enforcement can see the difference with regard to traffic safety when you have riders switching from gutter to lane versus controlling the lane in a 2×2 formation. The date for the ride-along has not been confirmed, but it will likely be the latter part of this month. In the meantime we were asssured by Captain Devoren that there would not be additional citations written under the same conditions as the two that were written in the past couple of weeks.

The goodwill and sincerity of LA Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol was undeniable. They want this to work and they want all users of the roadway to be able to safely and legally use the road. The dialogue was fantastic and I’m optimistic that after a ride-along, law enforcement will see this stretch of roadway differently.

Captain Devoren also invited LACBC to work together by providing education to his deputies regarding application of 21202 and cycling law.

We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of effort by trying to find a collaborative solution, and we’re not there yet, but it would never have occurred without the support and assistance of so many riders out there, and readers of this blog. I’ve received over $600 in donations as of today, money I’m using to show my wife when she asks why I’m not doing “real work.” Much of that money has come in the form of small monthly $2.99 donations to this blog — are recurring in nature and they add up. Thank you to everyone who has also offered vocal support and who has asked to be put on the list of people who are willing to write letters, make phone calls, and engage in other outreach as it becomes necessary.

Here’s the info about how you can contribute:

  1. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that help secure the right of cyclists to ride on PCH.
  2. Email me at fsethd@gmail.com if you are willing to actively support these efforts. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH.
  3. Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a CVC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.

Froome out of Tour, vows he’ll be back “on Friday”

July 10, 2014 § 25 Comments

After Wednesday’s stunning reversal of fortune that saw last year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome fall off his bicycle three separate times, the stem-gazing Man Of Something Not Quite As Hard As Steel announced that after falling and getting an “ouchie” he would not be starting Thursday’s stage. Cycling in the South Bay caught up with Chris and director David Brailsford aboard the team bus, now affectionately known as the “Froome Wagon.”

CitSB: So, what happened?

Froome: Aw, it was fuggin’ awful, mate, a bloody shit show. Rain, cobbles, traffic furniture, 190 idiots trying to squeeze onto a cow track, y’know?

CitSB: Cobbles got the best of you?

Froome: Well, it was the pre-cobbles.

CitSB: Pre-cobbles?

Froome: Yar. I sort of hit some wanker’s wheel and fell off me bike.

CitSB: Did you break your wrist in your first pre-cobbles bike-falling-off incident, or the second?

Froome: The second. It’s not quite broken. But it’s very sore. Incredibly hurty sore. I couldn’t continue.

CitSB: What’s the current Dx?

Froome: Oh, it’s very painful and hurts. The riding and such and the rain and the other people trying to beat me and the stress made it very ouchy and hurty, eh? Tough day in the saddle for us hard men, that’s for sure.

CitSB: When did you know you wouldn’t be able to start Thursday’s stage?

Froome: Right away. I hit me hand and scratched it pretty bad like. The doctor put on three Band-Aids and a cold pack, y’know? It was super hurty ouchy. I can really relate to what Johnny Hoogerland and Tyler Hamilton went through. But it’s a tough sport and not to brag, but we’re tough guys. Hard men.

CitSB: What does this mean for the rest of your season?

Froome: It’s not too bad, actually. I plan on grabbing a couple of pints down at the pub tonight with Cav and Millar and maybe Wiggo. We’ve got a little support group going, eh. Rooney may show up, too. I get to rest all day today and all day Thursday, then I’ll pick up where I left off on Friday. It’s a stage that’s not too bad.

CitSB: Excuse me?

Froome: The Tour’s a three-week race, mate. What’s a day here or there? I’m surprised more guys don’t do it. Take a couple of days off and then come back sharper than a needle, if you know what I mean.

CitSB: So you’re going to just hop back in?

Froome: Yeah. Why wouldn’t I? I ain’t no quitter, mate.

CitSB: Have you discussed this with anyone?

Froome: Oh, sure. Brailsford’s on board with it. Right, Dave?

