It’s Saturday night, and I’m walking my bike out of Culver City. I walk past a Culver City police cruiser and as the navy blue uniformed driver gets in, he stops to yell “CHILDREN” at me. “That’s odd”, I think to myself. I contemplate the pros and cons of childhood – less independence, no sex, no drinking, somebody takes care of you, yelling and screaming and finger painting are the norm. I keep walking, turning onto Venice to head East to the border of LA and Culver City. Childhood compares favorably with adulthood I conclude. A moment later the same cruiser drives by, and out of the window the same voice shouts “CHILDREN”, as if children are the most despicable thing in the universe. His tone of voice and approach seem more appropriate for screaming “fuck you!” As I cross into LA and mount my bike, I wonder “why so hard on the children?”
By all accounts Saturday’s C.R.A.N.K. MOB was one for the ages. The subjective reviews are so uniformly glowing yet diverse that an ambitious sociology student should study them carefully in search of an objective definition of F!U!N!
However, the low point of the ride was our abbreviated visit to Culver City. When the 500 rider Mob went exactly one block into Culver City, on it’s way to CRANK MOB PARK, a police cruiser stopped Alec and Cesar, two of the most loved riders in all of LA, and ticketed both for running a red. Cesar hauls a heavy sound system all over L.A. on a rear rack, just to mix the joy of music with the exhilaration of biking. Alec is best known for sewing custom cycling caps, his FUNerosity, and being the first to ride his tall bike EVERYWHERE.
When I arrived at the police stop I stood around with the other riders and kept my cool. Eventually the ticketing officer gave the group a short speech about his point of view on the situation. He was eloquent, friendly, empathetic and direct. He treated us as equals. Seeing that he was open to it, I explained briefly why I feel corking is safer than splitting up the ride. He listened well and I strove to persuade and explain.
Meanwhile, another officer swoops up with his lights off at high speed, and jumps out of his car. He stalks through the group to stand next to me. With arms crossed and flexed he interrupts me to ask “how old are you?” “Twenty eight” I reply, and wrap up my defense of corking without missing a beat as he walks away. The citing officer responds to my views, disagreeing calmly and directly addressing my argument. He’s the kind of conversational master who talks exactly 50% of the time; he is comfortable listening, and he maintains a perfect social balance.
Another rider pipes up, again being persuasive and calm as the officer quietly listens. I’ve rarely seen anything like it, and I left imagining that a round table discussion continuing in conversational tones. Even though the Alec and Cesar were getting tickets, the ticketing officer was absorbing the rider point of view.
Then it turned ugly. I met up with the main group in the park, and soon afterward multiple Culver City PD cruisers lined up on a nearby street. “K”, the ride organizer, wanted to keep the stop at the park short anyway, so I helped him get the group moving. When most of the group was gone, the cops rushed the park, and I was there in the middle of it, trying to get the stragglers to move. I exited as the police entered, and approached the lone officer left standing at the perimeter while Culver City PD rousted the remaining cyclists in the park.
He was similar to the earlier officer, but older, and more paternalistic in his approach. He made his points well, he listened to what I said, and responded, but with overt skepticism. Eventually, having reached an impasse, I go to leave.
Just then another officer exits the park and now he wants to say his piece to me. Initially he seemed reasonable, but he spoke with an urgency and insecurity that warns “don’t question me.” So I didn’t question him. Instead, I acknowledged his points and tried to respond non-threateningly. He would let me talk a little, and then cut me off. He too asked “how old are you?” Eventually I realized I could not express even mild dissent without being interrupted, so I waited for him to finish. Then I asked if I could leave to collect the stragglers (most of whom have left by now) and he agreed.
Again, an officer exits the park, and this one is furious. “Let me tell you something”, he begins. I stop him to say “your colleagues and I talked about this, I heard their side of things, and they both said I can go round up the stragglers, so may I leave now?” “No, you’re gonna hear my side of it now!” “Whoops”, I think, and I ascertain that I’m not to leave.
He rants and raves furiously as he towers over my modest 6 feet. “If you guys come back to Culver City we’re gonna use whole ticket books on you.” “I’ll write 50 tickets for running reds if it takes me all night.” I bite my tongue, withholding a snide remark about the feasibility of writing 50 red light tickets without generating 48 civil rights lawsuits – he seemed like the kind of cop who was looking to jail or hit someone. Eventually, just when he seems to be winding down, he asks that question: “How old are you?”
I’m damn sick of that question. Is this crap in the Culver City Police Academy curriculum? “Twenty eight” I responded, “and by the way, what exactly is the pertinence of my age, because this is the third time one of y’all has asked me that”, swinging a pointing finger around at the group of officers.
“Because usually by the time someone is your age they’re concerned with more important things than riding their bikes around like a bunch of kids”, he says. He starts in on an angry rant about how unimportant biking is, and how “you children” should be focusing on getting jobs. His colleagues are looking a little uncomfortable, as he lays into me saying “you’ve never done anything important in your life and you’re still acting like a kid at 28, riding your bike around like a bunch of children.” I lose my cool.
“Look here” I bark, pointing at his chest and staring him square in the face. For an instant everyone is listening to me. I pause, point angrily at the ground, and say “who are you to say I’ve never done anything important?” I unload an exaggerated resume excerpt on him. At that moment it is my sincerest hope that he feels worthless, small, and helpless to do anything about it.
And then I regret it. Why? Firstly, it’s just not good to belittle people, even if they’ve earned it. I don’t want this guy to go home and feel like crap, I just want him to lighten up. Secondly, I’ve acted arrogantly and with pure malice, and I feel awful about that. Thirdly, up until now the growing audience of uniforms looked uncomfortable with his ranting, but now I’ve just alienated half of them. Finally, I regret it because now I’m in for it – he’s going to yell at me until the sun comes up, if not worse.
If he was angry before, now he is angry squared. He goes after me in a big way, attacking everything he can ascertain about me or the CRANK MOB. I stick my hands in my pockets, stare at the ground, only occasionally looking him in the eye so he knows I’m listening. After four or five minutes he burns out, and he tells me listlessly, “go on, leave, get out of here.” “Get out of here” he repeats, trying to muster his contempt.
And then, as I walk away, he yells “CHILDREN” at my back – a battlecry for every frustrated Culver City Cop. “CHILDREN” he yells with new found backbone before getting in his police cruiser. “CHILDREN!” he yells like a frat boy out the window of his car as he drives by.
Cycling is often characterized as a childish activity by cycling antagonists. To me, children are to be respected and admired. They possess so many qualities of which I am envious – a reflexive honesty, exuberance, unbounded & roaming intelligence, raw empathy, and zeal for life. Bravery and resilience. I admire them. So I’m glad that someone who has such contempt for children also has contempt for me. I hope everyone who is contemptuous of children is contemptuous of me; can you imagine a character such as Cruella de Vil or that Culver City cop, one who harbors such disdain for kids, admiring you? I would feel nauseated.