Writing Samples

So with the end of my cycling career came the end of Charlotte Sandwich Stories. But you can read more of my writing!

CharlotteFive – Five strikes against Charlotte as a bike city

CharlotteFive – What the Truck? Repower Our Schools

Charlotte Storytellers – First Time High

And some favorites from Charlotte Sandwich Stories:

Trey and Dom run from the cops

Tipping Trends

Another ER Trip

Aaron Newport on Bike Patrol

 

I’ve been trying to capture some of the amusing elevator conversations I find myself a part of. Here’s a couple.

fall-street-sunsetI interviewed pedestrians at Trade and Tryon to see what people who work uptown think about us delivery cyclists. What I learned was not what I expected. This audio post is actually family friendly!

Anti-climax

So as promised, here’s the update on trying to get an interview or statement from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police. I haven’t heard anything new.

Moving along, I did some man-on-the-street interviews uptown this week. I was trying to get a feel for people’s opinions of delivery cyclists. I got a story from a guy who got cussed out by a cyclist. I had a couple people say they had no problem with the delivery drivers. And I had a couple basically singing their praises. But in trying to put it all together into an audio story — well, it’s just not working. I’m scrapping it.

Well here’s an unpublished story from July 12. It actually relates to something that happened at work today.

Today I got in a shouting match with a guy in a black luxury car. I was riding slowly towards a red light when I heard a honk behind me. This happens once or twice a shift, and usually I either ignore it completely or just wave sarcastically, as if I think I know the person, as if I just misunderstood their honk.

But today I snapped. I was already hot and grumpy and tired. I felt just ornery and just playful enough to screw with somebody. I turned around, made eye contact, and said, “What? You got a problem?” The man was blond, clean cut, 30s: the average uptown jerk. I saw him gesture and speak as he sped up and pulled around a parked car and alongside my right.

“You’re blocking the road,” I heard him say between my agitated shouting. “I have as much right to the road as you do. I have as much right to the road as you!” I responded.

The entire exchange lasted two seconds. It was just enough time for the car window to roll down a mere 3 inches and roll right back up. I managed to restrain myself from physically attacking the car, which made a quick right. But temptation flashed through my head as pedaled through the light. I saw the car stopped at a light a block away. I would chase him down and chuck the orange I had in my bag as a snack.

“No, that’s the kind of hot headed thinking that broke your wrist,” I had to remind myself. “That’s a story that doesn’t end well.”

I rode on, shaking my head at the man, marveling at my own rage. He was making a right. I was just in his way to get to the right lane. I had assumed he was ignorantly demanding I ride on the sidewalk, but I realized that probably wasn’t the case at all. I felt dumb, and I resolved not to be so reactionary next time.

This is a struggle I’ve had for a while. Something about the adrenaline, and the fear — I’m not an angry person until someone endangers me on my bike. I had a similar thing happen today. Black car. Ran around me and honked. I caught up with him at a light.

“You got a problem? Let’s talk,” I said. He rolled down his window. “I signaled. Did you not see me?” “I didn’t see your signal,” the guy said back. “Well pay more attention,” I said, and with that he rolled up his window, and I got back in my lane. I rode back to the shop ultra-quick, shaking from adrenaline, from the charge of confrontation, but that was it. No real yelling, no swearing. I think I’m getting better at this!

Close, But No Cigar: My near interview with a cop

Officer Mauldin confronts Jonathan McCorkle.

Officer Mauldin confronts Jonathan.

I had hoped to get an audio interview with someone from the police force this week. I wanted to post a story that explored a bike cop’s perspective on us delivery drivers and our riding. I got close, too, but the interview got nixed at the last minute because of my priors; I’ve gotten a couple of red light tickets on my bike, both subsequently dismissed, but that was enough to cast doubt on my objectivity as a journalist. That part is unsurprising considering my less-than-objective perspective on the cops-versus-cyclists issue, but it was still disappointing. Honestly, I’m surprised to have gotten as receptive a response as I did.

The first surprise came from an officer named Mark Mauldin. First, some background: Officer Mauldin was the first Bike Patrol officer to write me a ticket, sometime in the spring of 2013, and he was there for my second, a couple months later. Altogether, we drivers racked up about half a dozen tickets in the span of two months last year. It seemed every time I saw a delivery driver pulled over on his bike, at least one of the officers there was Mauldin, and I suspected he was spearheading the delivery cyclist crackdown. I remember him saying we could try to get the tickets thrown out, but he’d keep writing them until someone reassigned him, which he said was unlikely given his long tenure with the force.

But the surprise came earlier this year, after I saw Mauldin chewing out my coworker Jonathan “Corkle” for running a light. Jonathan said he crossed with the foot traffic – he said he wasn’t being unsafe. I was shocked that Jonathan didn’t get a ticket even though he was arguing with Mauldin, who was staying remarkably cool. So I found Officer Mauldin later on, and I expressed my surprise.

