Do the right thing or have it done for you

April 3, 2017 § 60 Comments

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Hired Guns: Part 5

March 29, 2017 § 42 Comments

Part 5: Let the Past Speak for Today

If you had told me last July, when I participated in the first protest against the PV Estates police department and the city’s failure to seriously deal with cyclist safety, that I would be digging into old newspaper articles about the PV elite’s choice of Halloween costumes in the 1960s, I would have given you five dollars and suggested a shelter.

But here I am, doing exactly that, following the wicked strands that explain how PV Estates became what it is, and trying to figure out how that can inform someone trying to decide whether, as a rider, your fortunes are best with the local cops or with the county sheriff. Because racism in PV Estates didn’t simply begin in 1923, it is alive and well in the present.

Indeed, it never left, and in the words of the city’s own boosters, it was until recently something to be bragged and chortled about in the society section of the Palos Verdes News. This newsclip from 1965 tells you much of what you need to know.

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And for those who think that 1965 is ancient history, that things have gotten so much better, there’s the memoir by Jennifer Baszile, who recounts the welcome her family received when it moved from “low-rent” RPV to toney PV Estates:

braszile_black_girl_next_door

This bit of “ancient history” occurred in 1975. Still, some will argue that 1975 was more than forty years ago and that surely things have changed. Except that as of 2014, they hadn’t. At a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, one of the surfers alleged to be a member of the Lunada Bay Boys surfer gang purportedly donned blackface and an afro wig. Did I mention it was on MLK Day?

lunada_bay_boys_blackfaceA year later, garden variety racism in PV Estates had blossomed into allegations of a full-on hate crime. On the September 11 anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, PV Estates teens savagely attacked a Pakistani liquor shop owner in the city, beating him to a pulp and causing serious injuries. In this amazing bit of reporting by the Daily Breeze’s Larry Altman, readers are presented with the anguish and suffering… of the teens’ parents, who now find themselves being sued by the victim. Instead of focusing on the teens’ admissions that they almost beat the victim to death, the Daily Breeze makes sure that its readers know that defense counsel believes the victim is “looking for dollar signs.” Getting beaten with bats is a tough way to earn your payday, is all I can say to that.

 

And why stop in 2015? 2016 had this gem:

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Finishing with a current racism update for 2017.

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So there you have it, racism fans: A founding document enshrining segregation, and an unbroken string of hate crimes and racist activities stretching right up until three days ago. Does anyone doubt that PV Estates has a problem?

Department of Justice investigation, anyone? And yes, this has something to do with cycling. But even if it didn’t please tell me you’d still be appalled.

END

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Hired Guns: Part 4

March 28, 2017 § 55 Comments

Part 4: White-out, Whites In

The PV Estates CCRs came in three booklets, one for each of the city’s three subdivided tracts: Margate, Lunada Bay (home of the racist surfer gang, and Valmonte. The beginning of each booklet is promotional copy designed to show new home owners how fortunate they are to own property in this exclusive, snowflake community. It’s all harmless stuff until you reach page 4. In each booklet the third paragraph from the bottom is whited out.

promotional_introduction

Before …

After finishing the ad copy I came to page 17, which lists the actual declarations setting forth the covenants and community regulations. Article I contains the basic property use restrictions, and Section 1 lets you know in no uncertain terms that if you wanted to erect a “columbarium” in PV Estates, well, you’d better take your funeral urns elsewhere. In the same vein of keeping the neighborhood Beaver Cleaver wholesome, landowners were barred from erecting institutions for the care of those “afflicted with tuberculosis,” the “mentally impaired,” and the “victims of drink or drugs.” This last prohibition might empty out much of the community, and especially the high school if ever enforced. A ban on the mentally impaired would take city council qualifications to a whole new level.

Section 1 then mysteriously skips to Section 3, and it’s not because the founders couldn’t count to 2. It’s because, as with the ad copy on page 4, the Palos Verdes Homes Association has meticulously gone through each and every CCR booklet and whited that section out.

