(a gritty urban drama)
"Why can't we get a bike-only bridge across the 405?" Steev asks Jon and I as we roll North though the back roads along MLK. The sun has set, but there is still 20 min of good light left. Enjoying the ride and talking about our upcoming video screenings, we try to stay where the cars ain't.
Rolling up to a red light on the intersection of NE 7th and Broadway we
take our time, but someone behind us has got a problem.
*Honk* I guess they see someone they know.
*Honk honk* They must like bikes.
*Honk honk honk* Maybe they really like bikes.
*Hoooonk honkhonk hooooonk* Well, I guess they want my attention...
I stop and give them my attention: I look at them blankly for a
second, the light turns, I bike on.
*honk honk hoooooonk honk hooooooooooonk* Now they really want my attention.
I stop, step off the pedal, and stare; this time in the middle of the
intersection. "What? What do you want? " I am not sure what they think will be improved by their honking, but clearly it was not my disposition.
I pass though the intersection. As they pass us a block later, they yell something about turning up ahead.
"...yea that is a poor intersection," I hear Jon say as I shift to a
lower gear to catch up. "When there is a right turn only lane forcing bikes to merge into the center lane, like between Weidler and Broadway, it's trouble."
"I hate being surrounded by cars," Steev says as I notice a guy crossing the street on my right side.
"Hey man, hold up." He calmly calls to me . I am coasting while he jogs along side me for a split second when he grabs my shirt. "Hey man... so whasup!"
He tries to pull me off but ends up holding a handful of fabric. At
this point it becomes clear to me that this is not just some random
angry pedestrian. I realize these two guys are from the honking car. As I reach the concrete island designed to discourage automotive traffic I take a quarter second to determine whether or not I should just ride on. Let's evaluate:
- 2 built, aggressive, disturbed black men striding toward
- 3 white, timid artistes, paused, straddling bikes
Now Jon and Steev are great. They are some of my favorite people in the world. Nevertheless I am guessing they would rather I leave well enough alone and not get involved... I think my thought process was, "My shirt is already ripped, what more could they really do to me?"
"Dude! Yo man I like this shirt," I say in my inimitable fashion. "Why
you got to pull shit like that?" I hope my talent in communications can still defray this looming conflict.
At one moment I stand on the top of the hill, the direction of my life
still very much in my control. Which route do I take? How steep is this slope? Can I see the bottom? Do I have any brakes? In the next moment I realize that the hill was actually a ledge already crumbling under my feet.
One guy is standing back playing with his clothes ("fronting" so I am
later told) the other is in my face; and when I say in my face I mean it was like he was trying to establish permanent residence. I chill, not being one to uproot people, indigenous to my face or not. Seconds feel like minutes. Jon and Steev both try their best to calm the situation down. I stay cool but hold my ground. "Why you gotta honk at bikes? The light was red; it's not like you didn't get through."
Although I am trying to prepare myself for a fight I never assume that
it is a foregone conclusion, as I have talked my way out of situations where I had no right being anything but pummeled. Thinking back, I guess faking some mental disability might have kept me out of trouble here, as one quickly loses bragging rights for threatening a guy with Down's Syndrome.
Meanwhile I still have a big bald black guy getting mail forwarded to my face. His friend gets impatient with the slowness with which the battle is developing (I guess he was done adjusting) and runs up and full on kicks my front wheel, breaking a spoke and any chance of me maintaining my composure.
"WHAT THE FU-" was all I got out as I felt the familiar sensation of
someone's knuckles adjusting my jaw. A quick turn to the left did
confirm that the bald guy had given up on peaceful negotiations.
Moving to get off my bike, a series of blows continue to massage half my face.
Now I have dismounted, gotten into my boxer's defensive pose, and am
sizing up the situation. Will I have to fight two guys? I actually
have been boxing for almost a year now, but would wrestling them be more constructive? I have never thrown a punch in anger... but I have been waiting for the opportunity. Will Jon and Steev be able to save me? A number
of thoughts cross my mind and yet all I see are my two assailants "stepping off", as it were.
