Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Multnomah County Bicycle Fair

On Saturday I spent some hours drinking cheap hefeweizen and watching bikes ride in circles at Colonel Summers Park off 20th and Belmont in SE Portland. As a tail end activity to PedalPalooza, the Multnomah County Bike Fair attracted a diverse crowd of hardcore bike children of all ages (aww). I bought some anarcho-looking patches to add to my clothes, including the educational "Bicycles allowed full lane." I think I'll put that one on my backpack.
There was tall bike jousting:

A terrifying chicken on wheels:

Bobby got in on the action, riding in one of the bike derbys:

But then a ten year old girl beat all the bike freaks and won the derby. What a day for womankind!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Panasonic + Benotto Visit Scenic Portland

We are now in Portland, having Greyhounded it up here last Wednesday. We've been in the midst of all the business of visiting and doing bikey stuff like PedalPalooza events. And our bikes are here with us (mine's the Panasonic and Bobby's is the Benotto), in my case for the first time since 2007. It's much nicer having my own familiar bike to ride around instead of trying to pedal some taller friend's machine.
To take a bike on the Greyhound, one must box it up. Then they charge you $35. So Bobby found out that some clever, genius neighbors at our ecovillage developed a bike bag that allows you to travel with the bike. Since it's not a recognizable bike box, you might be able to skip out on inflated transport fees, and it lets you out of the hassle of finding a bike box, disposing of it when you get to your destination, then finding another one for your return trip.
They effectively designed a ginormous messenger bag:

It's a great idea, but it's fallen on hard times and has a broken strap, making the weight unevenly proportioned across your shoulder.
Still, it's smaller than the bike box:

Well, anyway, the Greyhound people immediately spotted that the bag held a bike, so we paid $70 for transport privileges (still not bad!). And then once we got to Portland 20 hours later, it was a logistical challenge to figure out how to transport the bike bag along with our other bags. Bobby tried putting his backpack inside the bike bag and carrying it like that, but it didn't work. So we ended up leaving it in a pay locker at the Greyhound station for a few hours while we took everything else home.

Hollywood Forever Movie Bike Secret

Quick note: we went to see The Graduate at Hollywood Forever Cemetery last Saturday (they show movies all summer, yeah, on a mausoleum wall and everything). These jobbies always attract a big crowd who line up and wait for hours to get in the gate and get a good spot on the lawn. But guess what, if you bring your bicycle, the ticket people let you right in before all the car slaves. Woo hoo! Not many people were there to take advantage of it the night we went, but it sure felt good to breeze ahead and cycle through the sunset cemetery and then get a really nice spot right by the projector.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bike Fun and City Hall

I've been knee deep in kittens for a while now. Case in point:

Here are Cholla, Borrego, Wolf, and Rinault all snuggled up next to my neighbor's vintage Arp synthesizer. These baby cats are hipsters already!
Yesterday I patronized not one, not two, not three, but four businesses along Sunset in Silver Lake and Echo Park. In SL, Bobby and I dined on delicious yums at Tacos Delta, then scooted down the bike lane to Masa in Echo Park. They served us a tasty riesling and then we headed across the street to El Prado for beers. I've been in a real wheat beer mode of late, enjoying all kinds of citrus finishes. After that, our two companions joined us back across the street for pizza at Two Boots. There we talked about this strange phenomenon where most of the young people we meet in LA are familiar with New York, and are always sizing this place up to that one, but in NYC rarely does one meet someone who has something other than a caricature of Los Angeles in their minds. Go figure.
Today I went to a special meeting of the city council's Transportation Committee at City Hall. Outgoing committee chair Wendy Greuel had convened this meeting to address bike issues, mostly, and a lot of bicyclists showed up to make public comments. The main issues at hand were LADOT's flawed bike master plan update, LAPD's misconduct toward bicyclists (but they didn't bother to show, so that was pretty one-sided), and funding issues around bike programming in LA. I was thrilled to hear multiple people mention low-income cyclists in their comments, focusing on this much-overlooked group in discussing the dangers of riding on the sidewalk and a need for Spanish language education and outreach. It felt lovely to hear others voice the same concerns I have. I used my public comment time to urge the city council and LADOT to be innovative and find ways to funnel funding for low-income families toward bike education programming. Really, I don't think these bodies make the connection between Obama's "green ______" attitude and the fact that encouraging cycling is about as green as you can get.
After three hours of presentations and public comment, we all escaped the committee meeting room and, based on a tip from a nice man in an elevator, I spent time looking at historical photos of LA on City Hall's fourth floor.
I spent some time reading a book in Bowdon Square, which sits right next to City Hall, has a lovely view of downtown and many jacarandas for shade, and is overall rather charming.
Lunch came next, deep in the heart of the gentrifying Toy District at Urth Caffe (where the service is awesome and the food is not too pricey, just sort of), followed by another delicious wheat beer (Franziskaner this time) at Wurstk├╝che on 3rd Street. That place had much more seating and tastefully minimal design than I was expecting. Finally a big beerhall that's not dark and gloomy!
Now I'm back in the land of Cat, working on a grant app.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recent Adventures in Bicycling