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I got a can of acetone, a pocket knife, a piece of Scotch Brite, and sat down with a cup of patience. Carefully sopping the Scotch Brite with acetone and gently rubbing it over the white-out, little by little the censored text appeared. On page 4, here’s what it said:

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After.

And on page 17, the cleaned up text read thus:

article_1_section_2_cleaned_complete

So my suspicion about Garrett Unno was borne out—not to mention other anti-cycling opponents active in PV Estates with non-Caucasian names like Zaragoza and Bianchi. They all live in a neighborhood whose CCRs specifically and legally stated that no one of “Asiatic descent” or not of the white “Caucasian race” may live there. Other names immediately came to mind: Council member Lin, new council member Kao …  they all sounded pretty “Asiatic” to me.

After a bit more reflection it occurred to me that perhaps the offensive language had been whited out for an admirable reason. Perhaps the PV Homes Association had, after Shelley v. Kraemer and the passage of Civil Code 1352.5, voted to amend the declarations. Perhaps the homes association whited out the language because these odious racist restrictions had in fact been stricken from the CCRs and it was cheaper to use liquid paper than reprint a whole new set of books. Perhaps PV Estates wasn’t still living on its racist foundations after all.

That’s about the time the results from my title search came in. I’d run the search on the home in PV Estates I once rented, 1720 Via Zurita. With the exception of changes to property setback rules and alterations in the minimum housing prices, nothing else in the CCRs had ever been amended, at least according to the title search for this property. The racially restrictive language in PV Estates, as far as I could tell, was alive, well, and still breathing life into the prejudices of the people who lived there — regardless of whether or not they were legally enforceable.

And in case you wanted to know where the Palos Verdes Homes Association stood on the matter, well, look no farther than the white-out, because that’s the language assuring whites they will always be in. They’ve whited it out, but you know, wink wink nudge nudge, the real meaning is literally just below the surface. Of course it’s still possible that the CCRs have been amended and recorded with the county and my search simply failed to turn them up.

We all know about founding documents that don’t have the force of law but that nonetheless serve as moral and philosophical guiding lights. The most famous one is our Declaration of Independence, which had no force of law but whose aspirations to freedom for all people were the moral philosophy that abolitionists and those who believed in civil rights never lost sight of. The hopes and dreams of noble ideas can work their way down through the years to bring out the best in us.

But on the other hand, the foundational philosophy of racial hate that underpinned PV Estates has carried its noxious stench down to the present day. Harassment, violence, exclusion, corruption, and even death have been its spawn. And to make the irony perfect, that legacy is propagated by people in PV Estates, who in the technical terms of the CCRs that originally governed this special little snowflake on the hill, are still non-white, non-Causasian persona non grata.

END

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Hired Guns: Part 3

March 27, 2017 § 28 Comments

Part 3: Under Their Thumb

As I slowly got sucked into the Biker Gang Imbroglio, a contest between people protesting the death of three cyclists on the PV Peninsula and a small coterie of outraged residents who hated cyclists, the bad people began coming out of the woodwork. In addition to the “everyone knows who he is” anonymous troll, a handful of PV Estates residents, rather than hiding behind anonymity, publicly decried the presence of cyclists in their city and strongly opposed any steps to erect signs or to enforce laws protecting them.

One of the city’s most committed opponents to signage was the husband-wife team of Garrett and Cynthia Unno. At first I concluded that they simply disliked cyclists, didn’t want outsiders (black people) in their city, and had zero concern for the recent victims, one of whom, John Bacon, may have been murdered.

But the more I listened to their implacable opposition to the basic safety steps recommended by the city’s traffic safety committee and approved by the city council – decisions later rescinded thanks to anti-cycling anger – the stranger it seemed. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been advocating for cyclist safety. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been on the side of the weak and the harassed. Of all people, Garrett Unno should have been fighting for justice.

Why? Because he is apparently of Japanese descent.

So?

To answer that resounding “So?” I had to dig a little bit more into Supreme Court history, because the segregation of communities like PV Estates didn’t stop with Buchanan v. Warley, and it wasn’t limited to blacks. In fact, after Justice Day struck down city ordinances banning the sale of property to blacks, communities like PV Estates, far from throwing in the towel, approached the goal of segregation even more aggressively than before.

