It had, admittedly, been some time since I came back to writing publicly. Sitting on a bench in solitude, the air was hot and wet. I was trying to organize some writing prompts while locusts droned overhead, reinforcing the feeling of a sultry summer’s midday. Still, I felt a little rusty going into this meetup. Journey was the original ignition to get Penrose launched, but since then, I turned to an intensely personal writing project. Equal parts consuming and stagnating, I shifted gears again into photography. Trying to reduce the weight of self-imposed expectations, I wanted to find a sustainable rhythm with creative projects. The more I took on shoots, the more I felt there could be a merging of subjects and stories. Scanning the mental Rolodex of contacts, there was one person that piqued my interest, a blur and sentient figure soaring the streets of Richmond.
His name is Salad, and if you know him, you probably know what he’s about. Pop that shit up! I had the privilege to cross paths by way of MYLO’s deliberate mission to network communities in culture around town. When I met him, he carried stoicism in his disposition, and spoke in a few words with a deep voice and a calm demeanor. He was knee-deep in a video edit, and for those who know, it’s a space that’s extremely difficult to break from. Case in point, we wrapped up the shoot this afternoon, edits for the spread are done, and I’m two paragraphs into the write-up (and proceed to keep working on this post till 4 am, lololololsigh).
We would cross paths in parking lots, breweries, museums, and music video sets, but even with all that, I still didn’t feel I knew him. Although I’ve invested about a decade into my professional career, I still feel a guest or at best a journeyman in the world of creatives, enthusiasts, and urban pioneers. That being said, it didn’t feel out of reach to know someone like Salad. He never gave off an exclusive vibe, but carried a reserved demeanor and a relaxed spirit. To that end, I have a feeling we both can just be pretty introverted at times. That would be something though for someone as mellow as him to orchestrate hundreds of bicycle lovers to ride the streets of Richmond in concert like some sort of oracle to the streets. Except that’s exactly where I met him, leading an event I had never heard of, with the following I couldn’t get my head around. I still remember MYLO first telling me about their group’s deal, ‘you’re never going to believe this.’
So, when it came time to work on my next shoot, I wanted to use the opportunity to learn more about him. At this point, from the social media presence to randomly seeing him in the streets as I drove to and from work, he had become somewhat of a mythical creature in my orbit. He clearly was very much connected to something special, and I wanted to better understand that. What sparked my interest into the world of writing was seeing and feeling what people found passion in. Consider this entry a serendipitous jumpstart to those ends.
Like almost literally every other time I’ve seen this man, he appears in an almost ominous fashion. Despite being in the city, the auspiciously quiet setting amplified his own imminent presence. Gliding down the cobblestone alleyway, with an apparition-like silence, tethered to the earth by road and wheel. Barely a word or two uttered, but a partial handshake while he gripped an iced tea still gave a sincere kindness. I suggested Scuffletown for a few reasons, but it’s not the most hyped hangout in town, which gives the space a respectable level of seclusion without feeling isolated. Nestled in the museum district, boxed in by rows of apartments, you have a single path that divides a series of gardens ranging from community crops, green lawns, and native plant restoration projects, oblong concrete dividers, and one quirky fishy statue. A lone and well-aged cobblestone road lined with rustic benches sets the stage for this rendezvous. Salad actually laughed about the locale choice because it apparently had been a lightning rod of cynical humor for their idea of haunts in the area. But really, I think that showed a deeper affection for a hidden gem that hasn’t been overrun by IG stories and wine picnics. P.S., let’s try to keep it that way. I’m glad this blog hasn’t taken off, but if you’re reading this, respect the vibe.
We stopped quickly at the market across the street to cool off with some drinks. Baja Blast was the move; for those in the soda game, it’s really the only relevant Mountain Dew. He got an ice cream bar and another drink. It reminded me of the days when I used to go up to the Hi-Land Dairy in Youngstown to get a cherry coke and some candy. For me, those little things really help open the mood to allow for more open dialogue. I wanted to open up the sequence of events with a Q&A to better understand the person I was documenting in their element. Salad is a Richmond native who shared his history of skating and riding around most of his life. It wasn’t till after he graduated high school though that he would immerse himself into the scene and begin a path towards his heralded role in Richmond’s preeminent social movement. With Utmost taking off in Richmond, the skate scene was heating up, and that’s where he found attunement to his passions. This is still true, although now with fewer wheels. He explained that once he learned about fixed gear bikes, the operation had significant carryover from skate mechanics. Either go forward or backwards, but you have to keep moving. It requires constant attention, feeding ambition to the gods of skill to enable the ideal riding experience. Listening to the entire process, you could almost hear Lupe’s “Kick Push” playing in the background.
