Legacies

For the most part, families are wonderful. They give us support, encouragement and love.

But they also give us their blood and guts.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to ward off the inevitable, my ancestors’ legacies.

Last month, 50 years of bike riding, running and pretending I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger in the gym failed me. That three grandparents died of heart disease, I was doomed. No outrunning, out-biking or out-lifting that.

Late last year I noticed my blood pressure rising. My cardiologist said when I got back from Colorado, where we spent the holidays with our family, he’d run some tests. But on New Year’s Day, my blood pressure spiked to 201/106.  That’s stroke territory. The ER doc in Colorado said I wasn’t having a heart attack, but he couldn’t reduce my BP much below 175. “See your cardiologist,” he said. All that medical training and this is the best advice he can offer?

I did when we returned to Florida. He ordered some tests, the penultimate of which was a cardiac CT scan that takes pictures of the heart arteries. By the time I had it done, we were only six days from leaving for a 3-week vacation in Chile. Two days later, I had a follow-up visit with him, but he had yet to see the test results. “I’ll call you when I get them. Maybe I can text the doc and get a preliminary reading” he said. I walked to the front area and began to check out when he comes down the hall and tells me to come back to the exam room. He shows me the terse response to his text: “Very bad.”

My cardiologist said he could perform a catheterization the next morning. It’s the final arbiter, as they run a camera up through your veins to the heart and get the definitive look. “If I can put some stents in, you can go on your trip,” he said.

But it wasn’t to be. The blockage, which included the LAD artery, nicknamed “the widow maker,” was in areas of the arteries that precluded stents.

He still was willing to entertain the idea of me going to Chile. But when I told him that the first stop was the Atacama High Desert, one of the driest spots on earth at 8,000 feet, he raised his eyebrows. When I told him on the third day we were to start a hike at 15,000 feet, his eyes popped out of his head. Karla and I looked at one another. Just maybe being in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere having a self-induced heart attack was not the best way to spend a vacation.

Two weeks later I met with the surgeon. Folks who knew him said he was good. The nurse in the catheterization lab said he was excellent but “a little gruff.” But then again, he was a surgeon, many of whom have a reputation for bad bedside manners, in part because when they enter a room, they hear trumpets. Which seems to prevent them from hearing their patients’ concerns.

This guy was different. First, he had, in his youth, done the Ironman. He said he used to work out two hours a day. So at least he understood the disorder that some of us have about loving to suffer. He spent an hour with me and assured me that I was a low-risk patient. The only concerning factor was that I was immune compromised, my psoriatic arthritis. Factoring that in, they have a matrix that shows your risk factor. The one that caught my eye was that I had an 8% chance of dying during the surgery.

Eight percent? If I was told I’d get $50 million dollars and I can watch Marjorie Taylor Greene get the Salem witch treatment but had an 8 percent chance of dying immediately afterwards, I think I’d pass. But I decided to roll the dice, in part because doing nothing didn’t seem an attractive alternative.

He said it was to be a triple bypass. The irony here is that as part of my quest to outfox my grandparents (and mother who had bypass surgery at my age) I twice suffered through a ride from Evergreen to Avon, Colorado, a distance of 117 miles while climbing 10,500 feet over three mountain passes. It was called the Triple Bypass. Oh, aren’t they so clever—and in my case, prophetic!

March 20 arrived, and I was greeted by a nurse whose job was to shave me. She did—everywhere. How many places were they going to cut, I thought? The only thing she left me was my close-up for a porno movie.

Eventually, I was rolled into the operating room, as I tried to keep the number 8% out of my head. Six and half hours later, I received the greatest gift ever—I awoke, dazed with tubes coming out of my chest, but I survived.

The first three days were encouraging. My chest didn’t hurt that much. Guys I had talked to said that was the worst part. But they never broke their femur or cracked their pelvis in eight places. I’m practiced at pain.

The only wrinkle was a visit from my surgeon on the third post-op day. While he had an expansive look inside my chest, he noticed an irregular lymph node, so he biopsied it. “You’ve got cancer,” he said. “You’ll probably need chemotherapy.” But it looks like I’ll need nothing—literally. “You’ve probably had this small cell lymphoma for years,” the hematologist said, “And it’s so slow growing that you’ll probably never need treatment.”

By the fourth day, my stomach began talking to me. The next day I was doubled over. Of course, the hospital ordered a scan: Voila! I had gallstones and the whole organ was failing, a not uncommon occurrence after heart surgery. Seems the gallbladder, when teetering on the edge before heart surgery goes over it when you mess with the heart. Kate, the first of our three kids to spend a week with me and Karla, walked me through the darkest period of this whole sordid affair. My Romanian general surgeon said she could take it out that night. So about 7 pm, I’m rolled into the pre-op room. By 10 pm I’m the only one there, except for the nurses waiting for gunshot victims.

I’m wheeled into the operating room and put under general anesthesia for the second time in seven days. When I awoke, I asked how it went. “It didn’t,” she said. “You went into a-fib.” She said she consulted with my heart surgeon. “He said it would probably be OK.”

Probably? He’s sitting at home, probably watching The Housewives of New Jersey, while I was probably going to be OK. I was glad she demurred. “I thought it wise to wait until tomorrow when the hospital is filled with plenty of experts I can call on,” she said. She was being cautious and advised, “There’s a reason patients have better outcomes with female surgeons.”

Why the hell are women so much smarter than us?

So the next day, as she put it, she “stabbed me four times,” inserted the robotics, clipped the gallbladder from the liver, crushed it and sucked it out one of my stab wounds. I was home the next day.

