Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I’ll let you ponder the meaning of this while I’m on hiatus in New Orleans.
I’ll let you ponder the meaning of this while I’m on hiatus in New Orleans.
According to a full, two-page ad in the recent December 12 issue of New York Times Magazine, Ford considers these vehicles, a Lincoln Aviator and a bicycle, to be peers when it comes to negotiating Manhattan streets, even in rush hour.
Here’s the ad’s full text:
Potholes, PSHAW. Sewer grates, YAWN. BUT NEVER DISRESPECT THE DOOR OF A TAXI.
Carlos Aguilera pedals in from Queens. At the foot of the 59th Street Bridge, he whips out his cell phone and fires off a text message reporting form work. Today the NYC messenger will cover forty to eighty miles by bicycle, same as every day, delivering legal briefs, advertising proofs and architectural drawings.
Need to get around Manhattan in a hurry? Follow the NYC bike messenger’s lead. Nimble, alert and able to anticipate, the 302-horsepower Lincoln Aviator gives some real kick. Lightweight and strong, its aircraft-grade aluminum suspension handles with agility. With its encyclopedic memory for addresses, the Navigation System finds routes even locals may not.
Splitting seconds and fractioning inches, maneuvering by reflex and bursts of acceleration, approximately 5000 bike messengers brave the streets of New York from all stripes and points of the globe. Outnumbered three to one by taxis and buses, it’s a constant adrenaline rush for messengers like Carlos Aguilera.
“57th after four o’clock is just a nightmare, nothing but buses. 7th Ave and 34th, pedestrians just run for the trains, not looking. Everywhere you have to look out for people getting out of taxis or you get doored. People look right through us.”
Keep looking. Keep moving. Keep momentum. Stay in the flow. All against oil slicks, ice patches, wet cobblestones. Go online to see how the AWD agility and power of the Lincoln Aviator may also supply a daily source of adrenaline.
It’s rather stupefying to imagine anyone with a straight face advocating super-sized SUVs as “nimble” and a viable means to “get around Manhattan in a hurry”. Our nation’s gluttonous, ruinous addiction to oil has erased any vestige of sane, public discourse involving mass transit, bicycles, or even good old fashioned walking. Read some Jim Kunstler and get even more depressed. I think the odds of Carlos Aguilera, or any of his cycling peers, getting killed by a Linclon Aviator (or a Hummer, an Expedition, a Suburban, etc.) is far greater than getting taken out by a bus or taxi. Wouldn’t that be delicious (but tragic) irony?
heckle: To try to embarrass and annoy (someone speaking or performing in public) by questions, gibes, or objections; badger.
Geoff Kabush is undeniably a world-class heckler. The accompanying photo surely speaks for itself. I need to meet this guy.
When I think of hecklers I envision Spike Lee courtside in the Garden ripping into foes of the Knicks. I’m not sure that cycling, at least in the US, will ever be a mature enough sport or an activity conducive to fostering a faction of hecklers. Firstly, we just don’t have enough fans, much less knowledgeble ones. To really get under somebody’s skin one needs intimate knowledge, information about how to really push an athlete’s buttons. Your everyday, casual fan at an event such as USPRO or San Francisco Grand Prix only has a vague notion of who Lance Armstrong is. The rest of the peloton is an anonymous blur of colors. The sport of cycling itself is hard on hecklers since the peloton is whizzing by at high speeds, and depending on the course, rather infrequently. Heckling demands constant, repetitive, irksome speech and if the peloton rolls around about every 30 minutes and pass by in a matter of seconds then the most creative witticisms will likely miss their target or cease to be effective. Kabush had the right idea by unleashing his Deaner persona at ‘cross nationals: cyclocross is relatively slow, you can get right up into the riders’ faces, and they come by about every 5-6 minutes. I’d bet the Jacques-Maynes twins can attest to the effectiveness of Kabush’s fury.
Of course, there’s also the proper balance between heckling and hate. If you ride your bike out on the open road you’ve been on the receiving end of evil: whether it’s the ubiquitous finger, getting buzzed, being pelted with bottles/cans/fast food detritus, or just your friendly, “Get off the road, faggot!”, cyclists are an all too frequent target of venomous speech or action. Since we get shit upon all too frequently during our daily training rides, part of me thinks that getting heckled, even good naturedly, at races is just not what the doctor ordered. Competitive cycling itself is not immune from venom bordering on violence: just ask Lance Armstrong’s or Jens Voigt’s opinion about fan behavior on L’Alpe d’Huez. But then again, some people just seem to deserve a hearty helping of verbal whupass. All’s fair in love and heckling when one spars with aural, not physical judo.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the nascent days of cycling heckling. I offer you:
Upstate New York’s Wise-ass Patrol vs. Thurlow Rogers.
