Sunday, October 3, 2010

Welcome home, Brother Smith...

Link to an obituary from the St. Petersburg, Florida Times.

"He was a quiet guy. He was easy to be around, just did his job,"  --David Rupp, a manager at The Crab Shack.

"About 11 p.m. Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn't stop. Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his (minimum wage) job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48..."

A few years back, cycling authors Dan Koeppel and Patrick O'Grady both wrote about the plight of the invisible cyclist, that low-income guy on a cheap bike who doesn't quite make the cover of Bicycling Magazine or the American Bicyclist, but who depends on his bicycle more than any in the lycra-wearing crowd ever will and who is compelled to ride, day or night, on whatever road or walkway can get him to work. He has few options.

Mr. Smith fit the bill. And like most of the invisible cyclists, he only achieved recognition in death because of the cruelty and heartlessness of those still left alive, such as the hit-run motorist who left him to die, or those who see so little value in the Mr. Smiths of the world that we ignore their needs through our actions (DWI, texting, speeding) or inactions (not providing decent infrastructure, not giving a damn). We have built our transportation infrastructure for those who can afford cars. Many cannot, and many struggle to drive cars because they feel this is their only choice in a world where a guy riding his bike to work instead of wrapping himself in an SUV sometimes feels like he is destined to be roadkill. Don't lecture me with statistics, either. I'm talking about perceptions. They probably influence the lion's share of people more than statistics ever will.

Koeppel's story: L.A.'s Invisible Riders
O’Grady: Outerbiking in Las Vegas

What is especially cruel is the statement of the SOB who opined, in the St. Pete's online newspaper, that Smith’s life was worth so little. The obituary excerpted above was not the original story of this crime.  It was a followup obituary written by newsman Andrew Meacham after an unnamed commenter wrote, in response to the original story,  "A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.". An outraged Meacham decided to put Mr. Smith to rest with some dignity. Mahalo nui loa, Mr. Meacham.

But perhaps in a nation which is fast losing its heart and soul, there is some brutal truth to that cynical statement. Life is increasingly cheap, even when lived in dignity, at the low end of the status pool.

If there is a personal God, and I've not made my mind up on that one, I am sure such a God was waiting those six days at Neil's bedside. I am sure He was ready to greet Neil Smith, two Budweisers and a portable radio in hand, and tell him "Welcome home, Brother Smith. You won't ever have to ride home in the dark again."

I'm not so sure about the greeting awaiting the rest of us.

Photo of Neil Alan Smith from the Tampa Bay Online (re-used in the Atlantic Magazine, where writer James Fallows commented on this sad death.).
 I should say that my very first job, as a janitor in a hotel, paid ten cents above minimum wage. I got to the hotel by riding my Sears bicycle or on the city bus. But that was a 7 am to 4 pm job.

1 comment:

limom said...

Man, that's cold.
What goes around come around.