Death comes to the BigLaw(yer)

November 16, 2018 § 12 Comments

My #coachnotcoach sent me a happy news article about a lawyer who loved his job so much that one morning when he got to work he blew his brains out. This is apparently common, as attorney jobs go. Many lawyers hate their fucking jobs so much that a bullet to the head is preferable to another day on the job.

Fortunately, I’m not one of them.

But the story behind the death of Gabe MacConaill, the LA BigLaw partner who shot himself, is instructive for a lot of reasons. Of course the primary victims in the story are MacConaill and his wife, Joanna Litt. I know firsthand that suicide wrecks more than the life of the person who is wheeled off in a gurney. If the person was close to you at all, his death is your fault, and you carry that around with you every single day for the rest of your life.

But the idea that MacConaill was somehow victimized by his firm is a false narrative, or at least a distorted one. MacConaill worked for Sidley Austin, a huge firm that, like all huge firms, thrives on the misery of its employees.

No one goes to work for BigLaw thinking that anyone there gives a melted plastic fuck about them. BigLaw, and you, are there for money and money alone. BigLaw doesn’t make the world better, people safer, or promote justice. It exists to fuck the faces of everyone and anyone who stands in the way of corporate profit.

I know plenty of BigLaw attorneys, and some of them are fantastic people, especially on the bike. But in the cubicle jungle of the skyscrapers they work in, they sweat blood in a competition-promotion hierarchy that eats the weak. Death, illness, addiction, divorce, insanity, and horrific personal misery are not simply risks of the trade, they are often its inevitable wages.

MacConaill, a partner at a monstrous firm, was ground up by a corporate Chapter 11 filing by the Mattress Firm; apparently he was the point guy on this very big case–“very big” meaning “lucrative for The Firm.” Such jobs are similar to working for the Mafia in this way: Everyone who belongs, knows they belong. No one is an “accidental” hit man or a “How’d I get this corner suite?” partner. Unlike the Mafia, though, with Biglaw you can always walk away. In theory …

Both MacConaill and his wife, a fellow lawyer, knew that they were sacrificing short-term happiness so that he could cash a partner’s paycheck that would, they hoped, some day lead to long-term happiness.

THIS IS HOW ALMOST EVERYONE IN THAT MEATGRINDER THINKS: I WILL BE MISERABLE TODAY SO THAT I CAN BUY HAPPINESS TOMORROW.

But it turns out you can’t, and it’s not simply because happiness isn’t for sale, it’s for a reason far more profound: Tomorrow isn’t for sale. The only thing for sale is today.

Ride yer fuggin’ bike

I continually run across people who have thrown away their lives cycling. Steve Tilford is the best example. He could have done anything and been anyone, but he chose to ride his bike because it brought him pleasure and because it allowed him to bring pleasure to those around him.

When his life ended, no one bemoaned the life he had chosen. No one regretted the piles of money he never made, the fancy cars he never drove, the luxurious vacations he never took. All they did was reflect on what a passionately good, honest, bike-loving, bike racing guy he was, and how he had spread that happiness in word and in deed.

There’s a moral there somewhere.

END

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No time for life

November 10, 2018 § 15 Comments

I went for a ride today, my first pedal in 30 days. It was tiring but it felt great. I needed a break, and a break I got. While riding, a friend was telling me about a guy we knew who used to ride bicycles. “Yeah, Ol’ Joe doesn’t ride anymore.”

“How come?”

“He got busy with work.”

“Does he still like riding?”

“He’s crazy for it.”

“So how come he doesn’t ride?”

“Like I said, he got busy with work.”

“Does he need the extra money?”

“Nah. But you know. Business is busy.”

Cart before the horse

I thought the whole point behind working was to make money that you can use to help lead a quality life. Unless it’s out of necessity, if you are working so much that you can’t do the things you love, what is the point of working?

I see it everywhere here in the South Bay. People have nice homes, nice cars, nice clothes, nice vacations, all the trappings of a “good life.” But most of them are still gutting out a day job that they don’t really like. The saddest ones are the (mostly) guys who are retirement age but keep plugging away simply to keep the paycheck coming, the paycheck they don’t even need.

What is wrong with people? Don’t they know that virtually everyone who was alive in 1918 is dead?

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Feed your children well

October 31, 2018 § 4 Comments

I remember coming home from kindergarten one day, all excited. “Dad!” I said.

“Yes?”

“We can get free lunch at school!”

“You can?”

