Bode's bumpy trail (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday May 15, 2007 4:53PM; Updated: Tuesday May 15, 2007 6:09PM
(A disclaimer here. I don't purport to understand Miller. I have interviewed him dozens of times and found him variously cerebral, petulant, hilarious, immature, prescient, fascinating, obnoxious and probably at least 10 other adjectives. I have defended him in print and criticized him as well, never certain if I was on the mark. But I will say this: Few mainstream journalists have recorded more of Miller's words, confounding though they may be.)
For nine months, beginning the spring of 2005 and into the early winter of 2006, I trailed Miller through the tumultuous preparations for his ill-fated 2006 Olympic Games. We met numerous times in venues from New York to Colorado to Switzerland, but never more tellingly than on one cold, overcast day in Franconia.
On that occasion Miller was filming a series of commercials for Nike, which had signed him to a lucrative endorsement contract.
Miller used his lunch break that day to drive to the courthouse in nearby Littleton for the purpose of contesting a speeding ticket written by McKay on Sept. 14. McKay had clocked Miller traveling 83 miles per hour in a 40-mile-an-hour zone on the same highway -- Route 116 -- where McKay and Kenney would die.
I stood outside the courtroom doors that afternoon with Miller, Taub, Ken Sowles (Miller's ski-industry agent) and Miller's then-girlfriend. McKay was waiting, too. Sowles, an attorney, asked McKay what the procedure would be and McKay, who also served as the town's prosecutor, explained. Then McKay turned to Miller and said, "It's on radar and videotape, son; just pay the fine and get on with your life." He turned back to Sowles and said, "This is a waste of his time and a waste of my time.''
(In a column I wrote later for SI.com, I said, "It was a scene straight out of Macon County Line," referencing a quintessential '70s B movie in which Max Baer Jr. plays a hardass southern sheriff. I regret that line, now. The movie ended with bloodshed, as did McKay's life).
Miller didn't remotely consider backing off that day and simply paying the $500 fine. He went into court and what ensued was positively surreal.
McKay -- arresting officer and prosecutor -- presented his case with video evidence that Miller was, indeed, driving 83 miles per hour.
Miller then testified on his own behalf, a multimillionaire ski star four months shy of the Olympic Games, sitting in the witness chair in a small-town courtroom. Why? "To try to get my fine reduced and to antagonize McKay," Miller told the judge. "Officer McKay has had a vendetta against me.'' (McKay denied this, under oath, and seemed bored doing it, like he had heard it one too many times before).
If the scene was bizarre in a larger context -- ski champion fighting local cop -- it made perfect sense in the moment. Miller is a stubborn, independent, small-town guy from a long line of stubborn, independent, small-town guys, steeled by their mere survival. The lone-wolf streak that both fueled Miller's success as a skier and ultimately led to his separation from the team is part of the same psyche that makes a rich man fight to get a speeding fine reduced on principle alone.
More than once I sat with Miller and his New Hampshire buddies as they railed against the local cops whom they said were making their lives miserable, busting up their parties and stalking them on the highways. I have no idea if their complaints were genuine. Their anger clearly was. (It was not altogether unfamiliar to me; I grew up in a small town where every teenager knew every policeman).
Miller ended up in the courtroom that day getting his fine reduced from $500 to $250, without explanation from the judge. Then he went down the street and ate toasted grinders at the Gold Room, a little restaurant on the main drag in Littleton.
What does this have to do with Liko Kenney's death? I believe Bode's mother, Jo, introduced me to Liko on one of my trips to New Hampshire, but I'm not sure. I met a lot of people up there -- friends and family of various generations. All were interesting, passionate people. Most of them viewed life a little sideways, and that seemed fine, as well. Until last weekend.
I won't purport to guess at what precipitates one man to spray mace in another's face over a traffic stop or that man to allegedly kill him in response. These actions are far beyond the scope of my reasoning, except to describe them as almost "inevitable'' seems terribly disturbing.
This is what I cannot shake from the weekend: The stories out of New Hampshire describe Liko as a free-spirited young man who could not help but resist authority. Take away the ungodly talent on skis, and that's Bode Miller.