A NON-RACIALLY RELATED CONVERSATION WITH A COP IN GREECE THAT PUTS SO MANY OF GREECE'S PROBLEMS INTO PERSPECTIVE
First let me say that on an individual level, I have no issues with cops. No, I'm not a minority. Yes, I have zero doubt that racism is systemically ingrained in the government of the United States and cops are government workers. This isn't about that though. This isn't even about America.
I was out on a ride, coming back from the beautiful Kalogria Strofilias area. Kalogria is known mostly for the beautiful beach that it has…sand and shallow waters that you can walk out to, with nothing but water on the horizon as it rests on the Western Coast of Greece. If you kept swimming, you’d hit Italy.
The area also has a massive marsh that serves as refuge to a variety of native species of fish and amphibians, while also serving as sanctuary for migrating birds. Last year while driving out there I happened to spot about 30 flamingoes in one of the marshes.
There's a diversity of vegetation, including trees that look like they could easily be growing in the African tundra in countries like Kenya or Tanzania. There’s farms out there, so amidst all these exotic looking things, you’ll see a few cows that wandered a bit further out and it’s like you’re in an enchanted land where some poor fellow got transformed into an animal, destined to be out of place for the rest of their life.
You can imagine the serenity of riding around a place like that, and how that serenity continues as your ride back home on a long, straight road adorned with spring flowers….mountains to the right and sea to your left as the sun as is starting its descent towards the water. That's how I felt anyway...everything was beautiful. I came into small town in an area of Greece called Vraxneika, on a two lane road. Some jack ass coming in the opposite direction wanted to stop at a shop to my right….and that’s exactly what he did. He stopped on my side of the road, forcing cars to also stop and almost caused an accident. The fury in me was mounting…cars were backed up as people tried to navigate through the idiocracy and the selfishness. My eyes were seeing what was happening but my mind couldn’t believe in it. Why was no one angry? Why hadn’t people gotten out of their cars to collectively push the car into a ditch somewhere?
As I got through it, a huge police van drove by me…and in exasperation I threw my hand up at the guy like, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” He pulled over about 50 feet ahead and as I was approaching him, he stuck his head out and asked if I was trying to get his attention.
“As a matter of fact, yeah. That guy back there almost caused an accident and he caused a huge inconvenience, and you just drove by like it was nothing."
His reply shocked me to the point where I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. In fact it’s the kind of thing where your ears hear it…but your mind can’t comprehend the signal that just got transmitted. It’s that same feeling we all got any time we heard Kanye talk in the last year.
Or like, when someone says something that’s just incomprehensibly racist...
“I don’t want to go to the beach after dark because black people.”
Anyway, this was his reply…..verbatim. “Well what am I supposed to do?”
This was followed by me actually saying this: “Are you kidding??! YOU’RE A COP! YOU GUYS LITERALLY GET AWAY WITH MURDER AND YOU’RE ASKING ME WHAT YOU CAN DO? WRITE THE GUY A TICKET! GIVE HIM A WARNING. AT THE VERY LEAST, MAKE HIM MOVE! I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M THE ONE THAT HAS TO TELL YOU THIS, BUT DO YOUR JOB! DO WHAT YOU’RE PAID FOR!”
And then in an almost desperate, bordering on whiny voice he replied, “Eh, I can’t. People here do whatever the want. They’re not going to listen to me.”
And again I replied, “Then fucking hit them with your billy club. Jesus Christ…if they don’t listen to reason, knock some sense into them!! It’s because people like you don’t give a damn that these people don't give a damn. You need to make people understand that they can’t go around doing whatever they want, otherwise people like me will take matters into their own hands!”
To this, he then asked if he should be ticketing cyclists like me every time we run a red light or a stop or do anything that’s reckless on the road. And I immediately and truthfully told him, “Yes! You absolutely should. And I’ll openly admit that I do run red lights sometimes if it’s an open road and I can see no one is coming. But the difference is that I’m prepared to accept any consequences if I get caught doing something like that, and I actually make it a point to look around instead of just parking by the side of the road and inconveniencing everyone around me!"
He seemed to reflect on that and then tried to cut the conversation off by saying he didn’t want to keep from doing my ride, and then told me his cousin was a big cyclist. I told him, it didn’t bother me, and I enjoyed the conversation, and that I hoped something would come of it.