1. On Sunday I rode the 6.5 miles from my house to the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, then 70 miles to Long Beach and back, for a grand total of 76.5 miles. This is by far the most I've ever done in a day, and it was really rewarding. I borrowed some of Bobby's spandex shorts, making a slight concession to the roadie functionalist aesthetic, but haven't yet purchased clipless pedals and shoes, so I just wore some old sneakers. While the ride did tire me out, it didn't cause incredible soreness or stiffness in the muscles. This must be because it was such a flat course, following the LA River trail for a good chunk and avoiding hills in the city areas. Thanks LACBC for an excellent LA River Ride!
2. While relaxing in Long Beach before heading back to LA on Sunday, I met Charlie Gandy, who recently moved to LB from Austin, TX to help that city plan and develop better bike infrastructure. What a cool guy! Apparently he's been getting paid as a bicycle and city consultant for 19 years, and his charm will go a long way toward smoothing out the tension between homeowners and city planners in Long Beach over improved bike routes and signage.
3. The day before the River Ride, Saturday, I helped post route signs between the LA River Center in Glassell Park and the Autry Center in Griffith Park. I met some neat bike commuters, including a man from Guatemala who told me that my bike, a Panasonic, is more common there. Finally, the mystery of my Panasonic bike is solved! It's not just the result of a VCR gone horribly wrong.
4. The Saturday before the one mentioned above I met Jeff Mapes, whose new book, Pedaling Revolution, chronicles the burgeoning bike movement in the U.S. Another smart gentleman, very informed about bike issues, and sharing a love of Portland, where he lives and writes for the Oregonian. His book was recently reviewed by David Byrne in the New York Times' Sunday Book Review. Byrne, in addition to being a creative monster, has been an avid urban cyclist for decades. I guess bicycling must be the place!
5. I got funded to do a bike tour in the midwest in August. Now the question is do I buy Ortlieb panniers that match my bright yellow Ortlieb backpack, or some of those silvery ones (see, even I'm a consumer at times)? And now I have a reason to design and construct a bicycling costume that is not splashed in ugly graphics and made out of hideous fabrics!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Where Should a Dissertation Come From?

