A meditation on bicycling, advocacy, failure and mortality, and your weekend events

“There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singing on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”
— Phil Ochs, When I’m Gone
 

My father died a failure.

At least, that’s what he thought. Although a funeral that filled the largest Catholic church in town, in what was then a largely Catholic town, would tend to suggest otherwise.

But as a lifelong mechanic and mail carrier, he struggled to feed his family; a meager pension and social security meant there was nothing left to pass on to his children when his time came, far too soon at far too young an age.

Twenty years later, it still feels like a knife to the heart to know that those were among his last words and thoughts.

Yet he left behind four strong, healthy children more than capable of fending for themselves, and not one of whom ever doubted for a single moment that they were loved.

And I can’t think of any better definition of success than that.

But lately, I’ve come to understand the feeling.

After three years of battling the current economic meltdown, I have almost nothing left to leave my wife if anything were to happen to me.

It wasn’t always like this.

A dozen years ago, I was on my way to becoming a VP of Marketing, with the six-figure salary that came with it, for with a company so cool that Apple’s engineers and designers turned to it for inspiration. But internal politics and a corporate bankruptcy put an end to that.

It didn’t take long to bounce back, though. Within a few years I’d built up a lucrative freelance practice, writing advertising, marketing materials and strategic briefs for accounts ranging from local builders to Fortune 100 companies.

Yet over the past few years, the recession has taken its toll. Almost all of my clients have either gone belly up or zeroed out their marketing budgets; the few that haven’t have seen a 100% turnover in their marketing departments, so the people who would have to hire me now don’t even know who I am.

Yes, I could rebuild yet again.

But just as the economy started to go south, my close call with the Infamous Beachfront Bee Encounter caused me to confront my own mortality. And accept that, at this point in life, the time I have left on this planet is shorter than it is long.

Like anyone else, it could measured in days or weeks, or it could be decades. But no one gets out of this world alive.

And I’m not likely to be the exception.

Fortunately, I have never feared my own death. I was lucky to discover The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in my early teens; if an emperor of ancient Rome could accept his own mortality, I could as well.

So when my time comes, I expect to greet it like an old friend. On the other hand, it’s one I hope not to meet for a very long time.

I also accepted long ago that it may come while I’m riding my bike.

Not because bicycling is inherently dangerous, but simply because I spend more time on my bike than almost anything else I do. If I spent that much time behind the wheel, it would be just as likely to happen there.

Then again, with a family history of heart disease, diabetes and cancer — and exposure to second-hand smoke for the first 12 years of my life — it’s far more likely I’ll have my own family to blame.

As I slowly recovered from my injuries, though, I came to the conclusion that whatever time I have left should be spent trying to make a difference in this world. And that it was time to redirect my life from convincing people they can’t live without this thing or that thing to doing what I can do to improve bicycle safety, and ensure that everyone who sets out on a bike comes back home again. And in one piece.

As a result, I’ve focused most of my efforts on writing this blog, as well as doing what I can as an advocate for bicycle safety, on my own and as a member of the LACBC Board of Directors.

Yet even though it’s become the equivalent of a full time job — plus overtime — it seems like it’s not enough sometimes. Every cycling death or serious injury feels like a failure; every rider run off the road is a reminder of just how far we have to go.

And yes, I do take it personally.

Every meeting I can’t attend, every day I don’t write something for this blog — this past morning, for instance — it feels like I should be doing more, even though it already seems like I’m doing more than I can.

There are others who would agree. And still others who do far more that I do.

But after all these years, it finally feels like I’ve found my calling. Simply put, there’s nothing I would rather do than what I’m doing right now. Even if, three years later, all I have to show for it is a $25 gift card and a pair of bike socks.

Some days, when the bills outweigh the funds on hand and the news and inattentive drivers conspire to remind me just how vulnerable we can be out there, I understand all too well how my father felt, and why.

But I also believe the solution is an inherent part of every problem. And tomorrow is a new day, with opportunities blooming like bougainvilleas if we can just see past the obstacles in our way.

So let’s keep up the fight.

And maybe we’ll finally reach that day when the last bike death will be the last bike death.

“And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”

……..

Bike Talk airs every Saturday at 10 am; listen to it live or download the podcast from KPFK.

Bike Long Beach hosts Bike Saturdays every weekend; ride your bike to participating local shops and business throughout the city to get special offers and discounts.

This Saturday, August 27th, Santa Monica Spoke will answer all your questions about biking in SaMo and the new Draft Bicycle Action Plan at the 10th Street Neighborhood Potluck Block Party from noon to 4 pm on 10th Street between Olympic and Michigan.

Also on Saturday the 27th, the Culver City Bicycle Coalition is hosting their monthly Family Ride starting at 10 am at the Culver Hotel, 9400 Culver Blvd in downtown Culver City. The easy ride will travel from downtown to the annual Fiesta La Ballona, where you’ll find a free bike valet hosted by Palms Cycle and the CCBC.