But not for long. Hunter, who had taken over from Kate, and I went for a walk, after which I had a pain in my chest. Consulting the impeccable health source, Google, I learned that fleeting chest pains are common after a bypass. But this one didn’t fleet. Six hours later I was in the ER.

They thought the pains were simply the sternum rearranging itself and complaining after it was assaulted, but of course they ran some tests. They still couldn’t tell me the source of the pain but discovered two blood clots in my lungs, again a typical byproduct of a bypass. I was back in the hospital for couple of days until they decided that the embolisms were safely parked in my lungs and weren’t going anywhere. A six-month course of blood thinners should allow them to dissolve.

This marked the second time in recent years I spent my birthday in the hospital. That could be depressing, but I prefer to consider these trips “destination birthdays.”

The last doc doing rounds that morning was a colleague of my surgeon who had come in almost daily to offer a few words of wisdom and encouragement and then disappear. He looked like Dr. Marcus Welby but older. I had earlier asked him if he was a sort of surgeon emeritus. “No,” he said. “if you don’t operate, you’re out of here.” I later learned that this guy who looked to be well into his 70s, had twin 15-year-old daughters at home. So, even if could, he couldn’t afford to be emeritus.

But on this morning, he tried to lift my spirits. “You know,” he said. “You’ve been through a lot, what with three major things happening to you—the bypass, gallbladder and cancer.”

“Four things,” I said, “You forget why I’m here now—the embolisms.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Any one of those could have killed you!”

I’m not sure if he was trying to bolster me, but all I could think of was “Yeah but there’s still time.”

Later that day, I was home again, this time with my son Zack, his wife Chelsie, and my 7-month-old grandson Orion, who so far seems pretty enamored with life. He smiles a lot. Which was good for me.

Daily walks and naps, along with anything I want to eat (because I lost 14 pounds during my ordeals) have been my routine. I feel like I’m making daily progress. I’m a little less tired each day. My walking pace has picked up. And the fatigue I had for the past couple of years has lessened, replaced by a tiredness that I think relates to my physical trauma, understandably so.

I’ve tried to make peace with my ancestors for treating me this way, though years of ice cream piled in what is known in our house as a “Griendling bowl” may not have helped. Grandpop Andrew Griendling had what I’ve essentially got—arteriosclerosis. He died of it at my age. His wife Anna, nee Corvin, was rolled into the operating room for heart surgery, said, “It’s chilly in here” and promptly died. Grandpop Pasquale Petta died at 66 after two heart attacks a week apart. But his legacy included a full head of black hair, for which I’m vain enough to consider it a fair trade.

Ah but, Grandmom Maria, who lived until I was in my 40s, was the exception. I don’t know what she died from officially, but she lived until 90, all the while resigned to life’s imperfections. The glass was always half full.

Some people think because I’ve had this string of broken bones and brains these last four years and am now recovering from surgery that I’m tough or dogged—or too stupid to know the difference. No, I get strength from those around me, and they all were here this past month. What a gift! And after all, whatever I’ve gone through Karla and the kids have had to, also. But they didn’t have the advantage I did—drugs.

The glass is more than half full and then some.

“Careless” motorist rear-ends me. Walks away with a fine.

On March 1, 2021, as I was riding my bicycle on 6th St. S. near 30th St., I was struck from behind by a motorist who was either distracted, indifferent or homicidal. My pelvis and scapula were shattered, and I suffered a traumatic brain injury. I was in the hospital more than five weeks.

Fortunately (besides the fact that I survived), I had cameras on my bike. The rear one caught the crash and can be seen here: http://bit.ly/GriendBikeCrash-1. Both it and the front camera are designed to run for several minutes after a crash. They recorded the driver saying to me as I lay on the ground, “Sir, pulled out in front of me.” The footage, of course, shows that not to be the case. I was in the right-hand outside lane on this four-lane road when he pulled into my lane about 100 yards behind me. There was nothing between me and him, and it was a clear, sunny mid-morning. He had at least five seconds to see and recognize that another vehicle in front of him was in the same lane. You can see in the footage that he had his left hand at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel as he hit me. He seems to make no attempt to stop until the last second.

The responding officer issued the driver a careless driving citation as it was obviously a rear-end crash for which I bore no responsibility. But he also checked on the citation that there were “no serious injuries.” The careless motorist’s maximum punishment could be the $166 fine.

The driver did not have auto insurance and has a history of driving without insurance, driving on a suspended license and numerous speeding and failure to yield citations.

Many of us bicyclists lament the lack of accountability for motorists whose inattention leads to serious injuries or death of vulnerable road users. The news media often doesn’t help by the way it reports such crashes. Usually, the only news report is the day after and is usually based solely on the initial law enforcement officer report. The journalistic style usually subtly sets fault for the crash on the vulnerable road user and absolves the motorist.

Despite my injuries, the investigating officer in my case marked on the citation a box labeled “no serious injuries” (which is likely why there was no press coverage of my crash). He took no statements from any witnesses, though on the front camera video, you can hear an apparent witness say, “I’m a retired police officer.”

These are the facts of the crash. Anything more will need to wait for a future post.

Bicycle Crash Reporting

The story is heart wrenching. A Madeira Beach garbage truck driver hit a bicyclist riding lawfully within the speed limit in a bike lane. Julie Henning was left with “multiple compound fractures, a crushed pelvis, eight broken ribs, a punctured lung and a traumatic brain injury.”

