Me, my brother, and my bike

June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments

Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.

Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye,  Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.

I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.

It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.

Girls and bikes

I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black

Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.

Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”

Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”

Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”

Buses and bikes

Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.

My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.

The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.

I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.

“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.

“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”

I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”

I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”

Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.

The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.

This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you

So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.

There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.

“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”

There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.

“Memorial lap in silence?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”

“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”

Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.

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§ 22 Responses to Me, my brother, and my bike

  • Peter Schindler says:

    If I were not in Brooklyn I would have been there but you are in my thoughts.

  • Vavoom says:

    Thanks for the read WM.

    My Dad passed away 3 years ago, and this year I did a long run on his birthday. There’s something special about pounding away in memory of someone you love.

    Have a good one!

  • Checkerbutt says:

    Beautiful piece, Seth! You are loved by all your friends. Sorry I couldn’t make it to NPR or Telo last night, but I am glad to know you and look forward to many beatdowns and lessons from you. I am thankful for your brother’s influence, just like Greg said, because if it wasn’t for him, I would not be graced with your presence.

  • Majo says:

    Loved it. Thanks for sharing this event with those of us who couldn’t be there!

  • gregleibert says:

    I loved this ride…from the first…amazing…i was honored to speak, i love you Wankmeister. I am proud to be a Wanker!

  • Ian McWanksalot says:

    That was tough to read bud. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Usta Befit says:

    As I have said before your attitude & candor during this extremely difficult time for you & your family is amazing! I am glad that your friends have provided comfort & some relief & I hope that the stories we have shared have shed some light & perhaps alleviated some grief… too much bad stuff out there & really nice to know that pretty much all of us come from dysfunctional family’s & we do our best to not pass it on to our children. So thankful that you picked up that bike in Austin & I look forward to riding with you until we are so old we can’t swing our legs over the top tube.

  • Andrew C. says:

    So sorry to hear Seth. My deepest sympathies. I’m gonna go ride my bike thinking about how my brother got me into bikes because of this post; I should think about that more often.

  • carlos r says:

    While I wasn’t able to make out to NPR on Tuesday I still sending you my sincere thoughts through this rough time. Glad that we see each other out in the bike and really have enjoyed reading the blog. See you out on the road soon.

  • Slim says:

    I’m truly sorry for your loss. Love is an amazing thing.

    Stopped by the “new” Freewheeling Bicycles yesterday for some necessities and had to sigh a bit as across the street the building containing the original shop (including the hair stylist and Nau’s Pharmacy) was being razed. A Miyata, Tomassini and four Merckx’ followed me out of that place courtesy of Phil, Jack, Jay and Frank. I can recall doing at least one Lockhart dirt road ride with WM starting from that parking lot.

    The NPR vid was bitch’n!

  • sibex9591 says:

    My first decent bike was a Black Fuji S10S that I purchased in 1979. My best friend followed that the next year when they came out with the new & improved S10S, the S12S. Though he had brothers, I had none, so he was (still is) a brother to me, and we still like to hammer each other as much as possible when we can. For notes sake, I usually play the part of the nail, but not always.

    I loved that Fuji. I rode it to college in all weather. I put racks on it, and bought some cheap paniers, and started (but didn’t finish) my first bike tour to get home to Jersey from Altoona, PA. Problem was, I rode right into the edge of a tropical storm, so soaking wet I called my roommate, who was home in Allentown, and he drove out to East Bumfug to fetch me.

    Two years later I rode that Fuji from San Diego to Jersey, and that cemented the bike experience deep into the inner recesses of my cranial grey matter. A strong, but not very good bike racer was born.

    Anywho, I know this was a couple of years ago, but I feel like I met your brother in the tales of Turner.


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