The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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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.