The Beverly Hills Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee meets from 5 pm to 7 pm on Monday, August 29th at 345 Foothill Road. Cyclists who ride through the biking black hole that is Beverly Hills — or would like to if it was more inviting to cyclists — are urged to attend.

Tuesday, August 30th, Santa Monica’s Library Alehouse will host a benefit for Streetsblog LA from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm; a portion of all food and drink purchases will benefit Streetsblog; 2911 Main Street. Events will include a raffle, drink specials and possibly a bike valet.

Flying Pigeon hosts three popular rides each month, starting with the Brewery Ride at 3 pm on Saturday, September 3rd, followed by the Spoke(n)Art Ride at 6 pm Saturday, September 10th and the Get Sum Dim Sum ride at 10 am on Sunday, September 18th. All rides meet at Flying Pigeon Bike Shop, 3714 North Figueroa Street in Highland Park.

On Sunday, September 4th, the LACBC will hold the next monthly Sunday Funday Ride, hosted by LACBC Board President Chet Kostrzewa; the ride starts at 9:30 am at the Wolf Creek Brewery in Valencia, 27746 McBean Parkway. Or join the riders at the end of the ride for beer and brunch at Wolf Creek Brewery; a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the LACBC. (Note: an earlier version said the ride started at 11:30; it actually begins at 9:30 and will conclude around 11:30.)

Wednesday, September 7th, Victims Impact Statements will be held in the case of Stephanie Segal, charged with felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and felony hit-and-run in the death of cyclist James Laing; Segal reportedly had a BAC of .26 at the time of the collision. The hearing starts at 8:30 am in Department 1 of the Malibu Courthouse, 23525 Civic Center Way; cyclists are urged to attend wearing bike jerseys, but no shorts are allowed in the courtroom.

Saturday, September 10th, the Santa Monica Spoke hosts the Dinner & Bikes Tour from 7 to 9 pm with leading bike scribe and advocate Elly Blue, vegan chef Joshua Ploeg and Joe Biel, founder of Microcosm Publishing; tickets are $7 to $20 on a sliding scale, location to be determined.

The 2011 Far West and SCNCA Elite Track Cycling Championships comes to the Encino Velodrome on Saturday, September 10th and Sunday, September 11th at 17301 Oxnard Street, at the edge of Balboa Park in Encino. Gates open at 8 am; racing starts at 9 both days.

Elly Blue’s Dinner & Bikes Tour repeats on Monday, September 12th from 7 pm to 9 pm, this time hosted by the LACBC in the 1st Floor Edison Room of the MALDEF Building, 634 S. Spring Street. This time, the admission is free, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Flying Pigeon LA.

Also on Monday, September 12th, the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils is hosting a town hall meeting with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Felicia Mahood Senior Citizen Center, 11338 West Santa Monica Blvd. Light refreshments start at 6:30, with the Mayor’s presentation & questions and answers from 7 pm to 8:15 pm.

Saturday, September 17th from 8 am to noon, Amigos De Los Rios hosts the easy, family-friendly Healthy El Monte Community Bike Ride at Pioneer Park, 3535 Santa Anita Blvd in El Monte. Register before September 8th and get a free T-Shirt, raffle ticket, lunch and bike bottle; children $5, adults $10.

Also on Saturday the 17th, C.I.C.L.E. LA invites you to join in the Made in L.A. Bicycle Tour from 1 pm to 4 pm starting a the L.A. State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring Street in Downtown L.A. The eight mile family-friendly ride will visit sites including Homeboy Industries, El Pato Factory and the Angel City Brewery.

Head up to Palo Alto on Saturday, September 17 for the Echelon Gran Fondo, with rides of 65, 80 or 95 miles, as well as a fundraising walk, run or ride and A Taste of Palo Alto. The ride benefits Bikes Belong, parent organization of both People for Bikes and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. The goal is to raise $10,000; if you can’t make the ride, you can still donate and get some cool Bikes Belong swag.

You’re invited to Think Bikes with the Dutch when the General Council of the Netherlands joins with the LACBC and the City of L.A. to present ThinkBike Los Angeles. The public is welcome to the Opening Session from 9 am to 10:30 am on Thursday, September 22nd at the LADOT, 100 South Main Street, and the Closing Session, from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm at LAPD Headquarters, 100 West 1st Street. Preregistration is required for both the Opening and Closing sessions.

Mark your calendar for L.A.’s Ultimate Bike Weekend, as the 2011 L.A. edition of the Tour de Fat comes to town on Saturday, October 8th, followed by the next CicLAvia on Sunday, October 9th, offering an expanded route taking participants another 3 miles north into Chinatown and south into South L.A.

You’re invited to participate in the Gladiator Rock’n Run at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, October 1st. Not bike related, but at least they’re offering a discount for cyclists; enter code GLADIATORZ10 (all caps) to save $10 on registration.

The LACBC is co-hosting a weekend-long training program for bicycle and pedestrian advocates with the Alliance for Biking and Walking from Friday, October 14th through Sunday, October 16th, 634 S. Spring Street, Suite 821.

