Shouting match

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I know I’m old because I misremember everything. But I’m pretty sure that people didn’t used to scream at each other as much as they do now. In fact I’m pretty sure that the people I rode with didn’t scream at each other at all, except for that time in the Cat 4 road race at the Tour de Louisiana in 1984 when some guy screamed at everyone for two hours straight before the screaming tired him out and he got dropped.

Part of the reason we didn’t scream is because we all knew each other pretty well, and part of it is because back in those days screaming, by definition, was going to lead to punching, and there were a whole bunch of guys you pretty much didn’t really ever want to get cross wise with. Jerry Markee was one of them, Kevin Callaway the Good was another, but probably the biggest reason you kept your opinions to yourself was Fields.

Fields never screamed at anyone, and you sure never screamed at him. You thought four or five times about even raising your voice, and it was that fifth time that always led you to the right place, which was to hold your fucking tongue until after the ride when you could go complain behind his back.

Nowadays people scream all the time. They scream in races, which is weird but a little understandable, and they scream on group rides, which is incomprehensible to me. We had a race a couple of months ago when an 18-year-old kid who weighs about 130 pounds started cursing a dude who weighs 220 and is a former football player and a father and who could pretty much punch his fist through a concrete wall.

Back in the day that kid wouldn’t have gotten to the “ck” in “fuck” before his teeth were making an emergency exit out the back of his head. After the race the big guy came over and said, “Wanky, you need to get your rider to calm down a bit with the f-bombs.” It was kind of incredible to me that I had to explain to someone who weighs 130 that it’s bad policy to get aggressive with a dude who weighs 220.

When I was a kid the first thing I always noticed first about someone was his size, and then his temperament. That’s because where I grew up if you were little, which I was, and someone else was big, which a lot of people were, and if you had a smart mouth, which I did, you would end up getting a lot of ass beatings if you didn’t size people up properly. It also helped that I could run real fast.

Nowadays you can’t pull someone aside and beat his ass. I never could, but guys like Rick Kent didn’t take any shit from anyone. I never heard Rick raise his voice but he was legendary for getting off his bike and beating the shit out of motorists. If you wanted to go home to your wife with your ass beat and a handful of loose teeth, the best way was to pull up to Rick while you were driving to the store for a jug of milk and cuss him out, or better yet, swerve at him, call him a homo, then pull over and challenge him to a fight.

And then there were powder kegs like Dan Gammill, a guy who simply looked insane and whose body type was “giant coiled muscle” so that you either tried to get on his good side or you left him alone. I’m pretty sure that no one ever yelled at him his entire life, or if they did, it was a one-off deal followed by a tasteful graveside service.

But screaming and yelling and shouting is pretty common now. Today on the NPR two good friends got into it. One of them pretty deliberately chopped the other one’s wheel, and the choppee went after the chopper with more fuck-you’s than a NYC bike messenger.

It was embarrassing to watch these two guys on YouTube, one of them chopping and the other one cussing. Retaliatory bike handling has always been a part of this fake sport, but seeing it between friends made me wonder when and where we made that particular left turn. I’m a pretty crappy bike handler but I’ve never whacked a wheel intentionally in my life, and that time I chopped the shit out of Robb Mesecher at the 805 crit in Lompoc three years ago, he said “Whoa, Wanky, you chopped me and put me in the gutter!” and I apologized on the spot about eighteen times and still feel bad about it. It’s pretty demeaning to think I almost knocked down another rider just because I wasn’t paying attention.

And  watching the choppee on the NPR let loose with a bunker-buster’s worth of f-bombs made me wonder when it became okay to completely lose your shit like that. The mark of a good bike racer used to be someone who was always in control. If someone chopped your wheel and you didn’t like it, you either chopped them back or put them into the curb or rode them off your wheel or beat them in the sprint or dropped them on the climb or after the ride you beat their ass. If you couldn’t do any of those things you did what I always do, which is slink to the back and be thankful I didn’t fall off my bicycle and hit my head.

What would be cool is if both those dudes apologized to each other because they’re both super good bike handlers and solid people in pretty much every way, and after all the feathers get smoothed over, we’re really just overwrinkled kids on bikes in our underwear, and how serious can that really be?

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