Adios, Spike

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I called Bradford Spike.
We were in Las Vegas at the Freedom Fest, the big conference put on by Mark Skousen when he was running the Foundation for Economic Education. Bradford had arranged to have the Liberty Editors Conference at the same time. At the end of the conference I was lucky enough to be asked to dinner with Bill and several other contributors. I remember Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw being there as well as Bruce Ramsey. Wendy McElroy was there. Stephen Cox was probably there, since I remember meeting him for the first time at that conference. During the dinner we got to talking about people’s nicknames. I asked Bradford if he knew the biker etymology of the nickname Spike.” He said sure, it was what you called somebody who used drugs with a needle. Then I told him that I was going to call him Spike, not because he used a needle but because he spiked so many of the stories that I sent him. He looked really hurt and uncomfortable and I regretted putting him on the spot at a dinner party.

It is more than appropriate that the last email I got from Bradford was to inform me that he was spiking the latest piece I had sent in. His lovely wife Kathy had tentatively accepted it. Bradford had been in the hospital and Kathy had responded to a previous submission that it would help if all the contributors would send in more stuff. She had mentioned he had had a kidney removed but did not tell me that he had cancer. I suspect this is because I had mentioned that my mother was in the hospital herself and the prognosis did not look good. The irony is that my 84-year-old mother has made a miraculous recovery and Bill has succumbed to the Reaper at such a young age. I wish I had known how sick he was, the tough old dog. I would have sent him a note telling how much he had taught me, how much my intellect had grown because of “Liberty” and how much I liked him and his wife and all those dedicated college kids he had working at the magazine.

I was amazed he knew that Spike was a nickname for a needle user. Then I remembered this was a guy with subscriptions to 200 magazines. When I expressed astonishment at this he looked at me with indignation and exclaimed,

That first conference in Tacoma was a wall of conversation; loud, earnest, and animated – like going back to the Midwest, only distilled to 200 proof.

 

“You don’t have to read the whole thing.” I replied that I read “Liberty” from cover to cover. I still do. Bradford confided that the biggest complaint he was getting from readers was that the magazine was too long. I guess it was after the first Editors Conference that I ordered the complete set of back issues. There is a treasure of ideology and inquiry in those pages. I read everyone of those issues from cover to cover as well.

Ahhh, the Liberty Editors Conference. That conference in Vegas where I called him Spike was the fourth Editors Conference I had been to. The first was in Tacoma; then came a couple in Port Townsend, and then the one in Vegas. The first time was.special, as in most of the fundamentally enjoyable things in life. This was the first time I met Bradford in person. My brother had flown in from Jersey. We were astonished to learn that we could hobnob with people like John Hospers and Friedman the Younger. Not only that they would deign to talk with us, but they actually seemed·to enjoy it. We have since called this concept the Cato Effect, after the ease with which we could converse with people as diverse as Hernando de Soto, Kurt Russell, and Steve Forbes at various libertarian functions.

My fondest memory of that first conference I went to in Tacoma was walking into the hospitality suite on the first night. As I stepped into the room I was almost pushed back by a wall of conversation – loud, earnest, and animated. This was not like those lame-assed California parties I had been to where a bunch of self-absorbed spoiled dilettantes sat around pouting with faces that almost demanded: “Entertain me.” Heck, this was like going back to the Midwest, only it was distilled down to 200 proof.

The next two conferences I went to were just as fun, especially because they were in Port Townsend, home of the magazine. Bill was worried nobody would show up since it was such a long trek from the airport. He needn’t have worried; they were both rousing. successes. The last conference I was able to attend was the first one in Las Vegas. Since there were so many people there for Skousen’s FEE gig it was a slam-dunk for the Liberty Editors Conference. If anything, I think Bill was just worn out by the scale of the event that year.

It was at that first Editors Conference that I saw Bill’s moody side. It was about four in the morning and we had been kicked out of the last hospitality suite, the one that had an entire bathtub full of beer on. ice. “Liberty” people know how to party, take it from me. Bill had snagged a full bottle of wine on the way out of the room. The hotel had a window at the end of the hallway and we went and sat on the floor. I think either Durk or Ramsey was there as well. Bill seemed down about the state of the world and libertarianism’s slow progress.· In talking he mentioned that his dad used to be an IRS agent. Our companion commiserated but said that he was sure that his dad was a decent fellow. Bill looked up and with a guileless candor I have not seen from anyone before or since said: “No, he was a rotten person,” or something to

It’s bad to drop your bike. It’s really bad to drop your bike with a passenger on it. It is really really bad to drop your bike when your passenger is an octogenarian.

 

that effect. I felt bad for him and told him that despite the sins of the father, he was sure to have a place in libertarian history. I am sure that he does.

He had his own brilliant intellect as well as relationships with all the greats. Hospers, Bock, Childs, Greaves, Higgs, Boaz, Lomasky,Hess, McElroy, Kostelanetz, Casey, O’Toole, Shaw, Szasz, Ramsey, Rothbard, Durk and Sandy, the list stretches out of sight. Bill looked doubtful about his place in history that night but I for one am sure of it. His self-effacing and shy nature was a rare trait in the big-ego world of libertarian intellects and he will be sorely missed. One does not forget what one misses so badly.