The LACBC’s award-winning City of Lights program will host their 2nd Annual City of Lights Awards/Fundraising Dinner on Thursday, October 27th from 6 to 11 pm at CARECEN HQ, 2845 W 7th Street. Tickets will be available for $45 later this year.

Friday, November 11 through Sunday, November 13th, the Eastside Bike Club hosts the LA Tamale Throwdown at a site to be determined, offering a chance to sample some of the city’s best tamales, coffee and pan Mexicano; bike valet courtesy of Flying Pigeon LA.

And mark your calendar for Sunday, November 13th, when the LACBC unveils a marriage of bikes and food with the 1st annual Tour de Taste in Culver City.

10 comments

  1. grrlyrida says:

    You know what’s so funny? Not funny ha, ha, but a coincidence. I just wrote a comment about your blog on a so called rating of the top 50 most influential blogs: http://tinyurl.com/3fx25mk

    Scroll down to the bottom to view my comments. I’m glad you’re doing this blog. I check on it everyday to read your new entry and started attending different advocacy coalitions because of your blog.

    But I know how you feel about losing clients and potential jobs in this new employment market. For years I worked in public affairs after college. But as you probably know, governments and municipalities aren’t hiring. So I reinvented myself as a pastry chef.

    Good luck with this new venture and thank you for writing one of the most influential cycling blogs in LA. If it’s any consolation, I can send you some cupcakes to go with your gift card and socks. :)

    • bikinginla says:

      I questioned those rankings myself; not so much because I wasn’t on the list, but because so many others I respect weren’t. But it does make sense that the cross-linking of all the cycle chic sites would skew the rankings.

      I can’t begin to tell you how touched I am that you would fight for me like that. I really do thank you. And thanks to you, we now know that not only does Yann know my blog, he even knows my name — I had to read your comment several times to make sure you hadn’t mentioned it.

      Back in my 20’s, I dated a pastry chef, and I can’t say I ever objected when she brought her work home with her. So as far as I’m concerned, you made great a career move. I’ll look forward to trying those cupcakes sometime!

  2. Frank Peters says:

    I just returned from a 6-hr ride up the coast and much of that time I’m reflecting on your post. So many bits of your tale touch a nerve with me. For example, my mother smoked for many years, which makes those uphill climbs so challenging today. But your references to ‘turn over in marketing departments’ gives me pause; just a few months ago an important contact for me, someone who I’d cultivated a relationship for years, has left her organization which leaves me with the prospect of starting all over again; I sigh with fatigue at the thought. My relevance to this organization will fade quickly and with it the ongoing opportunities I hoped for. Is this natural selection at work? Moving us out to pasture sooner than we’d like? Great post…

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks Frank. I’ve been very surprised the response to this piece; these were just my thoughts as I was riding yesterday. I really wasn’t sure if anyone was going to like it, given the subject matter.

      Keep plugging away at that organization; you have far too much to offer to let anyone put you out to pasture.

      And I’m so sorry to hear about your father. If you mentioned it before, I missed it somehow. My deepest sympathies; no matter what age you lose your father, it leaves a vacuum in your life that nothing else can fill.

  3. Thank you for all that you do!

    • bikinginla says:

      I really appreciate that, Dennis. I hope your family is doing okay; please let me know if there’s any news in your brother-in-law’s case.

  4. Biker395 says:

    I wish I could express myself as well as you do.

    I think to a certain extent, we all feel like failures at one time or another. And I think I know why … well … kinda.

    To the extent that you can say that humanity has advanced over our days as cavepeople, I think that’s happened because we are never satisfied. No matter how good things are, it’s deep in the human spirit to look at ourselves and ask “how could things be better?”

    And that’s a good thing. Otherwise, we’d still be swinging clubs at dinosaurs and simple things like an infected tooth might mean an early and painful exit from the land of the living.

    But that Lexusian focus on perfection can distort our perception of reality. We step from one problem to another, solving most as we go along, and failing at others. And all the while, in our own eyes, we judge ourselves as harshly as professional athletes … only as good as our last performance.

    I say screw that. Celebrate your successes. Learn from your setbacks. The only time you really fail is when you are afraid to try or when you give up.

    I’ve come to the same conclusion as you have … that the true measure of success is the positive difference you make in the world. And I don’t think that difference can be measured in victories directly attributable to yourself. The victories of everyone you inspire, everyone you motivate, everyone you persuade count just as much as your own personal victories. You might well never know the difference you make.

    Your father probably never did. But if in raising you, he allowed you to be who you ultimately became and if you make a positive difference, he shares your victory.

    PS: Oh, and I know we didn’t co-exist with dinosaurs … I just threw that in for entertainment value. ;-)

  5. Sam says:

    I can completely relate to your meditations on death. And like you, I’ve never felt a stronger calling than to promote and advocate for cycling. I keep my eye on long range 30-50 year goals and thus don’t take setbacks personally, but I do keep meticulous track of all successes as a motivator to keep moving forward.

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