Undiscovered Country: LACM & LAPD

By Alex Thompson
Alec & Red show the world how tall bikes solve problems.

Alec & Red show the world how tall bikes solve problems.

Tonight, while executives and lawyers and lobbyists and assistants wined and dined and worked the room, while producers and directors and agents and actors made war and contracts with blackberries and iPhones, while all of them struggled mightily to meet in the middle, two men from two worlds crossed the gap to shake hands and take turns riding a bike in the most surpassing act of diplomacy I have ever witnessed.

Alec the cyclist and Red the officer formed a friendship and affirmed for all that the tone of cyclist & LAPD relations will no longer be one of antagonism or antipathy, nor even one of collaboration and cooperation, but simply a relationship of friendship and support.

Red was among approximately 60 officers mustered tonight for LAPD’s response to LA Critical Mass (LACM). With so many head cracking batons arrayed, cyclist gathering for Critical Mass kept their distance, restrained by memories of yelling, sirens, cuffs and searches. But the atmosphere of doom and gloom was disrupted by the relaxed and smiling demeanor of LAPD. The rumor mill suggested that LAPD had positive intentions toward LACM. It was unnerving . . . it almost felt like things might be OK.

So perhaps that is what prompted Alec to walk with his bizarre tall bike into the throng of cops and ask if anyone wanted to try it. Alec is positively mischievous, in the sense that his mischief leads to positive outcomes. He brings sidewalk chalk to parties and jump ropes to festivals, and he dupes you into having fun. Since I have known him he has relentlessly enabled full grown adults to engage in the fun of child’s play. He is not so much revered in the bike community, as he is loved and cherished by any and all who meet him.

Alec’s bike is different story. It is twice as tall as a normal bike, so that when you ride it, you are 9 feet tall. He rides it hundreds of miles weekly from his home in El Segundo to West LA or even Downtown. The problem is – twice as tall means twice the fall. For me, as an uncoordinated clod, all attempts to ride tall bikes have ended in ankle damage. Alec’s invitation to ride was a quiet dare for the tough guys in uniform.

Red stepped up. Red told me later that he used to ride bike patrol . . . 10 years ago. “They called me up and asked me to ride tonight”, he said. Now he drives a cruiser in Sylmar, answering patrol calls. “This (riding LACM) is way better” he told me with a grin, book ending that moderately serious remark with wise cracks. Simply put, this is a guy who likes to ride.

Alec gave Red some tips and instructions on riding his tall bike, and then Red jumped on that thing and rode it around the plaza, to the hoots and hollers and laughs and cheers of bike patrol and critical mass riders. Then Captain Blake and LACM icons Roadblock and Bike Bike Dan, gave tips and instructions to the crowd on riding LACM safely, and we all jumped on our bikes, and hooted and hollered and laughed and cheered as LAPD and LACM rode together through the mean streets of LA. LACM barreled through LA, safely, respectfully, as one mass, with only a smattering of incidents – to be expected when 600 people ride a cumulative 12,000 miles – and a good time was had by all.

Red rides tall

Red rides tall

LAPD and cyclists, Alec and Red took different paths to reach this moment. Alec is the artist who changes hearts and minds by riding a bizarro bike all over creation. Red is out there responding to tense situations – domestic abuse and car accidents – with confidence and a disarming sense of humor. Cyclists, throughout LA, struggle for recognition and respect, while LAPD is working hard to better engage the community and improve its reputation with citizens. All four of them took courageous steps today with the best of intentions – Alec stepped into a ring of 60 armed men and women, Red jumped on a contraption that guaranteed injury, cyclists and LAPD reached out to former antagonists and found new common ground. Somehow, they all came together at one place, at one time, and it’s all a little weird.

In Hamlet, Bill Shakespeare wrote of death as the undiscovered country:

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

We prefer the present and the known, even in the ways that they are bad, because we know them; we fear the undiscovered because, even if it might be better, it is unknown.

I feel a little uneasy with what happened tonight – it’s hard for me to believe that such a positive relationship can persist. But today I believe that I witnessed the death of antagonism between two great powers in Los Angeles, the two gutsiest powers in LA’s streets – cyclists and LAPD. I look forward to, with courage and clear purpose, exploring this new and undiscovered country of friendship and support.

(A special recognition is due to Chief Charlie Beck and newly minted US citizen Stephen M Box, the two big men who cut such an intimidating presence to us smaller folk, for standing toe to toe, eye to eye, and with courage and a handshake, forging a new relationship that led to the growing rapport between LAPD and cyclists today.)

Sgt David Krumer of LAPD, liason to the cycling community

Sgt David Krumer of LAPD, liason to the cycling community

Stephen M Box interviews Commander Villegas, who is directs LAPD's end of the Cyclist LAPD Task Force

Stephen M Box interviews Commander Villegas, who is directs LAPD's end of the Cyclist LAPD Task Force

Big Bike Dan

Big Bike Dan

Glenn Bailey, Chairman of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee

Glenn Bailey, Chairman of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee

Roadblock makes announcements to the crowd about the ride

Roadblock makes announcements to the crowd about the ride

Joe Borfo in his fish costume - he rode the whole ride in it.

