Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gentle angry people

The Star called it a "protest". The CBC, more accurately, called it a memorial.

Last Tuesday, like many other Toronto cyclists, I learned of the death of Darcy Alan Sheppard on one of Toronto's main streets. The next day, Wednesday, I pedalled downtown to take part in a memorial ride. I regularly take part in these rides; indeed, I ride in them much too often. This time, the extreme violence on the incident made it more compelling for me to attend. As I approached Avenue Road on Bloor, an increasing number of cyclists joined me. I spotted a cycling acquaintance from my end of the city, and expressed to him the incoherent grief and anger I felt. A knot of cyclists and cycle couriers had gathered at the actual site of Al Sheppard's death, and I worried for a moment that I had missed the actual ride. I asked a cyclist if people still planned to gather for the ride at Bloor and Bay, then rode, past an officer talking to a cyclist, and over to Bay. I looked on the wrong corner for a moment, saw very few cyclists, then noticed the south-east corner of the intersection, the open space in front of the Manulife Centre. Bicycles and riders covered every inch of it. I felt deeply moved, and the phrase "We are a gentle angry people" came to my mind.

A short while later, the ride began; we first rode east to Yonge Street, then south. As we rode down Yonge Street a thousand strong, bicycle police held up traffic on the side streets to ensure the safety of the ride. We turned west on Queen, and as we passed the cenotaph in front of Old City Hall, the trumpeter who often rides with us sounded the notes of Last Post. In a ritual four thousand years old, we sounded the horns in memory and honour of our dead. The ride went as far as University Avenue, where we turned north toward the place where Darcy Alan Sheppard met his end. As we turned, the ride caught up with a young man riding north on University in a suit. He asked one of the cyclists about the ride that engulfed. We explained, and I added another phrase that came to mind. In JRR Tolkien's The Two Towers, Gandalf explains that the two Hobbits Merry and Pippin have come to the forest of the Ents, the great tree shepherds, and adds:
A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.

Then we returned to the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor. First, we raised our bicycles in a salute to Dacy Alan Sheppard, then we observed a moment of silence. I saw the young man in the suit had stayed with us, and I thanked him. Slowly, the crowd thinned out. An ambulance came along, and we quickly cleared a lane for it. Then the police told us we could keep one of the lanes of Bloor, but they needed to open one eastbound lane. I decided to head for home.

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