We had just finished the NPR on a brilliant fall day in October 2014, I think. There was a new guy from Arizona, wearing a blue-and-white kit and it was his first Pier Ride and we sat around drinking coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, smalltalking like we always do. You could tell how much he loved the vibe, soaking in the easy conversation as we splayed on the bricks and cast glances over at the cobalt waves.
“You guys doing any more riding after this?” he asked.
“That wasn’t enough for you, huh?” My legs were wrecked.
“No, man, that was crazy hard. But if anybody’s doing more miles I’d love to join.”
Surfer Dan piped up with that smirk of his. “I’m doing a little extra credit but it’s on dirt. Seth’s coming with me.” Dan’s “little extra credit” was always stupid hard.
“Seth doesn’t do dirt,” I assured the guy from Arizona. “And sure as hell not with Surfer Dan.”
“That sounds fun!” the new guy said, so I was roped in even though it sounded awful. Somehow we wound up with five or six other riders; I recall Jon Paris, Christian Quant, and a couple of other suckers following along as Dan took us up the steep trail behind the Malaga Cove library, then onto the road and over to the narrower, steeper, dirt walking path that went up and over a ledge and dumped out onto Via del Monte. Most of us fell over trying to mount the ledge, but not Dan.
The new guy got dropped hard and fell, too. At the top we waited for him and waited for the curses, but we were disappointed when we saw the new guy grinning ear to ear. “That was a blast!” he said, scraped up, covered in dirt, and kit scuffed to shit.
Surfer Dan and I looked at each other. “We got ourselves a live one.”
That was my first ride with Rob Dollar, and it may have been his first bike ride in SoCal. It wasn’t more than his second, that’s for sure. The guy was a densely packed ball of fire and good vibes. He was new to cycling, but a veteran at life. I could tell that his brand of full-gas and crazy was going to fit right in.
This one happened sometime last year, I think it was in the fall of 2016, at Strand Brewing in Torrance. We were having a going away party for Rob, which was weird. It wasn’t weird that he was going away; people come and go all the time. And it certainly wasn’t weird that Rob was at Strand; he was famous for holding his liquor and a lot of everyone else’s, too. What was weird is that it was a going away party for someone who had, in South Bay terms, only just arrived.
In two short years he become Rob Motherfuckin’ Dollar, or RMFD, the embodiment of camaraderie and fun and risk and inclusiveness that bike racing is supposed to be about but rarely is. That’s how he introduced himself on the starting line or to a new rider. “Hi, I’m Rob Motherfuckin’ Dollar.” And he was.
He formed a hard core rat pack of beginning racers with Kevin Nix, David Wells, Josh Dorfman, Matt Miller, Mathieu Brousseau, Denis Faye, Bader Aqil, Jason Morin, and several other riders whose motto appeared to be “Go fast, go hard, have fun, and make sure the bottle is empty before you go.”
And if Rob was loved by his pals, he was adored by women for his sculpted physique, infectious humor, and for certain angles on his podium photos that more than a few female admirers swore could be seen from Google Earth. There was even a private message chain that certain women shared, providing instant notifications for when Rob Motherfuckin’ Dollar’s podium shots were uploaded to Facebook. If you wanted to stop a party in a heartbeat all you had to say was, “Rob Dollar podium” and watch the iPhones come out in the blink of an eye.
I wasn’t part of Rob’s racing crowd, but I always saw his gang and hung with them at the team tent and was privy to the unique friendships that had all coalesced around this one charismatic guy who didn’t to know how to do anything but make friends. In two short years his return to Phoenix sparked an outpouring of people who packed the brewery that afternoon to tell him goodbye. The relationships were genuine and real. Like any human Rob had his flaws, but unlike most of us he was always the first one to apologize and try to do better. And “do better” he always did.
When Rob returned to Phoenix, he stayed a member of Big Orange and joyously greeted his teammates and SoCal friends when they came to Arizona for the Valley of the Sun Stage Race. Rob flew the Big Orange flag as proudly, or more proudly, than he had in Los Angeles. He stayed in touch with his SoCal friends, rode with them when they visited Arizona, and was never the one who let the relationship go flat. And Rob got better as a racer, too, even as he made the same impact on his hometown that he’d made on his adopted one.
None of us thought that goodbye in 2016 was permanent, just a pause in time until he did what he promised to do, which was to return to live and race in the South Bay as soon as he possibly could. I’d say we adopted him but that’s not true. Rob Motherfuckin’ Dollar adopted us.
Last night at 8:00 PM about a hundred of us stood around the surfer statue at Hermosa Beach Pier. We were just outside the circle of light from the bars and activity on a slow Monday night, and a cool breeze blew in off the Pacific. David Wells had constructed a Rube Goldberg contraption with bike forks turned upside-down that held a spinning bike wheel. Each time the wheel slowed, someone stepped out from the circle and gave it a push, keeping the wheel moving.
Rob had been killed the day before descending South Mountain outside Phoenix. A young woman, high on weed and drunk on liquor, had gotten “stuck” behind a “slow moving” cyclist in front of her. I guess “stuck” is what they say when what they mean is “she had to slow down and wait a few seconds.” Sounds more dramatic to use a verb that you associate with glue, or a mire, or quicksand.
Annaleah Dominguez and her friend were in a hurry to get to the overlook and veg out, and she veered out across the double yellow line to pass the cyclist who had slowed her down such that she’d have to wait a few seconds before getting to the place where she could, you know, sit in her car and stare off into space. At that second Rob Motherfuckin’ Dollar, who was descending from the top, came around the turn and hit her square on at speed. He died instantly, no chance to do anything except, perhaps, wonder if he was going to make it.
We stood in the blackness on the edge of the strand and listened as the witnesses came forward and spoke to the beauty and strength of Rob’s life. The voices were choked and humbled and broken and soft, but we heard every word, in part because we’d each experienced the profound goodness of this amazing and decent man. We didn’t have to hear each other’s words; they’d been playing over and over in our heads since the news first struck.
They’re playing still.
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