Since my second ticket, I had made a point not to run red lights at all. I wonder if Officer Mauldin noticed, because our conversation that day was unusually friendly. He told me he wasn’t on Bike Patrol anymore. He talked about his motivation in addressing us. He said he was ultimately concerned about safety, about us changing our behavior. Suddenly he didn’t seem so aggressive or unreasonable. He even said that he wouldn’t pursue us for minor slip-ups, like rolling forward the moment before a light turns green.

I told Officer Mauldin about Charlotte Sandwich Stories, and I asked if he would be willing talk to further. He said he couldn’t while he was on duty, but that he’d be willing to schedule a time to sit down and chat. We traded business cards, and, for a while, that was that.

I reached out to Officer Mauldin for an interview recently, when I started reporting on bike cops versus delivery drivers. He said he didn’t have the authority to say yes to an interview and that I’d have to go through the CMPD Public Affairs office.

Eventually I did get in touch with an officer in Public Affairs, and we discussed the interview, playing phone tag during the early part of this week. The officer checked out my blog and remarked that my writing seemed balanced. She e-mailed Mark Mauldin, but she called back and left me a message on Wednesday: “We actually are going to have to pass right now on the interview…just because…you’ve gotten some citations before, and I just don’t know that they’d be very comfortable doing it,” her message said.

Her voice sounded a little apologetic, or a little nervous, and she reiterated her praise for my writing. I wasn’t surprised at the verdict, but I couldn’t help feeling deflated. The message derailed my grand plan for a comprehensive series of stories with multiple perspectives.

I do plan to follow up with Public Affairs and see if they’ll send a written statement. Here’s a sampling of the questions I had hoped to pose to Officer Mauldin or a current Bike Patrol officer:

We know you as the officers that write us tickets on our bikes, but what are Bike Patrol’s main enforcement roles?

Officer Mauldin, I remember you talking about the issues you saw with us bicycle delivery drivers on the road when I got my first ticket: hopping curbs, dodging through pedestrians, running red lights…What most bothered you about drivers’ behavior, and what did you do end up doing about it?

Bicycles are smaller, more agile and less dangerous to others than cars. Do those differences affect your approach to enforcement?

I want to hear your stories. Do you remember any specific conversations you’ve had with delivery drivers?

Do you hold us delivery drivers to a higher standard than other cyclists passing through the city?

If I could relay a message to my coworkers, what would you like to say to them about their riding?

Check back next week. I’ll post an update.

This is Trey.

This is Trey.

Trey and Dominique told me about the time they fled from Bike Patrol cops. Listen to hear who wins.

NOTE: This week’s story contains some profanity.

Apologies for late publication this week. I’ve been getting more ambitious and taking more time. I plan to post on Saturdays moving forward. I find that gives me a better chunk of time to sit down and put stuff together.

It’s been 8 months since I started posting! Thanks so much for reading and giving feedback. Please share my blog with your friends and journalism contacts. Have a great week.

LISTENER DISCRETION: The audio posted herein contains profanity, including but not nearly limited to gratuitous use of the f-word. Virgin ears beware.

CMPD Bike Patrol is the police unit that pulls over and tickets drivers from our store when we run red lights. I plan to do a series of audio stories on the tense relationship between the bike cops and the delivery cyclists. This first story is from an interview with my coworker Aaron Newport.

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Aaron Newport

Rainbow girl

Charlotte Pride Fest was in full swing on the 8 blocks surrounding our store this past Saturday, August 16. It was, of course, a festival atmosphere. There were plenty of colorful characters milling around (literally and figuratively). Early on I passed a young man in naught but rainbow striped briefs and very fuzzy, very pink boots. Rainbow-colored signs and articles of clothing formed the the backdrop of a crowded Tryon Street.

But along with the festivities came the religious protesters. There were Christian protesters preaching about perversity, judgment and repentance. Wherever those preached, I also saw other protesters holding signs with affirming slogans and messages of acceptance. The tension was palpable. I watched as passersby tried to make sense of these spontaneous clusters of opposing activists.

I saw one such scene while on delivery at Third and College. A preacher decried the perversity of homosexuality in the solemnest tone, his voice projecting from a surprisingly loud and clear P.A. system. I could understand every word from a half-block in either direction. The man looked like an older Christian Bale, if Christian Bale were a Texan car salesman. He was dressed in a long-sleeve button-down shirt and slacks. He wore a horseshoe mustache and slicked-back hair. He paced back and forth and spoke with a clear, penetrating diction. He and two or three other men stood in a tight pack. After a few moments waiting at the light, the preacher stopped and an old fashioned gospel song played from the speakers, filling the intersection.

