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One Year.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Michael R. Rabe
Michael R. Rabe as shot by Steve Balogh.

One year ago today Michael R. Rabe was killed in an accident on his bicycle.

Michael R. Rabe, as many of you know, was a key person in the local cycling community here in Dearborn, Michigan in the United States where we live. More importantly, as he was to a number of people, he was my best friend.

It is common practice to speak of dead people in glowing terms and I’ve never liked that. So I’ll tell it like it is.

Rabe was a bit of a weirdo. He was eccentric and reclusive and could be abrasive and abrupt. He had a propensity for talking loud in movies and often used shockingly graphic jargon at inopportune times.

He was honest to a fault, utterly trustworthy in a way you seldom even hear of except in some moral fable or the Bible. He was, in every way, the finest type of man and person. That is not an embellishment. It is fact. Ask any of his many friends. They will confirm both his eccentricities and his oddly saint like qualities as well as his child-like trust and honesty.

Michael R. Rabe had an encyclopedic knowledge of cycling, history, politics, naval warfare, geography, computers, the stock market and a number of other topics. His powers of concentration were so intense he could block out the entire world when thinking about something or working on a project.

Rabe had been a crewman on the USS William H. Bates, SSN-680, a Sturgeon Class nuclear powered submarine involved in the clandestine war on the Soviet Union. He never spoke about the specifics of what he did or where he went. This is what the Military Analysis Network has to say about Rabe’s sub and what it did:

“A total of six Sturgeon-class boats were modified to carry the SEAL Dry Deck Shelter [DDS], one in 1982 and five between 1988 and 1991. The are SSN 678-680 [Rabe’s boat], 682, 684, 686 are listed as "DDS Capable" -- either permanently fitted with the DDS or trained with them. In this configuration they are primarily tasked with the covert insertion of Special Forces troops from an attached Dry Deck Shelter (DDS). The Dry Deck Shelter is a submersible launch hanger with a hyperbaric chamber that attaches to the ship's Weapon Shipping Hatch. The DDS provides the most tactically practical means of SEAL delivery due to its size, capabilities, and location on the ship.”

So that, and a long list of vague but important looking commendations on Rabe’s wall at home from very high ranking Naval officers suggested he was involved in some pretty interesting things in the Navy.

In general though, Rabe was a quiet man, oddly content with his simple pastimes, interests and his devotion to work, friends and cycling. His regular job was as a software code writer for Unisys. He often spoke very highly of his boss and his co-workers. In particular Rabe had the highest regard for his boss, and said he was a fine man.

Michael R. Rabe was single and did not date. He once fell for a girl named Annette and, either intentionally or unintentionally, she hurt him so badly he said he could not ever date again. So he never did.

To Rabe, the world and life was a simple matter: You did what you were supposed to do, did what you enjoyed when you could and always told the truth.
The difference between him and everyone else was he actually lived that all the time. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a time when he didn’t.

As a result of that, I respected and adored Michael R. Rabe. He was my best friend and few people ever have a friend like him in their lives. In that respect, I am very fortunate to have been his friend.

He had such a graceful presence that sometimes you could barely tell he was there. Other times he was like a loud-mouthed bull in a china shop. But for all the zany times he said the wrong thing, very loudly, at exactly the wrong moment the times when he knew exactly what to say (or not say) made his abrupt indiscretions the stuff of good comedy.

Then he was killed.

On 2 May, 2003 on or about 21:37 hrs. local zone time A car driven by a 22 year old female under the influence of alcohol and marijuana driving on a suspended license in a car with defective equipment (faulty brakes and obstructed windshield) hit him from behind as he rode home from Bikesport, one year ago today. He died of his injuries at the scene. The extent of his injuries was so great that paramedics on the scene did not transport him to the hospital. They told me it was the first time they had ever done that.

Weeks later, as part of a forensic reenactment of the accident during the criminal investigation of Michael R. Rabe’s death I acted as Rabe on his bike. I rode a similar bike wearing the identical clothing. I rode the exact route he rode at the same time of his accident. Police investigators closed the street down and used the car that killed Rabe to drive at me in the dark while video-taping the reenactment. They were trying to determine how it happened.

Having ridden with Michael R. Rabe for 19 years I knew his riding habits well and did what I thought was a good reenactment of what he would have likely done on that night.

I also examined the crime scene photos taken at the scene of the accident.