"Next time we see you... Next time. There'll be some murder," they
yell backing up and pointing at me, now a quarter block away, just
before they turned to run to where they had parked their car.
Immediately I knew something was amiss. I would have expected them to
want to hurt me a little more. I was ready to prove myself at a street fighter, but they didn't care. They didn't seem fearful of my ability to be hit. Maybe his fist was starting to bother him.
Turning back to my friends I notice Steev is on his cell phone, giving a description of the guys. I would like to say, "Well, I guess my boxing prowess was to much for them..." Alas.
Within a few seconds a pair of guys from across 7th Ave. come down to get the full story and also to determine if I was ok. They had a full description of the vehicle, including the make, model, color, and a burnt out taillight.
They came up with some intriguing observations.
"Did you see that guy pretending he was gonna pull his piece?"
"Um... no. Was he?"
"No he was just fronting."
Baggy clothes are handy for concealing weapons. If you wear tight jeans you have to worry about pronounced bulges (something that totally gave hoodlums away in the 70s). Loose-fitting clothes are, however, inconvenient when you want to pull your piece, thus you end up pulling your shirt up a lot to aid the quick draw. Gangsters, it would appear, are very much subject to the will of fashion.
I determined that fronting helps to distract your attention from
the primary threat. When Mr. Baggy Pants realized that I was too
concerned with the facial squatter to recognize his posturing he decided to get my attention by kicking my bike. Immediately thereafter came the blows.
Later they let me know their theory on why I was the only biker getting harassed, centering around the idea that I was a possible skinhead. At this point I am overwhelmed. I want to tell him I am going bald and am aiding nature rather than fighting it (you gotta chose your battles). Still a little dazed and trying to get a grasp on what just happened I tried not to speak even when I had something really amusing to say. It was hard.
About 10 min later the cops do arrive on the scene and promptly park
right in the narrow passage between the concrete island and the curb,
blocking all through traffic. The two guys offer their eyewitness testimony.
"It was a white, blah blah blah car, officer."
"Did anyone get the licensee place number?"
"Uhh, they parked on a side street."
"Oh." After a long pause she turned to me. "Well there is not much we can do for you. We will take your contact info in case there is another report tonight, but I gotta tell you there isn't much chance of us finding them on the info we got." I realize that I am way out of my league, after all they had been wise enough to threaten us so we wouldn't follow and to park on a side street so we couldn't see their plate as they made their getaway.
"I was considering not even filing a report. I mean, I guess it helps
to have it on the record, but..."
"What would you like to see happen from all this?"
"Do you think we could get some better bike laws or something?"
"Hey, me too. I ride my bike all the time, but that's really not my
"Right. Well it's good that you ride your bike."
"I would have gotten in some counter punches if I was you... teach them a lesson."
"Oh... ummm... Thanks."
I can't help wondering what would have happened if I had hit him back.
Or if they didn't see Steev calling 911. Maybe they would have followed us to Steev's house on the next block. What then?
At Steev's I check myself in the mirror. Other than slightly fuller lips and a ripped shirt I can't see any difference. "Damn I look good!
I should get beat up more often..."
Steev pours me the last Bikesummer beer (bikesummer.org) and we sit to
watch the Chuck666 music video for our screening. It was odd watching myself jousting with Spider Man on tall bikes.
Then to add to the evening's surrealism we go to the Hollywood Theater to watch Roman Holiday starring a young Audrey Hepburn as a ignorant princess full of wanderlust; and a dashing Gregory Peck emotionally torn in a fake Italian world gone mad. As a whole the evening was quite stirring.
I finish the night discussing the social aspects and ramifications of
being a sissy with 6rady, the publisher of "wimp!" (wimpmagazine.com) until 4am.
Later I hope to regale you with the story of how I flipped over my bars,
ran into a car door, and fell off Esplanade all in one week!