March 23, 2017 § 26 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.
*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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March 22, 2017 § 28 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.
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August 26, 2016 § 24 Comments
Marshall Perkins has been around a long time. “How long, Wanky?”
Well, one time we were sitting around and I asked if anyone remembered when coffee became part of cycling. In Texas there sure as hell weren’t any coffee shops in 1982 where you could swing by and get a quick cup before or after the ride. The closest thing I remember was Sweetish Hill Bakery in Austin, but nobody sat around drinking coffee pre- or post-ride.
Marsh remembered, and he even remembered the first couple of shops that served espresso, some joint in Santa Monica back around the time they invented tectonic plates. I got a great education about coffee-shops-back-in-the-day and we all agreed that they were a massive anomaly, but then again, so were bikers.
Marshall is a giant of a man and not just physically. He’s always stood up for the downtrodden, always been ready to lend a hand, always taken the side of the underdog. In our cycling community, he and his wife are pillars of support for those who wind up in need, especially when winding up in need is the result of a biker winding up on someone’s bumper.
I always wonder about what makes people good. Then a few days ago I saw a magazine article from 1982 about a guy named Captain Jim Perkins, California Highway Patrol commander of the Ontario office.
Here’s the link to the story, which is even more relevant today than it was in 1982. The entire article by Captain Perkins is typed out at the end of the document for easier reading. Captain Perkins is, of course, Marshall’s dad. The apple stayed pretty close to the tree.
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July 4, 2016 § 26 Comments
The July 4th Holiday Ride is always a doozy. This year was no exception.
It’s hard to disagree with the statement that the Holiday Ride is the worst ride ever. About 200 people show up and flail their way from Manhattan Beach to Brentwood. Then there is a knife fight in the mud for Tony Manzella’s wheel and we pack the entire lane of a narrow, twisty, fucked-up country road, the knife fight for Sweet Ass’s wheel moves on to guns, then mortars, then nukes, and two minutes in there are 10 riders left and unless you’re one of the ten your day is done.
If you’re one of the ten, you just risked life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for about twenty minutes of crystal-meth-pure misery.
Before today’s ride Sausage told me to video it on his GoPro. “But I have a Cycliq Fly12,” I protested.
Sausage is into high quality. He’s also real diplomatic. “Your camera sucks,” he said. “Use mine.” It’s hard to argue with facts.
EA Sports, Inc. and I drove to the Center of the Known Universe where everyone was standing around all nervous as hell. Why nervous? I don’t know, actually, because the ride always ends the same way. You get miserably dropped. There is no drama, and after having done it for ten years there’s not even any mystery about when it will happen.
Of course not everyone in the Santa-Monica-to-the-South-Bay arc is a lunatic. About 200 other people, all of whom who have done the Holiday Ride, and all of whom know how stupid it is, have formed an alt-Holiday Ride called the Yellow Vase Ride. They ride at a friendly pace around Palos Verdes and then have coffee and croissants at the Yellow Vase cafe. People laugh, talk, tell stories, and appreciate the beauty of the area and the fun of cycling.
Well, fuck those people.
By the time we got to Marina del Rey there were another hundred or so baby seals who’d been added to the clubbing list. In addition to the drama of the ride there had been some pre-ride Facebag drama, too. Phil Gaimon was going to show up and tow us up Mandeville at 462.3 watts like he did last year, but first we had to sign up for his Grand Fondue. One of the local Strava addicts complained that it wasn’t fair for us to be motoring along behind Phil, and a war of words ensued, after which there was a lot of red, rashy, very painful butthurt. So to make sure everyone on the ride was going to be okay I brought something for anyone who might need it.
Of course Phil didn’t show up so there was no need for the balm, but it’s nice to be prepared.
The ride followed its predictable course. At first people were chatty and tried to hide their anxiety with lighthearted banter. Then in Santa Monica people began to fight for position. Then on San Vicente it went from blob to narrow line, 2 or 3 abreast. Then on Sunset it was deadly silent. Then on Mandeville there was only grunting and the clanging of gears. A few people put on a brave front with occasional chatter. Two minutes in it was quiet as a teenager at a video console, an ethereal silence that enveloped us as each rider sank lower into the pain mire, everything in the universe resolved into the tiny strip of rubber twelve inches in front of your nose, and one by one people fell off, no words or excuses or explanations needed because the brutal pace and gravity spoke all that needed saying.