I genuinely believe that in Greece, there is a sense of “hey, it is what it is.” In fact, that’s the name of Athenian producer and dj Stelios Vassiloudis’ full length album on Bedrock Records.
And that’s also what controversial Thessaloniki Mayor explained in an interview about how he managed to create a surplus in there while the rest of the country was facing (at the time) it's 5th year of economic recession (you can read about that here.) And a snippet of the interview relating to that is pasted below:
What have been the hardest things to change?
The mentality of people. One of the things we try to pass along to people is, "Unless you do something, nothing is going to change."
What do you mean by “something”?
We came in with this slogan: "I love my city, I adopt my neighborhood." Meaning that if you don't care for your small neighborhood, about the dogs that run around, the garbage, the graffiti, about saying good morning to your neighbor, things will not change. If you don't all agree to bring down your garbage at a certain time, and a truck comes by, and in then in the next hour the dumpsters are full of garbage, then things will be dirty.
So how do you change the mentality of an entire city?
It's not easy. You have to have gatherings and try to share this idea of obeying rules. You have to respect that if there's a No Parking sign, it's there for a reason. When you park on the edge of the pavement and garbage trucks cannot make a turn, we have a problem. And no one is going to solve it but you. If you feel that we have police that can run after all these little problems, you're totally wrong, because we’d need 5,000 policeman to follow these violations of the law. So if you want a nice city, obey the laws. It's simple as that, but it's very very difficult for people to do.”
Who would have thought that this little interaction, this moment, would put into perspective the very basic thing that’s been lacking in Greece for such a long time? The notion that we need to cooperate and work together and have some sort of structure in our day to day lives...that things need to be clear…otherwise we’ll all be like any poor fellow that has to try and understand the parking laws in Washington DC.
But this stuff is really important. That guy who just parked on the wrong side of a two lane road, basically told every single person he was inconveniencing, that he matters more than they do, and that they can go fuck themselves. It's hard to not feel like it's personal at that point.
Now having just said that, I'm reminded of another incident on the road that happened here in Greece. I guess this post just became a twofer.
I was coming back into the town of Nafplio after a decent ride....60 miles or so. As I was coming closer to the town, a car passed me on my left and I could see that the driver was looking for something that had fallen down into his seat or something like that. And of course, OF COURSE, he veered to the right and I had to move away and hit the breaks to avoid getting hit. The fury in me surged like a geyser. I was suddenly on a stage and the red curtains were coming down behind my eyelids...
I hammered down on the pedals. I was thinking about all the things I was going to say to him once I caught up to him and smashed his window to grab him by the throat. I took note of his license plate in case I found the car later on and I could confront him at a coffee shop or a bar or something. "Hi, remember me? No? Well you almost killed me the other day.....WHACK."
I did end up catching up with him. He had pulled into a parking lot for a small hardware shop. I rode over...calming myself down and reminding myself that unless they are nazis...hitting people is wrong. And then, my senses kicked in. I got to his car just as he was getting out. He was on the phone...saw me waiting for him...his call ended.
"Back there...when you were driving...and at the same time looking for something down on the floor...you weren't paying attention to the road...you drifted, and you almost took me out."
The guy...a short hefty fella with eyes sadder than James Gandolfini's, immediately and remorsefully apologized. His sincerity was apparently in the tone of his voice.
"Ι want you to be more careful when you're driving....for me, for you, and everyone else on the road," I said, my own tone softening. He apologized again and I told him it was ok...extended my arm to shake his hand and thanked him. The guy looked almost humiliated.
As I rode off I couldn't believe how nicely that had gone.....vastly different from the woman in downtown Bethesda, Maryland (land of entitlement for those who don't know) that almost hit me and when I caught up to her at a light and knocked on her window to tell her, "Lady...you're gonna kill me!" Unfazed and with no remorse whatsoever, she replied with a snarky "No I'm not." What a pig.
I think there's two types of people in this world. There are those who comprehend words...and those who comprehend fists and boots. Personally I like using my words. I'd even argue I'm pretty good with them. But escaping into fantasy sometimes certainly helps clear out the fury so the words make sense.