This is how the “Shit and Ice Cream”
theory works, and pay attention because this is a valuable
life lesson. I had to learn it the hard way this year.
I could have had the short version from some wise people
in the government and the military in the 80’s,
but I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Now
I am a master of the “Shit and Ice Cream”
You have a bowl of ice cream, vanilla let’s
say for visual impact. It is all white and perfect and
pristine. It’s been a hot day and finally you get
a chance to sit down and have this great big bowl of awesome
ice cream. Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond is my favorite.
So you are ready to sit down and eat this
great ice cream when suddenly you notice this awful smelling
matter in your bowl with your ice cream. A cursory examination
confirms your worst fear: There is a turd in your ice
Now, let’s ponder the philosophical
ramifications of this situation: The ice cream does not
compromise the turd one iota. It is still the nasty, smelly
turd fulfilling its role as waste product removing all
that is toxic and unusable from the donor’s digestive
The ice cream hasn’t ruined the turd,
but the turd sure ruined the ice cream.
There isn’t anything in the world
that would make that ice cream consumable now. So the
whole thing, bowl and all go into the trash and you start
fresh with a new bowl and fresh ice cream. And you keep
an eye out for the person who put that fowl thing in your
ice cream to begin with. A joke’s a joke, but pooh
in your Haagen-Dazs is, well, below the belt. Way below.
That was 2003. No matter how much ice cream
there was, the turds still ruined it. And a turd is a
turd. It never changes.
There were some bright moments in 2003,
a few, I keep telling myself, but they were grossly overshadowed
by the unfortunate events. No amount of ice cream in 2003
could fix the unfortunate events, the “turds”.
The bad ruins the good, but the good can’t pull
back the bad. Not in 2003. You just throw the whole thing
out and start fresh in 2004.
The biggest turd in the ice cream in 2003
was the death of Michael R. Rabe. For those of you who
did not have the pleasure of knowing Michael R. Rabe (Michael
R. Rabe for short or to his friends) he was a good cyclist,
great coach, selfless contributor to the sport and a loyal
friend to everyone here at Bikesport.
Many times I had to remind myself I was
not the only one who lost Michael R. Rabe. He was a friend
to everyone at Bikesport. But he was like a brother and
a father to me. Very few days went by when I did not spend
time with him. Most days we were together for hours working
on a project, eating, riding or just doing our own work
independently here in the store. I spent more time with
Michael R. Rabe than any other human being in my life.
He knew me better than any person ever has. We trusted
each other completely; we knew each other’s strengths
and weaknesses. Just two weeks before his death I told
someone, “I don’t know what I would do without
him.” On May 2nd at 9:37 P.M. I would have to learn.
I am told you never recover from a loss
like that, and I believe it. I am also told that a loss
like that causes all other loses you’ve experienced
in your life to re-surface, hooking them together in a
long chain of all the shit you’ve ever had in your
ice cream from the first time you can remember. It ruins
your ice cream, so you have to get another bowl.
Another turd in the ice cream bowl was a
lawsuit we were fighting for over two years involving
a woman seriously injured on a test ride. The lawsuit
was a major problem for these years as I went to depositions,
answered letters and e-mails from both attorneys and went
through a number of attorneys appointed by our insurance
company. We’re talking about a million dollars here.
Now, realistically, I wasn’t going to cut the check
for that if we lost. Our liability insurance covers that.
But the allegation was that we were somehow negligent,
and I took that as a personal affront to my business and
We were not negligent. I wanted the jury
to find that in a court of law. Also, insurance companies
don’t like to cut million dollar settlement checks,
and they have a way of canceling you after that happens.
Then, when you go to find other insurance, the companies
say, “Aren’t you the million dollar settlement
guy from that test ride thing? Sorry, we can’t insure
you.” No insurance = no business. So this was a
serious turd in the ice cream.
During the low point of the year for me,
the second or third week of July, I get a call from (another)
new attorney appointed by our insurance company. He tells
me, on Sunday, “We are beginning the trial downtown
tomorrow. Be there at 9:00 A.M. for the beginning of jury
selection, which should take a day or two.”