“Yeah! A bunch of the kids get free lunch! They don’t have to PAY!” I couldn’t believe that you could go through the lunch line and not have to give the lady a nickel for your milk and fifteen cents for your lunch plate.

“That’s great,” Dad said, not especially excited.

“Can we get free lunches, too?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“How come?”

“Because,” he said slowly, looking at me. “We don’t need them. Other people do.”

Lunch and recess

I started school at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Galveston, in 1968, the first year that the schools on the island desegregated, fourteen long fucking years after it was ordered by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. The best two parts of the day were morning snack, recess, and lunch.

The cafeteria was always open an hour before school started and you could go in, pay a nickel, and get chocolate milk. For another nickel you could get a mini-box of corn flakes. I had breakfast at home but loved the chocolate milk and if I had an extra nickel I’d make sure to buy some.

There were always kids who got to the the cafeteria in the morning as soon as it opened, and who would eat two or three mini-boxes of cereal before joining the rest of us outside as we played four-square, hopskotch, basketball, or covered ourselves in dirt and sand in the long jump pit. In fact at Booker T., most of the kids cycled through the cafeteria before class started, at least to get a free carton of milk.

Free.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized those kids were in the cafeteria early because for many of them it was the last meal they would see until nightfall. Maybe for a handful, those two bowls of corn flakes were their meal for the day.

As a grown man with grandchildren, the world can sometimes seem complex. But here’s something simple: If one out of every six children is hungry, you have failed as a nation.

Chefs cycle, chefscycle

A peculiar aspect of grand fondues is that they often link up with charities, encouraging donations and giving a percentage of their proceeds to a cause. For four years I was vaguely aware of the charity recipient at Phil’s Cookie Fondo, ChefsCycle. It’s a group that raises money on the bike and donates it to No Kid Hungry, which in turn is a group that lobbies for school breakfast/lunch funding and puts money directly into schools to allow them to feed kids for free.

The idea that we have a Congress where free food for kids is an issue that requires lobbying is mind-boggling until you consider that our nation also builds and maintains concentration camps for immigrant children. It’s a tiny jump from the one to the other, yo. The idea that the weakest and smallest among us need advocates, rather than the idea that every human being is OF COURSE an advocate for children, is unfortunate and true.

Since 2015, ChefsCycle has raised $6M for No Kid Hungry, and they have done it through a simple concept formulated by chefs Allan Ng and Jason Roberts: “How can we get out of the kitchen, onto our bikes, and do something that puts food in the bellies of hungry kids?”

Mushed banana

Now that I am old and going very gray, I am reaping my reward. It is not financial. It is not material, as anyone who has analyzed my wardrobe and Timex watch knows. Nor is it spiritual, as Dog hasn’t spoken to me with any more clarity today than he did when I was three.

No, my reward for raising a family is this: I get to see my son-in-law mush up a very ripe banana with his thumb and carefully feed it to my 6-month-old grandson. My reward is the smile and eager smacking, and the bits of drool and banana that spill out from his tiny mouth as he happily and with pure pleasure defeats for a few hours the hunger that is within us all.

His small reward of a mushy banana is my reward. You can make it your reward, too, in some classroom, in the stomach of some little kid who you will never even know.

END

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Suntan

October 27, 2018 § 4 Comments

Charuka’s mom was from Sri Lanka and her dad Saju was from a village in Gujarat. She had three older brothers who were very light skinned like her mother; Charuka was very dark like Saju.

Saju moved to Houston with his family in 1990. They left India, lived in Mexico City for a few months, and then hired a coyote to take them across the border. Charuka remembers the smell of the open truck they rode in. It was piled high with empty burlap bags that had been used for green coffee beans.

It was a 2-day drive to the border in McAllen, and the merciless sun beat down, as they say, relentlessly.  Throughout the trip Charuka’s mom would scold, “Keep your head out of the sun! It will make your skin dark!”

When they got to the border they burrowed down to the bottom of the bags, the truck was subjected to the most cursory of checks, and they were across. Many years later she wondered why, during such a perilous trip, the only thing her mother had been concerned about was the color of her skin.

No bicycling for you, young lady

Charuka’s brothers all got bikes for their birthdays, but she didn’t. “It is too sunny in Houston,” her mother said. “It will make your skin dark.”

“But my skin is already dark!”

“The sun will make it darker!” her mother angrily replied, so Charuka contented herself by sneaking rides when one of her brothers’ bikes was free.