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June 11, 2016 § 4 Comments
When people die before their time it hits you hard.
But when is “their time”? When is anyone’s time?
Justin Warfield’s time was on Sunday. His death was mourned and his life was celebrated in his Catholic church, over a thousand people on a Wednesday afternoon standing testament to the worth of his life. More than that, they were witnesses to what we all hope for: That in our short lives we’ll have made people better by having known us.
And Justin’s life was short. Diagnosed with a ragingly malignant tumor in November of 2014 at the age of 39, he was gone a mere year and a half later.Those who knew him well were stunned. Those who knew him in passing, like me, were likewise shocked. How could someone who lived such a good, clean, healthy life have been stricken down in the blink of an eye?
I don’t know, you don’t know. No one knows.
But what I do know is that during his life he made a difference, the kind of difference that brings people from across the continent on a moment’s notice to pay homage to a friend, the kind of difference that you hear in the stories people tell and the look on their faces, looks that can’t be feigned.
When the monsignor asked everyone in the filled church to stand who had had a personal connection to Justin, every single person stood. We all got chills and we all felt grateful. We often talk about touching a lot of lives, but rarely see it, not like that.
My connection with him was the slim connection of two narrow bicycle tires. A tutor in Manhattan Beach, he was teaching the son of Jeff Konsmo, one of our most dedicated riders. One question led to another, and the obviously eager and competitive Justin ended up being invited by Jeff to a Friday coffee ride. Justin was dropped and therefore immediately hooked; you know the rest. Over a few short years cycling brought him the relief from life’s stresses and the balance he’d needed to finally allow him to begin stopping to smell the roses.
This Friday morning a small group of friends gathered at the Center of the Known Universe, where Justin’s cycling odyssey had begun. We pedaled out to the overlook where PV Drive hits Paseo del Mar, dismounted, and shared stories. Jeff opened it up with a voicemail he’d kept from Justin, that clear, happy, funny, strong voice slicing through the cool morning air, floating, it seemed, all the way across the Pacific Ocean that lay stretched out in front of us.
Dave shared the story of how Justin had gotten his nickname “Pigpen.” On the day of his first flat, King Harold had changed it for him. The bike was so filthy that Harry was covered hand-to-elbow in muck from simply handling the frame and wheel. “What the hell are you?” someone said. “Pigpen?”
From that day on he was Pigpen, and from the very next ride his bike sparkled. If a fleck of dirt ever attached to it again, no one ever saw it; Justin became the poster child for the Immaculate Ride. Chris and Dan shared stories about Justin’s dedication, his strength on the bike, and his goodness as a person.
He had died after suffering through unspeakable pain with never a complaint. The time he had left to live he used with amazing power, cementing old friendships, building new ones, wringing the nectar out of his life even as it evaporated in front of him. When he died, he was ready.
But we who didn’t have to live with his pain and suffering and the reboot of infinite courage he needed every single day just to live? We weren’t ready. We’re not ready yet. Nor will we be, perhaps ever.
May 18, 2016 § 11 Comments
Jeff Fields was the older brother I never had, which is weird because I actually had an older brother. The problem with my older brother was that he got the brunt of the conflict between my parents, and in a play as old as time, he passed it down to me in the form of beatings, teasing, and ritual humiliation.
Ian could be the best guy in the world, but a mentor he wasn’t, preferring most of his lessons be delivered through fisticuffs rather than patient instruction.
Jeff was the opposite. He was stern and gruff, but patient beyond belief. He knew I adored him and he’d never had a younger brother; his sister was many years his junior. Jeff didn’t talk a lot about how to train or how to race, but when he did it was always golden, and his pile of race wins spoke for his mastery of the craft.
