Tag Archives: maps

critical mass: the measure of our joy

Riding Critical Mass for the second time (the first is here) is a bit like doing most anything for the second time: The initial strangeness of it, those tentative first moments, they’re not there in the same way; but taking their place for me was a kind of self-conscious wonder, to see ourselves riding through the city as if from a distance, or from the position of one not always in the midst of things. So a couple of scenes:

  • There was grumbling about the pace of last night’s ride. Too fast, a lot of people said, and there were moments where cyclists were strung out along Venice Blvd. like Christmas lights; other moments, though, where our fragile mass narrowed into a clot of blinkies and unseated riders on the steep hill on the backside of Los Angeles High School. The ride seemed to have a lot of that push and pull to it, the riders at the front pushing the pace along near-empty roads, the riders at the back pulled along as best they could, with the occasional extended pause at red lights.
  • Last night’s watering hole was a liquor store at Broadway and Ord, the sidewalks thick with bikes and people. I was riding with my friends Matt and Daniel, and Daniel came out with a small bottle of whiskey wrapped in a paper bag. Between pulls, we watched fixies pivot and pitch in the street, caught up with each other after long separation. There was a light on in a window on the 2nd floor of the building across the way. A thin curtain had been hung up slightly askew, and through that, the faint outline of someone’s red underwear hanging up to dry. A dark shape came to the window at one point, pulled the curtain back, but slipped away just as quickly. What, if one were to make some critique of what we do, it might be this: We don’t know the measure of our joy. Music and laughter in places that don’t always seem prepared for it.
  • Pulling out from that stop, that thought came back to me, but stronger. Coming out of Chinatown, the surprising bulk of City Hall hazed by mist and floodlights, roll down Broadway to 2nd, where we turned right and rode through that tunnel. And I’ve been through that tunnel before, but this felt different: Jim Morrison’s voice was coming from the speakers on someone’s bike, and the tunnel all glistening white tile and lights. Like riding into a tunnel of light, listening to our voices come back to us louder than before, and we raised our voices louder still, until the tunnel was all light and laughter and the gravelly voice of the Doors. And at the same moment, as we passed through that light, the sight of men on the sidewalk, sleeping in the relative warmth of the tunnel, dark bundles of blanket and cardboard roused by our voices that came through and were then gone. UPDATE: Looking about the interwebs, Shapeofthings put up a video of that same tunnel – interesting that watching the video, everything looks so much darker than I remember. Memory burnishes itself in funny ways, I suppose.
  • We finished at the RiteAid at Hollywood and Vermont earlier than we might have, but lingered in the parking lot drinking Tecate tallboys. Coming out of the drug store, there was a man asking for change at the door. I turned past him quickly.
  • We didn’t end up riding the whole of the People’s Ride, but Hollywood was thick with Friday traffic. By some accounts, it wasn’t the most succesful ride, on account of the police taking exception to several riders turning loops in traffic. It didn’t help that the ride was going fast, and I turned south onto Highland to find black and whites – first two, then three, then seven – parked at the curb, making some example or another. A bit of laughter between us at the cops’ questions: Who’s in charge? Nobody, really. Where are you going? Don’t know yet. Why are you doing this? Because it’s fun.
  • Matt, Daniel and I didn’t finish the whole ride. We rode down L. Ron Hubbard Way, then back north, but when the mass turned north onto Vermont, we turned south back down to Beverly. Tim, Dave, Neal, thanks for helping us keep an eye on Daniel when his evening thickened a little. To everyone else we met, look forward to seeing you soon.

And, if you’re interested, the map of last night’s ride is here. And for anyone interested in comparing the two rides, I have October and November’s rides mapped onto each other here. Until next time, ride safe.


that never ceases to surprise

I was up in Barnsdall Park the other night watching the sunset when I was struck – as I often am – by how flat Los Angeles seems. The park isn’t particularly high up, but it affords views of what seems like the horizon (though it’s really only Century City and Westwood). There’s something of a stage-set quality to it, a skyline shorn of depth, or a plain that could go on forever.

I mention that because one of the things you quickly learn riding LA’s streets is just how much topography there really is. The city asserts itself in a whole new way. Riding in a car – or even on the bus – you have the luxury of rolling through and over most hills. And even if a hill looks substantial, they’re rarely large enough to merit thinking seriously about the fact of the hill. At least for me, I’ve long had it in my head that there’s a fairly simple topography to Los Angeles: Ocean gives way to plain gives way to mountain.

Hop on a bike for any length of time and you’ll see how wrong that topography really is. Last night’s ride took me from Bundy and Pico back home to Koreatown – just about 11 miles, mild traffic, a beautiful night that smelled of water – and I learned a thing or two about the city’s curves.

Commenter Ed was good enough to relate his own ride from a couple days ago in the comments to a recent post, and on his example I thought I’d give Olympic a try. What I learned is that after traffic dies down – this would have been half past eight, though it felt later – Olympic is mostly empty of traffic. What traffic there is tears by at a furious pace, but the right lane is mostly smooth and wide enough to ride easily. What Olympic also has is a hill. It’s not a big hill, mind you, and in part that’s where the problem starts. See, this hill, with its long sloping grade running up to slip under the Avenue of the Stars, feels interminable. And suddenly, all of those imaginations about Los Angeles being a plain city beside the sea go out the window.

When I first started writing about biking, Alex Thompson of WestsideBIKEside commented that, “I think you’ll find that you have distinctly different insights into LA’s geography as you travel by bike, as opposed to your colleagues.” Time has proven him right, but I’m still being surprised at how rich that geography is. It isn’t simply being able to ride new streets that I never thought of before; it isn’t simply being able to peer into open windows and living rooms while riding down darkened streets; it isn’t simply feeling the cracks and ruts give way to smooth pavement; nor is it getting off the bike with trembling legs at the end of the ride, feeling as though I’ve done something, gone somewhere (nor is it even beating the bus, though I beat the 16 east from La Cienega tonight). It’s all of that and more than that.

It’s Pico to Barrington to Olympic to Doheny to Clifton Way to La Cienega to Third to the long ride back to Kenmore. It’s a city and a ride that never ceases to surprise.