Because you never know…

5 Sep

I met Eric at the Ocean Park beach bathroom. He’s the guy who: (a) made me puke last week and (b) organized the Vigil and Justice Ride for Milt. He’s also a Westsider, which made him an ideal ride buddy for getting to the vigil’s start point in a far-flung part of the Calabasas hills. As soon as we set off, we got pummeled by wicked headwinds. At first, we plowed directly into them, bull-headed and unblunted, side by side — neither of us willing to call “uncle” to the other or to nature’s assault. Eventually, however, it became clear that if we didn’t ease up, we’d bonk hard later.

So, we cut back the throttle in a not-entirely-successful attempt to ease our way along PCH, which stands for Pacific Coast Highway (for the general populace) and Personal Cycling Hell (for me). I’m not allowed to ride PCH “by myself” anymore — not that I’d want to (even in the unlikely event that Coach one day decides to rescind the restriction)…

Why the ban?

Well, in 2010, I got hit by a car on PCH and in 2012 I was hit by a bus. In fact, I first “met” Eric in connection with that 2012 incident. We exchanged robust emails wherein I detailed the circumstances of my hit-and-run and he educated me about the PCH Safety Study and other safer roads/infrastructure initiatives. We didn’t actually meet-meet (in real live person) until almost exactly 1 year ago, when he suckered me into staffing a media hot-spot at 6:friggin:30 a.m. for the annual Bike & Pedestrian Count, but I digress…

In any event, PCH and I are not friends and as PCH approaches Porto Marina it narrows dramatically and requires single-file riding. Eric assumed the lead. In so doing, he took the full brunt of the winds and also greatly lessened my trepidation as we passed through the zone where the bus had plowed into me. Did he remember that this was where I got hit? I don’t know and I didn’t want to ask. I had enough angst and anxiety on my mind as we made our way toward Milt’s Ghost Bike. I was just thankful that I had Eric in front of me.

But first we had a big ol’ hill to climb. The headwinds were still punishing us and it was hotter than blazes and I’m really REALLY not supposed to ride when it’s >90° (and it was appreciably hotter than that). Eric doesn’t have these issues, so he was much further in front of me on the climb — like, he was a speedy little speck in front of me and I wished I could project optic blasts to reel him back into draft-able range.


Misery. Madness. Pitiousness. In short, it was a horrible, no good, I-just-wanna-quit-and-go-home kind of hell-climb. But obviously I couldn’t quit-and-go-home. First, because I’m not allowed to be on PCH by myself (duh) and second (and much more importantly) the fact that I was suffering mightily up the hill was still a helluvalot better than being dead in the ground with no justice in the afterlife like Milt.

So, onward and upward …

When we finally got to the vigil site (drenched in sweat and pretty much out of water/fluids) we immediately noticed three things:

  1. There was an awful lot of media assembled;
  2. There were NO other cyclists (except another guy who rode with us from SaMo); and
  3. Milt’s Ghost Bike had been stolen.

With regards to the latter point, I was simultaneously deeply angered AND greatly relieved. What kind of asshat steals a white-painted junker bike designed to serve as a memorial for someone who perished?! AND Oh, thank dog I don’t have to confront the emotions that otherwise would have emanated from the display.

With regards to the former 2 points, Eric was simultaneously thrilled AND petrified. How awesome is it that major media outlets showed up to highlight the judicial travesty that followed this human tragedy?! AND Holy shit, what if no one actually turns up for the ride?!

Don’t worry

Soon enough throngs of cyclists and bike riders (totally different breeds of 2-wheeling people, btw) surrounded us. Because Eric was busy engaging the media, I was tasked with ensuring that everyone signed waivers and got black arm-bands (you can see my handiwork HERE at 0:19). I was so occupied by this task –more than 60 riders showed up at 4:00 on a Wednesday!– that I didn’t even realize that, at some point, a replacement Ghost Bike somehow got procured and installed.

I was, therefore, relieved of the emotional breakdown that I’d feared might transpire when I got to the crash/memorial site. Did Eric know that tasking me with this busy work could spare me public grief? Again, I don’t know and I didn’t want to ask. I had enough anxiety talking with a reporter about the case (I think I held up OK, but you can judge for yourself HERE at 1:03 … you have to sit through a 0:15 commercial first, sorry).

I honestly didn’t even see the (replacement) Ghost Bike until we passed it on our way toward Downtown on a route I’d never ridden before and, once again, I was just thankful that I had Eric in front of me.

Follow the Leader

When a group of 60+ cyclists who’ve never ridden together takes to the streets en masse, it’s vital to have strong group leaders to literally keep people in line (ideally in a 2-by-2 formation), ensure even pacing, and enforce the rules of the road. Happily, Eric had several able Lieutenants, including official LACBC Bike Marshals and a man whom I’ve long feared/admired from afar: Seth Davidson (aka Wankmeister or “Wanky” for short).

Seth is one of the best, most prolific, insightful, funny, meanest, nasty, ego-and-soul-shreddingest bloggers I’ve ever read. He’s the guy who “inspired” my Antonym of Magic post. He’s also someone I never, ever, EVER wanted to meet in real life because I knew damn well that he’d come up with some horrible nickname for me and say really mean things about my weak-ass cycling (non)skills. Not that I give two white rats about what some dude who calls himself Wankmeister decides to write about me in his blog….