On the same corner was a group of four or five women, all holding hand-drawn signs. One sign had a rainbow-colored fish and the words “God loves gays.” Another had a message citing a bible verse. The women milled about and talked to strangers.

I talked to both groups of protesters later. The women gave me a sticker advertising the site christiangayok.com. One of the men named Tom Barry described himself as a bible-believing Christian and claimed no affiliation with any particular organization. He did, however, mention the organization Operation Save America. I found the organization’s website, and on it a pamphlet entitled “Homosexuality vs. Christianity: Should We Build Bridges or Storm the Gates?” The pamphlet does not recommend building bridges.

Beverly and Donna

Beverly and Donna, together 22 years and married

I saw similar scenes in other spots throughout Pride Fest. Fundamentalist Christian preachers shouted about sin, perversion, repentance and judgment. protesters with gay Christian organizations crowded around them with handmade signs and spoke to festival attendees one-on-one. I couldn’t help being drawn in by these moments. They were a mixture of excitement, horror, absurdity and drama. I wondered how much these scenes, as polarized as they were, revealed the cultural realities relating to homosexuality in the wider Charlotte community.

None of the protesters were violent. The preaching kind were the minority, outnumbered by the other Christian demonstrators. All of the protesters as a group were themselves a drop in the bucket, a tiny fraction of the tight-packed mass of humanity spreading over the pavement in every direction. Most of the festival goers were carefree, there for the good time, and only stopped momentarily to indulge their curiosity before moving on. I wondered about the large, invisible populations of Charlotte who either don’t care what gays do or disagree with homosexuality on a moral basis, but in ways that are respectful of human dignity.

I tried to take some video of one of the prostestor clusters, but alas, most of what I captured was sheer confusion. In this video, for example, there are two protesters with shofars, one in support of gay religious freedom and one speaking out against homosexuality. I struggled to focus on one speaker at a time, but the clip gives a sense of what it was like to be there.

The tension of the day came to a head for me later, when I had the chance to speak with Flip Benham, former director of Operation Save America, and one of the street preachers with him, Curtis Fennison. I began to take Curtis’ photo and ask him about his religious stance against homosexuality. Meanwhile, a man walked up, observed Mr. Fennison talking to me and began expressing his disgust at Fennison’s message. The man then turned to me and began berating me for supporting biggotted hatred.

Curtis Fennison Operation Save America

Curtis Fennison, of Operation Save America, with his shofar

I found myself following after the man, trying to explain that I was reporting, trying to capture multiple perspectives. The man was visibly upset and described having been taunted and verbally abused all day. It took several minutes of explaining, but eventually the man calmed down. He looked at me and asked, “You mean you’re on our side? You don’t hate me?” “No, I don’t hate you,” I said, at which point he gave me a hug. I felt compelled to apologize again for the confusion, although he still seemed distressed. Eventually I walked away, still feeling awful. My roommate and coworker, Mickey, told me that he saw a preacher make a gay man cry. It was disheartening to see such hate, even in isolated incidents, and to see the hate flying in multiple directions.

me and shelby

Shelby and me

Fortunately, the whole of the event wasn’t totally dominated by the religious tension. I caught up with a coworker and wandered around, introducing myself to the most interesting people I could find and taking their picture. I posed for a photo with a drag queen named Shelby, and I met a self-described “gaytheist” named Justin. Justin held a sign that said, “Ignore the biggots. Nobody invited them.” I asked if he was with a church. “F-ck no!” he laughed. “I’m just a drunk asshole who knows how to use magic markers.” “And glitter, too,” I said, admiring his handiwork. I learned that Justin was with the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics, although he took his role decidedly unseriously.

Take a look at my Flickr album Humans of Charlotte Pride for a look at the more playful side of Pride.

Ben Long fresco at Trans America building
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Orchids and painting at NASCAR Plaza
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I love how these geometric forms evoke bodies in motion.
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UNCC Center City installation in-progress
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This mural covers a window to the Observer's former printing facility.
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W 4th St., near Johnson and Wales
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storefront display
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700 E 4th St.
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Look carefully: three stories happening in this image.
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I take photos of interesting art I see on delivery. These are some of the least traditional pieces I’ve found, but I put up an album of some other great works on my Flickr.

I tell about throwing an orange at a car this week. It’s my first audio story. It’s two stories, really. I recorded them both while riding my bike on delivery a week and a half ago. A driver is a jerk to me in the first, but in the second, I’m the one who ends up being a jerk.
I hope to make more of these. In fact, I’m in the midst of reporting a story with multiple interviews, colorful characters, law breaking and law enforcement. Stay tuned.

LISTENER DISCRETION: Today’s piece contains some profanity.