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.

God wants us to do right

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Two days before Christmas, in Van Nuys, a bicyclist was struck down by a motorist who fled the scene. On New Year’s eve he succumbed to his injuries. On Friday a ghost bike memorial appeared at the crash site.  Followed on Sunday by the appearance of a separate appeal to the driver or a witness to come forward.  A long shot, destined to annoy the neighbors with its implicit indictment? Or the exertion of a sublime faith in one’s fellow man?  Ours is a pocket neighborhood, with no thru-traffic. Occam’s Razor suggests anyone driving down Burnet St. at 7am on a Monday morning most likely lived or had business here. Naturally, asking someone to voluntarily own up to a manslaughter charge they have escaped, compounded by the felony of leaving the scene of a crime….is a tall order. Maybe that’s where the God part comes in.

Golden Road and the Restoration

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Biked the LA River today, and finished up with an IPA at Golden Road Brewing Co.  Always a happy, friendly crowd, but not too-hip for its own good. Nice frosty glass. Baseball and hockey on the flat screen.  Solid bar food, with vegan options.  Even a dog patio.  Here’s the scene at 6pm…both outdoor patios already fully occupied, the bar filling rapidly.

By rights, Golden Road should have a hard time rustling up business, situated between the freeway and the train tracks on a dead end street in a warehouse district, miles from anything. With detailed directions, it can be hard to find. There is insufficient parking. Metrolink commuter trains zip past mere yards away, and they are not quiet.

And yet….people make the journey and fight for seats, and it’s not just to support LA’s only craft brewery.

Now let’s sidle over a few miles to Noho.  Lankershim Blvd, one hour later, on my way home. Like a moth to the flame, I’m distracted by yet another wall mural. I park, grab my camera and flutter my wings:

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Here we have Norah’s Place, in the Arts District. A corner lot. Lankershim runs at an angle to the street grid, giving southbound traffic maximum visibility.  In the psychometrics of streetscapes and retail architecture, one is beckoned right to the front door, as though pulled by the invisible hand of the consumer gods. Who wouldn’t want to sit on the playa with a mermaid sharing pupusas and mariscos,  listening to traditional love ballads on the karaoke? As a bonus there’s easy street parking.

Peering in the window,  there was not a single person seated inside. Barren. 7 PM on a Friday night.

How is this possible, a couple blocks from the Red Line? Surrounded by high-end apartment complexes within walking distance? Not everyone wants to drop $12 a drink at the Bow & Truss.  People love authentic ethnic food. They go looking for it. If Anthony Bourdain were to do a segment on NoHo and had one pass down the Blvd to pick a restaurant, he very well might try Norah’s. At home I check Yelp and find but a single review in the past three years: ‘….has a funny smell.  Probably due to the carpet…’   Pity gives way to scorn.  Comfort food and beer isn’t hard to do well, and easy to innovate. In a town where culinary academy graduates are working at Starbucks, if you can’t bring in business in a gold-plated location you’re not trying. If you’re not trying it’s cause you probably don’t need to. If you have a cheap lease or own the building outright, you can coast on that, and it occurs to me the distance between Golden Road and Norah’s is emblematic of the divide between the rundown, legacy LA I found when we moved here in the 90’s, and the Los Angeles of the Restoration.  When there were no bike paths and Van Nuys and Echo Park were slums.  When it was a city long on blight and short on yoga studios. When I rose at dawn to check the MLS listings, then sprinted to the car to beat the rush to the next available stucco box in the Valley, to plead my case to a woman in a mou mou with three inches of ash suspended between her fingers and the house falling to pieces around her,  a house she refused to maintain for thirty years, who felt damn entitled to the unearned hundreds of thousands we were dropping in her lap, provided none of the others racing over the Cahuenga Pass in hot pursuit outbid us. Over and over again I did this, venturing deeper into the Valley, until we finally closed on one.  Dirt lot, bars on the windows.  No insulation, no ventilation, no A/C. 1948 wiring and plumbing.  Squeaky floors.  Too broke-ass after closing to do anything except chip away at it, piecemeal, as funds trickled in over the years.   But room by room,  it slowly got done. After a few years you look around, and the neighborhood isn’t quite as ramshackle as when you arrived. Others have joined you and duplicated your efforts. Trees get planted, yards landscaped.  On the boulevards, new businesses crop up.  If you’re Tony Yanow, you find a sad, hole-in-the-wall on Magnolia and stock it with craft beers from around the state. You offer two menus, one for vegans, one for carnivores.  After pouring other people’s beer for a couple years, you decide there’s no good reason LA shouldn’t have its own. You buy some warehouses, and start brewing. You call it Golden Road. People bike clear across the Valley to sit at your table.