The family eventually got legal status and became citizens, but no one ever voted. “Voting is stupid,” Saju always said. “Make money, save money, go to bed. Your vote won’t change anything.”

Charuka never voted.

You’ve got mail

One day Charuka got a letter that looked official. “Due to your past traffic violations, you are not eligible to vote in future elections,” it read.

She panicked and went to the DPS to sort the matter out. She had never gotten so much as a parking ticket. “Your record is clear, miss,” the lady told her. Charuka showed the letter. “It might be something to do with the county clerk. They handle voting registration.

Charuka went to the voter registrar’s office. “This thing is a fraud,” the clerk told her. “Republican operatives send these out to people in your zip code so they won’t vote.”

“Why my zip code?”

“Because it’s where poor people live.”

Family affair

Charuka drove over to her parents, who she lived near, and told them what had happened. “You don’t have any rights here unless you use them,” she said in disgust as her father began his mantra about money.

Her mother looked at her disapprovingly. “You should be wearing sunscreen and gloves when you drive and not worrying about politics. Your skin is getting very dark.”

“What’s wrong with you, mom?” she asked. “What in the hell is wrong with all of you?”

Two months later, on election day, Charuka’s father called. “Are you voting today?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Okay,” said Saju, and hung up.

Charuka went over to her neighbor’s house. “Can I borrow your bicycle?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said.

She put on a t-shirt and shorts and felt the hot Houston sun on her neck, face, arms, and legs. In moments she was sweating. “If mom could see me now,” she laughed grimly to herself. The polling place was only about fifteen minutes away but by the time she got there she was drenched. Houston can be fiery hot even in November.

As she stood in the long line she saw her father’s car drive up. He piled out with her mom and three brothers. Her mom, for the first time in Charuka’s life, wasn’t wearing a head covering, long sleeves, or gloves. The merciless sun beat down, as they say, relentlessly, on her too.

END

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Sharing space

October 10, 2018 § 3 Comments

One of the things that has become clear to me is that people won’t ever understand each other if they don’t share the same space. It’s why you can’t have a fair society when the society is segregated. It’s why you can’t understand a country to which you’ve never been.

We have a lot of foreign countries in Los Angeles, more foreign than Tibet or the forests of Papua New Guinea. They are foreign even though the people who live there speak the same language and travel on the same passport as I do. They are foreign because people from the wealthy communities refuse to cross the color line unless it’s on the freeway.

A couple of weekends ago I went to an event called the Inner City Lites Health Festival held at Jesse Owens Park in Westmont. It featured booths, music, food, information about various health programs, and free expungement services administered by the Office of the LA County Public Defender. The event is in its 15th year and is organized by Mark Johnson, a guy who works tirelessly to make his community a better place.

I stayed for a couple of hours and talked to people. One guy told me that I was only a couple of blocks away from Death Alley, and that Westmont was the deadliest place in LA, if not the nation. Maybe so, but that didn’t put any kind of damper on the festivities, and as I found out after reading up on the matter, most of the deaths are drug-related and occur among the highest-risk group: Young men.

I haven’t been young for decades and my drug trade involves Geritol. No wonder I felt safe. And how couldn’t I? There were dads, moms, kids, and grandparents everywhere, people enjoying being outside together on a splendid fall day.

People were friendly, and I met guys like Lorenzo Murphy, who has a talk show called Compton Politics. Friendliest of all were the cyclists; every neighborhood has ’em! I met Will Holloway of the S.O.LA Real Ridaz, a group that has show bikes, low rider bikes, chromed-out bikes, and that donates bikes to kids. We talked and made plans for a ride, and then started talking about putting on a bike show in the South Bay. Before I left the guys who had rolled out their classic cars invited us to sit behind the wheel and take a couple of pictures.

There are so many people, our neighbors and fellow human beings, who face huge challenges, challenges that we can’t imagine tucked away here in the South Bay. And there are so many people fighting for change, where change means doing things that give kids a chance, where change means a hot meal, clothes, a roof, basic health care, and a job.

Here’s the thing: I would have never ventured over to Jesse Owens Park by myself if my friend Ken Vinson hadn’t invited me to his MVMNT Rides earlier this year. It took someone reaching out, and a bunch of friendly people, to make me feel like I was welcome in a place where hardly anyone looked like me. Ken and his friends taught me that change is possible. Now. Today.

