When a car passes by as you’re cycling, and the occupants hurl objects at your faces, you might not assume that they’ll get caught. You also might not assume that you’ll get to meet the hooligans, make your case for simple human decency, and have a police officer deliver cake to your house.
Don’t assume anything.
In 1980, when I was four, my family went to Richardson Bike Mart and bought a Raleigh for me, my first bike. I immediately rode it around the block, and I heard from a car “hey kid!”. I turned and looked, and a tennis ball hit right me between my eyes, hurled from a wood-paneled station wagon. I fell off the bike and puked everywhere. Face stinging, I trudged home. That was my first bike ride, but I made it thirty years before feeling that sting again.
Last night at approximately 11 PM, 6 of us were cycling from the downtown square on Mulberry towards UNT. Humans. People with names and lives: David, Krystal, Lindsay, James, Renee, Howard. UNT students, a commercial pilot, a UNT Psychology teacher, UNT staff members, and a vacationing nice guy.
At the Carroll Blvd intersection, we waited through the red light (which seems to not change for cyclists), and we proceeded through the (very short) green light. Once through the intersection, we called “car back” and let two cars past. As they were passing us, we saw a blur of arms hurling objects out the windows. Something ricocheted off my arm, and Krystal was hit in the face (near the eyes) with half of a firm banana, stem attached. From the cars we heard “Go! Go! Go!”. We gave chase but couldn’t get close enough to see the license plates. On Hickory, we flagged down a UNT police officer who was patrolling the 20mph Hickory speed zone. We explained what happened, and the officer said he would “keep an eye out”. He did not seem interested in the assault.
We continued on towards a birthday party for a friend. At Welch and Mulberry, I saw the white 2000-2004 4-door VW Golf TDI. I pointed at the car, recognize the passengers, and one of them yelled “we’re sorry” out the window. We sprinted behind them down Mulberry towards Carroll, and the light turned red, so the car paused. I squinted and read the plate: Y84-PWJ. Then, they were gone.
I called the UNT non-emergency line, and the dispatch told me to call the city police. I read her the license plate number to pass on to the UNT officer who we spoke to. We called the Denton Police, told them the license plate number, and they immediately dispatched a patrol car to the accident scene. We sat alongside Mulberry, resting and talking. From across the street, a very kind man walked over, excused any awkward politeness, and gave us half of a graduation-themed sheet cake. I love Denton; because where else, really?. We thanked him and gladly took the cake. Suddenly, we noticed the white VW Golf going north on Carroll, past Mulberry. What are the chances?! Immediately behind the Golf was a Denton PD cruiser. Wow. And then the police blue and red lights came on. Wow! We rode over to the Northstar Bank parking lot where the officer and the car was, and we watched as several teenagers emerged from the car.
Officer Weber asked them what happened, and the teenagers replied that their friends had thrown bananas at the cyclists. Weber pointed out the banana smear on one boy’s shirt. I asked the boys “if your friends did this, then maybe you can call and have them meet us here”. They called, and surprisingly, the friends arrived in the maroon Honda Accord, CWN-658.
Seven high schoolers from Denton and Guyer high stood before us.
Officer Weber explained the seriousness of their assault, and that if Krystal had chosen to press charges, they would no doubt have been jailed. We made our case for human decency, and that we couldn’t possibly comprehend what they were thinking when they assaulted us. We explained that cyclists are human beings, and that the anonymity of driving should never change that cause for decency. They apologized. They seemed remorseful. Some of them seemed strangely lighthearted, and Weber told them this wasn’t a laughing matter. Some of the boys admitted that they’re about to go to college, and one mentioned going to Austin. Officer Weber reminded them that an assault conviction could ruin those plans. Krystal and I invited the teenagers to show some good will by volunteer working at the Querencia Community Bike Shop on any Saturday afternoon. Who knows if they’ll ever show up. They’d be welcome, for sure, but I doubt they have the guts to do a good turn. I challenge them to prove me wrong. If you’re reading this, high school guys, email firstname.lastname@example.org and help us provide good community service to Denton. We are not begrudging people, and who knows, you might actually like us. Come ride with us sometime, and learn what it’s like to ride a bike here. It’s usually pretty awesome. Usually.
After a good thirty minutes of discussion and apologies, Officer Weber let the seven teenagers go. Do I think they committed crimes of assault? Yep. Do I think they understand the seriousness? I think so. Do I think they should’ve gone to jail last night? I’m not sure.
Officer Weber had a really great, calm, wise demeanor over the situation. He read the situation quickly and effectively, and he did an great job of expressing how serious the assault was. He did a fantastic job, and we think he is an exemplary example for law enforcement. On the other hand, the UNT police response left us feeling ignored. With that experience and UNT’s intent to remove the Avenue C bike lanes, we couldn’t help but feel like UNT hasn’t moved forward with much of their Master Bicycle Plan beyond simply installing bike racks. With great cycling Denton police officers like Tom Woods, Andy DeBerry, and Mr. Weber, we feel safer for their loyalty and outreach. We challenge UNT Police to live up to the same standard and engage with Denton’s growing cycling community.
So after we finished talking to Officer Weber, he asked how we’d transport the cake home. We weren’t sure. Officer Weber took the cake, drove it to our destination on Hickory, and handed it to us in the front yard. The neighbors gawked and took pictures. We grinned, thanked Officer Weber profusely, ate cake, and went to sleep. I hope it’s at least another thirty years before any of us are assaulted by motorists again.
- Avoid violent confrontation with motorists
- Memorize license plate numbers and call the police
- When things happen just right, a police officer could deliver cake to your house