January 20, 2015 § 41 Comments
I had been living on the peninsula for a month. The weather was spotless, polished, and shiny like Prez’s cherry ’62 Camaro that he refuses to drive except for that time he almost ran over a skateboarder and three pumps at the Chevron over by the old CBR course when he was showing off with a big ol’ peel out that almost turned into felony manslaughter.
I will never forget that beautiful day, sailing along PV Drive, headed out to the Switchbacks, 65 degrees in February, and not a care in the world, not even that bright red stoplight at Hawthorne, which was nowhere near changing to green at the moment that I whizzed through it. “Heck,” I thought, “there aren’t any cars coming.”
Officer Knox proved me wrong. There was a car coming, and it was his. Flashers going full twirl, he pulled me over, made me sit down on the curb, and wrote me a $350 ticket for my blatant moving violation. It was so unjust, being forced to obey the law and stuff, but one look at Knox and I knew that I’d better shut up, and when I got through shutting up I should probably shut up some more.
He stank of cop.
As the years went by, I learned that LA Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Knox was the biggest delta bravo on the peninsula. In addition to writing tickets to bicycle scofflaws, he wrote tickets to law-abiding cyclists as well. He wrote tickets everywhere, to everyone, all the time. One time he even stuffed and cuffed Roadchamp for having had the temerity to complain while being written up for a non-violation. He wasn’t just a mean bastard, he was a sadistic bully.
So when I read in our local Daily Breeze — a cycling-hating rag that is Motordom’s answer to Fox News — that Knox in Socks was retiring from his duties as hall monitor on the Peninsula, I was euphoric. Of course I’ve forgiven Knox for ticketing me after I ran that red light, but the reason the guy was such a plague is because he was either too stupid to understand the vehicle code as it relates to cyclists (possible), or was an asshole who intentionally harassed cyclists for the fun of it (highly likely).
As recently as November he was still citing cyclists for violating CVC 21202(a) on the Switchbacks because they were not riding as far to the right as practicable even though the law allows them to move over into the lane in order to avoid road debris, hazards, or the dangers of a substandard lane width. For any cyclist who ever got wrongly cited by this boneheaded cretin, his self-congratulatory line in the Daily Sleaze article about being “passionate about traffic safety because I don’t like going to crashes and seeing people that are injured or killed” is complete horseshit.
How do I know?
Because I know what an asshole looks like. Assholes are generally people who justify fucking with other people because they believe in “public safety” or “protecting people from themselves.” Good law enforcement doesn’t involve indiscriminate ticketing, and Knox’s career of writing an average of 14 tickets a day for 31 years proves what cyclists on the Hill knew: If this knuckledragger hadn’t written his quota and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you were getting a ticket. What other kind of person than an asshole would handcuff an angry, tiny little cyclist who was protesting a bogus ticket?
Knox’s incompetence and venal harassment of cyclists wasn’t limited to tickets, though. His hatred of bicycles made itself known in a much more offensive and harmful way: The Knox traffic investigation. This clown was known to twist the facts when investigating a car-bike collision to pin the tail on the cyclist whenever possible. I recall one case where a cyclist had been right-hooked on Hawthorne and Deppity Doofus still managed to find the rider at fault.
This type of bungling and prejudicial investigation made it much harder, time consuming, and costly for injured cyclists to obtain compensation, and reinforced what appeared to be Knox’s own personal world view, that might makes right.
Of course Knox always had plenty of stories with him playing the hero, and I got to see him toot his horn at an RPV traffic committee meeting once. He loved to talk about how he’d chased down someone “doing 120 in a 40,” and in truth he probably did ticket thousands of speeders who deserved it.
But like every other little mini-dictator, he lacked discretion, he misapplied the law, and he justified his crazy zeal for ticketing with indiscriminate enforcement of the law. How badly was he hated? Other police officers in Hermosa have confided to me that the guy was regarded by his peers as a 14-carat asshole. “He’s the only cop out there,” one guy said, “who enjoys ticketing other cops.”