The follow-up Tampa Bay Times story this week is welcomed—and rare. Too often, we hear only the original report of the crash. In this case, that May 23, 2020, story had all the hallmarks of bike meets car collisions. The story said Henning “couldn’t stop before hitting the garbage truck because she was riding downhill,” suggesting it was her fault. It made no mention of the truck driver’s culpability. Perhaps that wasn’t known at the time, but within a few weeks, the official report was available: The driver was cited for failure to yield. Henning had done everything right and yet was left shattered. But there was no follow-up story until Henning sued the city. It was then we learned of the driver’s culpability and that the city was aware of his poor driving habits.

One line in the story illustrates a key problem cyclists face: “The driver, John Leppert, said he never saw her.” How often do we hear that in reports about bike crashes? That simple statement is enough to allow careless, thoughtless motorists a “get out of jail free card.” As long as a motorist is not intoxicated, you can be sure that the police will not arrest and district attorneys will not prosecute. All the driver needs to say is, “I didn’t see her.”

Until we hold accountable drivers who do not pay attention and respect vulnerable road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and scooter riders, etc., there will be many Julie Hennings whose lives are upended, if not ended, by motorists.

Cyclists can help themselves by trying to increase their visibility. It is lawful for bicyclists to take the full lane, even if there is a bike lane available, if staying in the bike lane is dangerous. In the middle of a travel lane cyclists are more visible to motorists behind and in front of them, as well as to those entering the lanes from parking lots and side streets. After all, that’s where motorists look for vehicles. Crouched along the far-right hand side of the lane, especially adjacent to parked cars, hides cyclists from view.

But we need the media to do more follow-up stories because the initial ones are no more than re-writes of law enforcement’s press releases, which usually don’t include any mention of tickets issued. Such stories also often highlight irrelevant issues that suggest the cyclist is at fault. For example, wearing a helmet when hit by a car travelling at 40 mph is not going to save a cyclist, but many stories mention that fact as if to suggest it would have made a difference.

The same day that Julie Henning was hit, an unidentified St. Pete cyclist was killed by a drunk driver. The brief Times story contained this line: “The bicyclist traveled into the path of the car, which hit him,” suggesting the cyclist was at fault for riding into the path of a drunk driver.

We need a true telling of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes. With only the initial reports based on incomplete information, a narrative is created that cyclists are reckless or foolish, when indeed, it’s often the motorist who was, or at least inattentive. Clearly assigning responsibility may change public perception and increase public safety.

Robert Griendling is a past president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The views are his own.

NY Times article: Armed “militias” are not legally protected

This article was published on the NY Times website by a former acting assistant attorney general for national security at the U.S. Department of Justice

In the swirls of disinformation that now pollute our political discourse, one is particularly dangerous: that private militias are constitutionally protected.

Although these vigilante groups often cite the Second Amendment’s “well regulated militia” for their authority, history and Supreme Court precedent make clear that the phrase was not intended to — and does not — authorize private militias outside of government control.

Indeed, these armed groups have no authority to call themselves forth into militia service; the Second Amendment does not protect such activity; and all 50 states prohibit it.

The danger of these groups was brought home on Thursday with the announcement that the F.B.I. had thwarted a plot by people associated with an extremist group in Michigan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the government.

Court documents say that the group discussed trying the governor for treason and murdering “tyrants.” Six men now face federal kidnapping conspiracy charges, but unauthorized militia activity continues in Michigan and elsewhere.

The unnamed militia involved in the kidnapping plot is part of a growing number of private paramilitary groups mobilizing across the country, wholly outside of lawful authority or governmental accountability. These organizations — some of which openly refer to themselves as “militias,” while others reject the term — often train together in the use of firearms and other paramilitary techniques and “deploy,” heavily armed and sometimes in full military gear, when

Sometimes they want to fight against the perceived tyranny of the states, as when they stormed the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., this spring to demand the end of the governor’s pandemic shutdown order, egged on by President Trump’s tweets to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

Sometimes they want to usurp the functions of law enforcement, as they’ve done in Kenosha, Wis., and elsewhere, purporting to “protect” property during racial justice protests, often in response to false rumors about leftist violence, rumors stoked by the president’s calls to designate “antifa” as a terrorist organization.

Most alarmingly, some of them are planning their own poll-watching and openly training in preparation for the post-election period.

Whatever their stated purpose, their conduct is unlawful and not constitutionally protected. Even before the adoption of the Constitution, the colonies recognized the importance of a “well regulated” militia to defend the state, in preference over standing armies, which they perceived as a threat to liberty. The militia consisted of able-bodied residents between certain ages who had a duty to respond when called forth by the government.

But “well regulated” meant that the militias were trained, armed and controlled by the state. Indeed, 48 states have provisions in their constitutions that explicitly require the militia to be strictly subordinate to the civil authority.

Likewise, state constitutions and laws then and now generally name the governor as the commander in chief of its armed forces — and only the governor or a designee has the power to call forth the able-bodied residents for militia service.

Emerging from the American Revolution, the founders reasonably were wary of insurgencies that could threaten the stability of the new Union. Shays’ Rebellion and other early armed uprisings against the states only solidified those fears. Thus, the “well regulated militia” in the Constitution’s Second Amendment refers to the militia once called forth by the government, not by private vigilante organizations deciding when and under what circumstances to organize and self-deploy.

The federal and state government control of the militia has also been confirmed by the Supreme Court. In 1886, the court upheld the constitutionality of a state criminal law that made it unlawful for “any body of men” outside state or federal governmental authority to “associate themselves together as a military company or organization, or to drill or parade with arms in any city or town of the state.”

This criminal statute and others were enacted after the Civil War and are on the books of 29 states. The Supreme Court said without question that states had authority to control and regulate military bodies and associations as “necessary to the public peace, safety and good order.”

The court’s 1886 decision was reaffirmed in 2008 in Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller.That case established that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms for self-defense, but “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations.” Although there are many gray areas about Second Amendment rights, this is not one of them.

