October 18, 2017 § 13 Comments
The best moment of the 2017 South Bay Cycling Awards never happened. Greg Seyranian, winner(?) of the un-coveted Wanker of the Year award, prepared a lengthy acceptance speech prior to the ceremony in the event he won.
This alone qualified him for the honor.
But the speech was never given. He emailed me a copy and so I give it to you now. I hope he’s not too pissed.
Per your request. Speech A. I was prepared to deliver it, but when I got to the Wankys I realized the audience only had a 10-15 second attention span, so I decided to go with an impromptu short and spicy version.
THE KING’S SPEECH
So when I was nominated for this award I went to Seth and I said, “Wow, I’m so honored to be nominated for this! King of Wankers! I’m not sure I’m worthy of the title.”
And Seth looked at me sideways and he said, “No, dude, this is supposed to be an insult more or less. Probably more.”
And I said, “Well how could that be? Aren’t we are all wankers?”
And he said, “Yes, but look around you. Some people out there still don’t think they’re wankers.”
“Come on!” I said. “Really? How could that be? Who out there prancing around in their clown suit underpants thinks they’re not a wanker?”
“Well, take a look at most of those Cat 3s and Cat 4s and masters profamateurs, not to mention the guys and gals who drink more coffee than race their bikes.”
“Well shit, shouldn’t we tell them?” I asked.
“No, no, most of them have pretty fragile egos that would crumble like a house of cards, it’d just be cruel. Let them have this award instead. Dog knows they’ll never win anything else.”
And I saw the wisdom and the humanity of this, so I agreed. But I was left to ponder what then did the award really mean? And I wondered whether or not I should be insulted.
I had a pretty good guess, since Seth was involved. It must mean that, as Wanker of the Year, you’re not as cool as the rest of us, which was a relief, because I already knew that. Because I’m a super dork. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s cool. I mean, you can’t get a Ph.D. in the sciences without drinking heavily from the fountain of nerd. So it made sense, me being nominated for Wanker of Year, because I’m a nerd surrounded by a bunch of jocks. I must stick out like a sore thumb!
But then I thought, “Wait a minute, I was introduced to cycling by my fellow grad school nerds. And aren’t half the South Bay cyclists socially-challenged engineers and scientists employed by the AeroSpace Corporation or the DoD? These guys are ALL a bunch of nerds playing jock! So what’s up with a bunch of fellow nerds calling out another nerd?”
So I thought back to the previous winners: Brad House. Denis Faye. Seth Davidson.
And it dawned on me. All these guys are *loud mouthed* nerds! Aha! You see, being a loudmouthed nerd is a major violation of the agreement nerds strike when they participate in sport: thou shalt not call attention to thine nerdom, and therein lies the wankdom, because there’s nothing a nerd hates more than experiencing a modicum of coolness only have some idiot ruin it and drag them by the hair, kicking and screaming, back to nerd-town.
What’s more, all those guys I just mentioned aren’t simply loud, they are men of action. They are nerds who place themselves front and center. They are guys who stick their necks out to get things done. Guys who walk the walk when it comes to helping keep the sport of cycling alive, not through glorious podium shots sprinkled throughout Facebook and Instagram, but by risking shame and scrutiny in the menial task of promoting and supporting and fighting for cycling.
Look at Brad House. Twenty-five years of service to cyclists in the South Bay, host of dozens and dozens of racing events, and rabid advocate of cyclists’ rights, especially when you don’t want him to be. A guy who, despite his frayed shorts, open nut-sack air braking technique, and 2nd Amendment fanaticism, nevertheless races his bike week after week. And he’s a member of Big Orange.
Or Denis Faye, another Big Orange member. The man who launched the heart-wrenching, sentimental, and simultaneously idiotic Burrito Challenge to honor the memory of a dear, departed friend. The man who secured Big O’s largest cash sponsor. The man who formed the Big Orange Dirt Squad, which has brought nothing but fame, glory, and honor to Big Orange. Denis is the first guy to get in your face when he senses injustice, who won’t leave it alone until the wrong is righted. And he’s a guy who races his bike all year long, on the road, in the dirt, and through the beer-goggled haze of the cross course. He will probably be shouting and jumping onto the stage uninvited during this ceremony to make some sort of point or other.