Knox’s boss, Captain Blaine Bolin, was of course extremely proud of his henchman’s work, and called the general hatred and fear people had of this deputy “The Knox Effect.” Of course it’s true that as a result of bad police work and illegal ticketing people were afraid of him, and they probably did drive more carefully. But this shows the incompetent mentality at the top, which thinks that the ends justify the means. With Captain Bolin’s logic, we could get even better results by simply shooting people on the spot. And there’s a reason that Bolin and Knox prefer the “ticket everyone” approach: It’s easy.
What’s hard is to learn the law and apply it properly. What’s hard is to impartially deal with people you may not like. What’s hard is to realize that even though you carry a gun you’re still a public servant, and you work for us. What’s hard is to be a peace officer instead of a chest-thumping bully.
Of course there are excellent deputies out there, and the recent absence of Knox has been noticed. Police work is hard work, but not nearly as hard as mowing lawns, mining coal, or working in a meat packing plant. Plus, if you’re a cop it’s because you signed up for it, so do us all a favor and know the laws you’re paid to fairly apply.
So while RPV and the Lomita substation mourns the loss of a guy who gave other cops a bad name, of an unpleasant jerk who equated harassment with police work, of a pathetic, lonely, mean sonofabitch who instilled fear and loathing instead of respect and appreciation, I can say only this: Good fucking riddance, and I hope that in your retirement you take up bicycling. Because there are a whole lot of people who would love to take you for a little pedal around the Hill.
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January 16, 2015 § 48 Comments
Team Wanker showed up at the Santa Monica Courthouse garbed in its finest clothing and ready to do battle with the machinations of THE SYSTEM, or, alternatively, to hang out at the Sckubrats across the street and quaff a cup of coffee. This was our third sally into the bowels of bicycle-citation-defense law, and I was gradually coming to the realization that working for free was just as unprofitable as going for a bike ride, only less fun.
For this final inning against the minions of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, we had assembled, if not the Dream Team, then at least the Catnap Team. We had:
Defendant Scotty G.: The victim of a terrible conspiracy to pervert our civil rights, Scotty G. had chosen to take a morning off work and fight the citation for violating CVC 21202(a) even though it would have been easier and cheaper to pay the fine. Scotty had been ticketed for riding in the middle of the lane on PCH with the Big Orange noodlers. Everyone agreed that the reason he’d been served with the ticket is because he was wearing the dark blue Ironfly kit, and stood out like a sore tongue in a French kissing contest when surrounded by all the Orangemen.
Expert Witness Gary Cziko (pronounced “psycho, but not to his face): Gary now holds the record in successful expert witness bicycle defenses, having won every single case in which he was hired to testify — proving that he is well worth the cup of coffee and candy bar that it took to entice him to take a bath and pedal over to court. Hired Gun Psycho had come prepared to testify to the width of the lane and the fact that it could not be safely shared by a bike and vehicle, thereby calling into effect one of the exceptions to California’s “farthest to the right” rule for bikes. This time, sensing an all-out war, he had brushed away all the breadcrumbs, combed most of his hair, and brushed several of his teeth. It was battle time.
Expert Witness Eric Bruins: Strangely an alum of USC, Eric is also batting a thousand in his testimony regarding highway standards, although somewhat less successful in explaining why with the last name of “Bruins” he didn’t go to UCLA. Eric was prepared to testify regarding the applicable width of lanes under accepted lane-width standards, and why those standards were crucial for understanding the inherent unsafety of the lanes on PCH as concerns “FTR” travel by bicycles.
Gritty Lawyer “Wankmeister,” Senior Partner and Chief Janitor at Wanky Law, LLP: I knew this was going to be the toughest trial of my career, and not just because I’d had beans and chili the night before at the all-you-can-eat taco bar and beanerie with Bull. As I sat stewing in the endless traffic on the 405, I thought grimly about the take-no-prisoners, scorched earth tactics I would have to employ in this pitiless cage fight between titans of the law.
Deppity Doofus: Doofus was my adversary, as wily and clever as he was rotund and fond of donuts. With a mind and body honed on three decades of law enforcement along PCH, and almost as many decades spent belly-up to the counter at DK Donuts in Santa Monica, Deppity Doofus would be cagy and hard to trap. He had mostly spelled his own name correctly at the bottom of the citation, which let me know that I was dealing with the best that the sheriff’s department had to offer.