Which brings us back to the authority of the states. In addition to state constitutional and statutory schemes by which only the governor may activate “able-bodied” residents for militia service, other laws also forbid paramilitary activity and the usurpation of law enforcement and peacekeeping authority.

Twenty-five states prohibit teaching, demonstrating or practicing in the use of firearms or “techniques” capable of causing injury or death for use during a civil disorder. Eighteen states prohibit either the false assumption of the duties of public officials, including law-enforcement officials, or the wearing of uniforms similar to military uniforms.

All these laws point to a single conclusion: There is no right in any state for groups of individuals to arm themselves and organize either to oppose or augment the government.

Now, more than ever, state and local officials must enforce these statutes. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as other hotbeds of militia activity like Oregon, Idaho, Virginia and Texas, they must ready themselves for unlawful private militias showing up at the polls and on the streets during ballot counting and beyond.

Those groups, like the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and others that claim to be “patriots” but answer to their own interpretation of the Constitution, are likely to hear the president’s unsupported claims about election fraud as their license to deploy to the polls to “protect” or “patrol” the vote.

Their armed presence not only would violate state anti-paramilitary laws, it would likely violate laws against voter intimidation as well. State attorneys general, secretaries of state, local prosecutors, law enforcement officers and election workers must know about these laws and be prepared to enforce them. They should announce this in advance and consider taking pre-emptive action through attorney general legal opinions, cease and desist orders, and prosecutions or civil litigation.

These efforts must continue after the election, when the threat of civil unrest could be at its greatest. State and local leaders, in both parties, must denounce armed militia activity, whether from the right or the left.

These leaders may also have to take swift action to protect public safety and preserve constitutional rights. But the law is on their side — private armed militias find no support in the U.S. or state constitutions or in American history. They must not be tolerated in our society.

Mary B. McCord, legal director for Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and a visiting professor, was the acting assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017.

How the Tampa Bay Times Reports Bicycle Crashes

Reviewing Tampa Bay Times stories about crashes involving bicycles from approximately June 2019-2020 reveals a common litany of problems:

  1. The use of phrases and language that implies cyclists’ culpability in most crashes, even though nationwide, studies have shown that most car/bike crashes are the fault of motorists
  2. Relying solely on police reports and press releases and law enforcement statements that cannot be verified or are themselves often biased or unknowable at the time of the initial investigation.
  3. De-personalizing crashes by indicating that a vehicle hit the vulnerable road user instead of the driver of that vehicle
  4. And often, there is no follow-up, so your readers are left with the initial impressions—and biases—of the investigating officer, even if the final investigative reports contradict initial reports.

Example of reporting “facts” with no source:

1.https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2020/05/23/bicyclist-dies-after-being-struck-by-drunken-driver-in-pinellas-county-troopers-say/?fbclid=IwAR0XxXSh2V16UWC-dWNQ4Ft64oQhwFqNwJE1xPoXVIfg4hrQE2OcpjFonO8

In a recent report, a drunk driver allegedly hit and killed a cyclist. Romy Ellenbogen reports, “The bicyclist traveled into the path of the car, which hit him.” No source is cited. Even if the investigating officer made the statement, he has no way of knowing this. And the motorist was drunk. Saying the cyclist “traveled into the path” suggests culpability, as if he left his line of travel and swerved in front of the drunk driver. This phrase reoccurs in your bike crash stories. But in this case, there is no attribution of that statement of fact.

Examples of reporting with charged language from law enforcement without questioning how they would know what they said or questioning why it is relevant:

2.https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2020/05/23/bicyclist-in-madeira-beach-critically-injured-after-collision-with-garbage-truck/

In May 2020, Josh Fiallo reported on a collision between a garbage truck and a cyclist on Gulf Blvd., with this language that reflected a press release from the Pinellas Co. Sheriff’s Dept. PIO: “Julie Henning, of Alexandria, Virginia, couldn’t stop her bike in time from hitting the City of Madeira Beach garbage truck because she was riding downhill, witnesses told deputies.” The fact that the cyclist “couldn’t stop her bike in time” implies she was at least partially culpable, perhaps going too fast downhill. (Speed limit is 35 mph, which I can almost guarantee that the cyclist could not have reached that speed descending that bridge.) The PIO release is unclear in what direction the truck was traveling. But in whatever direction the truck was traveling, the cyclist had the right of way. If the victim had been a motorist, I doubt that TBT would have reported the car “couldn’t stop in time.”

And the lede? “A 44-year-old bicyclist is in critical condition after a garbage truck entered a bike lane on Saturday morning and she struck its passenger side, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.” That the cyclist struck the vehicle again implies she did something she could have avoided. Maybe the truck cut her off.

3.https://www.tampabay.com/news/breaking-news/2020/02/12/cyclist-killed-after-being-hit-by-truck-on-state-road-60/

Gabrielle Calise reported, “Brian M. Bentz, 57, was heading south on a bicycle in the intersection and entered the path of the truck, troopers said.” The phrase “entered the path of the truck,” language similar to #1, is not knowable, even if the trooper said it. Moreover, it implies the cyclist did something wrong. This happened at an intersection, if the cyclist had the right of way, he may have entered the “path of the truck,” but the motorist may have been at fault for running the red light. Could this have been written, “Vincent A. Givens, 36, driving a 2018 Ford truck east on State Road 60 at St. Cloud Avenue, collided with Brian M. Bentz, 57, who was heading south on a bicycle in the intersection. A state trooper investigating the crash did not indicate who had the right of way”?

I found no follow-up story.

