I waited at the Ghost Bike memorial for the Critical Mass cyclists riding in honor of Nathan Crowson, killed by a drunk driver while cycling on January 21, and his riding partner, Danny Morris, recovering with severe injuries in the hospital. 353 cyclists took to the streets from LSU's Clock Tower to ride than night. Before their arrival I was alone at the memorial watching the cars speed by. There was a different feel than during my visit earlier in the day keeping in mind that the accident did occur at night, feeling the speed of the cars more as their lights zoomed by.
Slowly people arrived. First the local media, then some college students, and a few older women who ended up being family. A young couple tightly held each other after placing something in the collection of flowers and notes covering the 'ghost bike'. As a group of blinking lights in the distance approached the site, we all stopped and watched. The first in the group rode by ringing their bells, then some started to stop or walk their bikes up onto the wet and muddy grass. They talked quietly, some placed items by the bike, while others walked by thoughtfully towards an area behind us where they'd all meet before moving on. The cars on the busy road had to move into the middle lane in order to pass by, and while a few seemed supportive there were obnoxious shouts from open windows, too. I felt the emotional weight of it all as I stood near the bike taking pictures and watching all pass by.
Towards the end of the pack of riders, there was one cyclist that stood in front of the bike for more than a moment of silence and reflection. In the midst of it all, the lights, the media, the cars, the people, he stood. From the other side of the bike I took a deep breath in and felt like he stopped time. The hurt of Nathan's death, to his family, friends, and the community, was with us, and we were all looking to heal, needing to heal. There were no sides to this, it was something affecting all of us.
As the group of cyclists decided to move from their corner meeting point just beyond the ghost bike to another location, one rider went into the road to make sure all was clear. It was, he called them out, and the pack started to move. That's when the few of us who lingered behind heard the speeding cars coming down the road. We turned in a flash and saw two cars racing right towards the group. The scream couldn't come out of my mouth as others motioned and waved for them to stop. I saw another tragedy happening, and by some crazy miracle the cars swerved away and slowed down. Not all saw from our perspective, but I had to step back to the bike, lean on the pole with the red painted flowers, and weep silently over the avoided terror. It really was too much, too close, as if the city and those gathered needed another reminder about the risks of riding on roads with dangerous drivers. The photo of the women holding each other in the set below captures the minutes after the scare.
Somewhere in the mix of this experience with just a few of us left behind, I met Nathan's friend who had painted the heart and stenciled art on the road. I didn't ask if she had done the flowers on the pole, too, but when she saw that I was genuinely interested, she let me know that she created the stencils from Nathan's art as something meaningful for his friends. I let her know that I was touched by them too when I first saw them earlier that day without even knowing their background story. Now when I look they say something more about Nathan's presence in their lives.
So where do I leave this? With continued thoughts for Nathan's family, friends and daughter. With our community affected by the tragedy. With Nathan's friend that rode with him that night as he continues to recover from severe injuries. With the driver of that car and his family. It's been suggested that we put more energy into improving the safety infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists than anger towards the drunk driver. It's a very challenging thing to do, but it will move us out of the tragic time of Nathan's death and loss and into moments for Nathan and our community where we'll work together for change.