I said, “Ah, I am going through some personal stuff,
I’m not quite myself, any way we can get this postponed?”
We go before the judge and my attorney tries
to get a new date for the trial. When he tells the judge
why the attorney for the plaintiff smells blood in the
water. He knows there is wounded prey ready for an easy
kill- me. He maneuvers and argues and pleads that the
trial goes on as scheduled. The judge agrees.
I’m a wounded man treading water and
the sharks are circling. I’m holding a bowl of ice
cream with a turd in it.
The attorney appointed to me by our insurance
company was a man named Russ Porritt. He was an impressive
man; A hero as far as I am concerned. In fairness, the
plaintiff’s attorney was good too- every bit the
shark out for every last drop of blood. That’s what
a plaintiff’s attorney is supposed to do. But Russ
Porritt was better.
He took one look at me and walked me out
into the hall of the court building, downtown Detroit
on the 14th floor, he told me:
“I’ve done some research on you and understand
you have some special training. You need to use that training
now. I also understand you’ve had a number of serious
personal problems over the past five weeks. In spite of
what you’ve been through I need you to pull your
head out of your ass in the courtroom and be the guy I’ve
read about. The plaintiff’s attorney knows you are
on the mat, backed into a corner. He knows your friend
died, he knows the other things that have happened in
your life. He will exploit that. He is going to call your
own friends as witnesses against you. He is going to delve
into your personal life to humiliate you and break you
emotionally in front of the jury. He wants to convince
the jury you are weak and incompetent. From what I have
read about you, you aren’t. So I need you to prove
it. We all go through these losses in life, just not all
at once, in six weeks, like you have. But you have the
ability to deal with this. Most people don’t. Prove
That was all Russ Portiss had to say. Over
the next few days Russ Portiss and I poured over the details
of the case. We sat through hours of video testimony and
reviewed depositions. I got a whirlwind education in comparative
negligence law. It was fascinating, in the way an artillery
barrage is fascinating when you are on the receiving end.
It was an ugly trial. Every element of courtroom
drama was there: The tears, the betrayal, the half-truths,
the endless exhibits of evidence, the charts, graphs,
enlarged photos and gruesome medical testimony. And a
friend of mine did take the stand against me, subpoenaed
by the plaintiff’s attorney. But he is a man of
honor, and he told the truth. And like a motto I have
heard many times goes, “You shall know the truth,
and the truth shall set you free.” So when he did
tell the truth it only made our case look stronger, and
theirs weaker. And he became a better friend.
After over a week long trial the jury (some
of whom slept during lengthy expert video testimony from
the plaintiff’s expert medical witnesses) determined
that the preponderance of negligence was not ours. We
did get a slap on the wrist for “Not warning the
plaintiff adequately about the dangers of riding a bicycle
in an environment where they may encounter traffic.”
A car crossing the sidewalk caused the woman to brake
suddenly and go over the handlebars. She sustained serious
facial and dental injuries when she landed directly on
her chin. We were also warned for “Not requiring
the plaintiff to read the entire bicycle owner’s
manual prior to the test ride.” But the jury found
we had exercised reasonable and customary caution, and
that is what mattered.
Russ Portiss was almost the new bowl of
ice cream we needed to erase the turd of dealing with
this lawsuit, but no where near enough ice cream to erase
losing Michael R. Rabe.
Another turd in the ice cream happened to
everyone back on September 11, 2001 when the Pentagon
and the World Trade Center were attacked. Then the stock
market crashed. Then people got scared. For the first
time in America since December 7, 1941, Americans were
scared on their own soil. One thing Americans do when
they are scarred is sit on their wallets. People stopped
We all felt September 11, 2001 to a greater
or lesser degree. In small retail it was greater. The
years of 2002 and 2003 were rotten years in the bike industry,
and almost every other retail sector as well. Bicycle
Retailer and Industry News magazine recently reported
that sales in every bicycle category were down for 2003
except one: Road bikes. Luckily for us, road bikes are
what we do, and we continued to do them. It wasn’t
like 1999, 2000 and the first eight months of 2001 when
it seemed like we were printing money. Bikesport has been
very successful since the first day we turned the key
in the door eleven years ago, so I wasn’t used to
having two rotten years in a row. Our triathlon and road
business was through the roof, but try to sell a mountain
bike, kid’s bike or other “normal” bike.
