A tale of two Francises

February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments

The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.

On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.

Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.

Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.

Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.

This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.

One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:

  1. You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
  2. He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.

In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.

This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.

It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.

Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.

But back to the NPR …

In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.

This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.

He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.

From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.

 

So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.

“Francis?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”

Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”

officer_sur

Officer Sur giving a talk before the NPR.

END

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Legally shutting the fuck up with Bob Mionske

February 10, 2016 § 71 Comments

What a sanctimonious blowhard. Bike lawyer Bob Mionske wrote this smoking heap of dung for the bicycle rag factory mag VeloNews, admonishing us to obey the law and be model, upstanding bicycle citizens.

The basic premise is that by riding like scofflaws we make cagers hate us and do the greater cycling community a disservice. Then Miss Manners Mionske admonishes us that the madcap, out of control group ride “creates an enormous public-relations problem for us with the general public and with their legislative representatives.”

Bob then reminds us that, “We have a constitutional right to the road, as I established in my book ‘Bicycling & the Law.'” Founding Father Robert Mionske. Who knew?

Finally, we learn that adrenaline-soaked early season group rides in which someone gets hurt can result in *horrors* lawsuits. Having fallen asleep in his torts class for forty years, Professor Mionske belts us with this legal bugaboo: “Individual riders on group rides that have injured pedestrians, other cyclists or caused a motor vehicles to lose control have personally been sued. Because the injured party in these actions can rarely specify who caused their injuries they will name, in their suit, any riders they can identify from the group. Under a different theory of law lawsuits in these cases will also seek to attach legal liability to clubs, shops and even racing teams that are, in some way, affiliated with the group ride.”

In other words, just being the tongue-in-spokes wanker on the tail of the whip can send you to lawsuit hell where the aggrieved plaintiff will take everything you own.

Which leads to a reasonable question: Whose side is this asshole on?

It’s true, bicyclists shouldn’t break the law. Neither, Bob, should cagers. Or anyone, for that matter. That’s why they are called “laws” instead of “personal directives ordained by the Great Dictator.”

It’s not true that cagers hate us because we break the law. If that were true, cagers would hate each other, gun owners, and motorcyclists a million times more. Cagers mow us down with impunity because law enforcement treats dead cyclists as the price of doing business, cf. Milton Olin and hundreds of others.

Cyclists are hated because laws are arbitrarily enforced against us, and cagers know that they can abuse us and harm us and face little in the way of consequences. Mionske’s wholesale distribution of the canard that we are our own worst enemy is like the apologists who used to explain away the evils of segregation by telling people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

As for the crazed group ride in which every participant is a potential defendant, that is simply untrue. While it’s true that anyone can sue any other person any time for any reason, prevailing is a different matter. And what’s the solution? Stop riding in groups just because one or two yahoos ride like idiots? Newsflash: Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines a group ride as “A conglomeration of idiots on wheels.”

The real solution to bad group behavior is the one that Lawyer Mionske refuses to consider because he himself is so afraid of lawsuits–starting each group ride with a little speech. I’ve seen the guys at BCCC do it every ride. They go over the route, introduce any newcomers, and let people know what’s expected of them. Eventually people get the message and the rides acquire a certain discipline.

The down side is that the person who steps up and gives the speech really does become a potential target, as he could be sued as a “promoter” of the ride. But so what? Are you going to live your life in fear of lawsuits, Bob? And aren’t you a lawyer? And don’t you feel personally responsible for the people you ride with? Are you such a chicken-ass that you can’t do what Mike Norris of our local Wheatgrass Ride does–give a talk each week to warn people about going slow in certain areas and riding with safety in mind?

If every group ride started with a little speech, yes, there would be some incremental increase in litigation risk for the speaker (greatly reduced when the speaker reminds everyone that this is an informal ride, that the speaker isn’t the promoter, and that everyone there voluntarily assumes the risk of catastrophic injury and death), but overall the rides would be much safer. The Nichols Ride in L.A. cries out for this kind of leadership, as do many others.

Instead of blaming cyclists for being victims and exhorting responsible people to avoid group rides because of the risk of litigation, Bob needs to go to Oz, get a pair of courages, and be a leader. Maybe then his status as a former 7-11 rider in the 80’s might actually be something more than a marketing hook.