The battle plan
In our two previous court battles, Team Wanky had employed one of the most complex legal strategies ever devised. Known by its code name, JSU, the “Just Show Up” stratagem involved all four of us appearing at the courthouse at the correct time, 8:45 AM.
But that wasn’t all. After appearing, we planned to carefully find our way to Department A, where we would implement Phase II of JSU, in some ways the trickiest part of our defense. One by one we would enter the courtroom. Scotty, Gary, and Eric would all sit down. I, on the other hand, was planning to walk up to the clerk’s desk and check in. This was the linchpin of our strategy — we would then be officially checked in.
After overcoming these incredible hurdles, Phase III would kick in: We would wait for our case to be called. Then, we would wait for the judge to say, “No appearance by Deppity Doofus due to a sale at the Olde Donut Shoppe. Case dismissed.” At that point I was planning to carefully stand up and deliver the most devastating part of my legal defense — I would say, “Thank you, Your Honor,” and we would all stand up and leave.
That, anyway, was the plan.
No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy
Unfortunately, our devastating JSU strategy got derailed early. Although I had allotted thirty minutes for the one-hour drive to Santa Monica, I wound up arriving late. Then, facing complete defeat, I was forced to call Scotty G. and have him implement Phase II using our backup plan. Instead of me going to the desk and checking in, I told him, “Scotty, you go check in.” He was able to walk all the way to the clerk’s desk, give his name, and save the day.
I dashed into the courtroom a few minutes late, still in time to make my closing argument. Quickly, I huddled with Team Wanker and we practiced.
“Okay, Scotty. Get ready to sit down.”
“I’m already sitting,” he said.”
“Good job. Keep it up. Gary, what’s the square root of 5.9?” I asked.
“I have no idea. What difference does it make?”
“Just checking. Good job. Eric, how much spunk water should you drink to make a wart go away when Venus is retrograde to Uranus?”
“What?” he asked.
“Exactly,” I confirmed.
Then I sat down beside my team and waited to attack. Judge Hahn came in and surveyed us, sensing the dismissal battle that was about to take place. “Okay,” he said, “if I call your name it means that the officer who wrote the citation isn’t here, so your case will be dismissed and you can go home.”
He read off a few names, but not a single defendant had a professional team of hired guns like Scotty G. The way that Gary and Eric sat in their chairs and gaped like toads was terrible to behold.
“Scotty G.?” said the judge. “Your case is dismissed.”
I stood, and all eyes in the courtroom turned on my. It was to be my finest hour as I summoned all of my wits to persuade these twelve jurors of the justice of our cause. I paused. You could have sliced the tension with an eructation. “Your honor,” I said.
“Yes?” he answered.
I drew it out, the crowning moment of my legal career, champion of the downtrodden, hero of the oppressed, knowing neither fear nor favor in my prosecution of the things we as Americans cherish most deeply. Then I said it. “Thank you.”
“Samuel Poopinbeck,” said the Judge. “Case dismissed.”
Mr. Poopinbeck made complete mess out of his dismissal and stumbled to the door, only managing to mumble, “Thanks.”
Afterwards we high-fived in the hall, slapped backs and butts, and jogged over to the Sckubrats where I treated everyone to a cup of water. The euphoria was incredible. Scotty G. thanked me for my efforts, and we parted company. We fought the law, and we won.
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December 15, 2014 § 31 Comments
You might think that Louis Zamperini, Michael Brown, Milton Olin, this weekend’s CBR upgrade crit, and the midterm congressional elections are unrelated.
You’d be wrong.
Louie Zamperini was the poster child for the Greatest Generation, the men and women who fought World War II and made the world safe for democracy. Michael Brown was the unarmed man gunned down by a killer cop. Milton Olin was the bicycle rider mowed down by a deputy who wasn’t paying attention, and who wasn’t even prosecuted. The CBR upgrade crit this weekend was a bicycle race that about a 10% increase in participation from 2013.
