Two Hollywoods, One Wheel

He stole my phone when I was kissing him!
The guy in the pink tank top?
Bitch, I knew he was going to do that.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Would you have listened? You were too busy eating his mustache.  

True Sunday story, right here. One can’t say they weren’t warned. Signs over the bar warned of cell phone pickpockets like it was Dickensian London, but with glitter.  In WeHo, the young pretty things boldly exploit middle-aged longing, the middle-aged dangle free drinks to pretty young things doubled up in rooms in Van Nuys,  and there’s a great drag show to distract us from all the Darwinian undertow.

At the other end of CicLAvia, there’s this post-Dickensian tableau. Only one tourist bothers to look.  Others step around her like she was topiary and figure out where the restaurant is.  No literary genius will immortalize the addict in the sleeping bag.  She’s part of the shrubbery now.

The city will not allow you to use a plastic straw but will defend the right to camp on the sidewalk like it was God’s commandment.   Don’t Normalize Trump, we shriek, but oh how we’ve normalized this.

After a lovely CicLAvian day from Vermont to San Vicente and back, I biked back to the Valley, three cocktails deep and sweaty. Small civic detail: there is no bike lane in the Cahuenga Pass.  None.   So right at the point where Cahuenga becomes a freeway alternative and cars accelerate accordingly, one is shunted into the gutter.  A dozen rotations of the pedals later, I hear this fsssssss…. and being in a happy frame of mind decided, oh, this must be some feral creature, some urban fauna lurking in the shrubbery, warning me away from his domain.  I’m communing with nature. How loverly! It wouldn’t be a flat tire. Not in under a minute.  Not me. I did the right thing. I didn’t park in the city.  I’m one of the good ones! 

Guess who pushed his bike back over the Pass, cars nipping at his elbow the whole way?  You’d think there’d be a bike path by now. Didn’t we pass a sales tax? Twice?

You can pretend for an afternoon, but the First Law of the City remains unchallenged: the car is king.   To believe otherwise is one of the 23 Lies we tell ourselves about LA.

The Wheel that Binds Us

Feral bike kitchen, Metrolink tracks
Feral bike kitchen, White Favela, Van Nuys

All the street people rusticating in the Valley seem to have one denominator in common: they each have a bike.  Even the saddest blue tarp shanty has a wheel poking out somewhere.

I’m old enough to remember when a bike was an expensive proposition.   Now you can cook one from parts.   You don’t have to worry about theft with a bike like that, which is part of the DIY appeal. The basic life problem of movement from location A to location B is resolved. The street bike empowers, even as it simplifies.

There’s a great movie line from Neil McCauley in Heat:  “never keep anything in your life you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you see the heat coming around the corner.” As a personal code, it works in the white favela. For a man with a wife, a dog, a cat, and a mortgage, not so much.

But a bike, even if for only an hour or so,  can put you one step closer to your earlier, pre-Cambrian self. It can unleash the Id.  It can peel layers.  Cranking pedals across the Valley, you can be the child who was the father of the man you are today.  The First You, the one before all your Choices made you.

The original cucina, Silver Lake
The original cucina, Silver Lake

“Come down to the Kitchen, and let’s build you a road bike,” said Marcus, over the phone..  Off I went, like Homer Simpson in pursuit of Truck-a-Saurus.

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And we cooked a bike…

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Then we went back to his teacup bungalow in Echo Park and made comfort food, and drank craft beer and vaporized product and listened to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, through a tube amp, shedding adulthood like dandruff.

Back to the primordial ooze…

After a long afternoon, I staggered back to my car, bike in tow, and passed this house:

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Two small bedrooms downstairs, and a view of the Autozone parking lot on Glendale Blvd.  $900,000.   Seriously.

Nobody who is tied to a paycheck, even a large one, would pay this.  Yet there are people who are paying it, all over town. Trustafarians.  Speculators. Chinese investors, phoning in blind bids from Chengdu, all cash, the better to park their money far away from the Hang Seng index.

And they love bikes in Echo Park.

Los Angeles is becoming a city of million dollar shacks and people living under tarps, with mobile phones, feeding off government handouts.  We are becoming poorer in a cave of wonders. Wealthier in smaller spaces. The bicycle may be the last thing we all have in common.

A bike is a true thing
A bike is a true thing