Bicycle mugging

My son-in-law Torazo is a badass, by which I mean a physics nerd. He also rides a bike, and he rides it about as badassedly as he solves physics problems, by which I mean yes, he loves to ride the Donut and hammer, but even more badassedly, he commutes to school on his celeste green, 4,000-lb. steel Bianchi.

Torazo goes to Harbor Community College, where he takes physics, calculus, chemistry, and a bunch of other classes that I never took anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Despite his undergraduate degree from Tokyo University, he fell in with the motley Davidson crew and wound up preferring the laid back SoCal lifestyle to the manacled, daily psycho-beatdown that you get as a salaryman in corporate Japan.

Harbor is one of the the poorest LA coastal community colleges, serving urban students. It’s about 70% Latino, 15% African-American, 10% frightened white, and a smattering of everything else. The Japanese students in the South Bay bundle up for safety and study mostly at Santa Monica College miles and a horrible commute away, where there is plenty of whiteness and richness and where you won’t suddenly find yourself in that awkward situation of having to talk to people who make up the majority of the population.

But not Torazo. He likes Harbor. It’s close, he has a 30-minute downhill ride to school and a 50-minute uphill ride home, the teachers are great, the students are great, and he’s there for the physics and calculus, not for the white bread. Like I said, badass.

Still, the school does have its issues, and the biggest one is the bicycle parking area, which is behind the gym, which is where all the jocks hang out. Many of the jocks at Harbor are trying to get a pro slot or an NCAA D-I billet, and they are like major-American-sport jocks everywhere: Big, loud talking, full of bravado, not overly impressed by any human activity that doesn’t end in the word “ball,” and not especially well known for taking physics.

So every day Torazo the physics nerd, with his 75-lb. backpack and nerdy bike pants and nerdy Big O lizard collectors jersey and nerdy bike shoes has to click-clack through the jock gauntlet to get to his bike. Nothing has ever happened, but walking through a large group of big, athletic, loud-talking people can induce anxiety in anyone, especially in a gentle physics nerd.

Today, though, it went down. He had almost made it through the tightly packed group, when a voice rang out. “Hey!” It wasn’t a greeting, it was a command.

Torazo picked up his pace but as a physics nerd he could calculate that reaching his bike, unlocking the lock, and pedaling madly away wouldn’t happen fast enough. “Hey!” the voice repeated, and this time it was sharper.

Torazo turned around, the color drained out of his face. “Me?” he asked, his voice shaking. The entire group stared at him.

“Fuck yeah, you, man. You think I’m talking to the fuckin’ wall?”

Torazo’s first language isn’t English, and in moments of extreme distress, as with anyone, his facility with the language fragmented. “How may I help you?” he blurted out, realizing that this was probably not the right playground response.

The guy who had accosted him took a few steps closer. He was easily 6’4″, with ripped arms, sinewy legs, and very intent eyes focused on Torazo. Torazo stared up at the tower. “That your bike?” the basketball player asked.

“Yes, sir,” Torazo said.

“Don’t give me no ‘sir’ shit. You ride that to school?”

“Yes,” Torazo answered.

The big guy nodded, staring intently at the shiny racing rig that stood out among the ten or fifteen other junker bikes. “What’s that thing cost?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“You don’t know? What, you stole it?”

“No sir,” Torazo blurted. “I bought it in Japan and I don’t correctly know the exact exchange rate from that time.”

The guy wrinkled his brow, skeptically. “You ride on the road, too? Or just commute?”

Torazo paused, processing the sentence. “Yes,” he said. “Road riding all the time.”

“Me, too. We oughta ride together. I been looking for somebody here at Harbor likes to ride. I love to ride. What’s your number?”

Torazo and the guy exchanged info. “I will call you for the next Donut Ride,” Torazo said, waving as he pedaled away.

“Cool, man. Looking forward to it!” The guy went back to his friends, and Torazo was gone, one more biking friend on the way home than he’d had when he left.

END

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32 thoughts on “Bicycle mugging”

  1. Way to go! Another one converted from xxxball to roadie!

    Somewhat similar story riding the SART to PCH and I stopped to check work email right in the middle of one of the bigger homeless tracts (what was I thinking? I know) and some dude comes up – along with his bigger friend – and asked, hey, how much is your bike? where do you ride? Needless to say, they were more curious seeing my dusty Specialized Crux than anything else..never judge a cover by its book!

  2. 6’4″? hallelujah, someone else I can wheel suck as they block out all that wind. Nice story.

  3. OK! THAT’s Why we come back to read! Not quite Edgar Allan Poe but hey, it makes for a few better minutes of life none the less! Hell YEAH!

  4. He invited him to do the Donut, not sure this will end well, if your descriptions are anywhere close to reality.

  5. The Donut may not start well for the uninitiated.

    Similar scenario when I popped into the Harbor City 99 cent store for some cheap produce, quick, right in front.

    But the vibe did feel right when homies asked to lift up my bike.

    Had to straighten up, stare down, and deflect, ‘these bikes cheap now at the bike store’. and bail outta there. Man’s allure of Carbon, put me in defense mode.

    fwiw, Placing a hand into a jersey pocket like one may have a weapon in there is another deflection, and better if one actually does.

    1. Yeah, you know those “homies;” asking you about your bike is usually just a prelude to stealing it. I will not ride without a gun from now on!

  6. Your son-in-law is a badass! I remember the first time he passed me on the donut going up Crest on his 4,000 bike thinking, “what the f$*k!” His new friend could be in for a rude awakening!

  7. It’s a sweet story. And would have been so even without the extraneous valorization of your son in law, who I’m sure doesn’t need it, the needless and wearying allusions to race and the perplexing demonization of students who happen to attend SMCC.

    It is wonderful to see the heartfelt tributes to Steve Tilford on this site. What always struck me the most about Steve Tilford was his extraordinary decency. He seemed to accept people as they were, and while he didn’t suffer fools gladly, he also didn’t villainize complete strangers because of the the color of their skin or the kind of transportation in their driveway. With all of our challenges and flaws, he seemed in general to genuinely like America, and Americans.

    What a draining thing we feel the need to do these days, constantly injecting into every conversation and often invent notes of bitterness between Americans. I’m a lower middle class white guy who wasn’t surprised at all by the friendliness of the Harbor athlete in your story. Nice people all over, I meet them every day, including ones who go to SMCC for all the right reasons. (Not the nefarious motivations you accuse them of.)

    This comment is in response not just to this post but to the trajectory of much of your posting. Seth, there is a unrelenting demagoguery in your writing which is every bit as divisive and ugly as anything coming from the right. You are making things worse, not better, with your reflex to demonize and mock those who don’t fit your own notion of righteousness.

    1. Next time add your real name and your comments will read even better, i.e. they will have a smattering of conviction to them.

      It’s funny how when you write with strong opinions about things you care about it’s demagoguery and divisive, but when you stick to the uncontroversial you’re weak and cowardly.

      You think race is a tired issue, so funny. What about the Pakistani dude who got beaten with a baseball bat in PV by the Bay Boy Gang? Pretty tiresome, those beatings.

      If you think racial interactions aren’t often fraught with tension, you really are a white dude.

      Anyway, flattered that you’ve gone through much of my writing! Hope you’ll subscribe next time.

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