There’s a reason that Americans love WW II stories like Louie’s, the story of an Olympic runner from a tumbledown house in Torrance, CA who crashed in the Pacific while flying as a bombardier, survived 47 days in the open ocean on a raft, and then somehow made it through more than two years of torture in various Japanese POW camps. Americans love these stories because World War II is the last time this country did anything good for the world commensurate with our resources and our capacity. Since then our achievements have been defeats in Korea and Vietnam, defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a national government that thinks torture is a good thing. Maybe they need to read Unbroken to remember why it isn’t.
World War II was a war for many things. One of those things was democracy, which is the right to choose our own form of government and to have a voice in the laws that we decide to abide by. Twenty years after the war, almost 50% of Americans voted in congressional midterm elections, a high watermark in modern midterm voter turnout. It’s no coincidence that this happened alongside the civil rights movement, and it’s no coincidence that we more opportunity and more equally distributed wealth than we do today.
Michael Brown was killed and the killer was no-billed by the grand jury. He walked. People responded with riots, protests, and fury. But they didn’t respond with votes. The midterm turnout in 2014, when Americans were outraged enough to riot over our police state, was 36.4 percent, the lowest in 70 years.
Milton Olin’s killer wasn’t prosecuted because the district attorney chose to ignore the evidence and protect a member of the police. She’s an elected official, but doesn’t have to worry because she knows that angry cyclists will vent their fury on Facebook, chat forums, and listservs, but they won’t vote. And she’s right. Less than 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote.
This weekend’s CBR upgrade crit grew ten percent over last year. Once reason it grew is because various people in the bike racing community did something more effective than jizzing over Strava, or posting sexy bike photos from the latest group ride. They actively encouraged their friends to show up and race.
Is there a lesson here? There is.
The most satisfying thing is to vent, whether it’s by burning a few cars, smashing out a few windows, marching in solidarity while chanting chanty chants, or bashing race promoters because their races are too boring/too expensive/ too far away/ too [fill in your complaint here]. But the most effective thing isn’t always the most satisfying thing, at least not in the beginning.
The most effective thing is voting. It may be hard. There may be huge barriers to doing it. They system may be set up to keep you away from the polls. But you know what? People were willing to die to cast a vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election this year. I’m pretty sure that whatever’s keeping 70% of the electorate from rolling off the couch and signing up for a mail-in ballot isn’t as challenging as the risk of getting your brains blown out by the Taliban.
Bike racing is the same. It’s only by encouraging people to race that they will go race. If we want a robust racing scene, it’s on us. And if we think that a 10% increase is nothing, imagine that 10% compounded every six months or every three, something that’s totally doable if everyone who claims to like racing takes the time to call, prod, and push. In two years’ time we’d have full fields, every category, every race.
That’s the same with voting. I respect the right to march and to voice discontent. Hell, I agree with it. But until we’ve voted, or urged a buddy to come out and race, we haven’t really done anything. Social media protests give the illusion of action, but really they just turn us into one more yammering idiot who’s got all the energy to bitch, and none of the conviction to back it up. A ten percent increase in voter turnout over two or three election cycles would revolutionize this country without firing a shot. But to do it, like encouraging people to go race their bikes, we have to do something more arduous than firing up Facebag and hitting “like.”
The Louie Zamperinis of World War II took action. Maybe we should, too.
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December 10, 2014 § 14 Comments
There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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December 2, 2014 § 30 Comments
When I saw the big yellow Penske moving van with the tan pickup hitched up behind it, I almost shed a tear. After two years of threats, Brad House has moved to Texas. Do the poor Texans have any idea what they’re in for? Do they remember Radical Reconstruction?
Few people have made a bigger impact on cycling in the South Bay than Brad. Whether it was the bright orange catmuffs he began wearing a couple of years ago, items that make an already ridiculous looking sport even sillier, whether it was his cycling shorts whose rear panels had expired in 2002, whether it was his “all the guns, all the time” right wing views that made the NRA look soft on the 2nd Amendment, or whether it was his random habit of opening his mouth and jamming it full with both feet, Brad was a force that none could ignore.