Brailsford: Absolutely. He’s prepared all year for this. A lot of guys would quit with a big nasty ouchie like that, but Chris is no quitter; he’s more like a pauser. He lives for the Tour. And for stems. And as he says, by Friday he’ll have recovered enough to have another go. We don’t expect him to pull on the yellow jersey until the mountains, though.

CitSB: Uh … don’t you guys know that, uh … never mind. So, have you had any second thoughts about Wiggo?

Froome: (laughs) Yeah. Our first thought was that he’s an arse. And our second thought is that he’s a hole. (guffaws)

CitSB: I mean, does your accident make you regret having left him off the team?

Froome: Not at all. Why would it?

CitSB: Well, if Wiggins had been selected he’d be able to lead the team now.

Froome: (suspiciously) What’s that supposed to mean? I told you I’m comin’ back on Friday, didn’t I? I’m the leader of this team, that’s sorted. And if I’d had me way I wouldn’t of rode today anyway. Stupid stage, like I said. I’m a bike racer, not a rock climber. I think next year we’ll do a bit more stage recon and skip the ones that ain’t a good fit.

Brailsford: We’re still planning on using Wiggins, actually.

CitSB: You are?

Brailsford: Yes. We’re saving him for a couple of key mountain stages. When everyone else is tired he’ll be fresh as a new blood bag. We’ll send him in to set pace for Chris. We figure that’s the best way to burn up Contador. Then we’ll rest him for a couple of stages and send him in again.

CitSB: Kind of like a pinch hitter in American baseball?

Froome: Yeah, exactly, without all the chewing tobacco.

CitSB: Any thoughts on the withdrawals of Andy Schleck and Mark Cavendish? They both went down in crashes, too.

Froome: (laughing) Them wankers ought to learn how to ride a bike!

 

Pay up and please go die

July 9, 2014 § 52 Comments

Ronnie Toth qualifies as a phenom. In one year he went from a beginner trying out his first race to a Cat 1. Those who know him and who have raced with him agree that he is talented, hard working, and destined for success in the bike racing world. He entered the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix on Sunday, his first Pro race.

Today he’s on the incredibly long and painful road to recovery from a horrific accident in which he hit the steel barriers face first as he sprinted for the finish. His facial and head injuries are significant, and a fund has been set up to help defray his medical costs. You can donate here.

Whether Ronnie will be able to return to racing is unknown. But what is known is this: USAC in Southern California is complicit in his injuries and in many of the bad crashes that occur here on a regular basis. Our safety record is horrific, and testimony to USAC’s failures includes the death of Chris Cono in a Pro 1/2/3 race last year.

People who race in the Pro 1/2/3 races and in the Masters 35+ races, where the speed is often higher than the pro race, recount a battleground environment in which the most aggressive racers throw elbows, dive-bomb turns, brake-check, hip-check, and engage in a whole host of shitty maneuvers that have nothing to do with bike racing and everything to do with risky, violent intimidation. The worst offenders are well known, both the masters and the pros.

However, this isn’t the fault of the racers. They only do what the USAC officials will let them get away with, and one of the state’s top masters racers, recently returned from Tour of America’s Dairyland in Wisconsin, was blown away by the chief official there, Brett Griggs, who also happens to be the 2013 USAC Official of the Year.

Unlike SoCal, where officials don’t know anything about racing and don’t care what’s going on in the peloton, Griggs (an ex pro) and his team are watching the corners and after each race are proactively quizzing the riders. “Anyone dive-bombing? Chopping?” Riders who get reported or who are seen riding unsafely get a stern talking to, or they get pulled. Unsafe behavior isn’t tolerated. Crashes happen, but not due to repeat offender-type offenses because repeat offenders are disciplined and yanked.

Compare this with SoCal, where at one very publicized race this year a masters racer chopped and brake-checked another rider in a fast turn, almost causing a horrific crash. When the two riders took their complaint to the chief official, he stood there like a tree stump while the riders shouted at each other for half an hour. The official never said a single word. The riders walked away in disgust and the races went on, even though there were numerous eyewitnesses to the egregious and dangerous chop.