So it’s 1984 and USCF road nationals are in the backwoods venue of Sunapee, NH. I had already competed in the junior men’s 14-15 event earlier in the day and had my heart (and kneecap) shattered 50 meters from the line. Doh! After a trip to the hospital to get stitched up, I returned to the race course to watch the afternoon feature event: the senior men’s national championship. For some of our country’s finest cyclists (i.e.- our Olympians) the race must have seemed a bit of a letdown. Afterall, with the Los Angeles Olympic road race fresh in one’s memory, any race, even a national championship, has to pale in comparison. Still, there were some grumblings and bitterness in the U.S. camp. Yes, Alexi Grewal uncorked the ride of his life and unbelievably torched Steve Bauer for the gold, but there were a few other Americans peaved that it wasn’t them out in front. Grewal was a headstrong, cocky bastard who very nearly missed the race due to some herbal tea tripping a drug test mere weeks before the Games. A few of our other athletes, such as Davis Phinney and Thurlow Rogers, seemed jealous of Grewal’s success and still sported jumbo-sized chips on their shoulders. I don’t recall when the scheduling for nationals changed to its current incarnation, but back in 1984 road nationals took place over approximately 9 days and included individual time trials and road races for junior and senior men and women, plus a team time trial for senior men. My memory is rather fuzzy, but I believe Thurlow Rogers was on his way to duplicating Ron Kiefel’s unprecedented 1983 San Diego nationals triple gold medal performance (Kiefel won the individual TT, was on the winning TTT, and capped it all off with a win in the RR) in New Hampshire. Rogers may not have won gold in the Olympic road race, but he wanted to prove he was still a force to be reckoned with in Sunapee. I’m almost positive he had already won gold in the TT and the TTT, and only approximately 100 miles of NH road stood between him and a third gold medal. Unfortunately for Thurlow, I don’t think he counted on some drunk-and-getting-drunker-by-the-lap acqaintances of mine from Utica and Hamilton getting under his skin.
A potent mix of Upstate NY’s preeminent cycling smartasses, most of them approximately 10-15 years older than me, came to cheer me on in Sunapee. It was a glorious, sunny summer day and what better way to enjoy a race than by slurping down icy beers from one’s roadside cooler. I think they were already buzzing pretty hard for my 10am-ish race, and were definitely in rare form by the time I joined them for that Sunday afternoon’s feature event. The course was rather odd. The hardest climb in the circuit took place all of 100 meters past the start/finish line. You had to line up in your granny gear and immediately start climbing when the gun went off. This climb was fairly steep and narrow, perfect for spectators to get an up-close and intimate glimpse of the competitors. The Upstate NY crew was camped out about half-way up the climb, and were eager to see Thurlow Rogers claim gold. Now, Thurlow had a nickname, “Turbo”, which I’m sure was forever etched into his brain after that fateful Sunday Sunapee afternoon. Lap after lap after lap, my friends chanted “Tur-bo, Tur-bo, Tur-bo, Tur-bo…” right in Rogers’ face as he toiled up the climb. And as luck would have it, Rogers was not having a stellar day. In fact, I believe he bailed on the penultimate lap once he realized he had no chance in hell of bridging up to the winning break from which Matt Eaton would emerge as national champion. The last several times up the climb (probably laps 10, 11, and 12) Rogers was visibly flustered and rather perturbed when my fan section lit into him. I think the last time he went by, my friend Edmund, I believe the most vocal of the Turbo contingent, remarked, “Damn, I think Turbo wants to kick my ass”. As it turned out, the only ass getting kicked that afternoon was Rogers’ at the hands of America’s finest amateurs, eager to pummel someone fresh off a 6th place finish in Los Angeles’ Olympic road race and spoil his bid for three gold medals. And what ever happened to Rogers? History suggests his psyche never quite recovered from the unceremonious ribbing in Sunapee. Over the winter of 1985, Thurlow Rogers signed a contract with uber-team La Vie Claire, joining Greg LeMond and turning pro along with fellow Americans Roy Knickman and Andy Hampsten for the 1986 season. Undoubtedly still hearing “Tur-bo, Tur-bo, Tur-bo” ringing in his ears, Rogers cracked right before Paris-Roubaix and fled Europe in the middle of the night without telling anybody for the comfy confines of America.