Finally, there’s Seth Davidson, the Mack Daddy of Wankers and perhaps the loudest mouth concerning all things cycling in the South Bay. The guy who refuses to kowtow to the status quo. The guy least afraid to speak his mind, especially in the service of justice and safety for his fellow cyclists. And Seth is the first guy to put his money where his mouth is in the service of this great sport. Yet he is the guy who has literally defined cycling wankerdom by being a giant, in your face, loud-mouthed nerd who constantly kills the cool buzz. But he is nevertheless the champion of all things cycling and racing, and he goes out and races his bike week after week, despite breaking his nutsack every off-season and diametrically reconfiguring his training and racing philosophy every other year. Finally, like Brad and Denis, he’s a proud member of Big Orange Cycling and was one of its founding members back in 2009.
So the question is: am I a loudmouthed, nerdy, man of action, still willing to race his bike, who supports the sport of cycling and is a member of Big Orange? You’re damned right I am!
So I’m honored to receive this award on behalf of all my fellow friends who wanted this award secretly but didn’t get it, on behalf of Big Orange Cycling, clearly the king when it comes to wankers, and on behalf of all you poor souls out there who still don’t understand that you too are nothing but wankers. One day you shall know the truth and it shall set you free, but not today. Thank you!
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April 15, 2017 § 2 Comments
Different people obviously enjoy different things about riding bikes, and you can tell a lot about what they like by the rides they do. Here are my rides from last week:
- Saturday Donut beatdown.
- Sunday 60-minute TTT practice with Kristie.
- Tuesday Telo fake crit with real vomit pieces.
- Thursday Flog intervals.
I’m doing TTT practice again today and no matter how I look at those rides about the only thing they have in common is that they aren’t any fun. It’s obvious I don’t like fun, or spoken another way, not having any fun is a lot of fun.
The Flog ride that we do on Thursdays is the least fun of any ride I have ever done. It’s in its third year and I wish I had a quarter for every person who has done it once. This past Thursday I felt awful, as I hadn’t recovered from Telo. The reason the Flog ride is so bad is that it is six hilly 5-6 minute intervals, which is not fun, but since you do it with a group, each lap is a mini-race.
Because we’re bike racers we keep score in our heads each lap, which is silly. We regroup in the parking lot after each interval, descend a twisty road to the start, and do it all over again. Everybody keeps score and strategizes how to win the interval, or at least how to delay the droppage as long as possible. Like I said, silly.
The fastest lap times ever recorded were when Daniel Holloway and two of his teammates came out and did it. I love it when people say “Holloway’s just a sprinter.” So ignorant. That guy, in addition to being clean as a whistle, is good at virtually every aspect of bike racing. Stathis the Wily Greek did the Flog ride religiously before he retired at the unripe age of 30-something. He won every lap almost every time, including the horrible 13-14% grade up La Cuesta, the climb we do the last lap on and where we take a glory group photo at the end.
Some people found it demoralizing to get smashed every single lap by Stathis, but I didn’t. I love that kind of riding because it is so real. You don’t dangle in between delusion and reality, you get reality force-fed down your throat. Stathis was so much better than you even on his worst day and your best day. Like the Alabama rednecks used to say about Bear Bryant, “He can take his’n and beat your’n, or take your’n and beat his’n.”
Most people don’t like that, I guess.
Anyway, I felt awful from the start. Greg Seyranian’s fitness is really coming around; he blitzed us on Lap 1. Then he started hard at the bottom of Lap 2 and led out the whole lap, and then dropped us at the end. Then on Lap Three he led out the lap and I sat on and managed to pass him at the top. Lap Four he led it out again, and Josh Dorfman uncorked a nasty attack that no one could follow. Lap Five Mike Hines attacked us all on the mini-wall past the stop sign. I hung on somehow. Mike is a masters world champion on the track. He has these accelerations that just break you.
On Lap Six I quit and went home, which I hardly ever do. I had a deposition later that morning, but that’s just an excuse. The reality is I apparently had had a little bit too much fun.
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August 2, 2016 § 33 Comments
I always thought bike clubs were dumb. Why does anyone need an organization to ride a stupid bicycle, drink beer, and pedal around outdoors in your underwear? These things can all be done unaffiliated.
