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
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
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”.
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
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
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
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
“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
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”.