USAC officials in SoCal are famous for having no racing experience and for their random, clueless officiating, and it shows with regard to their approach to safety, or lack thereof.

I’ve never had a race official in SoCal or heard of one enforcing safe behavior in a crit or quizzing riders after a race. That’s because they are on site to collect their extortion from the promoter and they don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to the riders. The promoters can’t run races and monitor racer behavior, nor should they. That’s why they pay precious entry fee money to USAC officials, who rarely do anything beyond blowing the whistle.

Ronnie Toth’s terrible accident proves it. Many riders who are incredibly gifted and who jet up through the ranks in a compressed period of time do not always have the bike handling skills to match their physical prowess. This is such a well known aspect of cycling that categories exist to separate those with skills (supposedly) from those who don’t. Although I have never raced with him, one racer in the MBGP race on Sunday reported that Ronnie was “all over the place” and discussed it with other riders after the accident.

Moreover, the nature of his crash — a single rider sprinting, perhaps with his head down, in a straight line, into side barriers, with no other riders hitting him seems to indicate that his bike handling skills were not on a par with his Cat 1 license. There was a similar into-the-barriers crash by a relatively new Cat 1 or Cat 2 rider at the first race in the 805 crit series this year as well, and it too resulted in serious injuries.

Whether an aggressive and safety-oriented official would have been aware of this during the race or at other races and would have been able to proactively deal with the problem by pulling Ronnie is open to question, but judging from the way officials like Griggs in Wisconsin monitor safety, it certainly seems like they could have. At the very least, an aggressive policy of policing the peloton during and after races would decrease the mayhem that seems to characterize racing here which, thanks very much, is already dangerous enough.

Of course, that would require officials to do more than graze through the donut boxes.

With fatalities, lots of bad crashes, and officials who stand around with their thumbs up their asses, USAC in SoCal has the burden to start taking their job seriously. Our lives (News flash!!) depend on it.

———-

7/10/2014 Update

I received an email from a person involved with the San Diego Velodrome and the aftermath of the death of rider Jackie Dunn. He criticized my article in detail. I asked him to post it as a comment, or to allow me to reproduce it anonymously, but never heard back. Since some of his criticism is valid I will summarize an edited version below. More importantly, he referred to a number of changes that have occurred since Jackie’s death which clearly show that better officiating and changing the culture at USAC can have important ramifications for riders.

1. At the time Jackie died, there was no USAC official because it was not a USAC race, therefore my attempt to link her death to bad USAC officiating was inaccurate, and it wrongly directed Internet outrage to USAC.

My response: I’ve deleted this inaccurate reference from the article.

2. The velodrome responded to Jackie’s death by:

– Harder promotions through the A/B/C/D series [not sure what this means, perhaps making it harder to move up through the categories, which is great]
–Embedded, vocal “mentor” riders in C/D [categories]
–Much more liberal use of official warnings, disqualifications in A/B [categories]
–Much more liberal use of unofficial “talks” to certain riders
–Updated emergency plan, with assigned roles
–A new role, which is in the event of any crash, no matter how insignificant, there’s a person who goes around and interviews any rider who saw the crash, and asks them what happened, and writes down the answers. This is used by the non-USAC officials to decide how to handle it, and to develop a record if there are patterns involving certain people.

My response: This shows two things. First, that whatever officiating was taking place at the velodrome when Jackie died, even though it was non-USAC, it was deemed insufficient and drastic steps were taken to improve it. That’s great and is a model for what USAC officials should be doing at SoCal crits and road races. Although my criticisms were directed at USAC, the above shows that officiating in non-USAC races as well can benefit from the kind of changes that SD Velodrome has implemented. It was my fault for calling Jackie Dunn’s race a USAC race, but the relationship between bad officiating and bad accidents still stands, no matter who’s at the switch. I wish the USAC officials would do, in the aftermath of the deaths of Chris Cono (2013) and Suzanne Rivera (2012), what SD Veldrome has done. But they haven’t.

