Young John and Elias

John Connor in the wash

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Boys move to uncharted spaces by instinct.  The first step to manhood is leaving your yard alone.   We map the world beyond our parents command first by foot, then by bicycle.

What is this strange world, we ask ourselves.  How far can I go? How high? How fast? Who am I? What is my nature?

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The channels of  the LA River are an imperfect playground for boys, yet irresistible for that very reason. There is communion with frogs and other strange fauna down in the wash, and the call to adventure along new pathways. The wash liberates one from the street grid.    There is refuge from cars, and in the quiet, unique sounds.   An alternative transportation corridor connecting neighborhoods, an in doing so a place of escape unto itself. A bridge to Terabithia in the middle of the Valley.

On Feb. 17, 14-year-old Elias Rodriguez disappeared on his way home from school.  The local TV news took up his cause and the city posted a $50,000 reward for his return.  A tipline was was established. Foul play theories were entertained.

Two weeks later his battered body was found 20 nautical miles away, on a sand spit in the Glendale Narrows, dragged there by storm waters.  He tried to cross the Pacoima Wash on foot in a rainstorm and paid with his life.  Glen Oaks Boulevard was three blocks away, civic minders were quick to point out, he could have safely crossed the wash there. Let this be a teachable moment.

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Well, sure, if you enjoy GMC Yukons whipping past you at 50mph, three abreast, stray dogs and bicyclists be damned, that sort of advice makes sense. This is not how boys think. The straight line to Elias’ grandmother’s house takes him through the hole in the chain link fence behind the Cesar Chavez Learning Academy, across the wash and up onto 7th st.  It was a route he had taken before.  Kids from the school who lived in the neighborhood took it all the time, on the down low.

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That we should have miles of pre-paved walking and bike trails off-limits to the public, is a failure of civic imagination.  Fencing it off with chain link and putting up hazard signs and pretending this will save the life of a boy like Elias is insulting.   The least we could do is build a pedestrian bridge from the school to the neighborhood it serves. But that would entail admitting the alternative to the street grid exists.

If storm water was rising a bit more rapidly than Elias was expecting, once he descended the embankment reversing course would feel like a kind of defeat.  You do what makes sense in boyworld: draw from the well of courage, make a dash for it and hope your footing holds.

That’s would I have done. I look at Elias Rodriguez at 14 and think: that was me. (Was? You still do stupid manchild bulls*** all the time -Mrs. UpintheValley)  This is trueI love climbing trees, bushwhacking, walking the railroad tracks and into the dark underbrush of the Favela.  That it is forbidden only adds to the appeal.

In The Terminator trilogy,  the savior of mankind turns out to be a boy from the San Fernando Valley. Savor that for a moment. Heroic efforts are undertaken in the Old Testament of the first film to save his mother, Sarah, merely so John Connor can be born.  T2 begins with 14-year-old John fleeing a Herod-like death sentence carried out by the shape-shifting T1000.

What does John do? He gets on his bike, and eludes his executioner by pedaling down into the storm channels of the LA river.  This is a world he understands because he’s been down there before.   By design, a natural pathway of escape from a pursuing truck.   A world where a boy might seek advantage.

Elias journey

John Connor had Arnold Schwarzenegger to rescue him.  There was no such deus ex machina for Elias.  Once he lost his grip, the stormwater would have been moving at a good clip. There is the possibility he was knocked unconscious early in his journey. This would be a mercy. For the first three miles, the slopes of the wash are at 45 degrees, and there would be hope even a poor swimmer could grab hold of something and climb out.  Once it merges with the Tujunga Wash, the sides go completely vertical, twelve feet high, a true storm channel, a veritable freeway of water. The odds of escape under one’s own power would fall to zero.   Down and down you would go, past Grace Community Church, and Judy Baca’s Great Wall of Los Angeles, past CBS and Warner Bros and past the Zoo you went to on school field trips.  You would bob like a cork within a shouting distance of hundreds of houses, you would pass beneath street crossings with cars visible to you, windshield wipers flicking madly, deaf to your cries. You would skid and roll and bounce past the private riverfront esplanades of Studio City, and wish for the superpower of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, to elongate your arms like rubber, to grab hold of some kind of railing, and pull yourself free. To arrive soaking, bruised and bedraggled at the patio door of the nearest house and ask to use the phone to call your mother.  But that only happens in comic books and movies.

