Wednesday, April 15, 2009

City of Lights

I've been working with a collaborator to develop a program for giving out bike lights to Latino immigrant cyclists in LA, since we see a heck of a lot of people riding around without lights or apparent familiarity with bike safety. We call it City of Lights, and through donations from Planet Bike and my school, UC Irvine, we've given away around 100 lights this year.
At first we started by having volunteers roam the city and hand out lights to people they passed on the street.
Handing out lights in passing was exhilarating, but we wanted to find a way to make more of a lasting impact on our program participants. We weren't fulfilling one of our main goals: establishing more connections between Latino cyclists and the bike activist community in LA. After a bit of research, we decided to partner with the CARECEN day labor center at the Home Depot near MacArthur Park. Now our program has visited there twice, attaching lights to bikes and chatting with the men who are waiting for work at the center. I can never forget that the men I'm joking with are there by virtue of the fact that they are not working; their presence at our table indicates that they will not be getting paid that day. It's made me think about the goals of our program, and to renew my interest in making City of Lights about more than bike lights. We want to empower some individuals to become advocates for Latino cyclists, offer trainings on bike safety and maintenance, and gain access to more expensive but vital accessories like locks and helmets.
I'm certainly familiar with the historic emphasis on labor as the best site to impact people's disempowerment within societal power structures, but I really believe that our work as bike activists can have a transformative effect as well. We are encouraging our program participants to reflect on their experiences as bicyclists. Not sure what will develop.

LA to Oakland is Cheap Again

Bobby found, via our intrepid signmaker neighbor, a bus service called California Shuttle Bus. It runs between the LA area and the bay area, and costs around $39 each way. I decided to run up to Oakland at the last minute on Thursday, and I ended up on Greyhound ($48). (Both CSB and Greyhound do noon and midnight express buses up the 5, stopping at the Burger King in Coalinga Junction.) I even took the Loose Goose along, feigning ignorance when the bus drivers were like, that's a bike, pay extra next time. This reminded me that I must purchase a large nondescript bag in which to tote the Goose so that people don't figure out that it's a folding bike. Cause, here's another con of the folding bike, then they'll just treat it like a bike and arbitrarily charge you more.
I slept all the way up, a first for this frequent long distance bus rider, and arrived in Oakland early enough to rouse my dear friends for a lovely breakfast at Aunt Mary's, a tasty café near their house in the Temescal neighborhood.
The next day I had a bang up time traveling around San Francisco with another dear friend. We worked on our plans for a midwestern bike tour, happening in August, and enjoyed Mission burritos before visiting the hipster district along Valencia. It looked a lot like Silver Lake, or NE Alberta in Portland. I guess all hipster districts look alike? It's kind of like Starbucks, where you can count on finding what you're familiar with in a new city (which is nice, cause as a hipster I like to see other peacocks struttin it). But really guys, how many shops selling embroider-your-own-owl kits do we really need? Only time and the economic downturn will tell. (Not that I dislike twee design stores, I love em. See me straddle the line between critique and adoration!)
After a smashing good time weekend, Bobby and I piled our bikes onto a California Shuttle Bus and headed back south. I discovered that CSB had tried to charge my bank account $6600 for the privilege of using their service, so my bank blocked that, and when I called CSB they were all like, no way, what? So maybe it was just a fluke, but I'll be paying them in cash in the future. At least they didn't recognize the Loose Goose as a bike, so I didn't have to pay a $5 bike fee like Bobby did.
When the future high speed train zips me up the San Joaquin Valley in mere seconds, I'll be quite happy to switch over, but for now, call me a happy bus rider. What's funny is that the CSB actually supports class hatred of the Greyhound on their website, and I could tell that the people on the bus were not really into the experience, so to speak. There wasn't chatter during the bus ride like there frequently is on Greyhound; no spontaneous community formed around our sharing of the same space for 6 hours. (But I don't like spontaneous community; see, I'm straddling that line between critique and adoration again. Usually if strangers try to speak to me I'm all clammy at first, but then I can't resist cause I like people, I just also like being in my own world.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Home sick, why not write a blog entry?

Why not indeed. While I try to decide whether heading up to Oakland for a confluence of friends is a good idea, I'm making a casserole that may be disgusting. As a new member of a food co-op, I've got soooo much eggplant and other similar vegetables on the cutting board right now that I'm kind of grossed out. I know I need to grow beyond my meaty tendencies at some point, but sheez, I don't know what to do with so many veggies. Probably shouldn't have taken my first veggie box the same week that Bobby went out of town. I've been sick, alone, and overwhelmed by the food rotting slowly in my fridge. More freaky dishes using weird combos of veggies coming up!
In Urban Adonia news, I got to play transit consultant for some colleagues at UC Irvine today. They have a speaker heading down from LA in a few weeks, and asked how this person could travel without a car. I like giving people detailed accounts of how the impossible is, in fact, quite easy, so that made me happy.
Yesterday I re-read one of my favorite books, a collection of short stories by Willa Cather, and sobbed quietly in the bath about the death of a sweet young woman in "The Best Years." I love her stories, she was really good at conveying the emotional experience of small towners in the midwest and southwest, and made a cornfield bordered by sunflowers seem really magical to me when I was a teenager. Part of my midwestern bike tour this summer will be a kind of hunt for the scenes in Willa Cather's stories.
I met the LA City Council president, Eric Garcetti, at a shared street dedication in my neighborhood on Monday. Bobby and I made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves by showing up late, dressed all cas, on our bikes. Garcetti was making a speech and added a quip about how the new bulbout on the shared street made room for bicyclists, too.
My road bike has a flat tire, so I've been riding my folding bike around for the past week and a half. It's really not as bad as I'd thought. I'd really turned on the Loose Goose, deciding that folding bikes are a gimmick and that a cheap one like the Dahon Speed doesn't do the job. I still think the sucker's really heavy when folded up and it falls over a lot and stuff, but when it's unfolded it makes a pretty good bike. And it's easy to carry up stairs cause the seat rests comfortably on my shoulder. I think when I was dragging it around last summer I was folding it up way too much, it's really something that should be left unfolded as much as possible. Folding optional, for me at least.