February 8, 2013

The Right Thing; A Motorcycle Story

In November of 2010 I posted a blog called "Words Won't Work," with brief mention of a motorcycle gang. A friend asked when I would write about the motorcycle gang. I don't know why I put it off for so long; perhaps because it was so traumatic, dramatic, and unsettling to think about. But here it is at last. This really happened.






This was where it started; the upper level of the Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge); it was Halloween Eve. Shot taken days later from the Queens side. The incident began just ´past the middle superstructure.



I had two passengers, a man and wife I supposed, both in their late 20s or early 30s. They were headed home to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and this was the fastest route for the hour, which was just before midnight. Traffic was heavy because so many people were in Manhattan celebrating a holiday that they don't even understand.

There is a gang of motorcyclists who wore jackets emblazoned with the words, "Fearless Riders." Their habit is to zoom between lines of cars at high speeds when cars are stalled in traffic, as was the case this night.

My yellow taxi was in the left lane, and we were stalled before the midpoint of the bridge which marks the boundary between Manhattan and Queens, which was the direction I was heading. Suddenly motorcycles of the aforementioned gang began zooming past me on my right. This startles. They were going about 50 or 60 miles an hour.



I instinctively moved a little to the left, where the concrete divider separates the roadway. Unfortunately, one of the gang was coming up fast on that side, and, as he neared my taxi, he raised a booted foot and kicked my rear view mirror into a hanging position, blinding me on that side. I instinctively went left to block the passage after he passed, and another, and then another, and then another rider on the right imitated his action by trying to kick the mirror from the right side.

They kept missing but they kept trying. My passengers were nervous and afraid. I was not afraid, but I was angry enough to move a little farther to the right, and the next guy who tried it had to dump his bike, I suppose, because I did not see the incident. Then the traffic began moving and we were on the Queens side, making progress.

Did I mention that all of these riders were fully dressed in Halloween costumes that looked like, well, Death? Horrible masks of demons and all that stupid capitalistic crap. In Mexico, where I now live, they celebrate Halloween, the Day of the Dead, by feasting at the graves of their ancestors and giving Death the Finger. It goes on for at least a week, and almost everybody is really into it. But drunkenness and vandalism is nearly unknown to be associated with the event.

Suddenly, one swerved in front of me and stopped sideways across the road, blocking my progress, while cars in the right lane proceeded slowly on down the bridge toward whatever was obstructing traffic. I immediately locked all doors and made sure the windows were closed. He was a very big, angry guy, and was obviously the Chief Boo Hoo.

He walked furiously to my side and began punching the curved window that not even Bruce Lee could put his fist through. That is one thing I will say for design of car windows. You cannot punch your way through them without brass knuckles. It has been tried before by various karate pretenders over the eight years out of forty when I drove taxis in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Things happen. People become furious over trifles. Occasionally, one wants to haul a driver out and beat the hell out of him. That's the reason for electrical locks and un-punchable windows. Whenever anyone has tried to punch his way into my space, I have just sat there and laughed in his face. Sometimes I crack the window and ask if his knuckles are starting to hurt. But leaving a window cracked even a little weakens it.

As the man with the devil mask punched and punched and tried to open doors, the other cyclists arrived and began doing the same thing. The lane was clear in front of me. I made a decision. I rammed the bike and pushed it about 100 feet down the road. It was trapped beneath my radiator. When I stopped the others ran up and began strenuous efforts to extract it, so, at the urging of my passengers, I backed up a little to help them out, and they hauled it out but could not make it stand. It was crumpled and unusable at this point, but repairable. I had wanted to leave it pinned as evidence if the cops ever showed up.

My female passenger screamed and objected, saying "Open the door and talk to them!" I told her I would be damned if I would step outside for a beating. Instead, I dialed 911 and talked to the police, reporting the incident as an emergency. They did the same with their cell phones. But I knew that there was no way for the police to reach us in time. Sooner or later, they would break a window with something.

The biker who had lost his bike made it back to his punching position and started the routine again. The others were rocking the car violently. I knew that if I opened the door I was in for a beating, and the very real possibility that one of these drunken maniacs might throw me off the bridge. Acting together, it was possible for them to tip the whole cab off the bridge.