This is how we're made

This is how we’re made

Isn’t this an argument for higher fences and greater restrictions on ingress to the river system? No, the opposite.  We lose one or two boys a year to the storm channel. We lose dozens to hit and run drivers on the boulevards of LA.  The River should not be a place of danger, but of exploration.  We’re dealing with human nature.  If there is no boyhood to be had in the Valley now, there will be diminished manhood in ten years, even less in twenty.  The answer isn’t more time in front of a screen.

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CicLAvia comes to Pacoima

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This guy rode the entire course backwards

This guy rode the entire course backwards

Fat white lady crosses street, causes commotion

This lady waddled into the street, causing commotion

Speaking of white people....

Speaking of white people….

Today was my fifth CicLAvia, and the first in which I’ve seen the forum used for an organized protest.  Pacoima (90% Latino) is an odd location for White People (TM) to take their message of chastisement of Other White People.    Was the idea that few white people would be there to see, or be insufficient in number to reach critical mass and begin to jeer?    A message on their Facebook page exhorts people to show up at CicLAvia en masse to Stand Against White Terror.

White Terror! Right here in River City Pacoima!

As I took this picture a white woman rode past and called out to them in an encouraging, sing-song voice ‘to vote for Bernie’.

Otherwise, they were ignored.  A group of LAPD officers, the principal target of their ire, followed at a discreet distance, for their protection.   You know, from the aggrieved white supremacist contingent laying in wait in Pacoima.

This is the real Pacoima

This is the real Pacoima

...and this.

…and this.

#BikeLivesMatter

They love Bernie in Venice

They love Bernie in Venice

In Seattle, not so much

In Seattle, not so much

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Bernie drew a big crowd, and then, in a remarkable act of self-abasement, relinquished the microphone to two women who stormed the podium. They demanded four and half minutes of silence and proceeded to lecture everyone, including the candidate, for their “white supremacist liberalism” and insufficient fealty to the Black Lives Matter agenda.

“Don’t ask questions!  We’re shutting it down! Let her speak NOW!”

As political performance art goes, it was a thing of beauty. Vermont folded its hand in under a minute.

After the rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore, the #BLM movement has alienated much of the country save two groups of people: the media, and a particular species of upper-middle class liberal who is as separated from inner city life as is culturally,  economically and geographically obtainable. In short, Bernie Sanders voters.   After this weekend, I’m not sure where this leaves them, in this the seventh year of the Obama presidency.

I have a pretty good idea where the media is leading the rest of us.

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All this was on my mind at the Culver-to-Venice CicLAVia today, which was lovely and pleasant as always…but kind of, dare I say it,  lacking in local color.

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I didn’t see a lot of bikes like this one, from the Valley CicLAVia in March.   Nor many riders of the type who make bikes like this.

The Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award

The Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award

The crowd was rather….er, Bernie Sanders-ish.  White, prosperous and polite. If voting habits and campaign donations are fair proxy, blissfully indifferent to the political arson they’ve set in motion around the country.

A private esplanade on Valleyheart

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As bicyclists, birders and New Urbanists have long been aware,  there exists in digital space overlapping fever dreams of a Greenway along “51 miles of the LA River”.  A Google search will retrieve dozens of mock-ups.  This sublime alternative Los Angeles, we are given to expect,  is due to arrive by 2020.  Golden Road has already issued a commemorative IPA in celebration, sort of making it official.

Fifty-one miles would, by default, include the Valley.  Except that it won’t.  Unless one believes the western perimeter of the Valley is Universal City.  Cause that’s as far as the Greenway is going to extend.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone.  People are too busy lining up for photo shoots with our money.

Besides, who bikes in the Valley?   Who walks, for that matter?

Los Angeles is spending $600 million replacing the viaduct between the Arts District and Boyle Heights with a mixed-use architectural showcase.  One block parallel to another bridge.

There are plans in motion to build a park atop the Hollywood Freeway. Price tag unknown.

The development of the Downtown to Elysian Valley segment of the Greenway, including parks, is going to run a billion dollars.

What are we getting in the Valley, west of the 170? This:

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We’ve all seen Chinatown. We know the score.