3. There’s one official at the SD Velodrome behind a lot of the changes. She has made safety her mission. She helped implement the above changes, and joined the USAC officiating program with the mind of bringing some change to USAC. She’s now qualified to be a head USAC official, and has been head official of some of the Saturday Night races at the velodrome. She’s working to change the culture of USAC, too. She’s young, and a former racer who’s crashed bad. She’s “gets it.”

My response: This is great, and an example of how one person can make a difference. But the culture hasn’t changed yet in SoCal crits and road races, and officiating is still pretty much “anything goes,” with no follow-up on crashes, investigating why/how they happened, how they can be prevented, and identifying riders who need more hands-on help. In sum, I apologize for linking Jackie’s death to USAC, but it sounds like my premise was spot-on: Officials can make a difference, and they have an obligation to do the hard work of policing the peloton. That’s what they get paid to do.

No sympathy for the devil

July 7, 2014 § 104 Comments

Bicyclists of California, unite!

The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department has embarked on a methodical campaign of illegal ticketing, threats, and intimidation against law-abiding cyclists who dare to exercise their right to ride in the lane on Pacific Coast Highway.

Despite personal assurances given by Captain Patrick Devoren, assurances made in the presence of me, Gary Cziko, and Eric Bruins of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, the department has stepped up its illegal ticketing and harassment campaign against cyclists. Even worse, the captain and his deputies have targeted the Big Orange cycling club in a brazen attempt to use force, threats, and fines to frighten cyclists out of the roadway.

Bicyclists who believe that they are inferior, who support the right of motorists to abuse and intimidate them, and who think that legally using PCH on a bicycle is counterproductive because it will “anger the motorists of Malibu” will be thrilled to know that they are firmly on the side of the sheriffs department.

Cyclists who do not consider themselves second class citizens will be outraged.

After being promised by Captain Devoren at a meeting in January that we would no longer be cited by deputies for obeying the law, the same abusive deputy — Deputy Duvall — pulled over David Kramer on June 29, 2014 while he was legally riding two abreast in the far right lane on PCH.

David was part of a 20-person contingent, and Deputy Duvall cited him for violating VC 21202, which requires a cyclist to stay as far to the right of the lane as practicable unless the lane is of substandard width or unless the lane cannot safely be shared by both motorist and bicycle. If these either of these conditions apply — and both did — cyclists are not required to ride “FTR” (as far to the right as practicable), and they are allowed to use the full lane pursuant to the section of the Vehicle Code that gives bicycles the same travel rights on roadways as motor vehicles.

Check out these two videos, both of which show that Deputy Duvall has no idea what the law is and is simply harassing the riders because he can:

Video 1
Video 2

While Deputy Duvall was citing Kramer, I phoned the watch commander who, after patient discussion, agreed with our interpretation of the law: That the cyclists were allowed to ride in the lane 2-by-2 on that section of PCH. Duvall cited Kramer anyway.

The following day I spoke with Captain Devoren, who proposed a meeting — I never heard back from him after that — at which we could explore, possibly with judicial input, the legality of our interpretation of the law, a law which needs no interpretation because it is explicit regarding when and where cyclists are not obligated to ride FTR.

Yesterday, July 6, a motorcycle deputy pulled over a group of Big Orange riders again and cited cyclist Scott Golper for “riding in the lane,” allegedly in violation of CV21202. Scott at the time was at the back of the group and hugging the fog line. The deputy took Duvall’s absurd mis-interpretation of the law even further and told the cyclists that they were not allowed to ride in the road at all. When asked to put the rider’s road position on the citation, he threatened Scott with arrest. He then added that bicyclists on PCH were an endangerment to cars, and if cyclists didn’t want to ride in the gutter they should STAY OFF PCH.

