Stan Oldak died today. My old friend, Veronika called me with the news. She’d introduced me to Stan in the 1980s when she and I both lived in Los Angeles. I think they knew each other all the way back to high school. I was shocked to hear the news. Stan had begun getting heavily into cycling about ten years ago and we both shared some wonderful New York rides in Westchester County and environs. I remember once Stan persuaded me to join him for several days of cycling in Vermont which was especially lovely. I moved away from New York and him, and he got ever more intensely into the sport, while I had to give it up (temporarily) when my three young children were born. He was a leader of the New York Cycle Club. I remember in particular the pride he felt a few years ago when he and his son, Jason, biked together from Boston to New York for AIDS Ride America. I was proud to contribute to his cause.
When he died, Stan was seeking to participate in this summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris competition by cycling early this morning in a Houston qualifying ride. I can only imagine the excitement and anticipation he must’ve felt to be preparing for a European race. Knowing Stan, he must’ve been thinking about all that great Parisian culture, art and food he would’ve enjoyed at race’s end. He would’ve been especially charged to be doing this in his 60th year.
But At 2AM today, he was riding when he was struck by a flat bed truck in a hit and run accident and killed almost instantly. I asked why he was riding at that hour and Veronika told me that he had until 5 AM to complete the final leg of the race.
Stan and I kept in touch even after I left New York. I’d see him from time to time on his way to Alaska where he worked periodically as a pediatric dentist for the Indian Health Service. He told me how important his work was there where he would see young patients from remote villages who sometimes had never seen a dentist in their lives.
Stan’s main practice was in New York City near NYU. I remember he told me that lots of New York celebrities brought their children to the practice including Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
But Stan wasn’t the type who lived, ate and slept dentistry. He wanted balance in life. He wanted to enjoy life. He was always seeking. Always open to new ideas and new experiences. I remember him telling me that he was volunteering in Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign, which I found interesting because he and I didn’t discuss politics much, though our views were probably similar.
He was an excellent skier who’d skied many of the finest runs in the west. He took me along to Jackson Hole once where the the altitude and exertion of skiing in it nearly did me in. But skiing Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee with their majestic views of the Grand Tetons were the experiences of a lifetime.
Stan’s greatest sport love was cycling. While these types of accidents don’t ever have a silver lining, at least all those who knew and loved Stan can rest easy that he was doing something he truly loved when he died.
I only hope that truck driver will develop pangs of conscience which will cause him to come forward and accept responsibility. It’s hard to imagine my friend dying on Texas asphalt with some killer fleeing the scene like a coward. I can understand the panic and fear anyone would feel under the circumstances. I can understand how you fear you’ve just tossed your life away if you cop to what you’ve done. But in truth, this person just tossed Stan’s life away and there must be some reckoning. And if he/she doesn’t come forward, I hope the police are able to identify the killer. Stan’s life is worth at least that much.
For the life of me I do not understand how a bike race organizer can allow cyclists to race at 2 AM. Every statistic about fatal accidents tells you that the worst time for them is from midnight to dawn. How could they race then? I admit I know nothing about cycling. It’s possible that this is standard practice and that racers accept this type of risk. But I sure wish Stan hadn’t been out there then.
Stan happily violated a lot of the norms I expected in a dentist. He was truly a creative person, even an artist. I remember when he lived in a small upper eastside New York apartment, he saw a Matisse painting he loved. For some reason I can’t recall, he was into beading. He actually personally created a design for the painting in beads and executed it. It was quite extraordinary. And he did it all himself. No kits, no templates. All from his own eye, hand, and head.
I was just thinking of inner images I have of Stan and one that stands out is that humorous twinkle he’d get in his eye and slight chuckle in his voice when he was thinking of something fun, exciting or creative. He had a wonderful, but gentle sense of humor. My heart goes out to his former wife Janis, Jason and Emily. Zichrono li’vracha–May your memory be for a blessing, my friend.
10 AM, Wednesday
Plaza Jewish Community Chapel
630 Amsterdam Avenue (at 91st)
Around 1 PM, Wednesday
Bnai Israel Memorial Park
Tom’s River, NJ
732 349-1244 (synagogue)
There will be a gathering at Stan’s Battery Park apartment from 5-9 PM where Stan’s children will receive visitors and sit Shiva.