Tag Archives: third

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.


bike 1 – bus 0

Honestly, this probably isn’t exactly the thing that you should brag about – it’s probably bad bike karma – but I can’t help it. After a couple of fitful starts riding home, I decided to take 3rd from La Brea instead of 4th. There were a couple of reasons for that: 4th, in spite of its lack of traffic, has very few lights and a handful of bad visibility sections; 3rd figured to be better lit and not as heavily trafficked, being half past nine and all; and I’d seen a couple of people riding 3rd in traffic and it had taken a great deal of restraint not to roll down the car window and tell them to ride 4th – in other words, I figured they knew something I didn’t.

The bad news about 3rd is that the street is a mess. The right lane is just filthy with divots, cracks and other potholes, and there’s no shoulder to speak of. Not at all the kind of street I’d want to ride in traffic.

But the good news? I turned right onto 3rd just ahead of the late night Metro 16 rolling east. I thought about stopping and hopping on, but decided to stay on. I stayed ahead for a couple of blocks, but the bus pulled ahead of me along that dark residential stretch around Highland. Kept riding though, and I saw my chance at the clotted series of lights just east of Western. Put the hammer down, if that’s how you put it, and jumped back in front of the bus. Hauled up 3rd to the crest at Normandie and rolled the last couple blocks home. Moral of the story: I could have taken the bus, and it would have taken just as long.

Bikes are fun.

And another story from the ride home: I took Santa Monica and caught a knot of No on 8 protesters in front of the Mormon Church. There were a couple more knots strung out between Century City and Beverly Hills, causing a racket. I don’t know if it’s related to earlier protests in Westwood, but who knows. Least of all I. Actually, on looking around a moment longer, there was evidently a large crowd protesting this afternoon in West LA. LAist links to the story: Prop 8 March Creates Traffic Nightmare in West LA. A commenter notes that it’s not always about the traffic. How true.

being in the city

this is nothing about the bike or biking, but it is about being in the city. i’d seen hints of a story about a homeless man being burned to death in a parking lot, but didn’t read anything seriously until will campbell’s piece at LA metblogs. i’ve exchanged a couple of emails with will, but what i’m always struck by in his writing is his insistence on being there, being in a place. there’s such a strong sense of bearing witness to something larger than himself, a sense of understanding others not as types or caricatures but as people, as humans, as individuals. i have my own scattered thoughts about john mcgraham’s death, but please read will’s piece.

as a last thought: if to be homeless in this city is to be deprived of a name, then will’s piece, the way in which it insists on naming john mcgraham, is something rare.