So then begged the inevitable question, why the wheelies? It’s part and parcel with the group’s brand. You see it in their posts; if you live in Richmond, odds are you’ve seen it more than once. It’s not a foreign concept that people with bikes, skates, or skateboards get into tricks. We all played Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 right? Why was this specific skill such a feature of the culture? “It’s hard to explain, but when you figure it out, time just stops.” And that answer put everything back into context. A moment where mind and body are operating as a single unit can stop everything else around you. This was an experience I could relate to from my filming experience. When I worked BTS for Journey or shot the actual vids, the whole world seemed to be put on hold. It’s remarkable, if not tragic, that it’s so hard for society these days to attain present form consistently. When we finally find something that offers a buffet of that experience, all you can eat is all you can eat.
What took Broad Street Bullies from a group of friends hanging out to the social phenomenon that it is today was around 2021. Yep, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but COVID gave people a lot of time to reflect. Combined with the confinement of lockdown, people generally yearned to get out more. BSB was at the right place at the right time to remedy these communal ailments. But like any densely popular sensation, it’s not without some degree of controversy. While the BSB Rideouts offer an overwhelmingly positive experience for the participants, there of course are detractors outside the unit who would contest this concept. You don’t have to look very far into RVA Reddit to see keyboard warriors trashing the group as a mild inconvenience to the flow of traffic. And then you can see first hand with cars honking and challenging riders at the intersections. Realistically, these are issues that will happen when several hundreds of people do something outside the norm. The system prefers conformity and where we lose that we seem to gain conflict.
This is something Salad is well aware of. As the de facto chaperone of the group, he takes the responsibility quite seriously in ensuring that the ride is as safe as possible. “It’s party pace, if you want to go faster you can, but we need to watch out for everyone in the group.” This means accountability on both ends of the engagement. He and the other core members will take posts at major intersections to supervise safe passage. That also means if riders are acting up and challenging drivers, they’ll also be checked for misconduct. My background being in health and safety inherently gives an appreciation for these factors. It’s a process in motion. No, it’s not a perfect system, it’s absolutely fluid. “I’m always anxious going into these things,” he spoke with vulnerability about the awareness of risk, and his concern for the fellow riders. It gave the sense that this was a responsibility he maintained at a high level even while trying to enjoy his own time on the road. And it’s easy to look at a scenario like this in risk factors calculated to 1’s and 0’s, I’m sure someone could create probabilities for the incident. But in an increasingly artificial world, something like this that is truly organic is worth figuring out. And it takes everyone to do that, it’s worth everyone to do that. Clear your mind and take a breath on this next paragraph.
I taught myself origami as a mindfulness technique to stay present with the moment, and create healthier relationships with thoughts and feelings. I folded a recently learned pterodactyl for Salad while we spoke about these very bare pieces of life. Because there’s a lot of work in the practice of keeping our peace. While it’s easy to get upset when traffic is stopped for a few minutes, undoubtedly that could disrupt time-sensitive planning. I would also challenge those waiting to consider their own relationship with urgency. We’re wound like clocks almost down to the minute, phones and smart watches buzzing us along to each and every occasion. Maybe this is not just a grievance to stew in, but an opportunity to just be present with yourself and the moment. That’s a glass half full and I’ve been historically cynical so I know the scoffs I’ll get from some who read these, but please try to dislodge the eyes from the back of your head and keep going.
Something special is happening here. I finally, after years of behest from Myles, came out on a rideout. My dad gifted me his old bike and I had finally conquered enough social anxiety to take the jump. When I was homeschooled, I was pretty understimulated day to day. Aside from video games and TV, I didn’t have many other interests. I did have a mountain bike though, and I would ride that thing around my neighborhood at least 3-4 times a day just to kill some amount of time. The feeling of finally going down a hill, letting your momentum carry you slowly then quickly, the wind wrapping around you. Those sensations aren’t just feelings, it triggers something deeper, especially when seated in adolescence. ‘I’ve literally had people tell me this is the most fun they’ve had since they were kids.’ Salad and I talked about how often we lose that part of ourselves. Well, really we just put the bike away and never take it back out, mentally speaking. We chain it up and tell ourselves at different ages what our enjoyment should look like. But we are all trees with our original rings inside. To only honor the outermost rings is to deprive and neglect the inner ones. Those in turn nourish the being so that we can continue to grow and strengthen our roots. Joy is an inherent part of thriving in an ecosystem, without it, we exist without a natural part of living.
