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.
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.)