The Mafioso and the Cycle and other Biking Tales
I once met a Mafioso at the Farmers Market in West Hollywood. Yeah, not exactly where I would’ve pictured an old school Godfather type – hanging out near such a touristy spot – but there he was: big white collared shirt, opened so I could see his big gold chain, sport coat, slacks, and a cigarette in a little golden holder.
Why’d I assume he was a Gangster? Guess it was the same way you know a tanned twenty-something sporting Bermuda shorts, asking for Sex Wax is a surfer. Admittedly, I was profiling. But, hey, I’ve been there, too – like whenever I grow a beard, cut my hair, and show up at the airport… I always get profiled cause I look like a stereotypical terrorist. Not saying any of this is okay – just the distorted facts of our modern culture.
So here’s this guy – tough as shit, smoking, and ignoring everyone – including me (thank God). I stroll by to my bike, locked at a nearby rack, and get prepped to ride.
When I bike anywhere further than 5 miles I change my shirt, roll up my pants cuffs and switch shoes – so for a moment, I get to look like a homeless guy, stripped down in public spaces. Here I was, barefoot. In the middle of switching shoes, I feel someone approaching… then they stop. Close enough to take me out execution style, but not close to kick me in the face – so I don’t look up right away.
“You should get a better lock.”
I glance up. It’s him – the Mafioso dude.
“Oh,” I reply. “Why’s that?” My lock – a Kryptonite isn’t one of those U-Locks, but it’s a pretty durable giant chain. And, to be honest, if needed, it could also serve as a weapon. I started unlocking it… I’m gonna get mugged, I figured. There’s a first time for everything.
“Lock like that – me and my cronies, we’d take it out like that,” and he snaps his finger to emphasize his point. He meant business. “We’d come by and have that thing gone – no – time – flat. Cannondale – that’s a nice one, even I know that brand.”
I did my best to make my bike look like a waste of time for any would-be thief – duct tape seat, clothes hanging off it, etc. But apparently, that wasn’t fooling this professional.
“You gotta get a U-Lock. That’s a lot tougher.”
As he gets closer I start to notice something – his pants are a bit worn, his shirt stained, and his gold chain is chipping. It’s then I realize, my profiling needs work – this guy’s wardrobe is straight off the Goodwill clearance rack, but his attitude is straight out of the Sopranos – so I’m still not taking any chances. I decide I need to get out of there quickly, but not too quickly. He may have some valuable friendly insight that could save my life someday…
“You got a good set of lights?” he asked next. Not the direction I was expecting the conversation to flow, but here we were – downstream. It felt like I was navigating the rapids.
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh, cause if you didn’t, there’s a great set on sale now at the dollar store – I use them on my ride.” And it was then that he indicated his “ride” – a bicycle. Not any bicycle – a ride on its last legs. Brilliant. “I use it to get around the hood,” he informed me. “It’s not in the best shape, but it serves me well.” Ten bikers must’ve abandoned this bike before it ended up in his hands – this thing was in sad shape.
So here we were – the Mafioso cyclist and the silly looking urban cyclist, stripping off his shirt in front of a stranger – who still might have dastardly intentions, but my alarm bells were pretty much off at this point. I finished changing and then started off for my ride home – benefactor of another chapter in the strange world of biking in LA.
“Be careful out there!” he yelled as I rode off. Waving back to him, I said thanks and watched him insert another cigarette into his holder and light up. Moments like that make me wish I could read minds…
But my next encounter made me grateful I couldn’t…
Racing down Fairfax I noticed right away the traffic was much denser than normal – cars were at pretty much a standstill. This is good for me – makes my ride much safer and I love blasting past all the drivers (most of whom are driving less than a mile, I’m sure). I’ve biked this road scores of times, but this today was different – there was either a serious accident, major construction, or something worse. I rode past through the first set of lights and then Wilshire (almost a mile at this point), but then I get to Olympic and discover the problem – a scene I’ll never forget.
There’s a car in the middle of the right lane (on a busy road with only two lanes – sometimes only one to begin with – this is serious). This car – it’s the sort of four-door sedan any high school kid would be overjoyed to own. Its hood is open wide like a dragon’s mouth. Standing in front of the engine – a high school football player type, this guy was huge, probably 6′ 3″. In his hands, a set of jumper cables, but it might as well have been dental floss. He’s standing there staring at the engine with a look on his face that says, “I know these cables do something to help me, but I don’t know what.” By the time I get there I can tell he’s been standing there a while.
Inside the car are his four “friends” – they’re all on their phones, checking emails, texting, etc. – but none of them seems alarmed in the slightest by the fact they’re causing major delays.
“You guys okay,” I ask, getting off my bike.
It’s then I realize these guys must be stoned out of their minds – all I get are blank stares. I’d hate to see what I must’ve looked like from their perspective.
“You realize there are about a million cars behind you, right?” I ask.
“Oh,” the football type replies.
“Want some help pushing the car out of the way,” I ask.
“Sure,” the football guy responds and then gets back into his car.
What the fuck?! This guy could pick his teeth with my scrawny ass body.
“No,” I say “the idea is for me to help – so you help me push and one of your buddies can steer.”
“Okay.” He says.
And seriously, this guy could’ve picked up the car and moved it with all of his friends inside. I didn’t do anything to help him push it cause there wasn’t a point. But at least they were out of the lane and traffic was able to get by. So I hopped back on my bike and continued my journey home – a blur in the teenager’s memories.
The journey continues…