In addition to his uncanny ability to say the exactly wrong thing at the perfectly wrong time, though, Brad has made the South Bay an exponentially better place to ride for hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists. Foremost among his contributions was his advocacy. Cyclists, as everyone knows, are whiny little bitches. They will complain about their two free team kits, their 25% shop discount, and their “free but turn in at the end of the season” team bike for hours upon endless hours. Just try getting your average wanker to show up at a city council meeting and advocate for something cycling related, though. Ain’t ever gonna happen.
Unless your name is Brad House.
The same energy with which Brad broadcasts batshit crazy political views that will make Texas seem like a moderate-liberal enclave is the same energy he brought to council meetings in the South Bay. Brad always found time, always made time, to advocate for cyclists’ rights. And he invariably articulated his position thoughtfully, persuasively, and intelligently — so much so that the suit-and-ties on the city council had no clue they were dealing with a cannonball that was looser than a $5 hooker.
Brad is the first cyclist I ever met who refused to back down to bullying cagers. He didn’t simply control the lane, he controlled the very oxygen in the street. He was the first person I ever rode with who took his rightful place smack in the middle of the lane and refused to be bullied out of it. One time on the Donut a cager with a latte honked at him to get out of the way at a stop light. She is probably still getting the dents out of her hood.
In contrast to his aggressive defense of his right to ride in the road, I never heard Brad talk shit about anyone, ever, and it’s not only because he loved to talk about himself. It’s also because, beneath all the flibber-flabber and blibber-blabber, he saw himself as a kind of Pied Piper for new cyclists. Although they’re ashamed to admit it now because their mentor wears those orange catmuffs, hundreds of people in the South Bay got hooked on cycling, and improved as cyclists thanks to the friendship and encouragement of Brad House.
Nor were Brad’s contributions limited to advocacy and raunchy tales in mixed company that would make a porn star blush. Every race promoter in Southern California owes a debt to Brad, who promoted races here for decades. Whether it was the San Pedro Grand Prix, one of the best and most challenging race courses ever, the annual drag race held out at LAX on Westchester Parkway, the countless hill climbs in PV, or cyclocross races, Brad invested the time and passion and legendary cheapness that is required to put on a bike race.
Yet for all his cheapness, he was a generous guy. I remember five years ago at Woodland Hills I was bonking before a race. “Brad,” I said, “got any food?”
“I think I got a candy bar somewhere,” he said. We went back to his pickup and he rummaged around on the floor in the back seat for a few minutes, stirring up more dust and trash and filth than you would think could be contained in such a small vehicle. “Here!” he triumphantly called, holding up an opened package with a half-eaten Clif Bar in it. The expiration date said something on it about the Jurassic.
But no candy bar ever tasted better, and on the fuel generously supplied by Brad I went on to finish 72nd and didn’t fall off my bike.
Despite his welcoming mien to beginners and his extremely sketchy bike skills and his wildly flapping elbows and his crazyman catmuffs, Brad was also a successful bike racer, and he never tired of reminding people that he had more California State Champion jerseys than anyone in history. Whether that’s true or not, he certainly had no shortage of them, and along with his expired rear short panels and unblinking brown eye, those flashy jerseys were a sight to behold.
More than his racing exploits, his kindness to others, his advocacy, his passion as a promoter, and, when he worked at the bike shop in San Pedro, his ability to take a perfectly functioning bike with a minor problem and turn it into a rolling catastrophe, Brad will be remembered by most as a friend — someone who was there when you needed him, often there when you didn’t, too kind to hold a grudge, and always looking forward with enthusiasm and passion to the next ride.
I’ll miss you Brad, sort of.
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December 1, 2014 § 30 Comments
Although legally accorded the right to ride in the roadway, bicyclists are hardly treated equally by motorists, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, or legislators. It is a commonplace that, as with the Olin Milton case in Los Angeles, egregious acts that result in the death of a rider are simply not prosecuted. Daily harassment, violence in the form of being hit by motorists, verbal assaults, physical confrontations, and the low-level hatred spewed out by cagers and non-cyclists give the conflict distinct similarities with the way that white society interacts with black.