4. https://www.tampabay.com/news/hillsborough/2020/01/06/teen-bicyclist-killed-after-being-struck-by-suv-in-brandon/

Frank Pastor reported that, “A red 2000 Ford Explorer was headed north on N Parsons Avenue when deputies said the teen rode into the SUV’s path. The driver saw the bicyclist right before impact but did not have enough time to avoid a collision, according to the Sheriff’s Office.” Again, we have no information on who had the right of way or whether the cyclist was in a lane and was hit from behind by the motorist. Obviously, the motorist did not have time to stop, but why? Was the motorist speeding? And the fact that it was a 2000 Ford Explorer adds nothing to the story. Couldn’t it have been written that “A motorist struck and killed Terry Martin, 16, who was riding his bicycle on N Parsons Avenue, just south of Clemons Road. No determination of fault was made by the investigating officer”?

I found no follow-up story.

5. https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2019/12/05/pinellas-bicyclist-82-dies-after-being-hit-by-dump-truck/

Chris Tisch reports, “[The cyclist] got to Seminole Boulevard, where he rode into the path of a dump truck driven by Iran D. Manrique-Herna, 54, of Tampa.” Did the cyclist have plenty of time to enter Seminole Blvd. but the truck driver did not see him?

I found no follow-up story.

6. https://www.tampabay.com/news/pasco/2020/03/10/14-year-old-bicyclist-killed-in-crash-in-pasco-county/

Chris Tisch reports, “Jayden Relyea of New Port Richey was pedaling a bicycle east on Slidell Road about 7:25 a.m. when the crash occurred. The teen went through the intersection with Moon Lake Road and was hit by a northbound Jeep Wrangler driven by Ann M. Feeney, 61, of New Port Richey, troopers said.” Again, saying the cyclist “went through the intersection” implies he was at fault. Who had the right of way? A statement that it was not reported who had the right of way and that no fault was assigned would be helpful.

I found no follow-up story.

7. https://www.tampabay.com/news/pasco/2019/12/27/woman-biking-with-dog-is-struck-and-killed-on-us-19-in-hudson/

Brandon Meyer reports, “A Homosassa woman riding a bicycle died early Friday after she was hit while crossing the path of a pickup truck on U.S. 19 at New York Avenue, the Florida Highway Patrol said…. Clendennen had a green light and Casson failed to obey a pedestrian control signal or use the marked crosswalk, the Highway Patrol said.”

Given that the victim is dead, how does the officer know the motorist had a green light?

And then there is the infamous phrase used in too many bike crash stories, “Casson was not wearing a helmet.”

I found no follow-up story.

8.https://www.tampabay.com/news/st-petersburg/2019/09/20/driver-strikes-kills-woman-as-shes-riding-her-bike-in-st-pete-crosswalk/

Reporting a crash where a driver hit and killed a cyclist in a marked crosswalk, Caitlin Johnston writes, “Only one of the 10 bicyclists who died was using a bike lane. That collision involved a drunk driver, [Transportation Director Evan] Mory said.”

What is the purpose and relevance of that statement? Without context, it suggests that bicyclists were in the wrong in nine of those crashes because they were not in the bike lanes. Bicyclists have all rights to ride in the travel lane, if there is no bike lane. And even if there is, they needn’t use it if it unsafe to do so.

Yet, here are a couple of examples where TBT reporters duly repeat unverified exculpatory information about motorists:

9.https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2019/12/17/teen-on-bicycle-seriously-injured-in-dunedin-crash/

Brandon Meyer reports, “The driver of the Jeep didn’t stop, though Pinellas sheriff’s investigators said witnesses told them that the driver may not have realized they had hit someone.” How would witnesses come to that conclusion? What facts could that observation be based on? And it is then repeated a couple of paragraphs later: “Witnesses told police that a black Jeep Wrangler with a dark-colored soft-top did not maneuver out of the teen’s path, and added that the driver may not have realized they were involved in a crash.”

It’s also puzzling why this was reported: “The teen was not in a crosswalk at the time of the crash, police said.” Why is this relevant? A cyclist isn’t required to be in a crosswalk.

And again, the victim is to be blamed because, “The teen, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was taken by helicopter…”

10.https://www.tampabay.com/news/hillsborough/2019/11/13/driver-arrested-in-hit-and-run-crash-that-killed-bicyclist-in-tampa/

In an otherwise excellent story, Tony Marrero writes, “’It’s likely that Baker didn’t see Weinert,’ [Highway Patrol Sgt.] Gaskins said. “But if Baker had stopped, checked and called for help, he wouldn’t be facing a felony charge that could land him in prison for up to 30 years,’ Gaskins said.” Why do we allow Gaskins to speculate with exculpatory information? How would he know that the driver didn’t see the victim? Again, it’s blaming the victim for putting himself in a position of not being seen.

Not to mention that Gaskins highlights that merely hitting and killing a cyclist is not a big deal as he wouldn’t be in much trouble. That is an issue TBT should explore. Under Florida law, a driver can hit and kill a cyclist and pretty much walk free, unless he was drunk, left the scene, or it can be proven he was driving recklessly. Not carelessly, however. Even if distracted by her cell phone, a driver will only get a ticket and fine. In fact, a driver can simply say, “I didn’t see the cyclist,” and be relieved of any criminal responsibility.

Example of gratuitous victim blaming:

11.https://www.tampabay.com/news/transportation/2019/09/28/bicyclists-stage-rolling-memorial-past-scene-of-recent-st-pete-fatality/

In a story about a memorial ride for a cyclist killed on MLK by a driver who was distracted by his cell phone, Dennis Joyce writes, “Participants were encouraged to wear helmets and white clothing, use bike lanes, stop at lights, and keep a slow pace.” Which all seems to be intended to remind readers that cyclists don’t wear helmets, or use bike lanes, or stop at stop lights and speed. If this were a procession of motorists honoring a victim of a car crash, would you write that? And it’s in the passive voice. Who “encouraged” them?