END

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Can I ask you a question?

February 6, 2016 § 41 Comments

When I am getting off my bike at a coffee shop or lounging around at a coffee shop or standing in line in a coffee shop no one ever asks me anything. My scruffy facial mold and salt-caked dark glasses seem stand-offish, if not downright contagious.

Derek the Destroyer, however, always gets chatted up. He is always clean and clean-shaven. His kit is never caked with salt. He looks like the upstanding member of society that he is, amiable, professional, approachable. In other words, he attracts the nutjobs like patriots to a bird-watching refuge.

Today we had put in some huge hours, about four, doing a total of thirty miles. This is harder than it looks and always involves coffee stops. As we entered our fourth hour we decided to do something I’ve never done in the middle of a bike ride, and neither has he. We swung by the Baskin-Robbins for a double-dip in a fat waffle cone.

As Derek was tying up his horse this lady came up. We were at the PV Mall, where none of the customers work, and most are only vaguely aware of the mechanism by which their bank accounts are regularly replenished.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”

Now the only appropriate answer to such a question is “No.” Firmly. Then you spin on your heel (hard to do in cleats but still necessary) and clip-clop into the ice cream store.

But not Derek. “Sure,” he said.

“Now I don’t mean this to you personally,” she began, which is the passive-aggressive intro to saying something very personal, “but why is it that you cyclists all ride out in the middle of the street?”

I was halfway into the shop but turned around. This was going to be good. “That’s a good question,” Derek said in what appeared to be his opening gambit for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I, on the other hand, was more in search of a Sauron Medallion of War. “It’s a terrible question,” I interjected.

The lady looked at me, concerned that the moldy-faced salty one had chosen her over the peanut butter-chocolate double dip. “A better question would be, ‘Why don’t all you cyclists just go kill yourselves or go get cars because you’re slowing us down for our hot yoga and orgasm workouts.'”

“Don’t mind him,” said Derek, “he’s harmless. Mostly.”

“Or an even better question would be, ‘Why is it that all of you cagers are ignorant of the vehicle code sections that allow us to occupy the lane?'”

“Cyclists really get in the way,” she said plaintively, “and I’m a cyclist, too. I ride my Motobiccany, when I ride it, on the sidewalk or in the bike lane. Why can’t you?”

I thought about giving her an Academie Francaise award for her pronunciation of “Motobecane,” but didn’t think I could spit that far. “Well,” said the diplomat, “it’s often safer in the lane, which is perfectly legal, than on the edge, where cars try to squeeze by on the way to yoga and accidentally kill or maim you by mistake. Those ‘oops’ moments can be really inconvenient when you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. And of course they scratch up the vehicle’s clearcoat.”

“Hey, can I ask you a question?” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

“This isn’t personally directed at you, but why is it that middle-aged women at the PV mall look like they’re … ”

Derek grabbed me by the elbow. “C’mon Wanky,” he said. “The ice cream is that way.” He turned to the lady, who was imagining the awful ending to my unfinished question. “Have a nice day, ma’am. And share the road.”

END

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Words sort of matter

November 29, 2015 § 34 Comments

One of my favorite words when describing stupid people in their underwear getting run over by even stupider-er cagers has always been “accident.” It rolls off the tongue, and it fits our existence in the cosmos.

Like it or not, the sperm that hooked up with your mother’s egg was an accident. It could have been the tadpole vigorously swimming next to him, but it wasn’t.

“Accident” also perfectly describes the universe: There is no dog, only random chance. The gas cloud that swirled and eventually became the Milky Way, which has 68 different stars, and which eventually calved off Earth and the glaciers which are themselves calving off … all accidents.

Things don’t happen for a reason, they happen at random. For example, my broken hip and dislodged pancreas. There was no reason that I decided to take the hairpin full bore, it was a spur of the moment thing: Hugely beautiful weather, no cars, great legs, and a happy desire to get to the start of the Donut Ride and try to drop the shit out of all my friends.