That’s why even though I’ve belonged to many clubs over the years, they’ve been racing clubs that got me a $5 discount on a pair of socks, a couple of free bottles, and the Always Promised But Never Delivered Race Reimbursements At The End Of The Year.
Your club is probably a lot better than the ones I’ve always belonged to, but it’s still dumb. I mean, think how goofy you would look if you went to dinner with your family and everyone was wearing identical clothes. Now multiply it times a hundred, and make it matching underwear worn outside. Really.
Also, you don’t need matching undies to make friends, although I certainly understand that there are situations in which it helps.
My outlook has changed, though. Over the years I’ve noticed that bike clubs really can have a purpose other than underwear coordination. One of those should be education. As I’ve noted before, the Old Ways Have Changed. Cycling is no longer a lunatic fringe activity where a few newbies join each year and are carefully disciplined by grizzled old-timers like Jack and Phil and Jeff who teach you the rules with sharp words.
The newbies are everywhere. They’re in your club. They are swirling around in traffic, mostly oblivious to how badly they can be hurt. Some of them may have even joined a club–your club–under the illusion that they’ll get some friendly instruction. (Note: Screaming “Hold your line!” followed by a wheel chop isn’t instruction.) Often, they assume that the skills they had at age 9, plus SRAM Rred and a bunch of carbon, are all they need to stay alive.
This is of course not true. The full carbon actually makes you go faster, and we all know what happens when you put lots of speed and money and carbon at the fingertips of not much skill and even fewer brains.
Since we can’t scream riding lessons anymore (I’m too old and tired, and the newbies mostly look like they know how to throw a right hook), what’s left is education.
It’s time for your club to assume the position and start teaching, and to do so formally. Why can riders join a club without mandatory training? Why can they join a club without classroom education? Why are we enticing people to be members of a fun activity that really isn’t any fun when you’re experiencing it through a breathing tube?
Our club held its first ever Cycling Savvy class for our members. It was my third time to take the class and I was absolutely electrified by it.
Over forty people showed up on a Saturday afternoon to, yes, learn how to ride a bike. Much pride was swallowed and surprise, much was learned. Following the lead of clubs like BCCC and the Long Beach Freddies, Big Orange has not simply made education available to its members, but it’s started down a path where education will be a requirement for membership. “Life over underwear coordination!” or something like that.
In addition, the club has taken the radical step of offering group ride training on its Sunday rides. This means rides with actual leaders who provide actual instruction based on many of the techniques taught in Cycling Savvy. My personal favorite technique is called “Control from the rear.” Pretty awesome, huh?
Whether you’re a race club, a riding club, or a baby seal club, if you’re pedaling a bike you need skills to survive. Implementing club-wide education doesn’t make you any more of a bike dork (or any less, I should add), but it makes cycling just a tiny bit safer. As Fireman pointed out, “Even if 90% of those dorks don’t get it, all you have to save is one life and suddenly it was all worthwhile.”
Cycling Savvy is offering a free course courtesy of the Orange County Wheelmen on August 4th. In typical cycling planning fashion, I got notice yesterday, but if you can make time for it, and if you belong to a club, and if you think making it home from the ride alive is a good thing, take a couple of hours out of your Thursday and invest it in the future. You can even wear your favorite garish underwear to the meeting if you need chamois time.
It’s something every underwear club in America could benefit from.
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February 24, 2016 § 34 Comments
The first time I did the Old Pier Ride on a December day in 2006, I got yelled at by Stern-O. My crime? Daring to be a new face contesting the sprunt on a steel Masi while wearing a wool jersey.
On my first few Donut Rides I was yelled at and pushed around, and was only able to create breathing room by riding some of the worst-behaved people off my wheel. The only way you could get people to lay off was by beating them down.
Those few short years ago road riding in LA was like it still is in many places. Cliquish, hostile, and full-to-overflowing with self-important preeners.
Nowadays LA is not that way, even though other parts of SoCal and NorCal are still rife with faux elitism. Guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Robert Efthimos, Greg Leibert, and especially Greg Seyranian have created an environment where inclusiveness is the norm. New faces like David Wells, and old ones like Gerald Iacono and Michael Norris have kept up a steady drumbeat that welcomes new faces.
Eventually the most offensive snobs relocated to faraway climes, or took to riding by themselves in tiny groups at odd hours where they come into contact with hardly anyone, or they’ve simply quit riding.