Many cycling advocates have noted the similarities and have framed the right to use our roadways without fear of harassment and death a civil right, one on the order of the right to vote and the right to participate in society without being attacked because of the color of your skin. Freedom of movement is one of the most important civil rights, and a society that restricts it and punishes those who choose to get around without a car is, the argument goes, as egregious as being deprived of the right to vote.
Other similarities abound, one of the biggest being the “separate but equal” doctrine of those who support bike lanes. Reminiscent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark Supreme Court case that permitted racial segregation as long as the facilities were equal, bike segregationists promote the idea that it’s okay to keep bikes out of the roadway as long as they have a separate “bikes only” place to pedal — no matter that the bike lane is filled with debris, doesn’t go where the roads go, is inconvenient, and doesn’t keep cars from swiping in and killing you.
So it’s persuasive to say that the right of cyclists to use the roads is on a par with the civil rights movement, especially when cyclists die on what is almost a daily basis.
It’s persuasive, but it’s wrong.
The civil rights movement did not stem from a narrow denial of a single right such as the right to freely use the roadways. It stemmed from a comprehensive system of oppression, originating in the slavery of millions of people that deprived U.S. citizens of the right to vote, to marry, to receive an education, to work, to receive equal pay, to receive health care, to travel, to obtain accommodations, even to use public toilets and public drinking fountains. These wrongs were not based on an individual’s choice of transportation, i.e. bike v. car. They were based on the color of your skin.
If you were born black, you were denied equal protection of the laws — of all laws. If you were white, as Bill Broonzy sang, “You’re all right.” If you’re black? Get back, get back, get back, get back.
Whereas cyclists, state by state, try to affect their rights on roads via legislation, the wrongs that were fought against in the civil rights movement were the continuation of a war that killed 600,000 people and destroyed the lives of millions. The movement itself had to oppose and defeat state sponsored violence, lynching, the murder of children, the bombing of churches, and the killing of activists who simply sought the rights they were guaranteed under our constitution.
It damages cycling advocacy to try and claim parity with the civil rights movement, just like it damages people who protest modern wars to compare them with the Holocaust. By appropriating the language of such seminal events, you expropriate them as well. Your tragedy, however tragic, is not and can never be the Holocaust. Your death at the hands of a careless texter is not and can never be the enslavement of an entire race.
At the same time we can and should use the lessons of those who fought in the civil rights movement. They looked to David Thoreau and his theory of civil disobedience; we can look to the united front of civil rights marchers as we refuse to accept the slaughter in the streets and the separate, unequal facilities being foisted on us. By honoring the struggles of others and learning from them, without stripping away their hard-earned denominations and claiming them for ourselves, we do the right thing and actually give ourselves a chance.
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November 14, 2014 § 58 Comments
It seemed pretty harmless. My fan sent me a private email and told me about a little bike-citation-trap that the LA Sheriff’s Department was running on PCH southbound. There is a shortcut that about seventy eleven billion riders take coming home on PCH, and it’s illegal because it requires you to go the wrong way down a one-lane, one-way street for about fifty feet before it becomes a two-lane, two-way street.
The reason that you break the law here is because you are tired and it’s the last 30 miles of your ride back to PV and if you go straight with your shot legs you have to “drag your wagon” as Miss Kentucky would say, all the way up Pepperdine Hill instead of sailing back to Malibu on a pancake flat, untrafficked road.
Problem is, the untrafficked road leads by Cher’s compound, and the trillionaires along the road, or at least one of them, doesn’t like it when bikers break the law to “sneak” onto “their” road. So, after getting a tip from my fan — the equivalent of someone telling you about a sobriety checkpoint — I went onto my Facebag lawyer page and gave the cycling planet a heads-up. “Don’t break the law here, and either go straight or walk your bike until the road becomes two-way.”
Pretty soon a maroon reared his ugly head, some wanker named Heath who is presumably a cyclist, and he made a couple of nasty comments about “lazy cyclists” and insinuating that the trillionaires were right to be angry at the scofflaws. I counter-posted once or twice and then deleted all of his comments, adhering to my new Facebag policy of “you gotta pay to play.”
