Spring cycling is the very best thing. Monday’s ride took me up to Roland Park for an appointment and then I decided to just keep riding up Roland Avenue to enjoy the fancy bike lane that nobody seems to like but me. I got to the end and then turned around to come back the other way. And then I saw the ghost bike near St. Georges Road. I remember December 2015, sitting in my girlfriend’s sister’s basement in St. Louis, watching TV and scrolling through the Facebook. A cyclist was hit and killed in the lane, a lane I ride in all the time, and that so many people I know and love ride in, too. I whisked through the Facebook pages of so many local cyclists, are you ok, are you ok, and then the news came out: Tom Palermo. I didn’t know him, but I also did know him–he was all of us–a guy who loved riding bicycles, who got some spare hours on a cold December day and took them to zip around on his bike. As I learned later he had a family he loved dearly, a job he was great at, and a side passion for building bikes. In pictures I saw later I saw a man with a smile so big and joy in his eyes.
It was all snuffed out that day by a drunk driver texting on her cell phone.
It was devastating then, and it changed how I rode bikes for good. The sense of safety of the bike lane was gone. I found myself tensing up at the sound of a car coming up behind me, newly scared of this thing I’ve been doing almost every day for years. I wept for the losses of those who loved him, who lived with him. Incomprehensible, what Tom is missing and what his family has lost of the future they had planned.
Fast forward a year, and this time the December call was about my dad, hit by a truck while crossing the street in a crosswalk. I still can’t comprehend the loss faced by the Palermo family, but as I stared down the abyss of my own grief, I knew better the limits of my comprehension.
I stood at that ghost bike for a few minutes, read the letter written by his wife that had been taped to the light pole. Tears. And then I rolled up my t-shirt sleeves and pulled them through my bra straps and kept on riding, a stop for work and then a ride around Druid Hill Park before heading home. There’s just nothing like biking in spring. I wish Tom Palermo could fly through that spring air on his bicycle again. I wish my dad could listen to my excitement about warm weather while waiting for the air to warm up in his tiny mountain town.
I heard the news at the end of the day that the woman who hit and killed Tom Palermo is up for parole next month, fewer than two years into a seven year sentence, because her crime was non-violent. I hd feelings when I saw that news. I don’t know what justice looks like, but I’m quite sure it doesn’t look like this.