I had no wish to be on the front page of The Daily News: Cabbie Thrown From Bridge to His Death!

Now he was really pissed. He went at the window with both hands, resulting in nothing but sore hands, I suppose. But I was starting to worry. I wish now that I had thought to take out my camera, which I carried in a small belt bag at my waist with my money change, and had snapped his picture while he was trying to get to me. The phone had a camera as well, but I did not think to use it. What a nice set of photos I would have for you, his demonic mask behind his murderous fists punching a glass window, which was all that stood between me and serious injury or death.

Realizing that his mighty fists would not do the job, he walked over and solicited something from someone, and then returned with something metal in his fist and started the pounding again. I saw the window start to chip and made my decision.

His bike was flat on its side. I had stopped pushing it because I feared that the gas tank would rupture and explode. But now I didn't care if it did. I hit the gas and the woman screamed, "Don't! Don't! Don't!" I thought, screw you lady, you aren't the target here, and I rolled right over that bike like it was two speed bumps in the road. Another biker zoomed up beside me and feinted like he was going to block my path and I sped up. I think the look on my face told him that he was a dead man if he did it. At this point I was willing to kill him.

Yes, I will kill to protect my life and my passengers' lives if necessary. This is a question that I answered for myself a long time ago; a line in the sand of my mind that I won't allow to be crossed without serious consequences. Screw turning the other cheek. I tried it once, got kicked in the tailbone for it, and suffer spinal arthritis as a result of trying to be like Jesus, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King. I am not that strong. Driving a cab anywhere is a dangerous business, especially in NYC.

It took about two minutes to reach the obstruction.The police were diverting traffic from Queens Blvd., which is a left exit, while waiting for a tow truck to haul away the remains of a previous accident. I meant to go right, toward 21st Street, which with a left turn leads to Brooklyn's McGuiness Avenue in Greenpoint. There were two traffic cops only.

I parked near one and walked over to report the crimes. The cop said that passing drivers had already reported it and that police were on the way. I saw that he could not leave his post. He directed me to park in a triangle at the intersection, and I moved there and stayed in the locked car as the whole gang arrived and parked their bikes on the other side of the police.

The woman had screamed an objection when I had trashed the motorcycle and again when I rolled over it like road kill. But now she and her man were quiet. The bikers all parked behind me but were separated from me by the cops. A few approached but stayed away from the car. I saw one put something on the concrete wall of the bridge and walk off. They all still were wearing their costumes.

I got out of the car and approached them but stayed 50 feet away and pulled out my camera. Sirens were coming from both sides of the bridge. A fire truck with its enormous horn was blasting a hole through the traffic from Manhattan, and finally some police arrived.

I explained the situation. One cop asked which side of the divide it had occurred on, and when I told him the Queens side, he nodded to another pair of cops from Queens and departed,probably relieved not to have to handle it from Manhattan. There was a young black policeman and an older white one.

I explained again. The older cop nodded and asked me to point out which one was doing the window pounding. They had all removed their costumes by now and looked as normal as any other set of maniacs. I told him that I would remember the costume, which was horizontal convict stripes,  but had not seen his face. However, he would be the one who owned the destroyed motorcycle. That was plain enough identification, don't you think?

The fire truck arrived. It had cleared the way for the Manhattan unit. An ambulance made it's way toward the scene of the wrecked bike by traveling in the legal lane toward Manhattan. A few minutes later, it headed back with its passenger. This was my first notice that someone had really been injured. Someone who had been about to kick my other mirror off.

I got out of the car. It was cold and I was wearing a leather jacket. The cop was going to hail a passing cab for my passengers. I objected that he needed their names and addresses as witnesses, and he reluctantly took them. The guy gave a watered-down description, saying only, "Yeah, things got a little out of hand back there." I merely sighed. People are such cowards. I had saved their asses too. But neither I nor they had seen anyone hit by my car. It had all happened pretty fast.

One of the bikers yelled, "My friend is on his way to the hospital with a broken leg!" Was he trying to get me to sympathize or apologize?

"Yeah? What was he doing with that broken leg on his way to the hospital?" I asked. He didn't reply. The nearest fireman laughed out loud. I didn't care if he had a broken head too, because he had shit for brains.

