I’m still not quite sure what happened. The light changed, I got out of the saddle, or at least thought about it, then my bars twisted, my entire body followed, and I slammed into the tarmac.

“Oh, this again…” I started to think. And then a bike rode over me, which honestly didn’t seem right at all, and then everything got heavier. Something pressed my head onto the road and I stupidly thought, “I’m glad I have my Oakleys on,” as I continued to slide across the road under the additional weight of a guy on a carbon fiber bike. On my face.
My brain either stopped or started working at that point. Still pinned onto the ground like a beached mermaid, I blubbered horrified apologies, until it was suggested that I pick myself up. The carbon fiber bike guy had skinned and cut up his chin. The guy behind him turned out to be Watanabe-san, a teammate I’d never met before but know on Facebook. I wanted to die of embarrassment.

Everyone was, thankfully, okay [bikes included]. A bit banged up, I waited for my hands to stop shaking before clipping in to ride home. My left arm hurt, and I didn’t want to see what shape my knee was in. Still running on adrenaline, I had weirdly grateful thoughts, like how glad I was that I had on a Giro helmet, because I could stash my Oakleys up there with my one functional hand. The light in front of me turned red and I pulled on the front brake. Bad idea.

I hailed a confused cab driver to take me home. Damage was assessed, and hospitals called. My left arm was useless by the time I got to the ER, but wasn’t met with much sympathy. “You fell off your bike? Hmm, well, you can raise it, so I don’t think it’s broken,” the doctor said, almost bored. X-rays confirmed he was right, that I’d only banged up my nerve. He gave me a sling before looking at my knee.

“So, do you play any sports?” he asked.
“Yeah, cycling.”
“...Oh, so you were on one of those race bikes? How fast were you going?”
“I don’t know. Not that fast. I was at a light and it changed…and then I fell…and then the guy behind me kind of ran over me.”

Ah well, shit happens, right?
[The arm’s better today [I can type!], and hopefully I’ll be back on the bike in a few days. Thanks to everyone who emailed/tweeted/Instagrammed!]

empathy and earthquakes

I remember the Kobe earthquake that crumpled up a city on January 17, 1995. Though safely esconced in Tokyo at the time, it was - until a few days ago - the worst natural disaster that had occurred in Japan in my lifetime.
Day after day, we read in the newspaper and saw on the news the tragedy compounded. Over fifteen years later, a single picture is brought to the fore when I think of massive earthquakes and the physical and psychological wounds they bring with them. A highway overpass [a segment of the Hanshin Expressway] had broken at its cement base, sliding over to lean on the asphalt below. A lone truck lay overturned, scattering its cargo of bright mandarin oranges, a fist-sized fruit ubiquitous in Japanese winters.
The images I will remember from the Sendai earthquake are not so much those of concrete rubble, but of empty, wet land where buildings once stood, and the aerial view of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. When Mike woke me up to inform me that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake had rocked the northeastern coast of Japan on Friday night, I was unaware of the panic that would eventually settle around me, breaking apart the security of my life like so many nuclear atoms. A tsunami followed, leaving [what else?] devastation in its wake, but fires seemed contained. I called my parents in Tokyo; and believing the worst was over, headed out for a ride on Saturday morning.


I could tell you that riding that day was a “way to cope,” or that I felt a need to “connect with my community during a time of tragedy,” or any number of bullshit things that it wasn’t. Riding that day was a purely selfish act, permitted by my oblivion to the circumstances. Like many, I naively believed that it couldn’t possibly get worse, that the tragedy had played out, and finished. After all, earthquakes are a part of life if one lives in Japan; a fact almost self-consciously reflected in the nation’s policy towards providing humanitarian relief to other nations which suffer similar natural disasters. Indiscriminate in its rampage, the fear of earthquakes binds the Japanese people together in acknowledged vulnerability. They have the inexplicable power to pull people’s heads out of their asses, to hit the pause button on the self-centeredness so prevalent in my peaceful, militarily emasculated country.
Which is why I am sure, had I been in Tokyo, my reaction would have been equally self-indulgent: “it’s Saturday, time to ride.” After all, it took two roofs blowing off a nuclear reactor for the realization to settle in that things were potentially far more serious. That things weren’t yet finished. Since then, with three reactor blasts in the last four days, “terrified” is an understatement. With the nuclear plant on the brink of a meltdown, food and bottled water are becoming scarce in Tokyo as grocery stores are cleared out. Scheduled, three-hour black outs are in effect in parts of the city to save energy, as radiation levels in the atmosphere increase. “Call me paranoid,” my sister said, “but I bought a Geiger counter for Mom and Dad.” We watched the news helplessly as another 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked Shizuoka prefecture early Tuesday morning.
And though currently residing on the other side of the world, in a country fairly inexperienced in the field of earthquakes, I still expected from others the selfless empathy that I associate with major earthquakes in Japan. What I saw instead was corporate marketing thinly disguised as “humanitarian relief efforts.” “[Corporate/Celebrity name]’s [noun] for Japan,” is becoming a morbid Mad Libs joke; a depressing reminder that in the end, natural disasters are ideal vehicles for feel-good PR. With each attempt to aid coupled with an obligatory fist pump towards a profit seeking entity, a self-interested conclusion became increasingly difficult for me to ignore. I rolled my eyes at Lady Gaga’s bracelets for Japan [not only because of the evidently lax use of the verb “design” in that context], but the Rapha Rides for Tohoku hit a little closer to home.
For to go out on a bike ride in Japan, at a time of such uncertainty and loss, and in the face of a potential nuclear crisis, annhilates my own belief in Japanese empathy. It encourages the navel-gazing that I thought could not co-exisit with natural disasters taking place on Japanese soil, the very characteristic that one must forget at the doorstep in order to begin rebuilding a devastated region. Though compassionate in theory, a charity ride in Japan evokes too much apathy in practice, so much more so as the crisis continues to unfold. To ride, then, seems to exhibit a conscious indifference to those still searching for their family members or pulling out the perished. And as a Japanese person, I know that no matter how altruistic the stated cause, no matter how much money could potentially be raised, riding a bike in Japan at a time like this is something I simply cannot do.
It is a deeply personal choice. Perhaps one that some may say is misguided or too rigid. It is, however, one in line with my own convictions, and one that, I hope, attests to my own capacity for compassion and empathy.

hit, run, and pay?