Based on my examination (and this is only my opinion, not fact) Michael R. Rabe was not wearing a helmet when he died. He was wearing a helmet when he was hit, but the force of the initial impact and/or the secondary impact appeared to have dislodged the helmet from his head. When his head struck the pavement I maintain that his helmet had been ejected. In the crime scene photos his helmet was nowhere near his body. The extent of the injuries he sustained based on my examination of the photos was completely unsurvivable. If you have seen forensic photos of John F. Kennedy after his assassination I can tell you Rabe’s injuries were much worse.

Rabe was wearing a teardrop shaped, aerodynamic time trial helmet that night. True to his typically meticulous pre-race preparation he wore the helmet and rode his time trial bike that night to check all his equipment prior to the next morning’s race. The next day was the Willow Time Trial and he was competing. That Friday evening at around 8:30 PM he told me, “This is one of my most important races of the season.” Rabe had no idea he had just entered the final hour of his life.

After I commented on his aerodynamic helmet, of which he had accidentally ordered two identical helmets, I tried it on and buckled the chinstrap. It was tight. Rabe and I were nearly the same size and, with the exception of saddle height (our saddle heights were nearly a centimeter different) could swap equipment most times. His helmet was properly adjusted, as I would expect from a man who demonstrated attention to detail that was often compulsive.

That helmet is meant for time trial racing but not intended for everyday use according to the helmet’s owner’s manual. It was not equipped with the same anti-ejection device (such as the Giro Roc-Loc) most good helmets use now. He also had no lights or reflective equipment on his bike, and the lighting where he was killed was very poor. Add that to the willful, wanton misconduct of the driver and it turned into a lethal combination.

The reason I bring this up is there are still people in this area that ride regularly without a helmet, or with their chin strap unbuckled and tucked into their helmet. Between our circle of riding friends we have discussed this a lot. Their friends and wives have asked these characters to please wear their helmets. They don’t.

Because of two of them in particular Bikesport, Inc. was forced to withdraw their sponsorship of the cycling club they ride for. No helmets = no liability insurance coverage. Their selfishness and vanity cost their cycling club about $1000 in sponsorship cash.

My understanding is that they don’t wear their helmets because they want to look cool, like a European pro cyclist, or because they say their helmet is “uncomfortable”.

That’s bullshit.

My opinion is they look stupid without a helmet. They aren’t pro cyclists. They are recreational cyclists trying to pretend to be pro cyclists. What they fail to realize is that now there is a rule that pro cyclists have to wear helmets too. So these guys only look more stupid now. There is nothing more ridiculous than someone trying to look like something they aren’t. These guys aren’t pro cyclists; they never will be, so they look like idiots riding around with their helmets unbuckled or their bare heads showing in their little Euro-beanies.

Guys, you just need to put your helmets on once and for all. You won’t look so ridiculous if you do.

Another reason I want them to put their helmets on (and yes, I have had this candid, frank conversation with them in person- but I am not their Dad or their boss and they are adults) is I don’t want to clean up their mess or sit through their funeral. I did that last year with Rabe, and it sucked.

When Rabe was killed the paramedics did a rotten job of cleaning up the accident scene so I took two-gallon jugs of water, a trash bag and my window scraper and cleaned it up myself. I have much better things to do than scrape my buddy’s brains off the road, and I don’t particularly cherish the memory of that either.

Michael R. Rabe lived in a house by himself but not alone. Along with myself, Dave Koesel, Mark Trzeciak, Mike and Jena Aderhold, Dale and Christine Hughes and the rest of the crew here at Bikesport as well as Mike’s many cycling and work friends we were family. Not in that bullshit, “Oprah, Dr. Phil” kind of way, but in that real way when you call any one of those people at 3:30 AM and say “I have a serious personal problem” and they would immediately ask, “What can I do to help?” Rabe celebrated family holidays at Chris and Dale Hughes’ house and went on for weeks about the great food, the conversations, etc., etc. He loved that.

He also had a little white cat named Pico (after the Jerky Boys skit). The cat was a stray that Rabe took in. I cared for Pico when Rabe was away on cycling trips. Pico did not like my cats or me so her visits were always filled with plenty of hissing, scratching and catfights as well as Rabe’s cat pooping pretty much everywhere in my basement except the litter box. I don’t miss that damn cat. Rabe had it brainwashed.