Deputy Young then called the watch commander and told him he was citing “the same group as last week.” It was clear from his tone of voice that the department had decided to target Big Orange, and that they were using this intimidation tactic to get the word out to all cyclists on PCH: Ride on the shoulder or don’t ride PCH at all.

Most incredibly, the deputy admitted to Scott that he probably wouldn’t even appear as a witness to prosecute the case, which means that the case will be dismissed. This is exactly what Deputy Duvall did in a previous case against Greg Leibert, a matter which required multiple court appearances, expert witnesses, and legal representation just so the department could harass cyclists, force them into court, and then not show up to prosecute their bogus case. This is harassment of the worst sort. The ticketed cyclist has to defend himself or hire a lawyer and the deputy just writes the ticket, harasses the group, and goes about his business.

Below is a video of Deputy Young in action, adding his truckload of cluelessness to the body of law enforcement ignorance that already makes riding PCH extremely unpleasant as well as hazardous for law abiding cyclists. That this unpleasantness and danger is exacerbated by the very people who are supposed to make PCH safe is outrageous beyond words.

Video 3

Keep in mind that there is no law in California that requires a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, and that Deputy Young is telling Scott that he can’t do what’s legal, and that he must do what isn’t required.

What I believed was a professional and honest attempt on the part of Captain Devoren and his deputies to reach an understanding with cyclists about proper enforcement of the law was apparently a ruse that the department has been using to keep us from collective action to defend our right to use the road.

I have taken David’s and Scott’s cases pro bono in an attempt to get a fair decision from the Santa Monica court in which the court will rule in our favor on these tickets and every other one like them. The motorists who pull the strings at LASD have obviously elected to make this the battleground, and it will have repercussions throughout the state of California.

If cyclists can be legally harassed, threatened with incarceration, fined for riding in the road on PCH, and illegally ordered to ride on the shoulder, then you can be absolutely certain that law enforcement will take this very significant victory and use it to illegally prosecute cyclists throughout the state.

Riding in the lane is a matter of safety, and more importantly it is a matter of legality. We are entitled to use the roads only to the extent that we are willing to stand up and fight for that right. Motordom and the police state would prefer that we either ride on bike paths or not ride at all. Imagine every group ride you do for the rest of your life being subject to this new and illegal prosecution of law-abiding bicyclists.

So, how can you help?

Simple.

  1. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that oppose harassment by the LA Sheriffs Department.
  2. Email me at fsethd@gmail.com if you are willing to actively oppose this illegal harassment of law abiding cyclists. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH, and mass meetings of cyclists with the sheriffs department to demand that they stop their illegal harassment.
  3. Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a VC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.

 

Dependence Day

July 5, 2014 § 10 Comments

Cobley and I drove down to Encinitas for the SPY Holiday Ride. He kept me awake with keen observations about life and an endless string of funny comments about our mutual loathing of wheelsuckers.

The ride started. Guys ahead of me in the massive group of 100+ riders pointed out cracks in the road, potholes, glass, and other obstacles. When I attacked a couple of miles before the first climb with some Aussie wanker named Matthew, he kept pulling through hard, giving me plenty of rest. Thurlow bridged, caught his breath, and towed me up the climb to the first rest spot.

Phil Tinstman put everyone to the sword on the Lake Hodges climb, and Thurlow smoked the meat off our bones on the return sprunt. On a 45-mph descent in the middle of a sweeping turn, Thurlow flatted both tires simultaneously. Anyone else would be in ICU now, but Thurlow calmly brought the smoking, shuddering heap to a stop, changed his flats, and continued home.

Cobley, who had worked like a Trojan, attacked on the flats and dragged me the ten miles or so back to Encinitas. Back at the shop, Brent offered to take a look at my bike, which wasn’t shifting right. He fixed it in a jiffy and, after close inspection, noticed that the frame was fatally cracked. He photographed it and got the ball rolling for a frame replacement. Then he gave me a bottle of water and a discount on a very nice tire.