But you can’t be part of that change until you leave those places in which you feel familiar and comfortable. Like travel of all kinds, crossing neighborhoods makes you realize that people are people. And most of all, it makes you realize that you’re not, and never have been, alone.

END

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Ain’t it grate?

October 9, 2018 § 10 Comments

Monday must have been Bad Mood Day. I got two nasty emails from two nasty retirees, both suffering a pretty severe case of butthurt due to the work done over here by Blogbot 4.5.6.

Nasty email #1 was a continuation of a prior nasty email, which went something like this: “So I still think you got your head up your ass. I am thinking of cancelling my subscription as well.” I like to call this The Wrath of the $2.99. You’d be amazed how many people indignantly and triumphantly announce that they are going to punish my transgressions this way.

Nasty email #2, by a fellow whose initials are so appropriately “BS,” was livid that I’m not wearing a helmet. He never had a subscription to cancel, being one of those fine South Bay folks who NEVER READS YOUR CRAPPY BLOG but somehow manages to stay abreast of its contents.

Keyboard battles

As much fun as it was for these two to spend what looked like an awful lot of time composing a lot of awfully crappy prose, it drove home a simple fact: You can type all you want, but what matters is what you do in the real world.

Take, for instance, the grates on Crest a half mile or so when you’re climbing up from Hawthorne. Have you ever noticed that the second one is lethal, especially for a 23mm tire? I run under-inflated 25’s, but even then it’s dicey. It’s particularly bad because the first half of the grate is properly aligned so that it’s flush with the asphalt, but the second grate, which was installed backwards, opens up a nice little gap just big enough to catch your tire throw you on your head, which is exactly what happened to a friend climbing Via del Monte three years ago.

So the other day I got off, snapped a couple of photos, and sent them to Cheri at the Public Works Department in Rancho PV. Unlike the City of Los Angeles, RPV’s public works folks are astonishingly quick, and cheerful to boot.

Twenty-five minutes after I sent the email, Cheri answered with this:

Good Morning Seth!

Thank you for your bringing this matter to our attention.  We have contacted our maintenance department and they will make the necessary corrections.

Have a good day!

It’s not quite as nice as “You have your head up your ass, I’m canceling my subscription!” but I’ll take it. The next day I was on Crest again, and here’s what I saw:

The grates had been reset and the gap eliminated. First thing I thought was how awesome it was to have a city that was efficient, friendly, professional, and willing to take seriously issues that could endanger bicyclists.

I thought about all the time and angst and ill-will and canceled subscriptions and canceled non-subscriptions that my two detractors had wasted, tied up in knots over my opinions,which are about as significant as the hot air escaping from a tea kettle. I hoped that after they had blown off their steam, they each had the good sense to go for a ride and try to make something just a little bit better in the real world.

Where, you know, shit actually happens.

END

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Biking for a living

October 5, 2018 § 8 Comments

I was set to meet a client in West L.A. today, which from the South Bay, or any bay, means only one thing: “Traffic.”

I guess it also means another thing: “Parking.”

The place we were supposed to meet was near Wilshire and Federal. I figured it would take at least an hour to make the 34.8-mile trip, and when I got there I could expect to pay $30+ to park.

So I put my bike in the trunk and drove to Brentwood. Yep, took an hour, but since I had my bike I could fish for free curbside parking. Who cares if it’s a mile away from the meeting? And I landed a spot, easy.

Pulling out the bike and zipping to my appointment was the best feeling of all until I got there and found out that the actual meeting was indeed on Wilshire, but in Beverly Hills.

Not too familiar with West L.A., I figured “How far can it be? I’ll just zip on over, ten minutes, max. Brentwood, Westwood, Beverly Hills, whatevs, it’s all the same conspicuous consumption zone.”

After zipping for a couple of minutes my zip faded to zup as I realized that the 8300 block of Wilshire was a long way off. There was no bike lane and traffic was dense, so I took the lane and pedaled hard. Every light was red, too.

The meeting went great, and there is something that is VERY SATISFYING about being a bike lawyer riding a bike in the crush of L.A. traffic to meet a bike riding client about a bike case. Having the entire right lane to myself was so awesome as cars patiently, yes you read that right, drove behind me.

On the way back I sniffed out the bike lane on Santa Monica Blvd., adding even another level of bike to what was already a very bikey day. It is crazy to think that Los Angeles and most American cities are designed for cars in such a way that getting around by car is inconvenient, expensive, stressful, inefficient, and not especially safe.

Funny how adding a bike to the equation changes that.

END

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