Sometimes, because of the negative associations with it, I regret my freely chosen profession[al license]. I understand that I knew this and clearly disregarded it when I submitted my enrollment letter to law school, but having passed both the MA and NY bar has made it official: I struggled through three years of school, plus two state bar exams, to join a profession that is commonly referred to as “soulless.”
As a fairly accomplished expert in the field of denial, I’ve tried to justify the label in a number of ways [“I’m ethically bound to ‘competently’ represent my clients,” or “I think ‘soulless’ just means ‘hardworking,’”]. It’s worked so far, in that I’m not completely disgusted with myself [yet]. But then something last week reared its ugly head which made me instantly back pedal from any association with the legal profession: the story about the Eagle, Colorado financial manager who ran over a cyclist [the latter is a NY surgeon] against whom the prosecuting District Attorney chose not to pursue felony charges because “it could jeopardize his job.”


The story is fucked up three ways to Sunday: financial manager Martin Joel Erzinger hits a NY surgeon, Dr. Steven Milo, cycling on the road in Colorado, with his black 2010 Mercedes-Benz sedan. Then, instead of doing the normal thing of maybe apologizing, calling an ambulance and/or police, or at least leaving a card, he “fled the scene.” [Emphasis mine]. Erzinger was only arrested after he pulled into a Pizza Hut parking lot to call the Mercedes-Benz auto assistance service to ask that the damage to his car be addressed, failing to mention that he just ran over someone which is why there was damage to his car in the first place. Responding Avon police officers arrested him.
According to court records, the original complaint included a felony charge “for causing serious injury,” which in this case includes, “spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to [Milo’s] knee and scapula,” as well as “’disabling’ spinal headaches...a herniated disc...and scars.” However, the prosecuting district attorney announced for the first time, in a notification to the court on September 7, that the charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor. The justification for the reduction in charges was motivated by the “serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession...when you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay,” said District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.
In Colorado [like most US jurisdictions], district attorneys are elected officials, and prosecutors have a fair amount of discretion when it comes to deciding what charges the state will pursue. In that regard, I sadly can’t say I’m surprised. What sort of bothers me more is that it’s not even a well-reasoned justification. And here’s why.
Restitution is a legal concept which seeks to place the person as good a position as the person was in before the event occurred. The concept does not include punitive damages, but simply seeks to re-establish the former status quo. In this case, restitution would require placing Dr. Milo in “as good” a position as he was in before the accident. Putting aside the obvious likelihood that Dr. Milo may never return to his pre-getting-hit-by-a-car condition, restitution could be measured by Dr. Milo’s medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Colorado explicitly allows victims of certain crimes the option of seeking restitution in its Victim Rights Act.


Okay, that’s great, you might think, this doctor will get paid for at least the financial cost of the hit and run. But the thing is, there is absolutely no guarantee that a victim of a crime in Colorado will be entitled to restitution. According to a pamphlet provided by the Colorado State Judicial Branch:

A defendant may be ordered to pay the victim for damages which occurred as a result of the crime committed. This is called restitution. The Victim Impact Statement helps in determining this amount.

Notice the wording. This means that it is within the court’s discretion, with input provided by the Victim Impact Statement, to determine an amount that is appropriate for restitution. Basically, even if found guilty, the court doesn’t have to order that Erzinger pay any restitution to Dr. Milo [although chances are, Dr. Milo will collect at least enough to cover his medical bills]. Furthermore, if, in any event, Dr. Milo suffers from future injury caused by the initial collision [and this seems fairly common where spinal injuries are involved], increasing the amount due under a court-determined restitution order is extremely difficult unless “the final amount of restitution due has not yet been set by the court.” [source].
District Attorney Hurlbert’s admission that Erzinger must continue to work to pay restitution may indicate that Hurlbert anticipates a hefty bill for Erzinger. But given that all of this will be determined by the court, no one knows what this amount will be [if any]. And, in any case, it’s difficult to imagine a sum so large that it would require Erzinger - an extremely wealthy financial manager - to continue working to pay it off. The stated fear that Erzinger just might lose his job becomes more absurd when combined with 1. the fact that Dr. Milo clearly does not care about the money but wants Erzinger to take responsibility for his actions, and 2. this crappy economy.
I’m disappointed to say the least. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, and the litigious side of me is fervently hoping for at least a civil suit against Erzinger. Punitive damages, anyone?
More relevant reads on Simple Justice and ExPat ExLawyer.
After writing this post, I read on the Huffington Post that Erzinger's misdemeanor charge was part of a plea bargain which includes "significant" restitution. Hurlbert has stressed that the misdemeanors would stay on Erzinger's record permanently.
Sure, okay, but two other things: 1. what exactly is "significant restitution"? "Significant" for Erzinger might not be so significant for Dr. Milo. 2. Am I missing something or did Erzinger call Mercedes, not the police, after he drove over Dr. Milo? Other than the fact that that seems completely, well, soulless, that sounds like a clear-cut case of vehicular assault, which [Google tells me] is a Class 5 felony in Colorado...