I started falling asleep on the drive home, so Cobley took over and let me half-nap while he navigated the freeway’s July 4 traffic. I got home at 2:00, put Yasuko’s bike in the back of the Prius with mine, and we drove down to Malaga Cove and parked. It was going to be impossible to drive through Redondo to Manhattan Beach, so we went by bike.

She hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years, and this was my son’s Specialized road bike, very skinny tires and all. He’s about half a foot taller than her, and I had forgotten to lower the saddle for her. She could sit on the saddle just fine. The “only” problem was that her feet couldn’t reach the pedals.

We stopped a wanker with a massive saddlebag. “Do you have an Allen key?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said. Then he interrupted his ride and emptied the contents of his small suitcase on the pavement. He had three tubes, four CO2 cartridges, a paperback (a paperback?), a spoke wrench, a cell phone, two patch kits, a spare pair of socks, and a giant keyring. “Darn,” he said. “I guess I don’t have my Allen keys.”

But he had stopped and tried to help us and we were appreciative. “Why don’t you try Marcel’s?” Yasuko said. “He might be home.”

We walked a mile downhill to Marcel’s and knocked on the door. He ran to answer it in a frenzy. “It’s the last five minutes of the game!” he shouted, dashing back to the couch.

“Can I borrow your Allen wrenches?” I asked.

He sprinted to the garage, raced back and lobbed the 5-pound set of iron keys my direction. I lowered her seat. “Thanks, Marcel!” I said. A Dutch friend who will interrupt even five seconds of a World Cup where his team is still in contention is a friend indeed.

Yasuko rode beautifully on the densely packed bike path, threading drunks with the skill that I’ve still only seen watching kids in Japan ride their bikes to school — graceful, able to navigate the tightest spaces while bar-to-bar with fifty other kids, never braking … and she was singing, too.

In Manhattan Beach, Wehrley welcomed us warmly to his home and plied us with delicious hot dogs, Budweiser, and watermelon. Then we meandered over to Derek and Jami’s encampment on the beach where they shared drinks and stories and laughs.

Around seven we pedaled back to Redondo and collapsed on the couch of Greg and Jeanette, but not before they fed us with more food, hydrated us with copious amounts of water, regaled us with funny stories, and pressed into our hands a cold beer or two.

From their deck overlooking the water we watched the fireworks display just above our head. Well, everyone else at the party did. I slept in the chilly evening on the outdoor couch, draped with a thin blanket and warmed while propped up against the mass of my buddy Gus, the world’s best portable heater.

Home at eleven, Yasuko cooked us each a bowl of delicious instant ramen.

It was a long and wonderful Independence Day of dependence on strangers, family, and friends.

END

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You can subscribe to “Cycling in the South Bay” and, like Tony Morales, be one of the elite premium CitSB members who gets a drunken hug when I run into you at parties. It’s only $2.99 per month, which is kind of a bargain. Sort of. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

My bicycle cellphone

July 3, 2014 § 44 Comments

In the late 1960′s if you were a kid and you wanted to go somewhere, you went by bicycle. Soccer moms hadn’t been invented yet, and during the summertime if you wanted to leave the house you had to pedal. And you always wanted to go somewhere because the alternative to outside was inside.

Inside meant nothing to do, absolutely nothing. TV for kids didn’t start until re-runs at 3:30 or 4:00, and since we didn’t have a television it didn’t matter anyway. Even the kids who had TV were up by seven and had the whole day to kill until they could watch Speed Racer or Ultraman in the late afternoon.

Inside there was a big box of comics that you had read ten thousand times. There was a stack of records you’d listened to a million times. So the only way you were going to have fun was by hanging out with your friends.

Someone in the neighborhood could always be counted on to want to steal something, beat someone up (hopefully not you, but sometimes it didn’t work out that way), start a game of baseball that would end in a fight, start a game of touch football that ALWAYS became tackle football and ended in a fight, throw things at cars and run away, smoke cigarettes, or see if someone’s older sister would show us her breasts.