I was supposed to ride with Myles the whole time, but almost instantly we were separated in the hundreds of cyclists. However stressful that might have been, it just wasn’t. I found myself slowly drifting down a river of unique and positive spirits. Some had traditional bikes, some were using speed bumps as ramps, some had refreshments, while others played music. It was just a giant rolling chill session, and everything else seemed to slow down for me. The anxiety, the self-consciousness, the intrusive thoughts, the negative internal feedback. Just as the wheels turned I think our being was meant to move on each level. And when your mind can take a break from the past or the present, and be with your body, more layers can begin to turn. And this is where you find your soul rotation. The innermost machinations resonate with the outermost treads, harmonizing into a moment of joy. That’s healing. That’s cleaning out the gears and getting light back into the dark places we’ve overprotected out of fear for more trauma. That’s why Salad figured out he could stop time.
Back at the shoot, we had progressed to doing some wheelies. It was important now, not from a clout standpoint, but the space it brought the subject to. Even in this slumbery back channel of the city, life had found its way. Salad knew people stopping by and still socialized with people he might not have. Some swung by to pick up freshly minted merch, another was a courier taking a quick respite between jobs. Carrie, who also seemed to be an OG rider, talked about the history of biking in Richmond, the cutthroats of old, versus the peaceful passionates of new. It gave you a sense of an unrefined history, stories that could be more widely told. Maybe if that were to happen, we’d all have a better understanding of each other. Maybe we could also learn this skill to stop time in our own way. Salad lamented on the amount of time it took him to hone his wheelie maneuvering, but since it has become an instinctive experience for him. “Sure if you can still get hurt, like you have to be paying attention and you can still get hurt,” he explained, negotiating roadways and how he’s continued to polish the technique. “Some of my friends picked that shit up real quick.” Peers learning from his doctrine would advance to his level in less than a year to his surprise. But it’s all love because it grows the hobby, and that positive relationship with the community. “It’s all for the kids,” he would reiterate, and we talk about that childlike wonder, and wonder where it went.
Fixed gear cycling of this caliber had its genesis out west, migrated to the east by way of NYC, and was ushered down to RVA by the maestro himself. “It’s crazy how much has changed, but you should really look and see where it came from.” I had honestly found myself more interested in where it was going next. Salad talked about the various opportunities that have spawned from the group. His documentary being a brainchild of improving their visibility, still editing as of this writing to tell the story properly. He talked about how he’s approached pretty often for those seeking hype or clout. Other times he’s approached by true creatives in the city, and that’s where he tries to grow the relationships. He talked about MYLO’s original approach and how unusual it was when they got the DM’s, until they realized he was just as free spirited and unorthodox as they were. “Here, look at this pottery company, they just messaged us the other day.” The business profile description read, “A ceramics studio focusing on community and collaboration.”
“That’s exactly what we’re doing, that’s what we want.” You could feel the excitement coming from someone even as level as him. He talked about partnering with breweries, artists, musicians, how VCU brought them in for a community development town hall. Salad is slowly trying to enterprise the system to create a platform for creatives of any discipline to interchange with creatives of any other discipline. A free-spirited free-market of talent, and an unbridled passion for broadening the horizons of the culture. Further to the point, he’s not just seeking out those who have summited their abilities, but empowering those still on the journey. He even took the time to speak kindly on why he took up this session. “I had a feeling where this was going and I wanted to help you grow your photography, videography, writing.” It helps everyone to help everyone. And hearing the support and confidence in a trade not backed by courses, degrees, or internships meant the world to know this could still matter to more than just myself. While the latter is the most essential, when you can connect with others on it, interbeing begins to radiate. As they reach the final stages of establishing an LLC, Salad hopes he can continue to build licensure to their group for promotional/marketing purposes which will create a stronger foothold in his strategy for the creative network.
Our last set of shoots, I wanted to really channel core elements of Salad’s power. We set the bike aside and sat in a small grass field surrounded by gardens. That’s it. It was the simplicity of grounding and the genuine interest in the world that brought a sense of peace to the scene. While the space was small, and far from anything exalted, it somehow still seemed hallowed. I asked him who Salad was without a bike. “Shit, I don’t even know,” and I think that’s fair. Sometimes we all have that clouded, distant sense of self without our constants, but the fact remains that what he’s doing brings him an abundance of joy. To become so in tune with the bike, playing it almost as if it were an instrument, in a moment of focus that bends the reality around you. And to do it in a way that not only generates positivity for himself, but for a vast community of diverse backgrounds. Kids, elderly, professors, athletic trainers, videographers, musicians, food artisans, pets, people. There’s an inherent good in bringing people together, putting the phones down, and just going with the flow.
Salad may not know yet who he is without the bike, but I think the answer radiates from his passions. That discreet smile tucked behind the shade of a crisp-brimmed hat gives you a pretty clear indication of his humility in happiness. And maybe that also means our best compass doesn’t always come with a mirror.