Tag Archives: vermont

things to remember

Last night was my first time back on the bike in what feels like forever: Rain Thursday night kept me from trucking my bike home on the bus, and it rained enough on Friday to convince me that riding the bike home that night wouldn’t work either (the beers that evening didn’t help). As for the weekend, washed-light and fleeced clouds that it was, I didn’t make the trek west from Koreatown. So it was only last night that I confronted the thought of getting back on the bike.

And it’s funny: A couple of days waiting for the bus gives you pause. As far as commutes go, mine is a cinch – make my way to Vermont/Wilshire in the morning, pick up the 920, skip into Westwood; sure, riding the bus on the way back east is an experience in itself, but the streets had mostly emptied by the time I got of my last meeting. So the choice: Bike home in the foreign cold or slip on down to throw my bike on the rack of the 720?

Thankfully, I decided to coast on down Westholme – the cold rough against my knuckles, the sudden tearing of my eyes at the wind – and roll my slow way east. I’m glad I did too: The storms have washed the air (or if you want the scientific version, the low front drove a cold front through Southern California leading to less moisture content in the atmosphere and resulting in greater visibility), and the waning moon hung in the sky singing in its slow loping voice. Mostly empty streets tonight, and moments of catching the moonlight through sycamores on pavement, spun silk scored with shadow.

That was reason enough to ride, I suppose. I’m looking forward to tonight (although before that happens – and if you care – Go Heels!).


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.

riding because you can: critical mass

There was some point during last night’s Critical Mass ride when Brian – recently moved from Jackson Hole, now living in Culver City – turned to me and said, I don’t have any idea where we are.

Last night’s ride – my first – had a lot of those moments, even for someone who lives in the area. For people who came in from other parts of Los Angeles, their heads must have been spinning by the time we finally ended up in the parking lot of the Rite Aid at Hollywood and Vermont. That was about the time that I peeled off, but the two hours’ ride we took last night curled through Koreatown and up into the eastern verges of Hollywood, down empty streets and streets thick with families leading their kids out trick-or-treating, along back roads (as much as any exist in Los Angeles) and through the thick of traffic heading west on Sunset or on Melrose.

I mapped out the ride this morning, and what struck me was the way in which the map confirmed a feeling I had when I was riding: We didn’t really go anywhere.

Check that: We didn’t really go anywhere in the way that I usually think of going places in this city. When I get in my car, get on the bus, or even (usually) when I get on my bike to commute home from campus, I have a very destination-oriented approach to what I’m doing. Sure, there are different modes of moving, but they are all teleological, in that they’re inflected by my desire to arrive at a specific place as efficiently as possible. That’s not Critical Mass. While there’s an ultimate destination, the ride is everything. While there’s a route, it’s not so much about getting there efficiently as it is about having FUN while doing it.

And that’s kind of daunting at first. Coming from an experience of riding in the city where I’ve always been going somewhere specific, it was a little confusing to figure out how to fit in with the group. I don’t think I quite managed it, but you can reach a point where you just settle in and ride for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

You ride because you can, and though I don’t know much of anything about the ethos behind Critical Mass, that way in which it lets you ride for no other reason than that you can strikes me as something rare and something worth fighting for. See you next time.

in praise of the 714

One of the arguments against biking in Los Angeles – at least, one of the common arguments you hear on the Westside, where I grew up – is that the size of the city precludes using a bike as your means of transportation. There is, after all, a certain perverse logic to the city, an almost sinister immensity. Never mind the fact that people (see Will, especially, but also Gary and BikeGirl) manage without a car (and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not one of them), biking in Los Angeles sometimes seems daunting because the city seems so… well… big.

With that in mind, I’d like to sign the praises of the Metro 714. One of my greatest reservations about moving out to Koreatown from the Westside was how much further away from UCLA I’d be. But prior to moving, I looked on the Metro service map and figured out that I could probably subway to bus to campus without too much trouble. Problem was, the Sunset line (the 2 and the sometimes mythic 302) took anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and forty minutes, and I couldn’t bring myself to spend that much time in traffic every day.

The other option I had in mind was the venerable 720, which a friend of mine rides between Koreatown and Westwood. There were two problems with that: First, the 720 never leaves Wilshire, which puts you down at WIlshire and Westwood when you get off the bus – not the worst thing in the world, but when coupled with the crowds of people that cram onto the 720 (and that’s my second problem, the crowds), I just couldn’t bring myself to pedal down to Vermont and Wilshire, wait for the 720, sit in a crowded bus, and then have to pedal the rest of the way up to campus once I got off the bus.