This environment has attracted a lot of people to the old group rides. The NPR now easily starts with 70 or 80 riders. There’s often shouting and sometimes a bit of jostling, but it tends to be based on actual riding behavior rather than to establish a pecking order.
One of the guys who started showing up one day was named Francis, but one look at him and you pretty much knew that:
- You weren’t the first person who’d thought about saying, “Lighten up, Francis.”
- He’d beaten up lots tougher guys than you for lots smaller infractions than that.
In a universe where bikers are the underdog and the police are the enemy, Francis was like that overgrown guy in the movie with beard stubble and a knife who shows up in the 7th Grade classroom after riding his motorcycle to school and befriends the twiggly dork getting bullied by the bad guys. Turns out that Francis was a homicide detective and beneath his tough, flinty-eyed exterior there lay a hardened, unflinching, barefisted interior.
This was amazing because suddenly when the group got pulled over by a cop responding to a call from an irate PV housewife who’d been slowed down four seconds on her way to Starbucks, instead of getting a lecture, four back-up squad cars, and tickets all ’round, Francis and the cop would have a conversation and that would be it.
It was also amazing because we now had a cop who backed us up when bad things happened. It’s a funny feeling to think that when some cager in a pickup buzzes you and flips you off and then gets it into his head to escalate the situation that he’s going to find out he’s grabbed the red-hot poker with both hands by the wrong end.
Of course, what are the chances that a hard-bitten homicide cop would even be named Francis, let alone also be a cyclist, and a good one, at that? One in several billion. So in an effort to let him know how much he was appreciated, I made an especial effort to give him as much shit as possible, which, to his credit, he always returned in rather unequal quantities.
But back to the NPR …
In tandem with the large size of the ride, the police whose jurisdiction is LAX International Airport have their own Wellness Department, which focuses on health initiatives for employees and for the broader community. After a particularly bad car-bike collision on Westchester Parkway, which abuts the airport’s runways, the officer in charge of Wellness decided to get involved.
This guy’s name is Officer Sur, and with the department’s backing he now escorts the group on Tuesdays. He drives an SUV patrol car with large magnetic signs that say “3 Feet Please!” indicating the minimum legal passing space a motorist must give a cyclist.
He assists with intersection control when we make the u-turns on the Parkway, and also helps control traffic at lights when the lights are changing and only half the peloton has made it through. Officer Sur even came to our 6:40 AM liftoff at the Manhattan Beach Pier and gave a talk about rider safety and police involvement with things like the NPR.
From the time that he has been escorting the ride, we have gotten noticeably less (as in zero) buzzing or harassment by cagers. So in addition to the lottery-like odds of having one guardian angel in the form of a homicide detective named Francis, we wound up with an even more improbable scenario: Having two policemen who ride and who look out for others on bikes.
So I was talking to Officer Sur after the NPR, and telling him about Francis.
“Francis?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty weird, huh? I mean, what are the chances of having a cop named Francis who’s not only involved in cycling but who’s also kind of a guardian angel?”
Officer Sur looked at me to see if I was pulling his leg. “Pretty long odds,” he said. “Because that’s my first name, too.”
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February 14, 2016 § 16 Comments
Team Lizard Collectors rolled up to the start of the UCLA Road Race in our pimping Bonk Breaker Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and Hotel and Restaurant. G3 and I had argued the entire 1.5 hour drive to the McDonald’s toilet about race strategy.
“The Cat 3 race is harder than the Leaky Prostate 45-plus Profamateur race,” he said.
“You are insane,” I diplomatically replied. “Our field is stacked with THOG, the desert rat brothers, Roadchamp, Capture the Flagg, Strava Jr., and a host of other mutants. They will kill it from the gun and we’ll all be dropped. We’ll never make it over the first climb.”
“Yes, we will,” said G3. “We’ll do them just like in the Cat 3’s.”
“Oh, brother,” I said. “How is that?”
“We’ll roll up to the front and ride tempo.”
“Great. Until the desert rats and Roadchamp and Strava Jr. hit the gas and drop you like Chinese egg soup.”
“Nope. I’ll chat them up and make small talk, ask about the kids and stuff. By the time they get through telling me about their new chain lube and Strava Jr.’s 1-oz. derailleur we’ll be through most of the climb and you won’t get shelled.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Works every time in the Cat 3’s.”