Unfortunately, as all of my teachers in school had quickly learned, I was a miserable student. I didn’t want to learn anything, I just wanted to mash gears and ride my bike all day because it was fun. Jeff never told me I was riding stupidly, and he certainly never yelled at me or offered me advice. As a brilliant and calculating bike racer, he enjoyed watching my hopeless pursuits, pointless attacks, and devil-may-care approach. For all that, he noted everything I ever did and never seemed to forget it. Praise from him was treasure.
Yet he didn’t tolerate dangerous riding. He was the safest, steadiest, best-positioned wheel in the bunch. You could close your eyes on Jeff’s wheel, I always used to tell myself, and he didn’t have to coach you. If you wanted to be like him, you just imitated. There weren’t any secrets, except perhaps to the riders who didn’t care to watch.
Jeff put structure into my riding and confidence into my legs. He told me I was good and that I could always be better. He took me on the most challenging rides he could find, and let the distance and the pace do the rest. Countless Austin winter days days it would be overcast, cold, maybe even drizzling, and like clockwork we’d layer up, roll out, and ride.
We had one workout called The Path of Truth, where we sat behind a 50-cc motor scooter piloted by Randy Dickson out to Webberville and back. I took the wheel going out, Jeff took it going back. In all the times we did it, I never made the full 25 miles without getting shelled. Afterwards we’d shake our heads at the pain and the difficulty and the speed and the wind.
In those days of course there were no coffee shops. We simply kept pedaling as we talked in the cold and the rain, invincible.
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April 8, 2016 § 36 Comments
The LA weatherperson forecast rain tomorrow and this weekend. This generally means it won’t rain, but people have already canceled Friday coffee cruises, Saturday races, and Sunday group rides.
If it does rain, people from other parts of the country will probably not call it “rain.” Rather, it will be a few concentrated drops of water more commonly recognized as drizzle. But it will keep cyclists home in droves.
Not me. I hope it rains. It’s not that I like the rain or that I’m one of those tough guys who licks his chops when it starts raining in sheets and the wind starts howling and the temperature drops to freezing. But every once in a while I really enjoy going out and getting soaked on my bike.
It’s because when I started junior high my dad drove me to school on the first day. Then on the second day I got my things ready and told him I was ready to go. “Okay,” he said. “Have a great day.”
I looked at him for a minute because he was still drinking coffee and reading the paper. “I’ll wait in the car.”
“You might have a long wait.”
I tried to divine the Oracle of Dad, but either I hadn’t proffered the right goats and virgins and incense or he was done talking. So I stood there for a minute. “Aren’t we gonna drive?” I asked.
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
I did some quick mental math, which for me took a while. “So I’m gonna walk?” It was a solid three miles.
“You can if you want to,” he said without looking up.
I fidgeted and squeaked this out, something that might have almost been rebellious. “What if I don’t want to?”
The Oracle of Dad read a few more paragraphs about David Berkowitz a/k/a Son of Sam, who had been all the rage for a couple of weeks. “Then you should ride your bike.” The audience with the Oracle of Dad was now over and my three-year sentence of daily commuting in the humid, hot, wet, miserable hell hole of Houston began.
The worst days were rain days. It would come down in blinding sheets, cars spraying walls of water as they passed within inches, and I’d arrive at school as wet as if I’d just stepped out of the swimming pool, or something really nasty, like the Gulf of Mexico. I remember clenching my teeth as filthy road water soaked my face, and I remember spitting out the bitter, brown, grit-filled sludge. On the worst rain days, which was all of them, I remember seething with rage at being forced to swim to class, arriving sopping wet and hunched over as I tried to lock my bike up in the bike cage, never a problem finding a good spot because on those days my bike was the only one there.
It took an average of two class periods to fully dry out, and my shoes generally squished until the end of the day. If I was lucky the rain would pick up again around three and I’d get to do it all over again.
Those rain days left some kind of stamp on me, something written in a secret invisible ink that has to be treated with a special potion to come to the fore again and be visible. Nowadays, when it’s not raining too hard and it’s not too cold and I’m not too lazy, I love to get out in it and pedal around, hoping that maybe the stamp of youth and struggle will become visible again.
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