Meanwhile, the gang had gathered around, snarling insults. The two cops just looked at them, and the shorter cop, a sergeant I think, picked out this black guy who was giving him The Look. You know, The Look, which says I am not afraid of you? A look of challenge.

"Are you trying to stare me down?" the short, stocky cop said, advancing rapidly on the dude to kick his ass. The tough guy dropped his eyes and backed off. I love it when I see a cop doing his job. This was the only good moment of the night, besides the thought that I had completely wrecked a very expensive motorcycle. I totaled that machine.

He told me that if I could not identify the person by his face, there was little need to go any farther with it. He told me to back up and descend the Queens exit and wait, in order to separate me from the motorcycle gang. If I had made it to 21st Street, they would have too, and it would have been pure carnage before it was over, because I would have knocked each one of them off the road as they pursued. I was prepared to overload an emergency room with broken bodies and give the tow truck business a boost.

While the cops were deciding what to do, I stood with my back to the gang and watched the passing traffic, waving at a few cab drivers that I recognized from my own garage in Queens. Someone walked up behind me and whispered, "Superman." I didn't even look back at him.

Then I remembered the thing that someone had put on the wall. I walked over and saw that it was a folding corkscrew with knife blade, and knew that it was the instrument that the idiot had tried to bust through the window with. I pointed it out to the cops, and the senior cop walked over to look at it, but did not touch it or remark on it.

And then a guy walked over near the weapon--he was obviously the puncher because he was so aggressive--and said, "Oh sure, my fingerprints are all over it," and he made a few gestures at the weapon as if to touch it, but did not. The cop just looked at him. We both knew that he was the one. A good cop with direct questions could have proved it in five minutes.

I followed their instructions and drove to the bottom of the Queens exit, where the two cops met me and we discussed it. They told me that it was useless to press charges, and, being a politically-aware person who knows how and why the police keep returning yearly reports of reduced crime (by leaving them unreported), I agreed, and drove the taxi back to the garage.

Before I left, I told the cop in charge, "The best moment of the night was when I saw you back that punk down." He dropped his eyes modestly at the unexpected compliment and thanked me. I went home.

The next day I explained the whole thing to the Greek who manages the taxi garage with about 200 taxis and 600 drivers, mostly Muslims. I showed him the car and the shots I had taken of it afterward. He told me that he had photos too. After I explained, he said, "You used your car as a weapon."

"You damned right I did, and he is damned lucky to be alive, because if I had had a gun he would be lying in a morgue right now." He just laughed and told me to file a police report. I did. A copy of the police incident had the name of the injured biker, but not a mention of the wrecked bike or its owner.



They took the bike out with a tow truck. Later, when insurance papers needed filling out, he wanted me to leave out the details of the attack, and I refused. After a few days he relented, and I signed the insurance form which included my handwritten description of the events of that night.

When I got the report back, it had the name and address of the stupid bastard who was a fearless rider who broke his leg on the way to the hospital. I thought about paying him a call, but then recalled how every action or non-action has consequences; so I let it go. I even forgot to write about it until now, more than two years later.

Then there was also the possibility that the injured would file an accident report, have my address as well, and decide to make his own call, with the gang of course. I Googled them. Typical biker braggadocio, with a slight political content, making you wonder who is really sponsoring all those leather jackets and costumes.There were at least thirty of these stupid bastards. And the guy with the fists, who knows? He might be the son of a cop or a councilman. What other types of assholes act with such a feeling of impunity, and get away with it?

Every night for a week or more I drove past that spot on the bridge and noticed that the weapon was still there. Finally, I stopped and retrieved it. It had marks where it had hit the glass. Kudos to the guy who designs car windows. I used it as a paperweight for a year and threw it out.

Every now and then I would hear motorcycles roaring past my digs in Brooklyn. Occasionally I checked, but never saw one with a "Fearless Rider" jacket. What a bunch of phonies. I scared the shit out of them.

Unfortunately, this is the only photo I snapped on the bridge that Halloween Eve:


The gang is gathered near the red lights. So, if you see one of them speeding past kicking off rear view mirrors, I hope you will do the right thing.









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