TBT can do better—and have. Here are well-reported examples of TBT putting bike crashes into context:

12.https://www.tampabay.com/news/breaking-news/2020/04/04/traffic-death-on-bayshore-boulevard/

Obviously, reporter Marlene Sokol interviewed witnesses and avoided any charged language that implied the pedestrian was at fault.

13.https://www.tampabay.com/news/breaking-news/2020/01/09/pedestrian-seriously-injured-in-bayshore-boulevard-crash-in-tampa/

Christopher O’Donnell obviously did not rely on a law enforcement press release and filed a good report that did not try to assign blame to the victim.

14.https://www.tampabay.com/news/tampa/2020/01/10/driver-in-deadly-bayshore-crash-had-just-drank-whiskey-tampa-police-say/

O’Donnell and three other reporters followed up with additional information the next day.

15.https://www.tampabay.com/news/tampa/2020/01/21/is-tampas-bayshore-boulevard-really-that-dangerous/

This follow-up by Charlie Frago is welcomed, as it is one of the few stories of such crashes that follow up on the original reporting and provide a larger perspective.

16.https://www.tampabay.com/news/tampa/2020/05/05/widow-sues-pinch-a-penny-over-death-of-bayshore-jogger-hit-by-pickup-truck/

More follow-up by Anastasia Dawson.

I will note that the crash on Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa (all covered in stories #13-16) was of a victim with what researchers call “high social capital,” i.e., a white, upper middle-class man. Research shows such victims are often covered more sympathetically than, for example, lower socio-economic black men.

I would encourage TBT editors to take a few steps:

  1. Always ask law enforcement agencies if fault was assigned, and if not, to prominently report that.
  2. To take a more holistic approach to reporting such crashes by not focusing solely on what the cyclist or pedestrian may have done, as it perpetuates the notion that motorists have priority on our streets and that walkers and bike riders are interlopers.
  3. Personalize stories to include names of victims and motorists and have them take action, instead of referring to the vehicles as taking actions.
  4. Follow-up fatal and serious injury crashes when the final traffic report is issued.
  5. Question law enforcement when they seem to make judgement calls or speculate on what might have happened, especially when they use the phrase that the vulnerable road user “entered the path” of a motorist.

You can download a research paper by Bike/Walk Tampa Bay regarding the reporting of bike crashes in the area over the past 10 years.

There is evidence that lately bicycling is increasing greatly, and I fear more lives will be ended or forever altered. We should report their stories in a way that respects their right to be on the road and does not assume that they must be at fault when crashes occur.

What a dunce!

I’ve not written in this blog, which was started in 2003, since late 2018. When I next tried to post I got a message:
Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 33554432 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 2348617 bytes) in /home4/xxx/public_html/wp-includes/plugin.php on line xxx

Got it? I didn’t. Googled it and found that I needed to increase memory size using FTP. FT what? Played around but was intimidated and never could find a fix. Well, I found a fix but lack the courage to try it. Basically, I was paralyzed by techno gobbly-gook.

Then my brother comes to visit this week. He walked me through it and within minutes I was back online.

A lost year…to fear. But I’m back.

Italian city cycling

As this research attests, bicyclists make better motorists than non-cyclists. That doesn’t surprise me. A lack of attention going at 15 mph can result in serious injury or death, so cyclists are at least more observant.

Attention is mandatory in Italy, from which I just returned, and there was a difference between drivers in the north and those in the south.20180919_175226

In Milan there seems to be a widely understood pecking order. Pedestrians are at the top. If motorists see you on the curb waiting to cross, they will stop. That differs from American drivers who seem to claim the right of way if you are not in the crosswalk; if they think they have a good chance of beating you to the open space, they will not yield. But what’s more astounding is that Italian motorists don’t seem upset about it. I saw no road rage in Milan.

Cyclists are next. Again, motorists yield to them patiently, though I could appreciate it if they were perturbed. While only one of all the cyclists I saw on the street ran a stop light, they read their cell phones while riding in the middle of downtown traffic. This 20180919_175601was true of all manner and ages of bike riders. Rather than take the middle of the lane, they tend to ride closer to the curb than I’d feel comfortable doing. But again, motorists seem tolerant and don’t pass unless it’s safe to do so.

Next in the pecking order are motor scooter drivers. They are insane, weaving in and out of traffic, often commandeering the lane going in the opposite direction. But again, I never saw a motorist get upset.

20180920_185713But I learned from a tour guide in Naples that scooter drivers pay dearly for the privilege. Insurance rates are high and about the same as they are for cars, according to the guide. And she confirmed what we witnessed: The rules are different in the southern part of Italy.

In Naples, pedestrians cross a street at their peril. Scooters are even more aggressive than in Milan. But again, motorists seem unfazed by them. I asked a taxi driver about it and he shrugged it off, saying they’re crazy but he seemed to carry no ill will.

This is just one guy’s reading of the traffic culture there. I couldn’t readily find statistics on accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians in those two cities.

20180919_174829Why are so many American motorists intolerant of cyclists and walkers? I don’t know the answer, but I have one theory. Americans take “individual liberty” to mean they are always first in the pecking order. Others be damned. We have lost the idea that we’re all in this together. And the idea that we should yield to anyone for any reason has been pretty much tossed in the trash bin.