Oh, who am I kidding!

I actually did (do!) care a lot: Wank’s word can seal a cyclist’s social fate tighter than a clam with lockjaw. And now I’m about to accelerate the sealing of my fate by revealing that Wanky (aka Seth) is actually sweeter than a sugar boat sailing on an ocean of honey! Sorry, Seth, I can’t keep up the charade for you…

Seth and Eric lead our large and ever-expanding pack on a very controlled, highly scrutinized ride through rush-hour traffic. CBS-2 News sent a news van to trail us the entire way and their KCAL-9 affiliate kept a chopper overhead for the entire ride as well. We also had an as-yet-unidentified drone tailing us, too. Apparently the overhead views were consistently fed to the greater L.A. viewing public throughout the afternoon as if we were a low-speed chase, a la OJ Simpson! I was super nervous about our rag-tag group: “what if these riders don’t know what they’re doing?” and “what if they give cyclists a bad name?” I needn’t have worried. Eric and Seth and the ride Marshals had everything under control. They did us proud, and then some…

Breakdown Inevitable

It was inevitable that I would break down in tears at some point. I avoided it at the crash site (because I didn’t have time to contemplate the Ghost Bike), and I came close to it during my TV interview, but the tears didn’t actually start falling until we’d made it about half-way. I’d been talking to several riders throughout the afternoon.

  • I met only one other person who actually knew Milt, so this wasn’t exactly “personal” to them, except…
  • The vast majority of riders had been hit by a vehicle at some point; and
  • No one had succeeded in getting criminal charges brought against those who hit them (many folks were hit by drivers who didn’t even bother to stop – sigh); and
  • Everyone found it outrageous that a law enforcement officer should be allowed to skate criminal charges thanks to a highly technical (and largely specious) loophole

Eventually we would acquire 100+ riders of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and demographics — Westside, Eastside, Southbay, Valley, Deep Valley, and even the IE.  All these people came together for one thing: To give cyclists a valid voice.

We had major media teams covering us to give our voice greater resonance. TV stations deemed our voice worthy enough to give us start-to-stop air-and-ground coverage. That is not cheap. They invested in our voice and made our message matter. I was overwhelmed by this realization.

I don’t know if our message will “matter” to those who are tasked with running our clearly broken justice system, but at least we were seen and heard by the larger community. Random drivers (and viewers) across the southland tracked our orderly, entirely law-abiding, non-reckless, peace-and-love fueled journey through their streets and neighborhoods. The Glendale and Burbank police who lined the streets of their cities, ready to bust us or hate us or find us annoying instead smiled and waved and even, at one point, blocked an intersection and waived us through. It was shortly after that that I started to cry….

Luckily, that was also right around the time that my brain and body started screaming at me: HEY MORON, YOU NEED TO GET SOME FLUIDS INTO US OR ELSE WE ARE GOING TO PUT YOU INTO A HEAT COMA AND/OR KILL YOU!

So when I spied an AM/PM mini-market I peeled off from the group to: (a) hide my tears and (b) stand in the slowest-ever line to buy a super-sized Limon-Pepino Gatorade that I crammed into the front of my Machines for Freedom bib (I that bib!) and then booked like a demon possessed to chase down the group which was already more than a mile away. Phrew!

When I finally caught backGatorade on to the “peleton,” I kept going right on up to the front. I took a swig of my cool, sweet, refreshing liquid swag and immediately passed it over to Seth, who guzzled about half of it and then passed it over to Eric who chugged the other half and then returned it to me to finish the third half.

Because when you’re riding with family and miracle workers and guardian angels, your resources and your blessing are more than multiplied.

Almost done (but not quite)

We got to Griffith Park, helicopter and drone still filming us from above, and picked up another ~40 riders. Our ranks swelled even more as we covered the final 10 miles to Downtown (folks on beater bikes had followed our progress on the news and set off in an effort to find/join us — so awesome!). We got to the DA’s office well ahead of schedule. Although the wicked winds had returned and made our “candlelight vigil” less-than-optimal in a visual sense, the overall sense of community and solidarity was stronger than ever.

Few people knew one another at the start of the ride. We came as solo cyclists, or maybe in pairs or random trios, but we all left feeling united. Or, as the KCAL-9 reporter put it:  The Los Angeles cycling community is strong and they have come out in force tonight.

The trick is to leverage and mobilize our unity and community. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) already delivered a powerful letter to the L.A. District Attorney asking her to reconsider bringing charges against the deputy who killed Milt. The LACBC letter does a good job, but it’s only one voice and the media does not provide prime-time, breaking-news overhead filming of a letter.

To make our voices heard we need to use them — not just cyclists/bike riders, but anyone who believes that negligent distracted drivers should not get away with killing people.

The LACBC offers a template letter and mailing instructions on its website (scroll to the bottom). Visit that site. ADD YOUR VOICE TO OURS. Leaders like Eric and Seth and little people like me cannot do this alone.

We need you. We love you. We appreciate you loving us back.

Let’s go: You only live once!


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