Like I said yesterday, you just can't go letting a bunch of white people get together in a large group, shit always jumps off.
By now everyone has heard about the brawl between a couple of drunken hecklers and Jon Page's brother-in-law that took place while JP was being interviewed post race. So why am I taking it up here? Well, because I was standing there when it happened. So, here's my bird's eye view account.
So Justin Lindine and I were making our way back to the car from the staging area and were slow rolling along on our bikes, stopping to chat with people here and there. We were standing behind the Verge trailer where there were a couple of dozen bikes laid out on the ground all waiting to be packed up for shipping back East, including all or most of the Richard Sachs team bikes.
I didn't hear any of the conversation leading up to the fight, and I had no idea who was involved or the fact that there was heckling going on or anything like that. All I saw was two guys on one side, another guy and a woman on the other, angry faces, quasi tough guy posturing, and then the bigger of the two hecklers pushed Page's brother in law, he pushed back, then little chubby troll dude (Heckler #2) in work coveralls shoved, they sprawled onto the bikes, chubby troll was the first to run away, etc. Pathetic.
The thing is, though--and this is what I haven't read anywhere else--from my perspective, yes Page's brother-in-law was pushed first, but he not only pushed back, he also stomped hell all over Richard's bikes, and the others lying about as if they weren't even there. All three of them did.
I know what it feels like to take a punch, and I know the moment of primal rage, the urge toward self defense and pure, simple ego that surfaces in that instant. I know it doesn't always feel manful to walk away, sometimes it feels dishonest, unrealistic, not true-to-self. And sometimes it is, genuinely, righteous. And I know that, as Myerson eloquently described on his blog last night, sometimes, if you're a real badass, you walk away.
There was nobody in the right from where I was standing. The problem was not who pushed whom, the problem was the over-arching discourse under which these individuals define themselves and set parameters for their behavior. There is a sense of all too common, petty, middle-American entitlement at work here that folks imagine gives them the "right" to heckle, to play their car stereo loud outside my window, to stick a confederate flag on their truck window. "Dammit this is America and I have the right"... no, jackass, you have responsibilities first, rights after. The first amendment to the constitution was designed to protect us against being stripped of the right to resist. In no way was it intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as being, a preemptive weapon or verbal billy club available to individuals with which to mark their social territory.
I read yesterday on one of the cycling websites, CX Magazine, I think, that one of the two hecklers was grousing about having to pay more than "his share" of the damages. And I shake my head. He should be writing a formal letter of apology to USAC and the event promoter and explaining to as many junior racers as possible why what he did was selfish and wrongheaded.
And for all three of them, at the point that the first guy landed on a bike, they should have woken up a little. You know the saying, your right to swing your arms stops at the end of my nose. Once the private property of innocent third parties was involved, these Baby-Hueys should had the restraint to minimize the damage to the bikes and move the hell on. Instead they stomped all over the place like a gang of Tolkein's mountain trolls playing whack-a-mole with their feet. And the shit heel who started the heckling wants to quibble about his "share" of the damage? Words fail me.
The funny part was that after the fracas was over, I rolled past Chubby Overalls Troll, whom you will remember as Heckler #2, and the tallest and thinnest of the three guys (Page's in-law, I think. Could be wrong) and I said, to Heckler #2 "pathetic, you're an embarrassment". He walked away, but the other guy took offense and got in my face. "What was I supposed to do?" he said. I told him he was supposed to be the better man and walk away. I told him he should have been thinking about where he was, the presence of kids, event sponsors, the media, the police, and that all of that should have been more important than defending his manhood. I do feel for the guy, he did get pushed, that sucks and he was right to tell the hecklers to quit it. Maybe he was the wrong guy to tell off, but it all reminded me of junior high when the teacher doesn't care who started the fight: the assumption is you were both wrong, and you both get punished. And yeah, sometimes that's unfair but you know what? Not usually. At times in my life when I have been making bad choices, I have had to worry about getting punched. When I'm making good, socially responsible choices about the way I carry myself? Not so much.
On heckling: stop it. This seems to be the issue of the season. I have read about it on several blogs, and had many conversations with friends. More than once I have heard people speculate that, like the surge in interest in "Alternative" music after Nirvana's "Nevermind" came out, and the jocks and kids just looking for a fight found out about mosh pits, and the genuinely other-than-mainstream music scene began it's true death roll, 'cross might just crush itself under its own success and popularity.
But really, let's keep this simple up front: saying mean stuff isn't nice.
There isn't so much positive energy flowing around the universe these days that we can afford to piss on the genuinely large and meaningful emotions we manufacture for ourselves by the racing of bicycles. We do it to feel good about ourselves. So why knock that down a peg? I have been a part of a lot of communities in my life: As a musician I've been a part of everything from what was left of the hardcore/punk scene in the early 90's to the New England contra dance and old time scene, as well as the Jazz world. I've played tournament chess, obsessively, and had all sorts of eccentric hobbies. One of the things I think is really inspiring about bike racing is that in order to be any good at it, you have to be reasonably positive and take pretty good care of yourself. Honestly, compared to other circles I've traveled in, the most maladjusted bike racer is still not nearly as misanthropic as your average chess player, believe me.
There's nothing clever or smart about being too cool to care. Particularly about something you spend large amounts of time, money and natural resources to pursue. If you're going to travel to another state, or even just across town, and spend your day at a bike race, and then hang out and watch the elite race, why not act like you care? Show some respect and learn something. Why not support the guys that are still doing hill repeats and motorpacing on the road in December? Why not appreciate that the best 'cross racers in the country--to say nothing of the Europeans--are so much better than the rest of us it almost isn't the same sport? When I was about 13 I thought affecting an air of jadedness and been-there-done-thatitude would gain me entry to the Cool Kids Club. I soon realized that the real Cool Kids--the ones I actually began to look up to then, or do today--are the ones who claim their space in the communities and experiences that matter to them, work to make them better, and ignore the haters and naysayers.
Trebon may not be the most outwardly friendly guy on the circuit but you know what? He's a professional athlete and how many people do you know who are as good at what they do as he is at 'cross? If he wants to be serious, he's allowed. He doesn't owe anyone a beer hand-up. And why heckle Page? It probably stings enough not to be the best in the U.S. anymore, and he seems able to be pretty gracious about it. But man, who has done more to put U.S. 'cross on the map than him?
I guess we each have to make a choice about what kind of community we want to have. And understanding that our individual choices matter and affect the world beyond the ends of our respective noses is already a long way toward taking responsibility for "our share" of our community.
4 days ago