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.


And we cooked a bike…


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:


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

7 thoughts on “The Wheel that Binds Us”

  1. Stockholm Syndrome. You recognize you’re captive in the land of the asphalt view $900,000 piece of crap stucco box. Yet you can’t leave. “But I love her!” Angelina. You know she’s wearing a vest wired with C4 strapped to her buxom bosom. The mortgage and 401K. Hallucinated wealth conjured from paper and electrons suspended in the ether. It’s really just debt and promises. The red numbers on the digital display ticking down to zero toward detonation. A market correction. You felt that pain before, but it won’t happen again. Smack. Admit it. You like the sting of her beatings. The door is unlocked. Open. But you won’t walk out. Across the street is the nice girl. Plain, but wholesome. With the apple cheeks. No rouge. Just a few freckles. Brown hair with a hint of red in the sunlight. Real tits. No silicone. Ohio. But who wants her?

  2. I found this site via a link in one of Jack Baruth’s pieces at “The Truth About Cars.” I have gone thru each blog post systematically and am blown away by your photos and commentary. Fantastic stuff.

    I moved to Santa Monica in 1995 to follow a job opportunity. After several intra-county moves I left LA in 2001, right after the dot com bust. Reading this blog takes me back – usually in a bad way but occasionally I have a good memory of old friends and times. No doubt that getting out of So Cal has probably been the best overall decision of my life (besides marrying my sweetheart and best friend.) Then and now – nothing really has changed.

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