The night of Rabe’s accident he became a “John Doe” since he had no I.D. on him when he was killed. The local news reported that a “mountain biker” had been hit and killed on Warren road. Someone told me they saw a live telecast from a hovering news helicopter showing a bicycle on the pavement at the crime scene. As of 11 PM, 23:00 hrs on Friday night there was no indication anything was wrong.

The following morning I got a phone call from long time local cyclist Ray Dybowski. It was about 8:30 AM if I recall correctly. Ray was at the Willow time trial. Rabe was not. That morning Michael R. Rabe was supposed to have picked up junior sensation Colin “Calvin” McMahon at Calvin’s house to take him to the time trial. When Rabe did not show at Calvin’s house, Calvin’s Mom took him to the time trial. Ray Dybowski had heard about the fatal cycling accident the night before. He was concerned there might be a connection.

It was less than a half mile from Rabe’s house.

I clearly remember what happened next. I hung up the phone with Ray after delivering some typical hyperbole about there being “No indication at that time that Rabe had been involved”. The same kind of bullshit an airline pilot delivers over the P.A. when he knows there is a serious problem but doesn’t want to cause panic.

Then I walked in the office, knelt at my chair and said, “Please God, don’t take him away. It isn’t fair… Not him.” I remember that as though it was five minutes ago. I don’t go to church and don’t make a common practice of kneeling down and praying, but I did that morning. Then I realized my friend was dead and it was time to be a good soldier and keep moving. I phoned a friend of ours, Chip Kulikowski, who is a Dearborn Police Officer. I told him the story and asked if he could find out more information. He phoned the Dearborn Heights Police and they said they were not releasing any information about the victim until positive identification was made.

Then I opened the bike shop and sold some bikes.

At about 12:30 PM on that busy day in the bike shop a polite police officer from Dearborn Heights phoned to tell me the victim had been identified as Michael R. Rabe. Chip phoned five minutes latter and confirmed the information.

I hung up the phone and went back to waiting on customers. What else could I do? It was nice out. People wanted their bikes.

In the weeks and months that followed I don’t know how I dealt with Rabe’s death. Not very well I suppose. My friends helped tremendously, and that is an understatement. Mike and Jena Aderhold, Kim Ross, Mark Trzeciak and Susan Johnson were all there when I needed them, and I needed them bad.

I recall speaking at Rabe’s funeral and that it was packed. I have no recollection of what I said. It was odd. All my friends except Rabe were there. There was a waxy looking mannequin in a casket in front of the podium I was standing at. It looked nothing at all like Rabe. I recall it looked a lot like Mr. Rodgers. The people at the funeral looked at me funny when I was up there speaking, as though I had something hanging out of my nose. Frankie Andreu was in the front row and he had the oddest expression on his face. Like everybody else, he kept looking at me. Everybody was silent while I talked. I can also clearly recall that, when the Navy honor guard handed Rabe’s flag to his sister and saluted, I saluted too out of reflex. I wasn’t wearing a uniform and hadn’t been in the military for years. It was a reflex. I did it before I even knew I was doing it, in perfect unison with the honor guard. The Captain of the Guard was wearing white gloves. He held Rabe’s flag gently, one gloved hand on the top and one on the bottom as if to emphasize its value and frailty and cleanliness. The Guard presented it to his sister, and quietly said the words they say:

“On behalf of a grateful nation…”

There was a party or reception or wake or whatever you call it after the funeral and I tried to go but I was alone and pretty upset. I couldn’t find my way there. I tried, but I couldn’t see very well and realized I had no business on the road. I pulled into a gas station parking lot for while and just sat there. When I could see well enough to drive I went home.

And that was it.

I miss Michael R. Rabe, even more than I thought I would. One thing I don’t regret is that I never did miss a chance to tell him what a fine guy and good friend he was. That usually made him uncomfortable, but he got the message. So that was good at least for my own conscience.

I spent more time with Michael R. Rabe than any other person. We worked together, ate together and rode together. There was some kind of weird understanding between us. He was utterly familiar with my many shortcomings as a person and entirely accepting of them. He also knew my few and unusual strengths. Mike was an unconditional friend at all hours of the night or day no matter what an ass or idiot I was, and he was utterly honest about telling me when I was. That kind of a friend is very valuable. I knew to listen to him, he was usually right about things. Sometimes he wasn’t, but that’s because he was human. But most of the time he was right.

Everybody has lost somebody in his or her lives. It is part of life. You lose a child or a sibling or a parent, and it is terribly painful. I know my experience is not unique or especially awful in the grand scheme of things. It happens every second of every day. So I have no right to be…whatever it is I am: Mad, depressed, whatever. Shit happens. Get over it. I know.

