Last week I participated in New Haven's Critical Mass for the first time. I don't have a firm stance about how I feel about Critical Mass. I can understand both sides of the debate concerning cyclists taking over the street en mass. Truthfully, though, I never rode a Crit Mass before because frankly, 5:30pm on a Friday is a *really* bad time to be anywhere but hanging at home with my three sons, who, tired from the week, just need downtime in the solitude of our own home.
But last Friday, I had to ride. P stayed at home with the boys while I bundled up and headed down to New Haven Green. I was looking for connection and community. I needed some place to gather with others who also were experiencing profound heartbreak. And riding with many people who cared about bikes throughout our city seemed like a fitting tribute to a sweet young man who, too, loved bikes and had lost his life the night before in a horrible act of violence.
There are few stores one ever wants to go into towing three little boys. I shiver thinking about grocery shopping with the guys and, malls-- well, I don't do malls by myself (hate 'em!)-- but the thought of entering such a shopping 'mecca' with my boys makes my head throb. But bike shops, well, bike shops are different-- especially this one. From the day we decided to start riding bikes, The Devil's Gear has been a big part of our journey. We spend a lot of time there. All of us. And there is something freeing about being in a bike shop with little boys because it is one place that the boys can look and touch and ask their numerous questions. And the folks at The Devil's Gear have been nothing but kind and open and patient with us.
And Mitch was always one of these guys. Extremely enthusiastic, he cheered on our family biking adventures, helping us out with our cargo bikes, and last summer, fitting the twins with their first new bikes ever (as they had started with wonderful hand-me-downs). He was helpful and kind and happily engaged with the boys as they asked how this thing or that thing worked and he never rolled his eyes or gave a pointed look as the guys discovered yet-another cool bike horn or bell they needed to test out-- multiple times. Last summer, we stopped by the shop on our way home from a cycling celebration. Mitch loved that we had turned the bakfiets into a pirate ship and asked if he could take a photo, mailing to others, calling us 'the coolest family in New Haven.' OK, so maybe his judgment on that one was a bit off, but this incredible positivity radiated out from him in all interactions. And when we gathered for his memorial service outside the bike shop last Sunday night, we heard stories over and over about his positivity, enthusiasm, and kindness, not only from all the bike folks who knew him, but a huge community connected with the underground music scene he belonged to as well.
This week P went to pick up the Yuba from The Devil's Gear, having dropped it off for a spring tune-up. When I got home later, I glanced down at the service ticket on the kitchen counter. There, written in all capital letters, was Mitch's name and his description of our bike ("LONGTAIL!!!" enthusiastic even in writing). And I smiled. And then I cried. I cried as I have done many times this week. I cry for Mitch's family and Mitch's friends and his co-workers at the bike shop, and I cry for the rest of us because he was someone the world needs. And I think of how gun violence has taken so many lives, and how it has forever changed Mitch's family and friends and my family as well, taking some innocence away from my sons.
But when I feel the freedom I experience riding our bikes and the joy watching my boys ride theirs, I will think of Mitch and I will work on sending out positivity into the world as he had done. His life made a profound impact. And if my sons grew up to be as kind as Mitchell Dubey was, I would be most proud.