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:
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:
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 first was slapped together with glue and staples in a downtown sweatshop, designed to evoke feelings of opulence in middle class consumers spending beyond their means. Cheap fabric and composite wood veneers doom it to the landfill for which it was destined. For now it serves as a club chair for a quartet of homeless men who have created a condominium out of plastic detritus and shopping carts behind Smart and Final.
The second was erected by craftsmen whose work will outlive us all. The plumb lines are true.
And then….you get off the 405, in North Hills….
There are a few reasons why this bothers me, besides the obvious. For one, this has been developing for at least half a year. The Parthenia St. undercrossing happens to be one of three in the Valley featuring a 144 foot long mural: Los Pajaros -Birds- of California. On Roscoe, there’s the Bear Mural. On Nordhoff, there’s the Fish. All delightful, if not quite Pasadena-like, and all painted by local students. On the North side of Parthenia, unremoved tagging has obscured much of the work. Here on the south side, what started as a small encampment of a single shopping cart and a plastic tarp has expanded like Ewing’s sarcoma over the entire sidewalk.
The City of Los Angeles in its majesty has decreed any blight along the 405 or Metrolink right of way no longer to be its responsibility. The underside of these structures are in effect consigned to a civic state of nature, even if they face a heavily-used public street in a densely populated neighborhood and kids have to step off the sidewalk onto a busy thoroughfare to avoid the debris field.
Something about being on the way to an awards ceremony that puts the yes into a girl. Yes, I’ll go on a detour with you. Yes, I’ll pose atop that abandoned boat in the street. I am pleased to be buffeted by crosswinds! For we have won our Gold Crown award and all is right in my world. For the next three hours, I am the Yes Girl! And I love my dress…