It was random that I hit on my incus bone instead of my hyoid bone, and it was random that even though I was PRAYING TO DOG that traffic would be coming in the other direction so they could see me hit the apex of the curve like the Master of the Universe™, bent so low and leaned so far that I could lick the asphalt with my tongue, in fact there were no cars in the opposite direction which prevented me from getting run over and crushed to death when I slid out into the other lane, licking the asphalt but not being all that happy about it.

Everything is random. It was random that G3 came by as I sat shuddering on the curb and gave me a quick neural check that the EMT’s hadn’t bothered with. “No neurons here, guys,” he confirmed.

Of course “accident” leads naturally from “random” because like “random,” “accident” is cause-neutral. Shit just happened. Bonehead came out of nowhere. I never saw anything, Ossifer.

The problem is that even though everything happens at random, thereby eliminating dog and the search for an ultimate cause, random events nonetheless act according to set laws of physics, and they are the result of specific choices.

So I’ve got this troll. Okay, he’s not a troll, he’s a pretty awesome guy, but he acts like a troll, and here’s how he does it. Every time I use the word “accident” in my blog, he sends me an email and often posts a comment that reminds me “There are are no accidents in cycling. You described a crash or a collision, but not an accident.”

You can easily see his point. “Oops. It appears that I just killed your husband, child, and dog due to this important picture of my dick I was sending to a teenager while driving. Sorry. I feel terrible about this tragic accident.” The word accident robs the victim of justice and allows the dick-picker to evade responsibility.

Nor is this just one of my trolls getting on his high horse. The oldest peer-reviewed medical journal in the galaxy has retired the word “accident” for much the same reasons.

The Washington Post, hardly a mouthpiece for foamy-mouthed bicycle advocates, has also seen the light, albeit dimly. And of course well over a year ago Bike Snot NYC took the word “accident” out behind his garage and shot it. And it wasn’t an accidental shooting, either.

But there’s more. The most boring, orthodox, gear-pimping, unreadable publication ever printed, Bicycle Magazine, even wrote a primer for newspapers about how to rephrase headlines. And then the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, which is responsible for keeping bicycles off the streets and making the roads safe for cages and the cagers who inhabit them, got on the “crashes are not accidents” bandwagon way back in 1997, although admittedly it was for the benefit of cagers, not underwear pedalers.

The reason for discarding “accident” is simple. Vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control when in fact they are predictable results of specific actions. Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to alter the effect, and avoid collisions. These events are not acts of dog but predictable results of the unpredictable combination of stupid choices and the rather impersonal laws of physics.

Of course the problem is that there is no perfect substitute for “accident.” Crash, collision, and incident seem good on the surface, and they are an improvement over “Shit, I killed him on accident,” but they don’t fit the basic problem of bicycles, which is that you are a functional fool for riding around in your underwear at high speeds in order to take deadly hairpin curves while praying for witnesses as you skid out on your incus bone.

Nor do these words cover the inherent motivation behind caging, which is that you are a lazy, careless slob who thinks that because you can point 4,000 pounds of metal and mash down on a pedal that you are somehow a good driver. We need a lexicon that will alert people to the fact that two inherently stupid people are about to meet in a mashup of gore and broken parts, with all of the gore and breakage happening to the underwear-wearer, and the spilled latte happening to the scrap-metal-pointer.

I’d suggest the following:

  1. Did the underwear pedaler fall off unassisted, for example by speeding around a hairpin while recklessly hoping people would witness his awesomeness only to be scrubbed across the asphalt like the idiot he is? These and similar occurrences should be referred to as “bicycle falling off incidents.”
  2. Did the underwear pedaler get killed by an impaired cager? These occurrences should be called “Murder” and treated accordingly.
  3. Did the underwear pedaler take out another underwear pedaler under the auspices of an organizing body? This has been written about extensively and to great effect, and although not accepted in most Baptist churches, we will call this “natural selection.”
  4. Did the underwear pedaler get creamed by a cager? We will call this “Seth Davidson, Injured Bicyle Injury Lawyer Referral” and call (424) 241-8118 ASAP.

Now … go ride your bike!

END

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Popes on bikes

September 29, 2015 § 32 Comments

pope_and_bike

With the publicity surrounding his rock star tour to the USA, I’ve been wondering what the Pope thinks about bicycles.

Now don’t mistake me. I like this pope.