My friend Edmund, immensely talented on the bike when he actually took the time to train, continued to disappear and then re-emerge out of the blue over the next several years. I can still recall an image of his sweet, Duke-blue Peter Mooney machine, usually sporting bar tape in various degrees of unravelling plus the grimiest drivetrain on the planet. I remember his cryptic salutation amidst a torrential downpour during a NY district road race, “Peter…you’re looking mighty thin and wily today“. But what I most vividly remember was probably the last time I ever saw Edmund, and particularly the circumstances: live, national television. It must have been the late 1980s, probably 1989, and I was watching a New England Patriots game on television while home from college on a savagely snowy winter afternoon. In Cooperstown the sky was grimly grey, the wind was howling, and the snow kept piling up several feet in depth. The same storm was pounding Boston, and the Patriots were playing that very afternoon in the midst of a blizzard. I’ve never really cared too much about football, but when you’re housebound with only 1 television channel at your disposal, one’s options for mindless entertainment are rather slim. Near the end of the first half the camera panned through the crowd and halted at the spectacle of several men whooping it up in the midst of the snowstorm, wearing only Speedos, sporting frighteningly bright red skin, and double fisting beers. The announcers immediately chimed in with something like “Oh dear me. Look at those fools. They’re going to need hospitalization immediately. What a disgrace.” And just as one announcer uttered, “What an embarrassment to their parents” the camera really zoomed in and the totally blottoed face on my television was none other than Edmund’s. Too funny. I believe Edmund survived that wintry afternoon, but I’m not sure what’s happened to him since.
“Howwwwwwdy ha, boys and girls.”–Mr. Hankey
Have you seen the full page Ridley ads running on the back cover of recent Cycle Sport magazines? Somehow, I don’t think Ridley envisioned this type of mental imagery associated with their ‘cross frames’ introduction to the U.S. While the Ridley execs assuredly pontificated the aura of “badass”, their ad agency sputtered, delivering a comical “sad-ass”. One can only hope that Bart Wellens, Mario de Clercq, or the inexplicably anonymous gent in the back (he had the right idea and conveniently had his name expunged from the record…) were amply, amply compensated.
Approximately one week ago, on a wintry, overcast Washington D.C. afternoon, I stood mesmerized, somber, and contemplative in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, face-to-face with the name Perry Metzler. Unless you’re either the truly rarified individual of an age and predilection to recall the world of New York City competitive cycling in the 1950s/1960s or, like me, a devotee of Peter Nye’s cycling history, I’d likely surmise that Perry Metzler’s name is drawing a blank. It’s too bad that cyclists like Metzler have been largely forgotten, for his life’s story, particularly from the mid 1950s until his 1971 death in Vietnam, is a fascinating and tragic microcosm of the larger social turmoil which enveloped the United States: discrimination, the effect of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, the Civil Rights movement, mass African-American migration from the South to northern cities, and the Vietnam War. As a corollary, his career as a cyclist documents significant elements of our sport’s history: the still vibrant NYC competitive cycling scene, the seeds being sown for American cyclists re-emerging as world-class athletes on the world platform after lying dormant for several lackluster decades, the creation of the U.S. Army’s Special Services cycling program (the precursor to the current U.S. National Team system), and the emerging career of Bicycling Hall of Fame inductee Al Toefield.
While Major Taylor became the first African-American cyclist to win a professional national title (1900, in Newark, NJ), Perry Metzler is perhaps best known for being the first African-American cyclist to win an amateur national championship, taking the 1957 junior men’s track omnium in Kenosha, WI. Perry Metzler and his twin brother, Jerry, started racing bicycles in 1953 as members of the Crusaders Club of Brooklyn. Under the tutelage of Amos Ottley and 1952 Barbados Olympian Ken Farnum, both Metzlers flourished. As a 14 year old, Perry finished 9th in the 1955 junior men’s national track championships held in Flushing Meadows, NY. In 1956 the Metzlers finished one-two in the NY state track championships earning them a trip to the national championships held in Orlando, FL. While the Metzlers’ struggles against poverty were inhibiting enough on their cycling careers, the ugly specter of segregation proved too much for the brothers to overcome in 1956. According to Peter Nye,
“Segration remained the order of the day in Florida, despite the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision two years prior declaring segregation unconstitutional. Segregation was not something new to the twins. They had lived in Mississippi for nearly 10 years before their family moved to New York. They went to Orlando anyway, taking a bus. They were thrown out of the city and had to turn right around and go back home. Jerry, always outgoing and quick-tempered, became disgusted and quit riding.”