“This ain’t the Cat 3’s.”
The race started, G3 rolled to the front, and holding a steady tempo began chatting with the rat brothers about the carpet cleaning business, the pool cleaning business, and whether they thought it would rain in the desert anytime soon.
Even at tempo half the field was shelled, and when we made the first turn by the blowing trash and the flimsy gates that only barely restrained a rabid Rottweiler and a foaming pit bull who thought we had come to raid the meth lab, the hitters realized they’d been tricked and three of them scampered away.
“You did it!” I exulted to G3. Making it over the first climb was the hardest part of the race; even though we had four laps the remaining times around would be easy in comparison.
Since we were there to sacrifice all for our team leader G$ (easily confused with G3, at least on paper), and since we still had seven riders in the lead group, we all slunk to the back to let G$ do the hard work of reeling in the break, which he did. Once he made the catch, G3 yelled, “Come on guys, let’s get to the front and bring back the break!”
“They’re already back,” we said from the back.
Now that the hard part was over, all we had to do was continue lurking and shirking while the peloton dragged us to the finish, where we would gloriously win the first seven places, and maybe G$ would get eighth.
However, as we started the climb for the second time, the group seemed to shrink and Team Lizard Collectors suffered a major reduction of its core members, including Dr. Whaaat?, who was experimenting on a hot and hilly road race with a new homemade energy drink made of pickle juice and salt. Just as we approached the rabid dog gate, one of the pre-race favorites, Strava Jr., rode straight into the back of G$’s rear wheel and fell off his bicycle.
The leaders, realizing that one of their chief competitors was down, stomped on the pedals, shredding the group. Strava Jr. lay writhing in not really pain, and after determining that his handlebars were twisted 5-degrees he declared his day over and went home to collect some more KOM’s. In the meantime, our valiant team leader G$ had pulled over to check the wheel that Strava Jr. had smashed into. As the sole remaining member of Team Lizard Collectors near the leaders, I considered my options:
- Stop and help my team leader with his repair, give him a wheel if necessary, help him remount, get him speedily on his way, and tow my heart out so he could rejoin the leaders and win the race.
- Pretend I didn’t see him, pedal blindly by, and try to catch back onto the group I had no hope of staying with so I could possibly get 14th.
It’s not often that life presents such easy choices, so I left him at the side of the road and tried to rejoin the leaders.
However, G$ fixed his bike, remounted, and with no assistance powered across a hilly windswept stairstep to close a 30-second gap and rejoin the front group. I was soon caught by a rather hopeless and dispirited group of people who once resembled cyclists but now looked a lot like homeless desert people on bikes. They dropped me after a few miles.
One by one, everyone remaining in the race passed me except for one fellow who was afterwards declared retroactively dead. I sensed that he was a real threat to the leaders and even though we were 40 minutes back I knew it would take a lot of skill to keep him from going across to G$, who eventually attacked the lead group and won the race.
Fortunately, Mr. Corpse was unable to execute his plan and I kept him blocked safely in 39th place, just out of reach of G$, who was mostly in another county. It was a super valiant team effort and I was humbly honored to play such an important role in G$’s win.
Thanks to my hard work, I demanded that G$ buy the whole team lunch with his $80 in winnings. He agreed and we went to the Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company, located back in Pearblossom between the bail bondsman, the liquor shop, and the Baptist church. Since we had Attila the Hungarian with us, we figured he would appreciate some of his native food.
Inside the shop, he went to the counter. “Anyone here speak Hungarian?” he asked.
The young lady shook her head. “No. What makes you think they would?”
“Well,” said Attila, “the sign says Hungarian Sausage, so I thought maybe someone here was Hungarian.”
The woman made a complicated look with her face, straining muscles that seemed attached to her brain, but that hadn’t been exercised much in the last few years. “No,” she said. “We only speak American here.”
Attila looked at the menu. “I’ll have the Hungarian sausage sandwich,” he said.
The woman scowled. “That takes twenty-five minutes. You’ll have to wait twenty-five minutes. It’s a twenty-five minute wait.”
“Then I’ll have something quicker. What do you recommend?”
“The summer smoked Polish blood sausage with spicy entrails.”
“I’ll have that, then,” said Attila. We all ordered the same thing.