The village on a hill

I had plenty of time to anticipate this day. The Italy trip with my brother Paul and wife Karla included first a few days in Milan, a week in the Lake Como region, and then a few days in Le Cinque Terra.

And then there was the seven-hour drive on October 2, 2018. We followed along the Adriatic coast and then turned inland toward the Molise region. Our destination was the village of Castelmauro signCastelmauro. We began to climb, more than I expected. And the roads in the final 10 kilometers were rough, including a couple of washed out sections. They were barely wide enough for two cars, but it didn’t matter as we had them to ourselves.

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Castelmauro, Italy, where my grandparents and generations of my maternal family have lived

At 6 p.m. we entered the 2300 ft. high town and immediately were taken with its medieval charm. I still have not found much history of Castelmauro, but I know it dates to the 11th century. As recently as the 1970s, its population was more than 6,000. Today, barely 1,000 people live there. But I wasn’t looking for its attractions or its history. I was searching for my own history.

A minute or two into the town, I saw a young woman walking who looked like Federica Mancini, the woman we had hired as our interpreter. “Federica? I asked. She was a bit startled, then said, “No. But I call her. She is my cousin.”

I had done as much online homework as I could. I had also sent about 30 letters to various Italians named Petta or Petti in the region, as there was always a mystery as to my grandparents’ surnames. They were similar but changed according to the census taker or forms they filed throughout their lives. Petta, Petti, Pitto, Pitti. (My grandparents Anglicized the name to Patti in the 1930s.)

I didn’t receive any response to my letters to the six Castelmauro Pettas, so with the help of an Italian speaking wine distributor in St. Pete named Andy Mezzari, I began calling them. At the home of Leonardo Petta, his daughter Rosaria answered. She had read the letter and was pretty sure we weren’t related. But she offered to help me find my family. Shortly before our trip, she sent me the birth records from the village archives for my grandparents Pasquale and Maria. They were both named Petta, answering the mystery.  (They were cousins, according to family rumors.) Rosaria also led us to Federica.

That evening we checked into our hotel, the Parc delle Stelle, a modern place a kilometer outside of town on a hill. It seemed out of place in this ancient town, but I learned the owners, with the land already in the family and experience running a trattoria, decided to open the hotel more as a wedding center than a hotel for the few Castelmauro tourists. We were the only guests, and the owner spoke English. I had also sent her an email asking if anyone on her staff might be a Petta. It turned out that, unless there is an event, they are the innkeepers, cooks, maids, etc. But she said I might be related to the Petta who runs the local gas station.

The next morning we met Federica and went to the municipio and met Giuseppi Petroniro (We may be related–my great grandmother was a Petroniro) who the mayor had assigned to help us find our relatives. He showed us not only our grandparents’ records, but the birth record for my grandmother’s father, Luigi Petta. He also identified another of Pasquale’s siblings I did not know about, Vincenzo. That would turn out to be a key piece of information.

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The original city wall of Castelmauro, a village that dates to the 11th century.

Federica was a godsend. Not only was her English good, but she seemed to know everyone in town and had their contact info. on her phone. After a walking tour that included the streets where my grandparents were born, we visited Antonietta Petta who was in her 80s but not related to us. Still, as Federica told her of our quest for our roots, she began to cry. Family is important to her. I wish she were part of mine.IMG_2925

(I learned on this trip that Italian women do not take the name of their husbands, though the children of the marriage, of course, do.)

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Both Italian and an ancient Croat language is spoken in Acquaviva Collecroce

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A street in Acquaviva Collecroce

We then went to the nearby village of Acquaviva Collecroce where my grandmother’s mother was born. Both Italian and an old Croat language are spoken there. When the Turks invaded Croatia, many fled across the Adriatic Sea and settled in Acquaviva. My grandmother once told me she spoke a little “Slavic,” obviously learning it from her mother, Aurora Mattiaccio. Federica knew someone in the town who had lived as a boy in Australia, a country with its own history of Italian immigrants. Rino spoke all three languages, was a history buff and loved researching families. He took us to the town office where a man working on what seemed to be a computer as old as the town found records for Aurora. Those records provided leads that Rino followed to trace that side of the family back another three generations!

It was now time to visit Maria Felicia at her gas station. We arrived at about 2:00 and still hadn’t had lunch. At the station café we had some pizza and beers, over which we explored the connection. She said her grandfather was Vincent, the brother I never knew my grandfather had until that morning. But she wasn’t sure we were related because she didn’t know any of Vincent’s siblings. Her daughter then said, “Let’s call Raffaele,” Maria Felicia’s 89-year old uncle living in Germany.

He said Maria Felicia and I couldn’t be related because Vincenzo only had three siblings, none of whom were Pasquale. But I pushed back, confident in the records I found and explained why Raffaele, born in 1929, might not know Pasquale and all eight of his brothers and sisters. The first two girls, born in the 1880s, died as infants, and Antonio and my grandfather left for America long before Raffaele was born. And not only did I find online records for my grandfather’s family, Rino pointed me to a website where I could find images of the actual handwritten birth records.

IMG_1338Federica translated the histories we told one another, I with my English and Mary Felicia and her daughters Serena and Monica with their Italian, wonderfully accented with all manner of hand waving. I think if Monica accidentally hit someone while talking, she’d exact serious damage. Serena then left to get Maria, one of Maria Felicia’s cousins. She joined the animated conversation and charades. They were still unsure, given Raffaele’s recollection, but I would have none it. “We’re related,” I said. “I want us to be.” So did they.

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From left my 2nd cousin, once removed, Monica Petta, her father, Maria Felicia, my second cousin, Karla, me, Maria Petta, another second cousin, Paul, Serena Petta, Monica’s sister.