He seems like a good guy, and very un-Catholic for a Pope: Bringing down the hammer on the rich, extolling immigrants, championing the environment, and urging us to live up to our American ideals (funny, I thought we were already doing a pretty good job of hating foreigners, starting foreign wars, devouring the planet, and guns).

But what does the Pope think about bicycles? Turns out he talks a pretty solid line. In an informal audience given a couple of years ago, he criticized people seeking flashy new cars and talked about how happy it made him when he sees his personal secretary pedaling around on a bicycle.

Then a couple of days ago he was gifted with a bike from the City of Philadelphia.

As it turns out, like most PR, he talks a pretty good game but admits that for him, “cars are a necessity.” It’s kind of one of those “do as I say, not as I do” deals. Catholics will understand.

Still, there’s something really problematic about all this, and it’s sort of related to bicycles and the fact that the Pope says one thing but does another. Let’s imagine this:

A major corporation — say, Volkswagen — while it is manufacturing cars, puts in place a system whereby it also rapes several hundred thousand children. The assembly line is boring, so to spice things up the managers bring in young children and together with the the workers rape them over and over and over. And over and over.

In fact, the child raping becomes an ingrained and profound part of the corporate culture, and it’s such a popular pastime that even, or especially, guys in the head office partake in child raping from time to time. The children’s lives are predictably ruined. Occasionally a few children complain about getting raped to shit and having their lives destroyed but their complaints are either ignored, or hush money is paid, or the outed rapist gets shifted over to the assembly line in Mexico (where he rapes little Mexican kids).

Then, people get tired of the child raping and the big corporation is called to account. It pays out billions, apologizes, fires a few people, and makes a big deal about its new corporate culture. “Eco-Friendly Cars and No Child Raping!”

Then the company hires a new CEO and he’s all about eco-friendliness and being nice to children instead of raping them. And THEN the new CEO plans a tour of the USA. Would the President meet with him? Would he be invited to address Congress? Would millions throng the streets to welcome him?

Would he be given a new bike?

It’s (almost) always worth the fight

September 22, 2015 § 22 Comments

Winning!

Winning!

Several months ago I was contacted by a rider who got ticketed by CHP for violating CVC 21202(a), the infamous “FTR” or “far to the right” law, not to be confused with Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride. At all.

The rider, Dan Funk, emailed me a copy of the citation and asked my professional opinion, and after the cursing finished I told him that it was a bogus ticket and that he should fight it. The problem is that he got the ticket riding on Angeles Crest and although he lives in West LA, the ticket was assigned to West Covina. This is like living in Manhattan and having to go to court in South Carolina, only the drive from Manhattan is faster and there’s less traffic.

The place where he was ticketed was absurd; there’s no shoulder and the only place you can ride is in the travel lane. In Dan’s case, he was actually trying to hug the fog line, and even then the cop pulled him over and ticketed him. “What’s this ticket for?” asked Dan.

“We’ve been ticketing motorists so we have to ticket some cyclists to balance it out,” advised the CHP cop.

You know, it’s the policy of equal enforcement, and I kind of like it, and wish they would apply it in other areas. “For every black person we arrest, we’re going to arrest a white person.”

“For every poor person we execute, we’re going to execute a rich one.”

It would bring some much needed change to our criminal justice system, and it’s a concept we could apply to other areas as well. “We’ve been giving out lots of tax breaks to big corporations, so we have to give tax breaks to ordinary people, too.”

Or what about this? “We’ve been letting abortion activists burn down clinics and shoot doctors, so we’re going to burn down some churches and shoot a few fundie pastors.”

There’s a lot to be said for equality.

Dan and I took the day off and met at West Covina. The courtroom filled with CHP cops. “This looks like a court where they show up,” I said. “Recognize any of these guys?”

“Nope. Mine was a motorcycle cop.” They were all in patrol car costumes.

Finally a very badass moto cop strutted in. “That him?” I asked.

“Nope.”

Our case got called and dismissed, and we celebrated by getting to drive through eighteen more hours of traffic to get home.

Next time, under the principle of equality, I’m going to ask the judge if he’ll make a random CHP cop have to drive home in the back seat with me.