The only way to find out what was going on and who was doing what was by using a bicycle cellphone.

You couldn’t call on the home phone because first and foremost, guys never called guys. It was un-guyly to begin with, and fraught with peril because the phone was always in some parent’s bedroom or in the living room. That’s “the phone” as in “the one phone in the entire house.” And it was black and it had a rotary dial with a piece of paper in the middle of the dial that had your phone number written on it in case you were too stupid to remember your own phone number, which no one was because the number was the same your entire life.

Mine was (713) 666-7639.

If Sam Rodriguez had stolen some of his brother’s drugs you couldn’t ask about it on the phone — his mom might be there, and so might yours. It was only by dialing the old bicycle cellphone over to a friend’s house that you could find out what was going on and if anyone wanted to play.

Of course with a bicycle cellphone you often got a busy signal. “Hello, Miz Schuermann. Is Mark home?”

“Why no, he isn’t, Seth.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“He may be over at John Sweeney’s.”

So you’d have to pedal over to John’s house a few blocks away and hope that he was there. Parents often had no idea where their kids were, and never had any idea what they were doing or when they would be home, except that it would be shortly before dinner.

Sometimes you’d have to go to several houses, then to the pool, and then to the park before you found anyone. That old bicycle cellphone would get dialed to hell and back before someone answered. And once you hooked up with your pals you’d ride somewhere else — the 7-11 to steal candy or play pinball, back to the pool for a swim to see if you could catch some girl’s top or bottom getting jerked down when she went off the high dive, or over to the Duques’ to see if anyone had any dope to smoke.

This meant you were always on your bike. More than that, it meant that the lousiest rider in the gang had “skilz.”

When I see new cyclists in their teens or early twenties, I always marvel at the things they can’t do. They can’t ride with their hands off the bars. They have trouble pulling out a water bottle without wobbling like a drunk staggering home from the bar. They can’t hop a curb. They clumsily totter at stoplights when they come to a stop. In short, there is a whole range of skills they never learned because they never had a bicycle cellphone to take them all over the neighborhood. When we wanted to see porn, we had to pedal all the way over to Patrick Klepfer’s place, where his big brother had a stash of Penthouse magazines, and after marveling at the anatomy we would gleefully read the Letters. Nowadays kids don’t need a cellphone bicycle to see porn, they just tap-and-jerk.

It was a matter of a couple of bike rides for me to learn how to use toeclips and toestraps when I got my first road bike. Why? Because sticking your foot into a metal cage and cinching down the strap was nothing compared to the ramps.

We had two. One was on the way to school, on Pine Street just before you got to Braeburn Elementary. There was a big ditch that ran parallel to the road. You’d start fifteen or twenty yards back and pedal like hell for the lip of the ditch. Then you’d shoot down into the ditch and up the other side, “catching air.” The landing zone was about five feet long, and you had to time it perfectly or you’d fly off the curb and into oncoming traffic.

No one got killed, but we had plenty of close calls. The idols could catch huge air, hit the ground, and stop just before going over the curb. We wankers would catch little air, close our eyes, and pray that the cars were paying attention.

The big ramp was on Chimney Rock. It had a long dirt entry, went down into a very deep ditch, and came up a vertical lip that was much higher than the entry lip. If you didn’t have huge speed you wouldn’t even make it over, and would tip backwards, cracking your head and spine as you backflipped into the ditch. If you had huge speed you would go so high in the air that without perfect positioning you’d have your forehead staved in by the giant tree limbs that overhung the landing zone.

Our parents never paid attention to us when we came home covered in dirt and smeared with blood. How else WOULD we have come home?

As I pedaled along the bike path the other day, despairing of this younger generation that doesn’t instinctively know how to avoid death and dismemberment on a bicycle, I saw something that made my heart sing.