Twenty-five minutes later our food came. I don’t know if it was good or we were ravenous, but it was gone in seconds. At lunch we were joined by Derek the Destroyer, who had gotten second place in the much easier 35+ race against a very weak field.
“Second is okay,” I said. “But 38th in the 45+ race was a lot harder.”
“Really?” he said. “Because we had Tony Manzella, Kirk Bausch, Gary Douville, and a few other guys who go pretty good.”
“Pffft,” I said. “They would have gotten 39-41 in our race.”
“But I think we almost lapped you,” he said.
“That’s because I was blocking. We had a dead guy who was trying to bridge and if he’d gotten across G$ wouldn’t have won.”
Derek munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. “I see,” he said.
On the way back we dissected the race. “Good job, G$,” I said. “I think I could have won but I had the wrong gearing.”
“I could have won, too,” said Attila, “if the race had stopped after the first lap.”
“I could definitely have won,” said G3, “if I hadn’t ridden tempo for Wanky in the beginning. And Dr. Whaaat? was on the podium for sure if it hadn’t been for the pickle juice and salt.”
“I was really surprised that I won,” said G$, who has only won the race five times previously. “I guess I just got lucky.”
No one said anything.
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February 9, 2016 § 36 Comments
Road riding has a deserved reputation for unfriendliness. I’ve been to so many places where the group rides are filled with jerks. There was a group of people in Sugarland, west of Houston, I used to ride with who made a point of being assholes. They didn’t like you from the day you showed up until the day you left.
SoCal has many places that are just like that. I’ve heard awful stories about group rides in LA, Orange County, and San Diego–and participated in many–where the ethos is best described as “Sure, you belong … but not here.”
The first time I showed up in LA on my steel bike and in my fuzzy wool outfit, the local bully yelled at me for daring to mix it up in the sprint on the Old Pier Ride.
We know that as interest in competitive road racing dwindles, something has to change. The biggest thing, in my opinion, is ameliorating the tendency to be a jerk just because someone is new.
The last club I rode for was pretty elitist. It was set up on an invitation only basis. If you didn’t know the right people and couldn’t do the right handshake and couldn’t put up the right numbers, it didn’t matter how nice a person you were.
My current club is Team Lizard Collectors. It is a motley crew. But the thing that makes it a great club is that everyone is welcomed, and welcomed heartily. The only rule is “Don’t be a dick.” In its many years of existence only two people have been booted for dickishness.
Team Lizard Collectors has set the bar high in terms of not simply accepting people, but actively asking them to join. One of the reasons I was thrilled to join TLC is because I could ask people to join. This good vibration has spread to other clubs in the area.
Thanks in part to the relentless efforts of Team Lizard Collectors and their bossmen Greg Seyranian and Greg Leibert, the good vibration has spread to other clubs. Under the leadership of “El President” Robert Efthimos, the west side icon of Velo Club L’Argent has also become one of the most open door, welcoming clubs anywhere. And as clubs have gotten friendlier, the area’s vibe has gotten friendlier. Suddenly, instead of being a competition to treat people like that brown thing that’s been in the back of the freezer since ’09, there has developed a spirit of “Who can be the friendliest?”
Okay, so it’s a competition. These are cyclists we’re talking about.
I was pleased to see a dude on the NPR last week who was wearing a nondescript kit that said “Abbeville” on it. He went pretty good. I chatted him up, gave him my card, and asked him to join Team Lizard Collectors. He’d been in town for a few months and was getting to know the local rides.
“Sure,” he said. “Thank you.”
So the dude joined TLC. Turns out he is a two-time French national champion and has 47 road wins under his belt. He showed up on the Flog Ride on Thursday and put everyone to the sword without breaking a sweat. Best of all, his wife owns an awesome coffee shop with authentic French pastries that melt in your mouth, or in the back of your jersey if you stick a couple there to take home.
Next time you see someone riding down the road, take a minute to say hi. You never know who you’ll run across. And it doesn’t cost you one red cent.
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November 6, 2014 § 26 Comments
The judge looked down at me from his high perch. “Mr. Davidson,” he said, “I’m dismissing the case against your client due to the officer’s failure to appear in court today.”
“Thank you, your Honor,” I said.
He smirked a little bit. “Your client must be exceedingly happy at the fine lawyering you’ve done on this case.”
