Park bench

Last Sunday we had the inaugural All Clubs BBQ sixth South Bay Cycling Awards at Eldorado Park in Long Beach. The two people who made this event happen, Ken Vinson and Kristie Fox, arrived before the sun rose to get things set up.

There was a guy sleeping on a park bench and Ken asked him if he would help out in exchange for a meal. The man’s name was Ben Millane, and not only did he help,  he took ownership of his tasks and being part of the event. He did the leaf blowing for the entire area and helped clean the venue. He was kind and talkative, and seemed as excited as anyone to be there, maybe more.

Without being asked, he stayed all the way through tear down. He talked numerous times throughout the day to all kinds of people. As the final things were loaded up, Ben thanked Ken and Kristie, said he loved the event, then asked if it was a one time only happening. Kristie said the event would definitely be back next year and that she would contact him. Ben has a FB page, and wondered where he could get one of the cycling t-shirts made by Origin. Kristie said she’d get him one.

This kind of interaction between strangers is what the day was about.

Six years is longer than you think

At the end of the South Bay Cycling Awards last year I was pretty wrung out. We had gone from humble origins at Naja’s dive bar in Redondo Beach to a huge event at Strand Brewing in Torrance, each year bigger than the last.

But after last year it felt like the event had run its course. There are only so many times you can give out twenty awards of distinction in a small community before you really are simply recycling names. Instead of an organic gathering of friends we had become a choreographed event with moving parts, all of which had to be timed and integrated.

It was a big old hassle.

As we were tussling with the idea of what to do in 2018, or whether to do anything at all, we were invited to join one of Ken Vinson’s Movement Rides. I’ve written about that experience, but it brought home the fact that if our event was going to represent the broader cycling community, it would need people from those communities who had skin in the game. Our decision to merge the two events was a quick one that left us with little time to pull it off.

“Don’t worry,” said Ken. “If give me the green light, we’ll make it happen.”

Let the people breathe

One thing I learned is that it’s hard to step aside. It’s kind of painful to see that when you’re not there, there are plenty of people who can do it better, more efficiently, and more effectively. And while it was great to see so many people come to the fore and do fantastic things, it also drove home that when an event is identified with one person it sort of sucks the oxygen out of the room for everyone else.

Apparently I was a pretty big oxygen suck, because when I turned the keys over to Ken and Kristie a whole host of new people stepped up to make the event better than it has ever been before. It’s hard to single out any one person, but some things really stood out.

One of them was Jeff Prinz of CBR, hopping around on a bandaged leg as he organized kids’ games and turned the first half of the event into a genuine icebreaker. It’s one thing to get black and white and brown people into a single venue, but a whole other thing to get them to talk. Racial barriers are real and they don’t come down easily. Although physical proximity is the key, it’s sometimes not enough.

Enter the world’s biggest game of musical chairs. Under Jeff’s direction the entire central area was converted into a game of 150-seat musical chairs, and this is where the barriers shook, crumbled, and fell. People diving for seats, laughing, bumping into each other, connecting as human beings over a simple child’s game … it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, made supreme by the fact that the child’s game was won, of course, by a child.

Let the people eat

Throughout the park, master cooks Harry McQueen, Patrick Barrett, Geoff Loui, and Jonathan Fraser cranked out the tantalizing smell of their pit creations, building to a fever pitch when the barbecue judging began at noon. Judges Sherri Foxworthy, Orlando Hutcherson, and Marvin Campbell did the hard work of eating the best barbecue imaginable, then trying to pick a winner.

And pick they did, anointing Patrick Barrett the winner’s laurels in a hard-fought contest. With heaps of non-contest meat also being grilled, people wandered through the area sampling, eating, and enjoying an amazing mix of camaraderie, community, and family. Shortly after noon Toni Smith and her Flawless Diamonds opened their food line and things got even more serious.

The first 150 people ate free; after that it cost ten bucks a plate for barbecue, cornbread, beans, and dessert. The Flawless Diamonds made sure that at this event, like every event they cater, no one goes hungry who can’t afford a meal. This too was a symbol of the day.

Let the people race

Around the corner from the stage, Zwift had set up a booth where you could strap into a spin bike and show your watts. The biggest wattage for the day, man and woman, each won a Zwift subscription along with a $1,200 indoor trainer. Competition was intense, to put it mildly. Zwift was one of many organizations who supported the event, including Race for RP, Velo Club LaGrange, and Big Orange Cycling. I’ve linked to the other sponsors in a previous post here.

The biggest race of all, of course, was the race of the people who showed up. It’s the first time ever, as was noted by keynote speaker Nelson Vails, that such a diverse community of cyclists has shown up to support, encourage, promote, and pay homage to the diversity of cycling. Award winners in 2018 made this event the most diverse one ever, and we didn’t even need an Oscars scandal to make it happen.

How did it happen? By doing the right thing for the right reasons with the right people.

After it was all said and done, we showed that people can work together, that unity is stronger than discord, and that the things we share as human beings that bind us together are infinitely stronger than the minor differences that people use to try and drive us apart. We showed that the first step to a better a world requires us to share the same physical space, that the second step requires a little bit of fun, and that the third step requires that we break bread together. The driving force for all of this, of course, is the bicycle, and anyone who doubts that bikes can save the world wasn’t at Eldorado Park last Sunday.

From volunteer photographers like Fred King to volunteer set-up hands like Ben Millane, from organizers like Ken and Kristie to the clubs who showed up in force, From Erick and Kurt on the sound to Peta and Rudy on the sack race, all I can say is that if you liked what you saw last week, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

END

———————–

It’s a better today than it was yesterday! Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

 

7 thoughts on “Park bench”

  1. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for what you started, what it has become and for all the people pulling it off and participating.

  2. I can’t really express how happy I am to read this. And on a day when I need a bit more happy than usual!

    Cheers to you for the air-sucking, and to the rest of the team and participants for execution! (though nobody was actually executed, correct?)

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: