Saturday, May 26, 2007

On riding bikes and misguided authority.

It was a sunny and calm day in North Park. We gathered at the favorite of the local watering holes. We came together at the one bar with the Outside, the big windows, great tap selection, and Billiards. The drinks glistened in our glasses as the felt of the pool tables beckoned a grassy, tempting, fading blue-green. We played leisurely as a friend of my friend regaled me with his tale.

He is tall, this friend-of-a-friend, at least six-foot-four. He has bright eyes, an enthusiastic manner, and a scarecrow frame. He wears his straight corn-silk hair to his chin. His bearing screams Nordic, and his demeanor confirms it. He is also very good at telling stories.

He was riding his bicycle home one evening before dusk, when, in the middle of a large Avenue, he was “pulled over” by a policeman in a motor vehicle: a police car to be exact. He asked the officer, just to be sure, that he really was being pulled over. He: on a bicycle, the officer: in a car. It was true. And so this friend of my friend acquiesced and slowed to a stop, setting his left foot down onto the ground to balance himself. He didn’t get off of the bicycle.

The officer got out of the car (side note: is it illegal to get off one’s bike in this situation, I have to wonder?) and approached this tall jovial man riding his bicycle home to his family: laden with fresh produce and a crisp baguette. The officer cited a lack of lights; the man countered, “it is not yet dark, sir.” It didn’t seem to matter. The officer threatened to write him a ticket for having no additional light on the front of his bike. All he had was the stock reflectors. This friend of my friend was having trouble understanding how this was really that big of a deal and trying to reason his way out of this ridiculous and expensive situation. His cell phone rang in his pocket. He grabbed it and saw that it was his wife. He turned it on and held it to his ear.

“Put your hands in the air right now!” he heard the officer shout at the same time that he heard the loud click of a hammer sliding into place and saw the policeman shift a small heavy handgun into his sights and set it on him.

“it’s just my cell phone!” the friend of my friend shouted, “my wife!” as he dropped the phone on the pavement; his wife on the other side, listening. He raised his hands straight into the air and left them there. Cars and pedestrians milled about. The officer looked mighty stupid.

The officer offered no apology; said nothing and did not move for a full minute after he slowly lowered his gun. The friend of my friend, who, I was starting to realize, almost just got shot by one jackass, trigger-happy, half-wit numb-nuts with a government issued weapon, just stood there terrified and dumbfounded. He turned to the officer and told him that he had made a huge mistake; that he would no longer – ever – trust a police officer again. He took his badge number and name and complained to the department, vehemently. I don’t know what’s happening to the officer. This is just a hearsay retell, but I hope his dangerous most-likely hopped-up self got fired but quick.

That’s some crazy sh*t, man.

So. . .A few days back (a few days after I heard this story), I bought two lights for my bike because of what happened to him. I knew that with the weather getting warmer and my favorite hang-out still being in north park, that I would be riding my bike a lot and most likely at night. I didn’t want to get pulled over by some poop-for-brains because I wasn’t fully compliant. So I went to the store (not my favorite; unfortunately they were closed because the husband half of the couple that owns the place got in a motorcycle accident and broke his scapula. He’s a motorcycle policeman, but he wasn’t on duty at the time. I just at this very second realized how ironic it is, within the confines of these stories, that he is a cop. I hadn’t even thought about it. Weird).

I bought two lights: the front light is white and the back one is red. I keep the front one on solid and blinkity-blink the back one, alerting all would-be death machines to take note and avoid running into me. I rode home tonight at night for the first time in a long, long time. It’s my favorite time to be on a bicycle. I really like riding over the canyon. The big slow dip to the middle and then the gradual climb that makes me work a little bit. It’s better when there are no cars. I feel safer and I can ride with the wind in my face and my thoughts running astray. With my thin zip-up hoodie, tonight my temperature was golden. Sometimes riding a bike; like swinging on a swing or swimming in rivers and oceans; makes me feel like a little kid again. When I rejoice in the pure feeling of wind in my face or the gentle resistance of water against my palm. Maybe this is what I’m truly seeking. . .(we’ll save that tangent for later. . .)

I was riding up a gradual incline towards the last leg to home; loving the feeling of nighttime riding like I haven’t felt it in a long time. (Madison this is a shout-out to you!), my head was tilted back and mouth opened wide to take in the sky flowering trees tinted amber from the streetlights.

I pedaled hard and heard the plane long before I saw it. I heard it come up on me like the huge metal beast it was, slow and steady and single-minded. I looked up as it apexed above me, flying in the exact direction I was pedaling. I couldn’t tell what airline it was from but I knew I wanted to race it.

I could see the jet streams leaving the engines as the orange and blue plane screamed overhead. I lost it far before I had gone half a block, but I had fun romanticizing the plane all the same, pedaling hard as my legs would suffer, feeling the wind in my hair and the noise of the roaring engine fill my soul; I wanted to be flying. I raced and chased that plane and then looked straight ahead at the T- intersection stop sign super-fast approaching and the police car waiting patiently to my left, its driver looking straight at me. I skidded to a stop right at the stop sign and waited a full three seconds there as I let him go first. My heart was pounding. He looked me over carefully, surveying the scene.

To this minute I thank my little white light for saving me from the terrible fate of my friend’s friend. That police officer looked at me and kept on driving. He knew I wasn’t into any trouble. I am in compliance with the bicycle laws of the road! I rode all the way home, carried my bicycle upstairs, and all is well in the neighborhood.

[Moral of this story: Who is policing the police?]

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