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Why Do They Call You Killer?

All Saints Day 2018

The question was simple and direct enough. The answer was not.

Sometime during the latter part of the 1980s, my co-worker and friend, a female engineer, had just returned from a meeting with hydrologic engineers and Con-Ops (Construction-Operations) personnel regarding reservoir operations during hydropower retrofit at a Corps of Engineers dam. I, the technical writer, would edit their report.

My immediate reply was: “Well, you know I’m from New Jersey.”

My friend did not see the humor in this statement.

Thus began an oral tale from my times: a run-in, a literal run-in, with the Speaker of the California Assembly, Willie Brown.

During my years of working at the Corps of Engineers, it was my routine during nice weather to bicycle to and from work. During that year of 1982, bicycling had become more a necessity than a choice since I did not own a car, or rather, I was between ex-cars. The cost of owning a car had become almost punitive.

Because I worked in downtown Sacramento, I lived in an apartment in mid-town Sacramento, long before residing in that part of town became trendy and desirable. Nowadays those streets are not even desirable to walk, during the daytime, and my memories from those years of privation and privacy have become somewhat quaint.

Shortly after I moved from Washington, D.C. to California in 1979, I bought a royal blue 3-speed bicycle from the now-defunct store, Montgomery Wards. The bike cost me $100, an amount that was not cheap during those years.

I loved that bike. It symbolized freedom to me. I peddled the thing without a brain-bucket all over Sacramento. For commuting-purposes, I bicycled about 20 blocks from my apartment to the Federal Building on Capital Mall. I was one of a group of bicyclist-commuters into work, but I was a short-distancer. All of the other bike-riders were engineers who cycled from as far away as 10 miles.

The afternoon trek home started at about 4:30, and it went from the parking lot of the Federal Building, down N Street, a one-way thoroughfare that ran along the back-side of the Capitol Building, toward the higher-numbered streets that led out-of-town. A two-way-stop-light ensured that traffic did not flow much, if ever, and we bicyclists were cautious when it came to that stoplight. One egress was from the underground parking garage of the politicians under the Dome.

It was late afternoon in spring 1982 when I led the pack of half a dozen male engineers down that route along N Street. I carefully approached the traffic light and, after it turned to green (GO), I bicycled into the cross-walk.

From out of nowhere, a Porsche drove from the underground parking garage and through the red light, hitting the rear tire of my beloved Montgomery Wards bicycle. I don’t remember falling down, but I do recall getting back up and ramming the front of my bicycle into the front of the Porsche that could not drive away because I was now planted in front of it.


I shouted that statement several times, each time ramming the front tire of my bicycle into the front fender of the Porsche.

A Capitol police officer rushed from his stationary patrol-hut and told me that I had to let this car pass.


I stared at the cop and then through the windshield of the shiny, new Porsche. The guy looked terrified. The guy was, I realized, Willie Brown.

The Capital cop once again asked me to move away so that the Speaker could proceed on his way.

“He hit my bike and he has to fix it.”

I was informed that if I did not move away from the front of the Porsche then I would be arrested. At that point, I looked around me and realized that traffic had been stooped in all directions. A fairly large crowd had gathered to watch this encounter of a very strange kind.

My fury was visible and palpable. I looked once again at the high-and-mighty Willie Brown. There he was, wide-eyed and scared stiff of a little blonde girl and her $100 Montgomery-Wards bicycle.

I believe that this signal event started my mental wheels turning toward the creation of NORTHSTAR. As Engineer Thomas Martel would state in my very first novel:

“They make the laws to protect themselves.”

And the Capitol cop was there to protect Willie Brown, not me or my Montgomery Wards bicycle that this politician had just run into with his overpriced Porsche.

I slowly took a few steps back, with my bicycle, away from the front of the Porsche. Mr. Willie Brown drove that Porsche away from me and my bicycle like a bat out of hell.

The six engineers applauded and then came to ask me if I needed any medical attention. I was fine. My knees were a bit scuffed up, but the back section and tire of my bicycle needed to be repaired.

From that day on, I was known among many engineers at the Sacramento District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as “Killer”. And from that day on, I’ve thought there was an eerie resemblance between Willie Brown and Vladimir Lenin.