Thing is, I wasn’t very well prepared for this accident. I should have been, but I wasn’t. I had lost friends before, but it was in a context where loss was expected. I was prepared for that. Come to think of it, that sucked too, but somehow not this bad. Rabe wasn’t supposed to be killed.

Now I think I am better equipped to handle a loss like this. You learn from experience. But I’ll tell you, I was a beginner at this, and I wasn’t very skilled at it. And this is a lesson I could have easily done without. For those of you who have done a better job coping with the loss of someone close- I admire your strength and wisdom. You’re smarter and stronger than I was.

In the wake of this there has been some good things. Our friends are even closer now. Rabe was one of those people who kind of glued groups together. He organized rides and posted them on the Internet, did all that kind of thing. In the wake of that we have kind of picked up the ball that fell when he died. It is pretty low key though. Mike Aderhold and I ride together frequently. I talk to Mark Trzeciak and Mike Aderhold, both fine men if ever there was one, much more frequently and we eat out once in a while at the Coney Island place or the Arabic place or the Mexican restaurant.

In the wake of Rabe’s death the people who emerged as incredibly important to me were Mike and Jena Aderhold, Mark Trzeciak and my friends Kim Ross and Susan Trainor-Johnson and her husband Kyle among others.

Some new, close friendships have been forged and they are nice, but they are what they are: Scar tissue. They are the bonds that form when something is torn apart. They are good in and of themselves but they also serve to remind me that Michael R. Rabe is gone. I hate being reminded of that. To this day around 7:00 PM when I hear someone walk in the front door with cleated cycling shoes I think of Rabe, that is about the same time he showed up every day of the week.

I don’t know where to “file” Michael R. Rabe’s accident. A number of my readers who are Christians have been kind enough to try to frame this in a religious context and they have a very defined explanation for every aspect of this. I sincerely appreciate that. They have been very, very kind.

I have my own beliefs though and they don’t entirely account for all of this. So that has caused me to take a more detailed look at what it is I believe, and that has been a good thing I guess. But it doesn’t explain it. Because there is no explanation. Accidents happen and we must do the best we can to come to grips with the consequences given the strengths and weaknesses we have. At least that’s what I think.

This last year has been, well, weird. A lot of time I float around the world in a bit of a daze. One day I’m in Bangkok, the next day Tokyo, the next month Curacao and then New Zealand and as soon as I get back from New Zealand I am off to Hawaii. In those places I can go hours without thinking about it, but only hours. Travel is effective morphine for me, and luckily it is a big world. So I am going to keep moving until more of this has worn off. Austria, Costa Rica, China, Mongolia…. They are all on the agenda.

Some people think time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. It only makes some of them worse. They fester and swell with pain like a bad infection. I notice that sometimes my friends look at me a little funny, and I figure they can see that infection in me. “There’s Tom” they probably think, “He got the shit kicked out of him when his friend Michael R. Rabe died.”

Well, to the surprise of some, I’m still here. Travelling has helped me re-connect with the things I love the most and exposed me to some of the most beautiful things the world has to offer. Those things are certainly not lost on me. I meet new and interesting people every day here at work and all over the world. Spring is here and we have gotten some great rides in already and then sat in front of the bagel place across the street in the morning drinking coffee and talking about what we are all doing this summer on our bikes. The store has taken on a new look with a lot of hard work by Mike Aderhold and his brother, Mike O’Donnell, Mark Trzeciak, Calvin McMahon, Greg Isenhour and Lindsay Brandon. The place has never looked better.

At Ironman, when the race was hard, I thought of Michael R. Rabe and what he would say: “You got yourself into this jackass….Heh, heh, heh. You better finish it toughguy! Look, you have auto-hair. Auto be on a horse’s ass! Heh- HEEH!!”

So it is one year later. Things are better now than they were then. I look back on that time and remember an odd haze of pain and numbness.

I do remember that life has gone on, and that many people pulled together to hold each other up when Michael R. Rabe died. We are all better, closer friends for it. I’ve heard that tragedy brings out the true character of a person and now I know that is absolutely true.

Also, I figure this is pretty much what Michael R. Rabe would have wanted us to do. However, I know he wouldn’t have been comfortable with me writing about all this.

So I’ll stop.

“I will see you again my friend, but not yet…. Not yet.” Juba, from the movie “Gladiator”.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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