Local bike activist Peter Wong has never shied away from contending with bureaucracies when it comes to issues concerning the two-wheeled community. Now he's taking on one of the biggest sacred cows of all: the annual MS 150 charity ride to Austin.
He volunteered to be in an ambulance for this year's April 16-17 ride, and says he was appalled at the lackadaisical approach to safety. And the way he describes it, it does make Gettysburg seem like a spring lark.
"I just think the ride is extremely dangerous...FM 529 is a death march from eight in the morning to 1 p.m. on Saturday," he says. "You hear 'Rider down, rider down' all day long. It's just constant."
Wong, who teaches bike safety to Boy Scouts, says what the event does wrong is start riders of all ages and skill levels together at once, so that fast bikers have to pick their way though traffic jams of neophytes.
The stretch along FM 529 from Fry Road to the town of Bellville, he says, is "a corridor of death." (Yikes.) Three or four times LifeFlight helicopters were called to deal with injuries, he says. (To be fair, though, no one died or anything.)
Wong sent out a group e-mail to members of his biking club warning them about the ride, and he says the MS 150 people accused him of violating his volunteering agreement by putting out a negative press release.
"I said bullshit -- these guys are my club members and I'm trying to warn them," says Wong.
Much like in the Denzel Washington film Courage Under Fire, there are some differing views of just what happened during the carnage. In fact, there are differing views on whether there was any carnage at all.
Mark Neagli, executive vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the ride is as safe as can be. With 13,000 riders, he says, "I think we are going to get a broken collarbone or a scuffed-up knee, but we take an extreme amount of seriousness to that and have done a lot to upgrade and keep this ride safe," he says.
Grouping riders at the start according to skill and age is too "old-school," he says. "So many people want to ride with their friend or family or with their teams."
There were three LifeFlights this year, he agrees, but that's because they have the air ambulance on call and so they use it for injuries that normally might not require a helicopter lift.
"It's such a great event and a great cause," he says. "With 13,000 riders, sometimes we're going to have a little bit of an incident."
Charity is hell, man.
Making a Splash
President Bush raised some eyebrows on his April 26 visit to Galveston when, in the standard attempt to inject some local color into his remarks, he asked whether the city still hosted Splash Day.
It does -- it's one of Texas's largest gay and lesbian events each year.
"I'm not saying whether I came or not on Splash Day," Bush said. "I'm just saying, do you still have Splash Day?"
The crowd, according to reporters, laughed a little nervously at the alleged humor.
Apparently there was some subtle after-speech background spin by the White House that Bush was simply recalling his own Splash Day experience, when the event was a decidedly straight spring-break party for college kids and adults.
One problem, though: That version of Splash Day ended after a mini-riot in 1961, when Bush was 14 years old.
"He was probably fed improper information," says Trey Click of Galveston's Twisted Parrot newspaper, an informal historian of the island city's rogue ways.
Bush has been governor of the state and claims to be more Texan than Sam Houston, and he can't get it straight (so to speak) when trying to connect with Lone Star State townsfolk? To give credit where it's due, he's probably more accurate when he speaks before crowds at Andover Prep and Yale.
Click is willing to forgive. "He was trying to relate to the locals, [saying] 'I'm one of you,' " Click says. "And he actually could be. All he needs is a Speedo."
Tale of Two Cities
Headline in the April 19 New York Times about President Bush's press conference the previous night: "Bush Cites Plan That Would Cut Social Security."
Headline in the same day's Houston Chronicle: "Bush Proposes Reform to Save Social Security."
Smells Like Too Much Teen Spirit
The city of Houston has passed tough new laws regarding behavior in its libraries, boldly declaring that you have to smell good.
Residents using the facilities must have shoes on and can't have "offensive bodily hygiene." On the other hand, the new law -- which has been criticized as being unfairly aimed at the homeless -- also prohibits using the bathrooms as the equivalent of showers, so what's a musty guy or gal to do?
And we don't want to think what might happen if a patron on the way to the downtown library stopped first at the Luther's Bar-B-Q down the block for some baked beans.
We asked library spokeswoman Sandra Fernandez about the No Stank Left Behind act:
Q. What if you have a person who walks in with an offensive cologne? I know Beyonc recently put out a scent, I guess so you can smell like Beyonc. I don't know what she smells like, but what if she smells bad to a lot of people?
A. Well, we're not talking about something that's personal taste. We're talking about more extreme cases. If [there's an odor], whether it be natural or unnatural... causing a physical reaction in other people to where they cannot use our facilities, that might constitute the basis for a complaint. If, for example, it's making your eyes water, you can't breathe, that kind of stuff.
Q. Britney Spears has a new perfume out as well. Have you smelled that one?
A. No, I'm sorry. I personally use White Diamonds, and I'm happy with that.
Q. And no one's complained about their eyes watering?
A. Not so far, no.
A tip for Fernandez -- don't get on a city bus in Canada. According to the October 9, 2003, Vancouver Sun, the bus company "will investigate a driver who allegedly subjected a passenger to an abusive ride that included racial slurs and an unwanted trip alone in the bus -- all for wearing the Elizabeth Taylor perfume White Diamonds."
There oughta be a law.
Hitting the Fan
Great moments in jurisprudence, Part XVII: Houston's First Court of Appeals ruled April 21 against a TDCJ inmate convicted of...well, of throwing a milk carton full of shit at a prison guard.
Inmate Bobby Ferguson -- the "appellant," or the person making the appeal -- said he wasn't aiming at the guard, he simply threw the projectile to get attention. At which he certainly succeeded.
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At any rate, the appellate opinion included this sterling line: "The parties stipulated that the feces in the milk carton belonged to appellant."
Thank God the two sides agreed on that.
For our part, we'd like to stipulate that it would be impossible to spend your time in court formally proving just who owned what feces without wondering, "Three years of law school for this?"
Then again, no one ever said you could become a lawyer without dealing with a lot of shit.