Joe Borfo in his fish costume - he rode the whole ride in it.

Jennifer Beatty steals my style with the star sunglasses

Jennifer Beatty steals my style with the star sunglasses

This is what happens when a cat walks through a spider web.  What?  "That's not bike related" you say?  I beg to differ - this is my blog and I do what I want!

This is what happens when a cat walks through a spider web. What? "That's not bike related" you say? I beg to differ - this is my blog and I do what I want! Cats are an important aspect of biking.

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20 Responses to “Undiscovered Country: LACM & LAPD”

  1. Great article.

    Only time will tell.

    Patience, Los Angeles.

  2. Wow, Alex, this is a great article and your photos look amazing.

    I can feel the excitement from all the way over here in NELA. Of course, things won’t go perfectly – there are always going to be idiots on bikes breaking laws, and there will always be officers that don’t care that much about cyclists getting injured and killed in crashes; but could things have gone any better? This is what culture change feels like, I guess (I hope?).

    Next time something groundbreaking happens, I’m closing my damn shop and going on a ride.

  3. I’m glad a Good Time Was Had By All. Great article, and I love the photos (including the cat photo)

  4. The dude abides June 26th, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Great write up. This is the kind of reporting that can differentiate Bikeside from the rest. Good job!

  5. *standing ovation*

    If ever a photo spoke a thousand words…

    The pic of Red on a tall bike is amazing, profound.

  6. Wow Alex. Great Post. Great Story for Bike advocacy & great ride!

    What an inspirational night. I hope it can serve as an example not only for future LACM’s but CM’s all over the country!

  7. Well written article.
    Awesome ride all together.
    The beauty of the cyclists and cops rolling together, corking together and being one group instead of opposing each other will only grow more and more from this day forward. (Hopefully)

    Off the bat this was honestly the best LACM I have attended.

    Thank you for your edification last night as well.

  8. Great article, Alex. Sweet and surprising ride.

  9. First off, thank you LAPD for loaning LACM some very attractive cycling cops. The ladies appreciate it more than you know.

    Secondly, wow, what a great evening of cycling, community, and just LA. I swear, this is what LA is ABOUT! Seeing the city, crossing all sorts of boundaries and stereotypes, and people coming together. Let’s use this momentum and get the rest of this friggin city on bikes.

    (And me a date with a cute bicycling cop…it’s not much to ask!)

    All joking aside, what a great representation by our best in uniform. Glad they had a good time and grateful for their assistance. Three cheers for LAPD on bikes!

  10. This is a great article Alex. I too was. Skeptic right up until the “destination vote”. But once we hit the road the only annoyances were the over chatty “ride marshalls”. Once they either shut up or I was able to get away from them the ride was Peaceful!

    I stopped on my way home on Sunset an Western across from the riders where the LAPD was meeting and breaking off and spoke to a few LAPD brass and let them know how much we enjoyed there pressence and hands off approach to escorting the ride. I got some awesome feedback moving towards that I will share this coming week on “Bike Talk with CoolassMik” along with a follow up interview with YOU Alex.

    I hope this communication and relationship with the LAPD continues to flourish and it spills over to the other not so large rides that still need the assistance. Just yesterday on the CoolassRide we had a Camaro speed up and ride super close to myself and then rolled right up on a 12 year old riders tale with his car a full rev and had to screech stop NOT to hit the kids from behind. It was eerily close. Ofcourse I have the entire incident in HD from my bike mounted GoPro HD cameras front & back. I’d like to show the LAPD this footage and ask them to follow up. I’ll show this incident during the show as well.

    Great article Alex. Keep them coming

    CoolassMike from my iPhone, please excuse typos…

  11. Great article. Thank you for inviting us to ride in LACM and I hope we can do it for many more rides.

  12. Best LACM ever.

  13. Hey Alex,
    Great write up, and the pictures are gorgeous! I also wanted to let you know that I thought you did a great job speaking on camera to NBC4. I got to ride with a bunch of LAPD bicycle cops along Melrose and LaBrea until we got to WeHo city limits. All were polite, many were very friendly.

  14. Thanks for all the comments y’all. Really, this was a historic night, and a catharsis. It’s the best ride I’ve ever been to – there have been some Ridazz nights that were more fun, but this ride meant something.

    I followed up by going to Police Commission yesterday and giving props to Chief Beck, Deputy Chief McCarthy, Commander Villegas, Captain Blake, Captain Whittingham, Lt. Torsney, Sgt Krumer and Officer Helper. I gave some prints to Beck & Villegas & Krumer.

    Celebrate this! It’s the most historic and positive night for cycling in LA to date.

  15. Dang, Sgt Krumer has a nice Cannondale!


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