And in California, where the object of white hate was every bit as intensely directed at Chinese and Japanese as it was at blacks, newly forming communities had a brutally racist and segregationist tool at the ready: A device called the racially restrictive covenant.

Thanks to the single most destructive decision by the Supreme Court ever directed at civil rights, aptly named The Civil Rights Cases, the Fourteenth Amendment was held in 1883 to apply only to state action. Private discrimination and segregation were and are still legal. PV Estates and almost every new community in California used this carte blanche to write restrictions into their founding documents that forbade ownership by certain people.

“Certain” had a specific meaning: “Negro,” “Of African Descent,” and “Asiatic.” Racially restrictive covenants eventually ran aground in 1948, when the Supreme Court ruled that although racist restrictions were legal, the Fourteenth Amendment forbade their enforcement by the state. The case was Shelley v. Kraemer, but it had little effect on desegregation because by 1948 communities like PV Estates were already lily white and the Federal Housing Administration had already been redlining California communities for ten years, a practice that made it impossible for blacks to buy property in “white only” areas as designated by the federal government’s housing agency.

As I read the Supreme Court decisions and sifted through the copious online information about FHA redlining, I started wondering about PV Estates. What did its original covenants, conditions, and restrictions – its CCRs – actually say? Were they really racist? And if they were, had they ever been amended? In other words, were people like Garrett Unno the specific target of racist exclusion from PV Estates? Were people like Garrett Unno, non-whites, still living under CCRs in PV Estates that technically forbade them from living there, even though such bans were unenforceable?

I began to doubt whether such restrictions had ever even existed. The more I searched the less I found. So I hired a title company to do a search on a property in PV Estates, hoping that the search would come up with the original CCRs, as well as pull all of the amendments that would show me that even if PV Estates had originally been a racist-zoned community, at some point in the enlightened future the residents would have amended them to strike out the offensive language, enforceable or not.

Since CCRs were given to all new homeowners in the city by the PV Homes Association, it was inconceivable that along with your purchase you would receive a shiny copy of regulations banning all blacks.

Then I heard back from the title guy, who said “It’s gonna take a while. And in the meantime you might check with the city clerk to see if they have a copy.”

I did, and they didn’t. But they referred me to the Homes Association, which happened to office next door to city hall. I called. “Can I get a copy of the city’s CCRs?” I asked.

“Sure!” the cheery woman said. “Just come down and pick up a copy.”

The next day I was sitting on my couch with copies of the original CCRs. Almost a hundred years old, printed on the highest quality paper, yellowed from age but still sturdier than any new book you’ll find at Barnes and Noble, this was the founding document that governed your residency in the city when you joined the community as a property owner in 2017. And what I found in it was incredible.

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Original 1923 CCRs for Palos Verdes Estates, Lunada Bay Tract

END

Hired Guns: Part 2

March 23, 2017 § 32 Comments

Part 2: Red Cross Store Blues

When I was a kid there was a lot of empty time. My Dad had a set of Leadbelly’s Last Sessions and I’d put them on the record player when no one was home because if you were a little kid using the adult record player you would get an ass beating. Huddie Ledbetter was himself part of the great black exodus from the South, leaving Texas after serving a prison sentence in Louisiana.

Towns across America were viciously racist in the early 20th Century, and few protests capture the times better than Leadbelly’s Red Cross Store Blues, a song in which the protagonist refuses to be snookered by the Red Cross welfare stores to enlist in a war he has no intention of joining. The other giant of the early blues era and a World War I veteran, Bill Broonzy, was even more to the point with Black, Brown and White.

The work of great blues musicians may seem irrelevant to cyclists pedaling through a rich white town a century later, but the tools put in place to oppress blacks in PV Estates almost a hundred years ago have proven equally effective at harassing another group of undesirables: Bicyclists.

There is disagreement about why so many PV Estates residents so virulently oppose bicycling. My opinion is a minority one, but it has the advantage of being backed by over four hundred years of history: The city’s behavior is rooted in racism.

