Rage and revenge, then dialogue and understanding

Kiel Johnson (L) and Mark Holzmann.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Last Thursday, local advocate Kiel Johnson and I met with Mark Holzmann. Yes, the same Mark Holzmann who made headlines a week prior for his role in a sordid tale about road rage and revenge.

In an opinion piece published by The Oregonian, on his Facebook page, and on local TV news, Mark said he was victimized by a man on a bike who yelled at him and pounded on his car after the two were involved in a close-call near the Moda Center on October 22nd. Then a few days later Mark said he woke up and realized all four tires of his car had been slashed and someone had left a spooky and threatening note on his windshield.

Unfortunately that’s the full extent of the story most people heard. As such, it probably only served to perpetuate existing biases people have about each other.

But it’s what happened after the initial news cycle that I think is worth remembering about this story.

When I first heard about what happened to Mark, I was sad. I figured the narrative it would promote would only entrench people further into their worldview — the exact opposite of what we need in the country right now. It turns out I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what has happened since our story was posted on October 25th.

The first sign of hope was that Holzmann began posting in our comment section. I’ll often encourage news subjects and writers to participate in the comments because it can give much-needed depth and improve the dialogue around stories. But Mark started commenting before I even mentioned it to him. And he commented well. He was open-minded, tactful, and even a bit humorous with his replies. He entered “The belly of the beast” (which is how he referred to it at our meeting last week) and came out unscathed.

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“The silver lining for me, this motorist, has been a heightened awareness of safety and regards to rules and regulations of the Portland roadways in general.”
— Mark Holzmann

The next twist in the story was that Kiel Johnson started a GoFundMe campaign to reimburse Mark for the damage to his tires. Kiel, who owns the bike valet and bike shop under the Aerial Tram, is known for his thoughtful and creative bicycle activism. From earning national attention for his work on school bike trains to organizing around SW Barbur Blvd and the human protected Better Naito event, and his most recent effort to spur dialogue around the Lloyd-to-Woodlawn greenway project

Last week Kiel asked me to put him in touch with Mark so he could buy him a beer and give him the $190 he had raised. Mark suggested I join and I jumped at the chance.

We met near the scene of the crime at Dr. Jack’s on the Moda Center campus.

We had a great time and chatted for well over an hour. Kiel and I laughed when Mark said he, on a whim, jumped on an e-scooter for the first time to retrieve his car from the tire store (he loved it!).

We spent most the time talking about our lives and experiences, without a focus on the issue that brought us together. When we did focus on that, we talked a lot about the power of perspective. I did my best to share with Mark an explanation — and my concerns — about the way people reacted to his story. Kiel and Mark discussed what to do with the money. Mark said he wanted to donate it to a group that educates drivers about how to more aware of bicycle riders.

The thing Mark said I’ll remember most is how much this experience has broadened his understanding of cycling and people who ride in Portland.

Mark has updated his Facebook page to share our meeting with his friends (some of whom shared unkind feelings about bike riders upon hearing the initial story). “The silver lining for me, this motorist, has been a heightened awareness of safety and regards to rules and regulations of the Portland roadways in general,” he wrote, “I’ve made some great new friends in Jonathan and Kiel and who knows maybe I’ll be convinced to ride my bike to work a few times this next year!”

In a perfect world, a meeting like this would be the norm, not the exception. Or better yet, it wouldn’t have to happen at all. But since our world is far from perfect, I hope we’ve learned something from this episode. It’s a good reminder that the way things begin is often beyond our control; but how they end can be entirely up to us.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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