It was a 12 or 13-year-old kid on a cruiser bike with a surfboard racked to the side of the bike. He had one hand on the bars and was texting with the other. No helmet, pedaling in flip-flops. The path was crowded and he weaved between countless Obstacles of Death. He hit a thick patch of sand, barely stayed upright with one hand, and never stopped texting despite narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a baby stroller. He might even have been high.

My optimism for the future of America has never been greater.

END

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July 1, 2014 § 25 Comments

The guy who fired me was an asshole, but that’s only partly why he let me go. The other half of the equation was me: I’m the easiest guy in the world to work with but the hardest person in the world to manage. This is because I don’t like being told what to do, which is, you know, one of the most basic prerequisites for holding down a job, or life.

There were other reasons, of course. My boss was a cheapskate and he was paying me a lot of money, and once he’d profited from the changes I had brought to his shop, there was no reason to keep me on. Use ‘em and kick ‘em out the door because, ‘Murica. So there I was, unemployed a month before Christmas, one kid in college, two at home, and a wife who didn’t work. I was also living in one of the most expensive places in Southern California and the housing crash and Great Recession were just starting to peak.

The last thing anyone anywhere was hiring was another plaintiff’s lawyer.

When things are grim I have found that it is usually best to ride my bike. This is a proven way of avoiding the nasty consequences of whatever’s bugging you, and no matter how dire your circumstances are, they’ll feel less dire when you go pedal around for a few hours. It’s also a guaranteed way to run into other bikers, and when you’re down and out, no one cheers you up like a fellow parishioner at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.

One Saturday in the middle of this mess I ran into Michael. I knew who he was from the Donut Ride but had never introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Seth,” I said.

“Michael.” He stuck out his hand and when I shook it, it was firm and solid. And although I don’t put too much stock in these kinds of things, he looked me straight in the eye, a look of kindness and friendship. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, not a grin but a pleasant smile. With a few physical nuances he had convinced me to trust him in the first five seconds.

“You’re a lawyer, right?”

“Yes.” He didn’t add any of those fake comments like “don’t hold it against me” or “unfortunately.”

“What kind of law do you practice?”

“Criminal defense.”

“I’m a lawyer, too, but I just got laid off. Any chance I might come by your office and chat for a few minutes later this week?”

“Sure. You have kids, don’t you?”

This seemed like a strange question, rather out of the blue. “Yes. Three.”

“Wife work?”

“No.” I couldn’t help wondering why he was asking about my family. Surely it was obvious I was going to ask him for help finding a job.

“Why don’t you swing by Monday around five? I’m usually back from court by then.”

“Will do. Thanks.”

I went to his office at the appointed time and he graciously welcomed me. I told him my situation and wondered if he might be able to help my job search. “I will certainly try,” he said. At the time I didn’t know that when Michael said he would do something he always did it, and that there were no exceptions.

After an hour or so he changed the subject. “I understand you’re pretty familiar with Internet marketing.”

“Yes,” I said.

He asked me some questions and I answered them. They were simple and straightforward. That part of our exchange took about five minutes. “Well,” he said, “thank you for your help.”

“My help? I’m the one who should thank you. I really appreciate your making time for me and asking around on my behalf.”

“No,” he said. “Not at all, I’m happy to do it. And thank you for your professional advice regarding online marketing.” He stood up and lifted an envelope off his desk. It had my name printed on it. As he handed it to me, he said “Thanks again for your consultation.”

“Whoa,” I said, pushing his hand away. “I came here to ask for help and you have generously given it. I can’t accept anything from you. Five minutes of Internet marketing advice is nothing. I’m honored to be able to do it, and it’s nothing you couldn’t have found after a quick search on Google.”

Michael looked at me with kindness, but it was unyielding kindness. “You’ve given me the benefit of your professional expertise,” he said. He held out the envelope again.

I was humbled, and hungry, and desperate. So I took it.

When I got home I opened the envelope and couldn’t believe what I saw: a check that ensured that I, my wife, and kids would be provided for through year’s end, and then some.

I’m pretty sure that Michael hasn’t thought about it since then, but I think about it almost every single day.

END

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