I was walking through a street art fair here in Sunnyvale and I saw a fellow that had taken old Liberty silver coins and carefully cut around the image and lettering while leaving the entire serrated ring around the outside. He used a tiny jeweler’s drill and a tiny coping saw. I immediately thought of the magazine and arranged for him to make me two coins for Bill and Kathy. I gave them the coins at one of the Editors Conferences. Years later I learned that Bill was not a dirt- poor libertarian magazine editor but had a regular day-job and had started the magazine out of passion. Among other things he had been a coin dealer once. Right about now I imagine Stephen Cox is worried I am going to say this was ironic. But Stephen has taught me enough to know that this was more of a coincidence than an unexpected outcome. Word usage tips are just another of the multitude of benefits that befall a “Liberty” reader. In any event Kathy wrote me a nice note thanking me, just like she did any time I gave her or Bill a gift. She is a lady in every sense of the word and I am glad that her vigil is over, even if I am also saddened at the loss of Bill.

A couple of years ago, right around the tum of the century, Bill used to call and ask if I was up for a motorcycle ride. We both loved motorbikes. An intern at the magazine noticed that motorcycle riders were very prevalent in libertarian circles. Back then I was in the Silicon Valley startup craze and it was just not possible to tear myself away from the several ventures I was involved in. Of course, all those ventures tanked. It seemed that Bill needed someone to commit since it often turned out he could not make it to the proposed ride himself. How I wish that I had taken Bill up on at least one of his offers. Motorcycle rides can define friendship and self-awareness like little else in this world.

It was in October of 2000 when Bill dropped his bike while riding his favorite Washington road, State Route 20. He sent me a picture. His head was bandaged and he had some severe cuts on his face. He also got the usual road-rash that happens pretty much any time you come off a bike at speed. He had dropped it on a steel bridge. Dropping your bike is a very complex topic between two bikers. At the very core is the fact that something bad happened and you are responsible. On another level is the fact that you want to tell your buddies to warn them and make them more careful so it doesn’t happen to them. There is also an undeniable macho feeling – the fact that you survived a harrowing experience. Also involved is a feeling of inevitability, since if you ride a lot (and Bill rode a lot) you are going to drop it sooner or later. In some ways you feel relief since you know you are going to crash every five or ten years and if the crash does not kill you it can be thought of as a success.

Then there is the feeling of being really shaken up. When any biker brother tells you about dropping his bike there is always a hidden subtext running through the listener’s mind: “I wonder how long before he gets back on the bike? I wonder if he will ever get back on his bike?” Bill was torn up pretty bad. This can be harder to endure because you wear your mistake on your face or body for all to see. Whatever the physical and emotional damage to Bill, he didn’t let it keep him from riding. He was back on the bike within the week.

Once Bettina Bien Greaves had come to visit with Bill, perhaps it was over her Ludwig von Mises papers or maybe it was for a conference. They needed to get her to the train station to go home. Being a libertarian Bettina immediately accepted Bill’s invitation to take her on a motorcycle. She is a great libertarian so that is no surprise but I believe she was well into her 80s at the time. Well, Bill gets her down the hill over all the tricky roads and it is only when he has to take a little off-camber turn into the station that he dumps the bike. It’s bad to drop your bike. It’s really bad to drop your bike with a passenger on it. It is really, really bad to drop your

It caused Bill immense personal and professional pain to expose what many of us felt was improper behavior at the national LP headquarters.

 

bike when your passenger is an octogenarian. Bill felt terrible but it was a very slow speed mishap. Perhaps Bettina shifted her weight or maybe there were some wet leaves that slid the front tire out. Bettina took the whole episode in stride and they both came out of it without a scratch. She thought Bill was far too concerned about the effect on her and their relationship. Hey, libertarians accept the consequences of their choices.

One of the things that I remember troubling Bill the most was the way some libertarians would lash out at him after he wrote critical reports about the national party headquarters. People somehow interpreted Bill’s scrupulous reporting of the facts as anti-Libertarian Party. Nothing was further from the truth. He always supported the party and only reported on all facets of the party because he had hopes it would provide yet another avenue to promote libertarian ideals. It caused him immense personal and professional pain to expose what many of us felt was improper behavior at the national headquarters. Bill never could understand why all us ultra-moral ultra-orthodox libertarians were not cheering him on and hailing his strict standards of conduct for the party. If I did not make it plain back then, I will say it now: Bravo Bill, Hail Bradford.

Now, like all entrepreneurs, Bill was a micromanager. I could see it in the way his employees would complain. I hope all past and present employees and interns will forgive Bill his meddling. He just loved his magazine so much because he wanted to see a vibrant living libertarianism, not a moribund cult that would spout bromides at every opportunity..In addition, like all entrepreneurs, he seemed a real

tightwad. The owner of every small business must be.· in order to survive. This caused its own resentments among the staff. They figured he was being too cheap but he knew he had to make the magazine self-sufficient if it were to survive. Slick-paper magazines like Reason run at a loss, using donors’ money to support them. Cato is completely donor supported. As to his everlasting frugality, well I think we can all see the reason for that now. He did not want the magazine to end up a rich person’s plaything. He had a vision of a truly self-supporting magazine, a magazine staffed by young people with fresh, young ideas and the energy to promote them. Brien Bartels, Timothy Virkkala, Clark Stooksbury, Elizabeth Merritt, that German kid, was it Oliver, that was so happy when I gave him Rothbard’s “History of Economics.” If Bill was tight it was only because he wanted the magazine to be able to provide a living for its staff without a sugar- daddy to inject money every month. That way the magazine will be sure to live on now that he is gone. That is vision, and vision is something Bill had in abundance. God I loved that man. God I’ll miss him.

Adios Spike.
Ride free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.