We don’t have to go back to the slave ships to understand how important racism was to the founding of PV Estates, as well as the founding and maintenance of its police force. The city’s founders spelled it out, quite literally, in black and in white. Their founding document? Racially restrictive deed covenants that forbade the sale of property to non-whites.

In this regard PV Estates was no different from hundreds of other communities across America, and its origins are indistinguishable from California’s other richest and whitest coastal communities. Of the 13,438 people who lived in PV Estates as of the last census, 161 were black. That’s 1.2 percent. This segregation of the races was inherent in the development of the community and countless others like it. Leadbelly and Broonzy would recognize PV Estates today at a glance for the “sundown town” that it is.

Even though we take vague comfort (as long as we’re white) that in some ways race relationships in America have changed since PV Estates was created as a subdivision in 1923, in some fundamental ways those relationships haven’t. I always assumed that PV Estates, like the urban Texas cities I grew up in, was racist. But it wasn’t until I got embroiled in the Great Bicycle Gang Imbroglio that I began to understand that PV Estates wasn’t casually, or accidentally, or coincidentally racist. It was methodically laid out, planned, and executed as a racist community. But as with so much else in our national fabric, to understand how important racial purity was for the founders of the city, you have to turn to law, and you have to understand that PV Estates’ desire to remain racially pure was not unique, special, or unusual. A look into PV Estate’s founding mythology of racial purity is a click away on the Supreme Court’s 1917 decision of Buchanan v. Warley.

Gazing back a century to 1917 it’s almost impossible to use the right lens. Rather than focusing on the future they didn’t yet know – computers, phones, air travel for the masses, television, video cameras, full carbon bikes that are 100% pure carbon, or even bicycles with gears – it’s a lot easier to focus on what their recent past was. The year 1917 was only fifty-two years after the Civil War. 1865 was to them as 1965 is to us: Recent history to most, living history to many, and still redolent with personal recollection and experience.

Americans were still struggling with the awesome weight of understanding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: Blacks were people, citizens, the equal of whites, and entitled to the same rights. Much of that “understanding” though involved a low-grade, unending war against implementing those guarantees, and no place was a more bitter battleground than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joseph McKenna, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Day, Edward Douglass White, Willis Van Devanter, Mahlon Pitney, James Clark McReynolds, and John Hessin Clark were on the U.S. Supreme Court when lawyers argued Buchanan v. Warley. All were northerners except for McReynolds (Kentucky), and White (Louisiana). Louis Brandeis had not yet been confirmed at the time of oral argument and was nominally from Kentucky, but raised in a Jewish family from Prague that valued German culture and that prized Schumann and Schiller as dinner time conversation topics, it’s safe to say that his childhood had little in common with the redneck state in which he was raised.

This constellation of justices, that included two of the greatest jurists to ever sit on the court, rendered the opinion in Buchanan v. Warley, which confronted a simple issue: Can a white man sell property to a black man even though the city of Louisville had an ordinance prohibiting it? It was a test case set up by the NAACP to fight the new wave of segregation that was crashing like a giant close-out over the cities that were absorbing the great black migration from south to north.

Justice William Day, writing for the majority, was no slouch. In his nineteen-year tenure on the court he penned over four hundred opinions, of which only eighteen were dissents. He was an enemy of large corporations and voted with antitrust majorities throughout his time as a justice. But it was nonetheless surprising when he ruled that ordinances prohibiting blacks from owning property in white neighborhoods were unconstitutional.

The decision sent shock waves through the nation. It was the first time in the prior thirty-eight cases that had come before the court regarding civil rights that the court had ruled in favor of blacks. And although the racist south was most deeply entrenched fighting the Fourteenth Amendment, few if any northern or western communities in America wanted to integrate either, and a quick review of PV Estates’ 2010 census data shows that for this enclave at least, little has changed. “If you’re black, oh brother, get back, get back, get back.”

