For years, Egee Mabolis has kept a very fragile peace in the ever-congested Silver Lake Trader Joe's parking lot. In his trademark blue uniform and white safari hat, the 29-year-old Filipino immigrant has become a neighborhood icon, lauded by a co-worker as "the hardest-working man in Silver Lake."
But a horrific bicycle crash several days ago left Mabolis in L.A. County/USC Medical Center with a broken neck. He is in stable condition but has a long and difficult road of recovery ahead.
The seventh annual "Ride With No Name" began Friday night, Nov. 20, at 9 p.m. in the Arts District. Mabolis and a couple of Trader Joe's crew members (Trader Joe's employees are referred to as crew members, and the manager is called the captain, because everything's like a ship metaphor), including Rick Melendez, were among a couple hundred participating bicyclists.
Melendez saw the whole thing happen. It was a little after 11 p.m. and Melendez was riding ahead of the pack, through Lincoln Park. Melendez stopped and looked around for Mabolis and their other crew member. He saw Mabolis zip by him.
"He tried to slow down," a shaken Melendez recalls. "I saw his bike sort of wiggle. Then, out of nowhere, he just shot straight up into the air. It was horrible. As he was coming down, his feet were straight up. It was like holding a rag doll from its feet and letting go. He landed on his head."
Melendez stopped and ran over to Mabolis, who was lying on the ground nearly in a fetal position. Other cyclists formed a protective crowd around him and waited for paramedics.
"Egee, are you OK?" Melendez asked.
"I’m good, buddy," Mabolis replied. "I’m good."
There was no blood – he looked fine, at first. But when one of the riders held Mabolis' hand and asked if he could feel it, Mabolis said no. The rider was squeezing Mabolis' hand.
Mabolis was taken to County/USC Medical Center. At first, he had no feeling and was almost completely paralyzed.
Melendez learned what caused the crash: When Mabolis tried to brake, his bike's fork, which holds the front wheel in place, bent backward, as if it had been hit by a car. His front wheel then locked against the frame, causing the back of the bicycle to flip up, launching Mabolis into the air.
Mabolis had spinal surgery and now is able to move his feet and wiggle his fingers, but still can't lift his arms or sit up on his own. His friends say he eventually will walk again, but his rehab will take years. He is, however, in remarkably good spirits.
"He’s just very upbeat," Melendez says. "He told me, 'You know, it could’ve been worse, I could be dead.' He’s even looking forward to getting back on his bike."
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As an employee of a private security firm that Trader Joe's hires as an outside contractor, Mabolis had no health insurance. As such, his medical costs are expected to be enormous, to say nothing of his physical rehabilitation. His coworkers – er, fellow crew members – have started a GoFundMe page to help him out. In six days, it has raised more than $14,000 — more than half the goal of $25,000.
"The response has been really incredible," says Trader Joe's crew member John Eder, who put up the GoFundMe page. "We’ve had people donating who don’t even live here anymore. Egee, he’s just a really cool guy. He’s got a certain openness, a gentle nature. And endlessly patient."
Eder says they received $1,000 from Tatiana von Furstenberg, daughter of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. Many of the other donors are loyal Trader Joe's customers who miss the sight of Mabolis' white safari hat, and his help in navigating the jammed parking lot.
"He’s greatly missed," Melendez says. "He’s the most kind and humble person you could be. When you come here, and you don’t see him in the parking lot, you don’t see his smile, it feels like something's missing. Customers are really concerned."