Aren't You All Supposed to Be in Soldarity?
While the Los Angeles area is defined as being fiercly car-centric, some of us Angelenos take pride in the fact that we bike to get places.
Usually, we get along with each other because we bicyclists are a bit of a minority. We occasionally nod at each other when see each other on the streets. When we see someone down, we are apt to help one another. However, this may not always be so!
On a Wednesday night last April, the Metro Blue Line was supposed to be a relaxing ride home after a long day of back and forth travelling from Long Beach to Los Angeles. This was my 2nd and final ride in the same day departing from Los Angeles, 25 miles en route to Long Beach.
There was no bike on my train but mine. This is good because there is very little room for bikes anyway and because the train is usually packed, I don't get to sit that much during these train rides.
As is my custom on the older Blue Line cars, I would go to the back of the train to a rectangular area with automatic doors on both sides that serve as passenger entrances/exits, bordered in the back by the conductor's cockpit. When there is no conductor, this small rectangular area fits at the most 4 mountain bikes without obstructing any of the passenger entrances/exits.
I walk to this area and flip the bike on its seat. I do this so I wouldn't have to hold up my bike. I don't have a kickstand to keep the bike from flying all over the place. So I just flip the bike over, stand up, look around, and hope for a seat to open up. If a seat on the ride opens up, I could just sit down instead of standing and holding on to my bike for the duration of the hour-long ride.
For this ride, however, I am able to sit down, in the handicapped section, which allows me to rest easy.
It is mostly a relaxing ride home, so I decided to call my fiance.
At around the half-way point to home, there are two people with two bikes that arrive on my train as I'm talking to my fiance. I get anxious because it looks like there is no room for multiple bikes on the train.
One person with a bike is a black guy whom I will call Rob, dressed in what looks like a rain windbreaker and some swishy athletic pants. He owns a carbon-framed, super-aerodynamic looking bike. Seeing that my bike is already against the conductor's door, he leans his bike, perpendicular to mine, against the passenger entrance/exit door that isn't in operation.
As I'm there talking to my fiance, Rob sits to my left in the ordinary passenger seats. No problem there.
Another man walking with a bike is a dapper-looking guy with glasses who looks Indian. I will call him Sami. Sami had a ginormous bike; it looked like it had an engine in it. He could only place his bike parallel to my flipped over bike. His bike had hulking wheels and it faced Rob's sleek carbon-framed bike. Sami would have to hold up his humongous bike for the duration of this ride. He couldn't lean against the conductor's door because my bike had already occupied the conductor's door where he could lean.
Sami stands up with his bike to my right, almost blocking both entrances.
I am literally sitting in between these two guys.
I felt kinda bad and wanted to let Sami sit but I'd been too preoccupied with my fiance to do anything.
After a stop or two, it appeared that Sami was having great difficulty keeping his big bike stable. With the train's turbulence, his front wheel seemed close to banging into Rob's expensive bike. I noticed that his knee and leg looked exceptionally skinny and he had a knee brace on it. Problem here.
Rob with his sleek-looking bike noticed how his bike was getting nudged ever so slightly by Sami's bike. At first, he saw this and helped Sami turn the his bike wheel to the left away from nudging his sleek aerodynamic bike. The terseness with which Rob leapt to his feet and helped him turn the bike seemed to be done aggressively.
Despite that effort, the Sami's bike inadvertently gave the Rob's bike a little nudge.
Sami asked Rob if he could move his bike.
A visibly irate Rob said, "No you've got to move your bike."
Attempting to be proactive, Sami moved forward and tried to move Rob's bike.
"Don't touch my bike, you don't just touch other people's bikes like that! You know what? You gotta take that mobile home in the next car! There's no space for it here!"
"This is a $2000 dollar bike!," said Sami. "I can't move anywhere else."
Sami's bike hit the Rob's bike again. I couldn't tell if it was intentional or not.
Rob instantly shot up and moved the Sami's bike away from his bike. "You can move your mobile home to the other car!"
"I'm going to call security!," cried Sami.
Sami pressed the emergency door button, thinking it was security.
"That's the emergency door, idiot!" said Rob.
"I ride this train everyday and bicyclists show respect for each other's bikes!"
At this point, I was still on the phone with my fiance, but remained silent, pretending I was oblivious. I was looking at all passengers, and they were as stunned and speechless as I was at this interaction.
I once learned on a message board that "if there were two kids fighting it would be OK to break it up. But for two grown men?" I wanted to stop the kerfuffle right there as I literally and physically felt I had the position to, but I just kept talking on the cell phone and looking at other people's reactions.
For a good 10 minutes, while I was still on the phone, the two traded mean glares at each other. I was still both physically and symbolically in between the both of them.
After the very public altercation, some passengers were smiling at each other in the "oh crap, this is crazy, let's put it on Youtube" kind of way.
I was busy talking on phone till I reached the stop before my exit. Then, I hung up the phone.
The conversation between Rob and Sami resumed.
"I'll have you know that I am a quadriplegic, and I use this bike to get around," said Sami.
The tone might have changed when he said that.
"Well OK, you need to move your bike, he needs to get out," said Rob, probably hearing that I was going to get out on on the next stop.
Sami asked me in a gringo-sounding Spanish, perhaps assuming that my silence was due to the fact that I didn't understand what was being said despite speaking on the phone for the last 30 minutes in English, "Puedes mover tu bicicleta? "
I wasn't too sure why Sami asked me that in Spanish, but I was just about to get up to leave anyway. I helped him move his bike so I could get mine and get ready to leave. He responded with a relieved "gracias."
"I wanted to sit down for a while" declared Sami out loud probably to Rob and perhaps to me.
I felt guilty that I couldn't or didn't do much till that moment that I moved my bike.
"It's very hard to move this bike without hitting your bike," Sami explained out loud to Rob.
"OK, what you need to do is just move it here, and sit down and relax," barked back Rob.
We arrived at my stop, I told mostly Rob, but also aimed at Sami to have a good night, by which I wanted to mean, have a peaceful, safe night.
Were all bicyclists, we should actually be in unity or something. As I left, a woman came to help Sami put the bike away.
Once I exited the train, a black guy with an African accent approached me and asked "What happened?"
I explained the story above.
After my condensed brief explanation, he asked, "Aren't you bike guys all supposed to be in solidarity with one another?"
I responded, "Yeah I thought so."