But in those days when questions of race were still so close to the carnage of the Civil War, and the status of blacks had only been elevated in principle rather than in fact, racists felt no qualms about putting their bestial arguments into Supreme Court briefs. Justice Day noted “That there exists a serious and difficult problem arising from a feeling of race hostility which the law is powerless to control, and to which it must give a measure of consideration, may be freely admitted.” This is of course the mantra of the anti-politically correct, or the Trumpers of 2017, a hundred years later: We hate blacks and the law can’t stop us from hating them.

Yet Justice Day was not hobbled by this reality as he considered and then struck down the racist arguments supporting discrimination in housing sales: “It is the purpose of such enactments, and, it is frankly avowed, it will be their ultimate effect, to require by law, at least in residential districts, the compulsory separation of the races on account of color. Such action is said to be essential to the maintenance of the purity of the races, although it is to be noted in the ordinance under consideration that the employment of colored servants in white families is permitted, and nearby residences of colored persons not coming within the blocks, as defined in the ordinance, are not prohibited.” The racists wanted separation of the races but, apparently, not when it came to their servants. This parallel in PV Estates is evident any weekday on countless city streets, where Hispanic workers tend the yards on condition that they leave the city at day’s end. Justice Day made clear that the case was not one of maintaining racial purity, but a white man’s right to sell his property to a black man if he saw fit, and vice versa.

The appellants argued that the proposed segregation would promote the public peace by preventing race conflicts. “Desirable as this is, and important as is the preservation of the public peace, this aim cannot be accomplished by laws or ordinances which deny rights created or protected by the Federal Constitution,” was Day’s curt response.

Finally, Day rebutted the racists’ strongest suit, one that PV Estates residents still bandy about today — property values: “It is said that such acquisitions by colored persons depreciate property owned in the neighborhood by white persons. But property may be acquired by undesirable white neighbors or put to disagreeable though lawful uses with like results.”

And just like that, the constitutionality of these ordinances was tossed on the rubbish heap.

If only racism could have been tossed on the rubbish heap with it.

END

*Note: I’m cobbling this together in fits and starts and am only up to Part 2. The next three installments will be published next week. In the meantime, back to our regular bike racing programming nonesuch and whatnot and etcetera.

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Hired Guns: Part 1

March 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

Part 1: The Tax Man Goeth

The mayor of Palos Verdes Estates, the city council, and over sixty percent of the voters in the last municipal election on March 7, 2017 voted for something so important and crucial to the community that it could only have been given the most anodyne name imaginable: Measure D.

This ballot item, if it had been forced to comply with the same rules of truthful disclosure that we require of foodstuffs, would have been called “City Fire Department and EMS Tax.” Because that’s what it was: A tax to continue paying for that least objectionable and most necessary of all city services – a fire department and its attendant emergency medical services.

Who could possibly vote against that?

The answer turned out to be “about forty percent of the people who voted in an election that had less than thirteen percent of all eligible voters show up to vote.” Normally that would be a crushing victory for the tax man, sixty to forty. But in PV Estates, tax proposals like this one had to be approved by two-thirds of the people who voted, and the end tally left the tax supporters about three hundred votes short. In other words, the people of PV Estates voted, incredibly, not to pay for their own fire and emergency medical services.

It might seem strange to think that a mostly older community with a large proportion of retirees would vote against a fire department. This is no henhouse filled with spring chickens; the city’s median age is a sun-wrinkled, HGH-assisted 50. PV Estates sits on a hilly slope that is highly susceptible to the wildfires that make California such a staple of national night-time summer weather news reports. Setting aside the conflagrations, the fire department is also the first responder when people wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, when they fall and break a hip, or much more importantly, when their cat gets stuck in a tree.

But voting against the fire department and EMS wasn’t really a vote against either, and it certainly wasn’t a vote against cats. It was a vote against the PV Estates Police Department, an agency that of late had become the endless target of bad news, litigation, and virulent anonymous hate speech attacks.

To understand how a minority of voters could torpedo an entire police department, though, you have to go back to 1978, to Howard Jarvis, and to Proposition 13, the mother of all regressive tax laws. And to understand why the white voters in PV Estates were so staunchly behind regressive taxation, even to the detriment of their own community, you have to go all the way back to the city’s inception and the deed restrictions that marketed PV Estates as an ideal community that would bring together “the cream of the manhood and womanhood of the greatest nation that has ever lived, the Caucasian race and the American nation.” Those were the words of its founder, and his adherents are alive, well, and kicking like hell.

END

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Hired Guns: Introduction

March 21, 2017 § 16 Comments

Introduction

The city of Palos Verdes Estates, or part of it, is battling for the survival of its municipal police force. Opponents want to demolish it and replace it by contracting for law enforcement services with the monolithic Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. It sounds like pedestrian city politics, unless you happen to be a bicyclist. In that case, it isn’t pedestrian at all.

This issue affects a lot more than the pedal pushers who often run stop signs as they breeze through one of the most scenic and challenging bike routes in the United States. Class war, surfing localism, contempt of outsiders, hate speech, enraged small town racists, the California Vehicle Code, murder, Wall Street predators, regressive taxation, and the complex act of understanding and enforcing the law all turn up when this topic is spaded over, like wriggling earthworms in a cool mound of leafy compost.

I got involved in this whole thing backwards, simply by riding my steel Eddy Merckx with down-tube shifters on the way to work one day. I had been in California for a couple of months and was renting a house in Palos Verdes Estates, a place I ended up in entirely by accident. The law office I was working at was in San Pedro, and when I arrived in California I told the realtor, an avid cyclist nicknamed “the Badger,” that I wanted to rent in San Pedro because it was close to my office.

“Dude,” he said. “You don’t want to live in Pedro unless you like lung cancer or want to hang out at Godmother’s. Let me show you some places in PV Estates.”

To my unsophisticated eye it looked like a lot of other suburbs I’d seen throughout my life. Nice homes, affluent people in nice cars, white people everywhere, and, oh yeah, the most stunning scenery imaginable stuck right in the heart of Los Angeles. I traced the road on a map and saw that my commute to San Pedro would be along PV Drive South, a twenty-minute drive with three stoplights, no traffic, and postcard views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island from start to finish.

Did I mention that this was in the heart of Los Angeles? Because when I told my family back in Texas that I had a twenty-minute, no traffic, sprawling ocean view commute in the middle of LA, they thought I was lying through my teeth and everywhere else.

One morning as I rode to work, because it didn’t take long to figure out that the most beautiful, car-free road in California was also the most beautiful car-free bike commute in California, I blew through a red light at the intersection of Hawthorne and Via Vicente. There was no traffic in any direction, but I hadn’t gotten through the intersection before I heard the siren of the guy I would later get to know as the dreaded Deputy Knox.

By 2007 I had been riding competitively and racing for thirty-five years. I had run tens of thousands of red lights and hundreds of thousands of stop signs, and I had done it in Texas, Japan Germany, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. I’d never been ticketed, not once, and had never been hit by a car. Deputy Knox of the LA Sheriff’s Department pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. I knew enough not to argue with a 6’4” dude carrying a gun, handcuffs, and a radio, but even so I was surprised at his glowering anger. He was prodding and pushing me to react, but I’d experienced that in plenty of other venues with cops, so the more he pushed the meeker I got. I wanted to get to work, not star in a new chapter on civil rights.

Knox wrote the citation, gave me a nasty lecture, and sped away. That encounter, between a meek, bony guy on a bike endangering no one in a victimless crime, and an angry cop trying to prod him into a confrontation, made a huge impression on me. “What if I’d been black?” I wondered, scared. Knox was lean but he was muscular, he was big, and he was ready to arrest me and haul me off to jail if I had given him any guff. My instinct, by the way, proved dead-on the following year when my friend and fellow riding partner Jeff Konsmo was pulled over and cited by Knox. However, unlike my red light violation, Jeff was pulled over because Knox didn’t understand – or chose not to understand – vehicle code section 21202a and its exceptions. When Jeff objected to the grounds of the citation, Knox slapped on the stainless steel jewelry and shoved him in the back of the patrol car.

This was my first and lasting impression of bikes and law enforcement on the peninsula. They hated your guts. You didn’t belong. Get the hell out.

END

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