In the past I would hunker down and engage in multi-day Facebag comment wars that were immensely entertaining to everyone but me. I realized the depth of my illness when, coming up for air, I realized that I had posted over 200 comments in a battle of the maroons between me and some wanker in upstate New York about whether or not his ‘cross skilz class would have prevented a crash. Yep. It was that weighty a topic. I engaged in this tweetle-beetle-battle-in-a-Facebag-bottle while visiting my elder son at college, ruining the weekend, and causing permanent emotional damage to the other maroon, who threatened legal action against me. (Note to reader: threatening lawyers with legal action is like threatening Bre’r Rabbit with the briar patch.)
However, it takes two maroons to have a tweetle beetle battle, and after reflection I realized that in this case I was the other one, and vowed not to do it anymore. So when Heath began tossing out the red meat I just tossed out the red delete and that was the end of it. Henceforth, I decided that if anyone wants to argue with me, they have to do it in my sandbox, here on the blog, where I not only make the rules but where I can edit everything they write or block them completely if I so choose. It’s not fair, just like life.
What struck me about Heath, though, is a common thread that runs through cycling in which cyclists themselves are extremely critical of other cyclists when it comes to obeying traffic laws. It’s a hall monitor complex, and it’s bizarre. I don’t condone scofflawing most of the time, but unless it’s egregious and puts someone else’s life at risk, I don’t much care about it, either. Cars break the laws all the time too, and when I’m motoring along and someone changes lanes without using a turn indicator (that actually happens), I don’t honk, or scream, or post a rant about it.
My motoring time is better spent driving defensively than it is screaming, cursing, flipping off, honking, or Facebagging about all the maroons out there who are trying to kill me.
Cycling is already dangerous enough without having to split my attention to whether or not someone runs a stop sign or goes the wrong way for 50 feet down Cher’s street. And in the battle between the scofflaws, it’s the motorist, not the cyclist, who is the overwhelming bad guy.
My buddy C. was dropping down Manhattan Boulevard a few days ago, traveling at the speed limit, and lawfully riding in the lane. A very busy and important manageress of a local MB optic shop came by, speeding, let out a blast on her horn, totally ignoring the new law that requires a passing motorist to give a cyclist 3-feet of clearance. C. got out of her way just in time to avoid being turned into pulp, and at the stoplight a few feet ahead, the one she had apparently been rushing to get to so she could stop, he thwacked on her window and yelled at her.
“I’m calling the police!” she screamed.
“Great,” he said. So they pulled over while she dialed 911. Unlike the LA police, where they don’t even bother to show up unless at least three shots have been fired and one person has been hit, the MB police aren’t quite as busy, and five minutes later a cop approached. To C.’s incredible joy and disbelief, it was a cop on a … bicycle. Finally, for once, justice was about to be done.
The eyeglass lady had been speeding. She had passed C. illegally. She had broken the law prohibiting unnecessary use of the horn. She had illegally crossed the double yellow line to pass. More to the point, she admitted to all of it.
So of course, the bicycle cop on the bicycle (did I mention he was riding a bike?) began to berate … the cyclist. After hearing both sides of the story, he asked C. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“You mean while she was trying to kill me as I descended at the speed limit? Kind of whip my phone out of my jersey pocket and dial 911?”
“Well, it’s illegal to hit someone’s window like you admit to having done.”
“Right. And my reaction was in response to her assaulting me. So are you going to cite her for all the things she’s admitted doing?”
“It’s your word against hers.”
“Right, except she and I both agree that she was breaking the law.”
“Well, you should have called me.”
“Look,” said C., feeling very much as if he were living the Monty Python argument clinic or descending into tweetle-beetle-battle hell, “she called you and you’re here. What are you going to do about it?”
“It’s your word against hers,” said Deppity Doofus.
And that’s pretty much how it ended: The motorist, having admitted to a plethora of violations, one of them a moving violation, got to continue on while the Manhattan Beach bicycle cop (he was riding a bicycle) blamed the cyclist.
I thought about all this as I pondered Heath’s cyclist-hating comments and it made me think of Pogo. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”