To give the appearance of inclusion in the great Greenway, several short discontiguous pathways, a half mile in length, have been scattered here and there: Radford to Whitsett, Mason to De Soto, and now the most recent: along Valleyheart, between Sepulveda and Kester.  One can’t complain as to the landscaping. It’s very nice.   But disconnected from each other and from the rest of the system, they serve no practical purpose for the general public. One cannot pedal to the Zoo, and thence down the Glendale Narrows to Downtown, as I did yesterday.

They are, in effect, taxpayer-built private esplanades for the people who live nearby.   No one else will be using them. One gets the feeling people in those neighborhoods wanted it that way.

This is our Angeleno moment: Dubai in Hollywood, Detroit in the Valley.

Speaking of Detroit, Andy Hurvitz has urban renewal schemes for parking lots up in Van Nuys:

Future Gardens of Van Nuys?

Bikestock Comes to the Valley

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Earlier this week I was concerned my fever dreams of bike-centric development for the Valley would founder on the shoals of low turnout.  Ours would be the first CicLaVia in which no one from the neighborhood showed up.  In my more cynical moments, the Valley can be reliably disappointing.

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It didn’t take long to see my concerns were unfounded.

Really unfounded.  For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.

For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.

Except with more dogs

Except with more dogs…

And Go Pro cameras

…and Go Pro cameras

And street dancers

Street dancers.

Whole families with sno-cones

Whole families with sno-cones

Everybody got their freak on

Everybody got their freak on

Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims.  Enough said.

Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims. The 818, tableau vivant.

A Buddhist Gift

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There is something unintentionally discursive to riding a bike in L.A.

An absence of bike lanes in most of the city and nearly the entirety of the Valley means there is seldom a direct line between destinations. Nor is there, practically speaking, a direct zig-zag between points on the grid.

There exists in state law, but not in practice, a curtilage of three feet between cyclists and cars sharing a lane on city streets.  In a bizarro Los Angeles where the streets were ten feet wider, this might work.  In theory.  Some of the time.  In the el mundo real ciudad de Angelis one runs with the bulls even when one sprints down Sepulveda in full tuck and with great purpose.  Even in the Valley, on its abundant boulevards, there is not room for car, plus bike, plus three feet between the two, and this assumes a rather sporting cyclist gamely willing to play Russian Roulette with side view mirrors.

So the bicyclists get squeezed up on to the sidewalks at the choke points of the commute. Pedestrians are aggrieved when they see cyclists bearing down on them or feel them brushing past, gears whirring, as they take a post-prandial constitutional.

I will stipulate bikers can sometimes be jerks, but usually they’re just trying to stay out of traction. They’re trying to avoid this:

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So one learns the hard way (flipping over a car hood and picking asphalt out of one’s scab is instructive) that to safely go straight one goes left-right-left.  The pain-free route between two points can sometimes be one which leads you into residential streets. But even by-ways offer their own hazard, and there are days like today when a prudent, prophylactic left-right-left-right-left-left can still land one in a tangle of fuchsia bougainvillea thorns, bleeding from the forearms and cursing an indifferent getaway car.  Even on a residential street, way off the boulevard.

Now imagine re-mounting the bike and seeing the spire of a Buddhist pagoda peeking over the flowers, and a monk beckoning you into his driveway.  Like Alice through the Looking Glass you follow him through the gap in the hedge and you see this:

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And this:

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And he doesn’t speak a word of English and he smiles enigmatically and he gestures for you to walk through the garden and visit the statuary. He doesn’t care about the camera. He doesn’t care if you are Presbyterian. He doesn’t even ask. A half hour later, you get back on the bike, but you’ve forgotten your route. Then you remember it, but it no longer has the same purpose. So you abandon it.

You’re not going somewhere any longer, you’re just pedaling.

Pedaling is joy.  Pedaling is youth.  Pedaling is liberty, glad and big.  You pedal pedal pedal left-right-left-left-left-right-left-right-right-right-left-who-cares which direction. Because pedaling is your breath.

Silently, you thank the monk.  Pedaling is a Buddhist gift.

The Standoff

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You cut me off, pendejo. Now you gonna say something under your breath?

Whathefuckyou say?

Whadjyou say?

Say it to my face, cono.

You ain’t talking tough now.  I don’t hear nothing out of your mouth.  You keep pedaling, tough guy. You pedal on your side of the street.  I’m biking here.

Never mess with a chica who rides a bike with a cigarillo clamped between her teeth.