It wasn’t happening like before. And I’d be
lying if I said we didn’t feel it. It was another
turd in the ice cream.
The bike industry was so bad in 2002 and
2003 that one major bicycle company declared bankruptcy
and at least five bicycle retail stores in Southeastern
Michigan, possibly more, went out of business. Many more
downsized substantially. We survived. We actually squeaked
out a little growth in there too, but it was expensive
Worldcom, United Airlines, K-Mart, Enron
and a host of other companies didn’t survive the
post 9/11 economy, but we did. I owe all of that to our
customers and my employees, the best crew we have ever
had. Had it not been for good customers and great employees
we would be gone. We also got a lot of help from some
fine industry insiders like Dave Koesel of Felt, Jason
Edinger of Cannondale (who helped Cannondale come back
from their bankruptcy stronger than they were before they
entered it – as I write this, we are building some
beautiful new 2004 Cannondale tri bikes.). Unfortunately,
Jason lost his father on December 20 of this year. A turd
in his ice cream also.
So what do you do when you find pooh in
your Haagen-Dazs? Well, it’s like I said; you throw
it out bowl and all, and start with a fresh bowl and fresh
ice cream. The biggest mistake you can make is trying
to save the ice cream. Don’t do that, it’s
ruined. And there is no point trying to change the turd,
no matter how much ice cream you pile on it, it won’t
change. Once a turd, always a turd. No amount of ice cream
will change it. And no one wants ice cream with a turd
The turd ruins the ice cream, but the ice cream doesn’t
affect the turd, and it never will. Throw the whole thing
There is a great Arabic saying: “el-Gillah
asbah karamellah?” or, “Did the sheep turd
turn to caramel?” The “Shit and Ice Cream”
theory is universal.
So good riddance 2003. And Happy New Year
I have always liked New Year’s; it
is one of my favorite holidays. A day of hope for the
future and reverence for the past. Also a good day to
remember the lessons we’ve all learned at such an
incredible cost. May we all be wise enough to learn them
well, use them and never forget them.
Looking back on 2003 the things I revere
most are the friends that helped when things were bad.
When the chips are down you learn who your friends are,
and also who they aren’t. I got a lesson in 2003.
People came out of the woodwork to help.
They extended kindness, understanding and patience to
a degree I have never experienced or expected. There were
so many people who were so kind to me in 2003 I can’t
list them all, and that was the best thing about 2003.
As I sit here thinking about it, I still can’t believe
some of the wonderful, kind, thoughtful and selfless things
people did for me. Some of the people I know well, others
were total strangers. While some of what happened in 2003
destroyed my faith in human nature, the kindness of people
I know and don’t know restored it and then some.
Some people I never met did amazing things for me. The
Vice President of a major investment company was kind
enough to take the time to send us a video of the 2003
Ironman. Another man I had never met read my editorial
on the 100th anniversary of flight and sent me a fascinating
Swallow Ornithopter kit. It makes a beautiful little airplane
that flies on wings made of tissue. People sent e-mails
and cards, it was quite incredible.
The momentum for a good 2004 began building
in late 2003. Business returned to its normal, prosperous
clip. New business showed up. Old problems died and went
away. New hope has been born. Toward the end of 2003 I
couldn’t wait for the sun to set on this awful year,
and the sun to rise on 2004. I was looking forward to
a new bowl of ice cream.
I was sitting on the beach in Phuket, Thailand
about three weeks ago. It was my last night in Thailand
and I was having dinner on the beach as the sun set a
brilliant, flaming sunset into the Andaman Sea. It is
a majestic and incendiary spectacle, sunset on the Andaman.
The waiter approached my table and asked
me if I wanted tea. “Yes please.” I told him,
“And a bowl of that fruity ice cream stuff also
“Very good,” He said. “It
is a beautiful sunset here, isn’t it?” he
“Yes it is, “ I told him, “But
I prefer sunrises.” And also a fresh bowl of ice
Happy New Year.
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