We took pictures and I promised to send more information and pictures of the Pettas in America, though none of my relatives use the name. For some reason, some changed the name to Petti and, as I said, my mother’s family became Patti. I’ll also send digital images of the records that have been on a shelf for a century and a half just off the town square.

We had a little time left to visit Rosaria and her parents. They graciously offered us food before our drive to Naples, and we told them of what we learned. Again, more pictures. More cheek kisses. More smiles.

But not enough. I’m ready to go home again.

Tidbits I learned from reading Patricia O’Toole’s new biography of Woodrow Wilson

1. First impression was that he reminded me of Barack Obama. Wilson thought oratory was a leader’s greatest gift. He thought he could talk others into following him. O’Toole describes his first inaugural speech as “half civics lesson, half sermon.” The title of this biography, by the way, is “The Moralist.”
2. Wilson, facing off against the industrialists, wanted to serve the “public good.”
3. Just before WWI, the U.S. army comprised 108,000 men. More than that were eventually killed. My father’s mother’s brother was one of them. My mother’s father, an Italian immigrant, also served—and survived. U.S. forces grew to nearly 5 million. Quite a mobilization. Unlike W, Wilson proposed to pay for the war with new taxes.
4. Wilson demonized German-Americans, which included my ancestors. He passed the Sedition Act of 1918, which basically curtailed free speech in the U.S. Oppose the war, and civil servants could be fired and imprisoned. Some Democrat, that Wilson. Eugene Debs, the socialist, got 10 years for criticizing the Act. Still, while imprisoned he got nearly a million votes for president in 1920.
5. Some of the stiffest opposition to the war came from Southerners. They weren’t pacifists, but they didn’t like the idea of maybe having to fight alongside blacks. More important, according to the army’s chief of staff, “they do not like the idea of looking forward five or six years by which time their entire male Negro population will have been trained to arms.” Oh yeah, and Wilson re-instituted segregation in the civil service and refused to back Afro-Americans’ fight for civil rights. Some Democrat, for sure.
6. Finally, H.L. Mencken, writing about the 1920 election, lamented the quality of candidates, in this case Warren G. Harding, whose inspired vision was “normalcy,” and James Cox, founder of today’s Cox Enterprises, who H.L. saw as willing to please any audience with anything they wanted at that particular time. Mencken was so pessimistic of the future leadership of this country that “[o]n some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” H.L. is snickering somewhere.

Triple Bypass, 2018

I had never before felt so ready for a big bike ride. I had trained hard and even set a few personal records on some climbs around my home away from home here in Evergreen, Colorado. And at 70 years old, personal bests on the bike are generally behind me, unless I’m sucking the wheel of a sprite 50-year old.

But the Triple Bypass presents some monumental challenges for me. Just the sheer scope of it, 117 miles with more than 10,000 feet of climbing, is daunting for a guy who usually doesn’t like really long rides and lives at sea level with only bridges that exceed 1%. And at 187 lbs., I’m not built for climbing. But I felt ready.

Not ready enough. The first climb, through Juniper Pass, is the toughest. I had set a goal of one hour and 50 minutes for this nearly 15-mile, 3,300 ft. climb. Power meters on bikes allow you to measure watts, which is the power you are expending. It’s probably the best way to measure your effort. I wanted to average 150 watts of power. I missed my time goal by six minutes, but my wattage was on target. Problem was my target was too ambitious. By mile 50 I was beginning to flag. My wattage was dropping precipitously. People were passing me like I was standing still—young guys, old guys, skinny guys, fat guys, big gals, little gals. It was humbling. One guy, obviously very fit, was wearing a body suit with padding that made him look fat. Rub it in, pal!

From Georgetown to the top of Loveland Pass, the continental divide at nearly 12,000 feet, is relentless. While the average grade over that 16-mile stretch is 4%, there are many sections in double digits and few flat or downhill spots to recover. After that, Vail Pass, at 10,500 feet, seemed easy—if it didn’t come after the 87 miles before it.

At times I wondered why I was doing this. Yes, we bike riders love to challenge ourselves, compare ourselves and, for reasons psychiatrists could have a field day, “suffer.” I was questioning my own sanity.

I estimate I came in somewhere down in the top 60-70 percentile of the 3,500 riders. It looks like about a third of the cyclists posted their rides on Strava, a cycling app that allows you to record your ride and compare your efforts to others’. About 15 who completed the Triple Bypass and posted on Strava were over 70.

After I finished I had a chance to watch others come in. Virtually all of them had smiles on their faces (like me in the attached photo at the finish). Many whooped it up and raised their arms as if they’d just won a Tour de France stage. As I walked through the crowd, riders were exchanging stories about something funny that happened along the way or where they were really “suffering.” Sometimes I think we ride just so we can talk about it afterwards. After all, that’s the usual topic of conversation at my St. Pete coffee shop every morning after our group rides. At Nottingham Park in Avon, if you caught a stranger’s eye for a second, he or she would invariably ask, “How was your ride?” Even if they didn’t know you, they seemed to want to know that you were OK.

My overall time was 28 minutes faster than when I did this ride four years ago, but that was because I didn’t dawdle at the rest stops. My moving time, according to Strava was, coincidentally, 28 minutes slower. But then, as we get older, we tend to move slower.

I got some chicken and rice at the food tent, took a shower at the nearby rec center, and then my wife, brother and I headed back to Evergreen. Part of the Triple Bypass route runs along I-70. We could see quite a few riders still on the course. I hope they didn’t get swept up by the SAG cars. I hope they got to raise their arms at the finish and let out a primal scream.

They deserved it, even if they moved a little slower. finishing TBP 2018