Earlier this week, I went out to ride my bike after work, at the new-ish spot I’ve been riding at since arriving in California last month. It’s a train station next to the 405 — nothing glamorous, with the constant roar of passing cars on the freeway giving the area a feel of constant unrest. Its most memorable function so far has been as the opening scene of the movie “Heat” in 1995. After 7 p.m. most days, the cars empty out of the parking lot and the lights remain on, so I’ve naturally gravitated towards it during that time. 99% of my short time there so far has been uninterrupted with the exception of a man attempting to fix a ’70s era Winnebago (he ended up clapping at my efforts and asked how high I could bunnyhop.)
And then a car approached me quickly the other night, a blinding light on the side of flashing directly into my eyes — the police. Immediately, I was told to raise my hands as they exited their car and put my hands behind my back, patting me down for weapons. I was then forced to drop my bike and shoved in the back of the police cruiser as they searched my backpack, which contained a bike lock, a DK Random wrench multi-tool, tire levers and a Klean Kanteen.
As the story of a 37-year-old riding a BMX bike at 8 p.m. during the middle of the week seemed too unusual, they saw the existence of tools in my bag as proof that I was breaking into area cars and using this idea of “extreme athlete” to cover my tracks. Still sitting in the back of the cruiser with my hands on the grill that separated the front and rears of the car, they continued rifling through my backpack, pulled the multi-tool apart and started trying out the wrench sizes in the wheels of the existing cars still in the parking lot.
Unsatisfied that neither a 15mm or 17mm socket extension works on the lug nut of a Chevy minivan, the officer came back to the car, demanded to know what my deal was, and added that me being “white” and “out at night” didn’t add up. I answered all of his questions.
“Yes, I have run from the police. Once, when I was 16 and the police broke up a snowball fight in the parking lot of Strathmore Cinema in Matawan, I ran.”
“No, I am not here to break into cars. I do manuals on the sidewalk, then turn around and do rolling tricks down the slanted area.”
“The Random Wrench is made by a BMX company called DK. It holds all of the tools you need to work on your bike.”
“No, I’m not intentionally coming here from New Jersey to make your life more difficult sir.”
After an ID check was cleared, I was allowed to step out of the car and retrieve my belongings. No apology was given. Instead, the officer told me that he had been to New Jersey once and that it sucked and that he hoped I would enjoy the more moderate winter in Redondo Beach.
I’ve been though the same motions with police more than a few times now (because of riding), and that inherent feeling of violation that used to bother me has given way to a new sense of ridiculousness as the events unfold. In the end, the police had stumbled onto a 37-year-old white male riding his bike by himself in a train station parking lot, prepared for any bicycle malfunctions he might encounter along the way. And this time, while sitting in the back of the car with my hands raised, I looked straight into the dashboard camera and told them just that.
Sidenote — BMX companies that make multi-tools should print the word “BMX” or “Bicycles” on the outside of the tool. This is the second time I’ve been detained because of the enigmatic appearance of multi-tools.