Issue September 23, 2009

One year later

Wednesday, Sept. 30, will mark one year since Louisville changed forever.

Jen Futrell, one of our most charismatic and devoted citizens — she was also known as Calico Future — was hit from behind while biking home from work. Jen had friends far and wide, and those of us who were able to rushed in a desperate dash to make it to her side in the hospital. For some there was not enough time. Jen died five days later, in the hospital, surrounded by loved ones. The city and the world still mourn this loss.

I met Jen five years ago as a rock ’n’ rollin’, leather-jacket sporting, Mohawk-clad lady. After only a couple encounters I knew Jen was a brutally honest, passionate dreamer with the motivation and courage to do anything. I thought she was beautiful with her heavy lidded, bright blue eyes, mix-matched earrings and kerchiefs. She believed in herself and our collective ability to change the world, even if we only start in our kitchens. That was something I had wanted the strength to believe in, too. After meeting her three times, she asked me to live with her and three other ladies that now make up a pack of sisters for whom I would do anything. We became a family, and they taught me the value of community support, honest communication, resourcefulness, nutrition, equality, the joy of the bike, and a meal cooked and shared.

If there are three things Jen was passionate about, they are community, bicycles and food. She believed that hospitality could change the world, that eating together creates unity and strength. She had a do-it-yourself — and most often a “do-it-with-me, dammit” — attitude. She introduced me to Jackie Green, who got me started as a bike messenger. When my bike needed repair, she showed me how to fix it. She taught me how to ride with no hands. She loved to ride her bike, which she named “Rocinante” after Don Quixote’s horse.

Jen was not alone. Communities made up of people like her fleck the globe. A common thread is that we are uber-passionate about bikes. Some don’t even own vehicles; if we do, we use them rarely. Instead you’ll find us with our favorite thing between our legs; from Huffy to Haro we’re stoked about riding together or alone, to the store or across the country. If you can ride a bike and fix it you can go anywhere you want. We feel great about it because it’s not just being good to your body, but to the environment, too.

As motorists and cyclists grow in number, so expands the battle for the road. This year and last in Louisville, there have been 34 pedestrian/cyclist deaths. It’s terribly unfortunate that cyclists and motorists seem incapable of mutual respect. Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians all have a right to the road. The road is a great privilege that we take for granted by being impatient and hostile toward each other. Motorists need to be aware of cyclists’ presence. We are on the road, and while you are tucked safely in a large metal box with only a pedal to push for power, we are largely exposed and using our own energy to get along.

Motorists: Please be conscious of cyclists! Be patient and wait for a safe time and distance to pass.

Cyclists: While biking through the city is fun, the street is not a place for games. Ride safely and respect motorists. No matter how many people have honked or yelled at you, the majority passed you quietly. Take a lane; don’t sandwich yourself between parked cars and traffic. Please wear a helmet. It pains me to think Jen might be alive if she had been wearing a helmet.

In celebration of the lives of Jen and others killed as pedestrians or cyclists, there will be a gathering on Wednesday, Sept. 30, starting at 4 p.m. in Tyler Park. The Down Home Hospitality Café, Jen’s traveling kitchen, will host a potluck. At 6 p.m. there will be a slow group ride visiting the sites of cyclists hit in the Highlands and Downtown areas. There will be one person wearing white for each cyclist or pedestrian killed this and last year. We will stop at Jen’s ghost bike on Baxter Avenue, where we will then hold a vigil.

Please join us in raising awareness of road safety and to remember those who have been killed. Candles, white clothing and food are welcomed.