END

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To serve and protect

September 17, 2015 § 44 Comments

Before bike video cameras and dumb phones and such, I used to practice memorizing license plates of passing cars. You never knew when some cager would buzz you or hit you and if you couldn’t identify the car the police wouldn’t do anything.

I always had a chip on my shoulder about law enforcement that didn’t care about cyclists, a chip that grew with each passing stop-sign-blowing citation. As a buddy mused the other day, and I agreed, “You know, I can’t work up outrage anymore at senseless cager killings.” He was referring to the gal who was looking for her mascara and swerved onto the shoulder, killing a cyclist, then overcorrecting into oncoming traffic and killing a motorcyclist.

Oops!

Thankfully, though, she wasn’t charged or even taken in for questioning. Ventura County law enforcement is understanding like that.

My pal and I agreed that the constant stream of killings, buzzings, screamings, harassings, abusings, and throwings has made us numb. Another one bites the dust? That’s what you get for riding a bicycle, you were warned. Warned, for example, by entities like the Boston Globe, which ran a nice editorial about how bicycling is dangerous so get off the fuggin’ street.

Closer to home, The Daily Breeze champions the cause of repressed and downtrodden cagers in the South Bay.

On my afternoon pedal along PV Drive West today I heard the catcall behind me followed by the deep hum of fat tires. PV High School had just released its Adderall-addled spoiled children from their playpen, and what could be more fun than hauling your brand new Jeep Wrangler stuffed with two friends within a foot of a grumpy old fart and pelting him with a sandwich?

Answer: NOTHING!!

I swung over after forcing my middle finger back into position and dialed 911. The PVPD dispatcher took my information. “What kind of car was it?”

“2014 or 2015 Jeep Wrangler, black.”

“Did you get the license plate?”

“In fact I did. 7LBC437.”

She was kind of surprised. “And you’re on a bike?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll send a car out. Stay there.”

“But … ”

So I stayed. The cops arrived, and one of them was the same officer who had pulled me over and ticketed me the month before. He smiled when he saw me. They took my statement and then their radios beeped. “Just a second,” said one. He listened, then looked up at me. “Well, we’ve apprehended them. Do you want to press charges?”

“Hell, yes.”

“We’ll need you to come make a field identification. They’re just up the road.”

“Great,” I said, but in reality I thought, “FUCKING AWESOME! THIS NEVER HAPPENS!”

Things soon got complicated, though. I had ID’d three boys, but in fact the driver was a boy and the thrower was a girl. They grilled me about whether I could identify her. “No,” I admitted. “I thought they were all guys. Plus, I was so busy not crashing and memorizing the license plate and model of the car … ”

The cops nodded sympathetically. Later, another cop came, this time the head supervisor. He was direct. “If he tried to hit you with his car it’s assault with a deadly weapon. You want to press charges?”

“Yes,” I said.

He was all business and had exactly zero sympathy for these rich little brats. “Okay. Let’s go do a field ID.”

“Just a sec,” I said. “I didn’t get hit. I don’t want these kids to go to jail.” I thought about my own youth, the felonies I’d committed, the people who had given me a second chance (or third, or fourth), and about how different my life would be if I’d started out life with a felony conviction.

“So you don’t think he intended to hit you?”

“If he’d intended to hit me I’d be dead now.”

“What was he doing, then?”

“He was trying to get close enough so that his girlfriend could whack me with some ham and mustard.”

“That sounds like reckless driving to me.”

“Officer,” I said, “maybe pressing charges and dragging this kid’s sorry ass through the courts will change him. But what I’d really rather have happen is that, while he’s in your custody, he comes to appreciate the seriousness of what he’s done.”

“The girls are in tears and he practically is, too. We’ve got him in our database and we’re making a report and will refer it to the city attorney, who can file charges if she wants to. I think he’s terrified.”

“I’d like to let it go, then.”

The officer nodded. “Okay.”

“And one other thing.”

“Yes?”

“Your guys popped me for running a stop sign the other day and it always seems like you take bicycle stop sign violations more seriously than motorists trying to kill cyclists.”

“Yes?”

“And your presence and actions today have convinced me I’m wrong. Thanks for chasing those kids down.”

“It’s our job.”

“I know,” I said. “And thank you for doing it.”

END

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