As an ombuds, I think about communication even during my commute to work.
I am bicycling along on the way to the office, necktie flapping in the ocean air, smiling at the riders who commute in the other direction. I hear a bicycle bell behind me and recognize it as Roberto’s. I know immediately that he is 40 feet behind me because he has read 40 feet is a good distance to alert a cyclist you will soon pass. And, yep, I hear Roberto’s deep voice, “Good Morning to you, Don. Shall we stop up ahead?”
Absolutely. I always stop for Roberto. He is too safety conscious to ride side-by-side on the pathway and he also prefers eye contact when speaking. I know I will soon learn about whatever novel or science article Roberto is reading. His annual stack of carefully read books could fill half of any good-sized library. We are close to the beach, so we pull over to admire the view. The air is clear and we can see some container ships in the Santa Barbara channel.
What follows is five minutes of careful listening and comfortable conversation. I am surely going to have to ride fast in order to prepare for my first appointment, so we ride off together. When we come to the first stop sign, I roll through it because there are no bikes or cars around. I holler back to Roberto commenting on how much I love the new pavement on the path. But Roberto is not with me. I look back and note that he has made a complete stop. This is the way of Roberto, follower-to-the-letter of every single cycling rule. From complete stops, hand-signals, and absurdly bright lights and vests, Roberto is to cycling as Emily Post is to table manners. This man adheres to every rule. In fact, he is one of few in town who has earned the designation Licensed Cycling Instructor (LCI.)
Local cyclists, myself included, are not in the 100% rule following camp. There is also a cohort of bike riders who behave like pure outlaws earning blistering scorn from those who write to the daily paper and local blogs. Because of their bad behavior, cyclists are called derogatory names. Some suggest cyclists be banned from roads. There is even an advocacy group that tries to torpedo all proposed bicycle infrastructure. Meanwhile, Roberto is a proud ambassador for safety and caution visible by his bright clothing and tall imposing stature.
I know a few “Robertos” on campus and in town – rule experts, procedural wonks, aficionados of decorum and protocol. I admit, they can be a real challenge. Especially in meetings right before lunch and there’s a “Roberto” reminding the group that we need to hear every voice before voting on an item. Or when someone moves to approve the minutes of the last meeting and a “Roberto” steps in with a half dozen corrections. However, without those who closely follow a book of rules, any system could easily devolve into the equivalent of a selfish pack of reckless cyclists.
Rules are important. Cycling with my friend reminds me of this. In complex organizations, we need to be aware of procedures, especially those designed to assure input from all as well as those designed to uphold ethics and sound financial practices. There are also times when strict adherence to procedure doesn’t make sense. When there is a “Roberto” in a meeting who seems to be focusing on procedure over big picture, I remind myself of their great value during the times when they are needed the most.
Each bike path conversation with Roberto is of great value to me. He reminds me to appreciate my methodical colleagues and to do my best to also be an ambassador on the road. Roberto is a treasure in our cycling community and he is always on my mind as I fight the temptation to glide through a stop sign even when nobody seems to be watching.
Don Lubach, Associate Ombuds at UC Santa Barbara
When he is not forced to work from home during a pandemic, his commute to work is a four mile bicycle ride along the edge of North America.