I smiled back. “Thank you, your Honor. I do my best work unopposed.”
And with that I, my client, his wife, and my two expert witnesses left the courtroom, where the judge would spend the balance of his morning and part of the afternoon trying various traffic citations. If there’s a smaller, less significant, more bottom-of-the-barrel niche in the practice of law I haven’t found it, and it’s not for want of trying.
Everyone was slightly disappointed at this complete victory except me. My client and his wife had wanted to see some razzle-dazzle cross examination of Deputy Duvall, the L.A. sheriff’s deputy who had written the completely bogus citation for my client’s alleged violation of CVC 21202(a). This is the law that requires cyclists in California to ride as far to the right as practicable unless one of three exceptions applies. In our case, my client was riding out in the middle of the lane because it was of substandard width, defined by statute to mean that the lane is too narrow for a bike and vehicle to safely travel side-by-side in the lane.
My first expert, Mr. Tomato Shirt, was disappointed because we didn’t get a chance to lose the case at trial and then appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court of the Crab Nebulae, where, in a 400-page decision rendered by the justices, the question would be resolved forever and throughout the universe that cyclists have the right to control the lane.
My second expert, Mr. Tom T. Earnest, was disappointed that we had all wasted another day and lots of preparation time to defend a case that was simply dismissed. He and Tomato were also angered that the deputy’s harassment in the form of writing bogus tickets didn’t get slapped down in court by the judge.
I, of course, was euphoric for the reason that every lawyer everywhere is euphoric when he wins by default: Trials always open the possibility of defeat, and only a fool wants to tempt fate with a dramatic courtroom trial when he can go home with a guaranteed win in his pocket. Add to that the fact that traffic court trials are about as dramatic as watching your wife scrub the calluses off her heel with a pumice stone and you’ll understand that as a lawyer, I just wanted to win — and I didn’t care how, and I especially didn’t care if it was handed to me on a platter.
This was the second no-show by the same deputy for the same bogus ticket. A third one, and hopefully the last one, is on the trial calendar for January 15. No surprise, I’m hoping for a no-show by the citing officer in that matter as well.
But not everyone is happy. There are cyclists who can’t get TV out of their brains, and who think that you haven’t really won until you’ve done a Clarence Darrow or a Perry Mason or a Racehorse Haynes in front of a packed courtroom. Here’s why they’re wrong.
The problem we’ve had on PCH is symbolized by the bogus tickets, but the bogus tickets aren’t the cause. The cause has been an enforcement policy that wrongly applies the provisions of CVC 21202(a), ignoring the black letter exceptions that make it legal on almost all of PCH for cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. That enforcement policy comes primarily from the captain of the sheriff’s substation with jurisdiction over PCH, and you can fight tickets all day long but until the enforcement policy changes, you’re just swatting at flies in a manure field.
The aggressive, engaging policy of Eric Bruins and LA County Bicycle Coalition, the support of Greg Seyranian from Big Orange Cycling, the effective analysis and advocacy of Gary Cziko on the CABO forum and elsewhere, and the commitment of hundreds of cyclists to ride in the lane on PCH are what brought the sheriff’s department to the table. After several meetings, a ride-along where deputies could see the difference between riding in the lane and hugging the gutter, and an educational seminar for law enforcement officers, the captain of the substation, with the support of the L.A. County Sheriff, accepted the cyclists’ position on proper application of CVC 21202(a).
This wasn’t done through court trials, or flaming verbiage, or adversarial proceedings against the enemy. It was done between adults, evincing mutually respectful attitudes, trying to find a working compromise to a complex issue that requires balance between motorists, cyclists, and everyone else who uses PCH. As satisfying as it might appear on TV to destroy the opposition in court, it has been infinitely more effective to earn their respect and support and thereby change enforcement policies.
The fact that LASD has not written any more of these tickets to riders occupying the lane and the fact that the citing deputy hasn’t shown up to contest the ticket mean that cyclists are winning on PCH.
On the way back, though, my client was worried. “How’s your practice going?” he asked.
“Fine, thanks. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you know, pro bono defense of traffic citations … ” he trailed off.
“That’s why I have a PayPal link on my blog,” I said. “And anyway, sometimes it’s the small stuff that, in the end, is the biggest stuff of all.”
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