Enter the 714. It doesn’t go as far west as the 720 or the 704, but that keeps most of the crowds off it. It doesn’t run all that late into the evening, but I’m usually trying to bike home then anyways. It has the advantage of only making a handful of stops between Vermont and Beverly and its western terminus at Santa Monica Blvd and CaƱon, runs roughly every twenty minutes, and best of all, I can almost always plan the trip will take me the same amount of time. The ride I have left (the map of the whole route is here) isn’t long enough to really wear me out, even though it ends with a stiff hill, and is usually pretty peaceful.

There’s no sitting on Sunset while the DWP decides to jackhammer one lane of traffic during rush hour; no full bus racks that leave me fuming while I wait for the next Rapid to come through; no reason, really, not to ride the 714 (and not to mention the fact that UCLA subsidizes my TAP pass).

As a last aside on mixed transit, Gary of Gary Rides Bikes put up a good post a little more than a week back on his sterling experience using public transportation to cover a huge swath of the city. The general Metro page, with a couple of good tips, can be found here, with a handful of other rules to live by here. While on that site, Metro also has a section on Bikeway Planning. I have yet to look through it, but it seems worth a look. And, while not actually about public transportation, BikinginLA is continuing his thinking about ways to legislate our way to a better biking world.

knowing the roads

Some time ago, I read JB Jackson’s Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. The details are a bit fuzzy, but at some point in the book, he suggests that what was lacking in landscape scholarship was an odology, a study of roads. It was a suggestive idea at the time, and though the specifics of Jackson’s argument have long since fled, the word has stuck with me, and it came back to me on today’s ride.

For going on three months now, we’ve lived in the shadow of Griffith Park without ever making our way up there, so I took advantage of today’s spectacular weather to pedal my way north (the full ride is here or here). I’d been a little worried as to how my legs would take the grade, but it went smoothly, aside from one break on the way up to take some water while sitting in the shade of a sycamore tree.

It’s been years since I visited the Observatory proper, and cresting the shoulder where it sits took me back to a kind of childlike state. There’s a broad green lawn, a tall white monument at its north end, and then the broad face of the Observatory at the edge of the hillside. There’s much more to write (probably not by me) about the Observatory proper, but I took a couple of minutes to saunter up to the roof.

It was not, to be fair, the most beautiful sky one has ever seen. Lingering ash and smog to the east threw up a haze on the Angeles National Forest, and Long Beach was lost in a haze of marine layer and ozone. What was neat, though, was to see Western Normandie (even though the story works better if it’s Western) slicing south from the foot of the Park, all the way south into an indistinct away. A couple of intrepid souls (congratulations to them!) walked the length of Western yesterday, and leaning against the railing of the Observatory, it almost made sense why.

One might argue that the straight road extending to the horizon is one of the archetypal images of the west, and Western might pick up on something similar. Reyner Banham wrote that it was those boulevards like Western that first began to give shape to an otherwise formless city, and again, it’s easy to see from the Observatory.

As for how all of this gets back to biking: One of the limits of both Jackson’s work and Banham’s appreciations is their position in the automobile. For both, understanding the road came out of an understanding of the automobile; knowledge of the former flowed from the experience of the latter. But getting on a bike, taking the wide curves of the Park by bicycle, pushing south on Vermont on traffic, leads to a different kind of knowledge. Scenic, perhaps, but also more visceral, material, a physical experience of the road.

I wrote a piece this past summer about motorcycles and back roads, finding something suggestive in Robert Pirsig’s description of the unframed experience of the motocycle. This – what I’ve written here – doesn’t speak directly to it, but I think it makes a similar point: There’s something to knowing this city, its long boulevards, by its roads; and knowing those roads through a bike is, I want to think, different than knowing them through a car. I don’t know how yet, but it was a beautiful day to ride.

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.


seasons come and go here; and you know you’ve really fallen for the angeleno dream when you start insisting on the subtle nature of the seasons here. let the blue ridge mountains have their riots of color and the upper midwest have their first drifts of snow, the thinking goes, we’ll take our incremental weathers.

agree or not, it was a beautiful day for a brief ride on the bike. stiff wind in off from the ocean, the air scrubbed a clear blue over griffith park, a bite to being outside. as a ride, it wasn’t much to speak of: from beverly and kenmore, up heliotrope, past orange 20 and the bike kitchen, weave through the bungalos and apartment buildings of little armenia, up edgemont to franklin, then over to hillhurst. on the way back down, vermont felt free enough to ride, even freighted down with groceries.

a brief stop in orange 20 – it’s still shaping up, filling in, stretching out – and a passing thought about a new backpack: my messenger bag (a well-worn Timbuk2) doesn’t carry it’s weight all that well, and i’m trying to figure out a new way to take weight longer distances. any suggestions would be much appreciated.

but then home, all too quickly.