Perry, however, continued competing. Next year, in 1957, Perry’s 2nd place in the NY state championships once again earned him a starting spot for nationals, this time held at Kenosha, WI, but Metzler’s lack of funds prevented him from making the trip. Enter Al Toefield:
“Al Toefield, a New York City police sergeant, was an American Bicycle League district representative. He saw Metzler in a parking lot a few days before the 1957 national championship. ‘I asked him why he wasn’t in Kenosha,’ Toefield said. ‘Perry said he didn’t have any way to get there. So I said he could ride with me in my car.”
About a week later Metzler returned to Brooklyn with a national championship jersey and trophy.
While many of Metzler’s junior peers dropped out of the sport, Perry successfully made the transition from junior to senior level racing and found success in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states. Peter Nye states,
“Metzler’s riding was part of the mystique that grew around him. Another part was that he commuted to races in a shiny red and green Ferrari. The Ferrari belonged to Bill Wilson, an older black man with salt-and-pepper hair who smoked a meerschaum pipe and generally stayed in the background during races. Wilson worked at the Warwick Boys Training School and became a “big brother” to Metzler, who was never close to his father after the family broke up.In January 1960, Metzler was drafted into the army. After basic training, he was stationed at Fort Jackson, SC. Al Toefield, then a member of the U.S. Olympic Cycling Committee, tried repeatedly to get Metzler assigned to the army’s Special Services so he could train for the 1960 Olympic trials. Although the armed forces had been integrated in 1952, blacks were not openly received. Toefield later discovered that a colonel from one of the southern states kept blocking Perry’s transfer to Special Services.”
Metzler failed to qualify for the 1960 Olympic cycling team in the match sprint, and Harlem resident Herb Francis made history instead, qualifying in the match sprint along with Jack Simes II, becoming the first African-American member of an Olympic cycling contingent. Metzler continued cycling until 1967, winning the Eastern States Outdoor Track Championships, Pan-American track meets in Trinidad, as well as repeatedly finishing in the top ten in New Jersey’s Tour of Somerville criterium, but unemployment and the need to take care of his wife and sons ultimately forced Metzler out of the sport. Life as a competitive cyclist is difficult enough these days (even with a nascent domestic professional scene, sponsorship opportunities, and NRC prize money) but in the mid 1960s there was no team or financial infrastructure to support the competitive ambitions of cyclists.
From mid-1967 until late-1969 Metzler’s life path sadly descended into crime and drug abuse. Metzler grew so discouraged that he opted to re-join the army. Then residing in Chicago with his family, Metzler tried to enlist there but was denied by the recruiter since he had a family. Metzler boarded a bus to Detroit, lied about his family status, and was accepted. Perry once again went through basic training, earned his paratrooper wings, and became a military police officer. On February 3, 1971 Metzler was shipped to Vietnam. Eleven days later, on Valentines Day 1971, Metzler was killed in Binh Dihn, South Vietnam. And what a disturbingly cryptic, sanitized cause of death: “Non-hostile, died other. Accidental self-destruction”. How heart-wrenching is that? A former Olympic hopeful, married with 2 kids, blown-up by accident half-way around the world. I can’t help but think of John Kerry’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, only 2 months after Meztler died, and the words “…how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Those same words also dominated my thoughts as I reached out to touch Metzler’s name, one of 58,245 carved in black granite.
The entirety of the biographical information about Perry Metzler, as well as the photograph, came from cycling historian Peter Nye’s indispensable work Hearts of Lions: The Story of American Bicyle Racing. New York: Norton, 1988. If you haven’t done so yet, set aside some time and read this book. And if you ever find yourself at the Washington, D.C. Vietnam Memorial, you can pay your respects to Perry Metzler at panel 05W, row 103.