I once got a ticket for riding my bike in Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Well, in the interest of accuracy, the ticket was given to me for riding my bike on the side walk when, in fact, the cops rolled up on us for sliding a sheet of ply wood under the fence of a construction site so we could lay it on the steps in the front of the park and ride it like a wedge. The sessions that would take place on a simple setup like this were nothing short of epic as, given it was NYC, a plethora of riders would be in attendance and the ages and skill sets ran the gamut. Well, in this particular case, I was the elder statesmen and the sole caucasian in the group being grilled by the police. Ironically, the folks working the construction site used to often sit and watch us ride the pieces of borrowed ply wood and had even made it a point to leave sheets of wood by the fence so we could easily slide them out to ride. They only asked that whatever piece of wood we used, we then slide back under the fence when finished. In this case, the Officers rolled up and approached us as we had already slid the wood out and were walking it in the direction the front steps while it was resting on our pegs. As soon as we were confronted, one of the officers asked if, “we had paid for those pretty bikes?” Well, given that two of the guys in attendance were sponsored (not myself) and, given that I was getting a bit preemptively defensive and could see the question was being posed in the direction of the non caucasian members of our contingent, I quickly responded with an intentionally vague,”They belong to us”. The officer doing the talking quickly shot back, “thats not what I asked, captain, but how old are you anyway! You got some ID?” Sensing that things had pretty quickly grown increasingly tense, and normally being a pretty conflict averse personality, I handed over the ID. Almost immediately, the Officer responded with a, “Holy shit! you are older then I am. Is there some preteen out there looking for his little bike back? Aren’t you a little old to be getting “rad” on small bikes with NWA, here. And, since when did you guys want to be Tony Hawk? Where’s the basketball?” As he shot an exaggerated smirk to his less verbal counter parts and they all began to chuckle and mumble to themselves.
As much as it pains me to acknowledge it, the sentiment expressed by these three variously obese bigots (not my opinion of ALL police), struck a chord that would resonate, in different ways, from that moment forward. I didn’t let on, in the moment, and quickly responded that, “the frame was actually a little big for me but I’ll be moving down to a 19.5 soon. As for my age well, fuck golf and, as long as I stay away from the donuts, I’ll be riding way into retirement.” Needless to say, it was at this point in the conversation that the copper began to pen the ticket while his peers attempted to ice grill me into shame. Unfortunately, it worked and the shame they were able to induce, had me simmering and imagining all of the hateful shit I would have liked to subject these idiots to. Had I the capacity, I would have boiled these fuckers and fed them to the rats that infest that park. Over the years, and it has been about 15, I have periodically revisited this exchange and, for a long time, the memory of it would continually drudge up some feelings of humiliation. That said, there is much that I have learned from run ins like this one that is incomparably valuable and positive.
Our intellect and emotion often operate on different levels. We can know that someone is employing a bad generalization that only paints them as a moron, and still be offended by the empty assertions they put forward. In the case in question, that a cop didn’t know that Black riders had been central bmx since its inception or that people well past 30 rode bmx, merely makes clear the guys limited experience and his clear obliviousness to his own ignorance. Not only did he have no clue what he was talking about, but his lack of clue did nothing in the way of preventing him from commenting as if he did. That he didn’t see the bias and shortsighted nature of his own views should have extracted any of his comments potential to humiliate me. But, for quite some time, the words stung and even resulted in my riding mountain bikes or abstaining from riding all together because I allowed my self to believe I was being immature by enjoying bmx. All of this self imposed, without my having one single idea of what it is that is supposed to make something as active, positive, and creative as bmx intrinsically less suitable for adults then hitting and chasing little white balls around often segregated (racially, gender, economically or all three) gated courses.
That I allowed myself to miss out on something I enjoy because of silly misapplied generalizations is one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. That I got back in the saddle and am in my 40’s is probably one of the things I am most proud of in all my years. Now, time for us to do a better job of representing bmx as diverse as it actually is.