Monday, March 22, 2004

The Kickstand Monitor

In these days of tender world politics and holy wars the minor and petty tragedies of day to day life have been swept under the carpet where they fester to the point of insanity.

When was the last time some frank but helpful gent sidled up to you and whispered 'your laces are untied' or 'you're flying low without a license?' Or indeed, a loving doting companion flicked the breadcrumbs off your cheeks as you ranted about global terrorism during a pleasant brunch? I fear those quaint days of camaraderie and courtliness have passed into the shadow. And there they will stay unless we take action.

That is why it is relieving to come across the likes of Summertime Ryan. I first heard of him on the internet but was fortunate to have a mutual friend in Hanoi who made arrangements for me to meet this mythical man. Ryan, an ex physical education teacher from Portland, Oregon, is a man whose reputation precedes itself. He has single-handedly taken on a chronic problem in Vietnam: people leaving their kickstands down. There is no hard evidence of what he does, hence the mystery of the man, but local ex pats are fully aware of the impact he is making.
"No doubt about it," says one European coffee shop owner, "he's out there saving lives, dawn to dusk. There's a war out there, and you don't win any medals for fighting. He's a hero."

After his morning tai chi Ryan starts his day with a bowl of pho and an orange juice before he takes to the streets with one thing on his mind: “Those darn kickstands!”

As arranged we meet by Dien Bien Phu and Tran Phu, one of the busiest intersections in town, and one of his choice sentry points. Ryan, who cycled, is already in the middle of the road when I arrive. The bikes hurtle past, like a frenzied school of fish, quite an intimidating environment, but Ryan showing no concern for personal safety moves amongst the madness holding up signs to show certain individuals that their kickstands are down, and remind everyone else to check theirs.

“Look out there,” he growls in his husky Oregon voice, “each one is an accident waiting to happen. They’re like triggers on guns. Everyday thousands of innocent citizens, from housewives to students, crash because of it. The multitudes of masses have one thing in common: negligence on the road by forgetting to kick the stand up! And keep it up!”

Ryan and his striking young wife Lollio launched the “Kick the Habit” campaign this year promoting awareness with t-shirts distribution, posters and even a soon to be released pop song called –“I can’t stand it” sung by Ryan himself. (In the vein of James Brown he tells me.)

“We started like all great things," his wife beams as she speaks, "from nothing, but as sure as my name is Lollio Ryan, I know that from little acorns do grow big ol’ oak trees!”

Like many great enthusiasts their shared passion stems from a bitter personal experience. Several years ago after jogging to town the young married couple were sitting over a restorative fruit shake on Dien Bien Phu Street. While relaxing and watching the traffic they witnessed a horrific collision caused by a delivery boy with his kickstand down.

Ryan talks about the event in hushed tones. “For me,” he explains, “it was a metaphor for life: the tiniest of things could cause so much pain and destruction, like a cancerous cell, or Adolf Hitler. It's what I like to call the bad apple syndrome.”

Together they formed KRAP (Kickstand Related Accident Prevention) and drove around helping people, who they spotted with their kickstands down, bridging the linguistic gap with a simple animated point. Since then Lillio has even learnt the Vietnamese for “Hey! Your kickstands down!” (Anh/ Chi oi! Chan chong!)
“That’s way above my head,” chortles Ryan in embarrassed admiration for his wife, “but that’s Lollio for ya! She’s a one in a million!”

As his fight continues to reduce kickstand accidents (a figure which is sadly unknown) we asked him how we can help.
“First and foremost it’s about desire. The desire to see change. If your heart is up to that then I beseech you to take the streets in vigilance and help us stem the tide of this senseless waste of life.”

However Ryan heeds caution. When he began he was over eager and admits he has caused accidents by distracting people’s attention. (Cynics claim that Lollio's body hugging garish Lycra outfits are a sure cause of double takes by local men driving innocently to work.) There are plans to set up workshops to aid fellow vigilantes, but in the meantime it’s a delicate situation.
“It’s not as easy as running onto the road and shouting ‘Hey dude! Your god darn kick stand is down’. You could startle them, they may end up crashing into the kerb and that would be bad for the programme.”

So the rules, or hints for starters?
“Maintaining eye contact is not essential. There are two key targets: the stand and the driver. How you make it happen is up to you, be it a point, a heckle or holding up a sign. But I strongly condemn the use of inanimate third party tools such as hockey sticks or shepherd’s hooks. They are potentially fatal.”

I pressed a few locals on what their reaction was to an American man running around the streets. Although initially amused they have grown quite fond of him referring to him as the - "Tay bao ve" (the western guard)
"I like that one," Ryan says with a faint smile, "makes me feel like John Wayne."

The future for KRAP only seems to get better. With foreign funding pouring in and media exposure improving general awareness he has started to turn the heads of the powers that be. He already has a proposal ready for submission: a sign on every major artery coming in an out of the city: "KICK IT UP" or "CHAN CHONG OI!” David Beckham’s agents have also been contacted about a possible Southeast Asian Promotional tour – “Can I kick it?”

“But they’re just pipedreams,” Ryan says fondly gazing over the traffic cruising through the dusk, “right now they need me here on the streets; now they need me here more than ever perhaps. Today alone thousands of kickstand related accidents have been prevented, but tomorrow they’ll be down, ready to happen again.”

A hero’s work is never done, I suggest.
“Oh, don’t call me a hero,” he modestly grins, “maybe just a messenger of God.”

As the sun sets his day is over. Lollio is waiting in the gym for a work out. He embraces me, encourages me to spread the word and then takes off half-strolling, half-jogging through the traffic which converges around him then parts, like the red sea onto Moses.

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