As a grad student, I've had the dickens of a time this year trying to figure out what should define my dissertation project: some inner idea that is still crystallizing, the relevant studies of my professors, or some other trend in academia? It's not that I'm having trouble thinking of subject matter; there is, of course, TOO MUCH. "Transportation in LA" generates endless anecdotes and nodes of study; add to that my interests in alternative property, intentional communities, and advocacy/ infrastructure versus activism/ practice, and you've got a flood of things-in-the-world to grapple with and sink into. And I'm not worried about knowing where to draw the lines on my areas of inquiry; I like narratives too much to get stumped by what stories to include.
It's the framing that concerns me. Should I model myself after some other academic I admire, or is there some more esoteric route to follow? There's a very powerful trope about doing what you want, about thinking freely without the constraints of a given mode of analysis, about realizing some internal vision despite the obstacles of institutional professionalization requirements. And that's sort of crap. First of all, no person is an island. We're all mixed up with the worlds around us, regardless of consumerist ideals that proclaim I should "be myself" and "express myself," as if I am not contiguous and within a collective world.
Secondly, while those who are blessed with the cushion of familial wealth may have the freedom to ignore institutional structures, the rest of us must, at the end of the day, do something that brings home the bacon. Sure, academia leaves a lot of room for interpretation and creative application of ideas and whatnot, but maybe I'll always have to do the science jig when the time comes to write grant applications. And by "science jig" I mean pretending that I believe that quantitative models can explain human behavior, despite my commitments to nuance, complexity, and a fundamental belief in the incommensurability of communication even between individuals.
Anyway, grant ranting aside, I'm overwhelmed with the possible theoretical frameworks in which to develop my project. Should I use a semiotic perspective and get down to business with meaning and communication? Should I go to public health? Should I draw on art history and archaeology to develop a hypothesis about the instability of objects' meaning? Or I could do the urban anthropological trick of showing how architects' and planners' attempts to structure space will always fall short in the face of rampant BRICOLAGE (I like that one a lot).
There's just no doubt that we are all, as individuals, highly influenced by our social settings and relationships. The way I see it, I'm like a mass of ants moving through the jungle that can break off at any instant into innumerable individual organisms. It's gonna take me a while longer to decide where the boundaries fall between my own creativity and the standard ways of talking about things-in-the-world in whatever tradition I choose to situate myself within.
In the meantime, I'll be riding my bike.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Living in LA = Cheap Film Industry Spectacles

Recently I've been swimming in screenings and tributes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences puts on a lot of events, and many of them are open to the public for ridiculously small fees like $3.
Par exemple, a few Wednesdays ago I dragged my tired body from the Hollywood/ Vine Metro station, sloughed off the grime, and entered the clean, controlled space of the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study on Vine. There was an open bar and cheese and fruit. I ate some melon in the corner, trying to look nonchalant in my beat up sandals and overstuffed backpack.
When the time came I found a seat in the plush Linwood Dunn Theater, where the plebes like me were relegated to the wings of the hall while the VIPs sat in the center. We watched several old, old films made when Hollywood was in its infancy. All were made between 1909 and 1914, using Griffith Park, Santa Monica, and other spots as the Old West or Europe or whatever they needed. Some of them were frightfully dull to my overstimulated brain (especially the proto-Westerns), but most had some spark of truth in their portrayals of human emotions and relationships. No living celebrities featured.
A while back I attended a Norman Jewison tribute event that featured a lot of people who had worked with him over the years, including Cher, Faye Dunaway, Carl Reiner, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and moderated by Leonard Maltin. Thanks to my sisters, who got there early, I got to sit up close and scrutinize the divas' plastic surgery with my own eyes. Both wore big accessories to hide their faces, including hats, wigs, and sunglasses.
These tributes feature a tremendous amount of laudatory remarks, and I find the ritual performance of social solidarity between entertainment industry craftspeople fascinating. It's such a spectacle, and not one in which the audience participates. Sure, we can laugh at the right points and clap A LOT, but there will be no mingling between me and Cher. In this way celebrities come on display and are perceptibly real; they're in the room, but still so inaccessible to me socially as to be more like animated dolls. When are they open to social contact? These tributes mark the boundaries of closed social worlds, up there onstage for all to see.
In the same vein, I went to another Academy event on Friday to honor Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the lyrics for a lot of movie themes in the 60s and 70s. This tribute took place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, and though I inadvertently made my way into a closed reception which featured a variety of smorgasbords, heaving with meats, I got shuffled out when some lackey noticed that I looked out of place. Bobby, though, better camouflaged than me in his dinner jacket, managed to enjoy some treats until they started flashing the lights and chasing all the reception guests out of the hall like cockroaches, trying to redirect them from the sumptuous feast up to the sumptuous theater.
The event itself was more of the same: "_____ is definitely on everyone's list of top _____," "____ are like family to me," "_____ are soooo special." Granted, what else are people supposed to say at a tribute?
The most famous guest, Barbra Streisand, also obscured her face with hair and sunglasses, but I was way too far back in the theater to see whether it was to hide age or just a part of her look. Quincy Jones played host this time, which was weird because at the Norman Jewison tribute the Bergmans and Jewison had talked about him a whole bunch. I think he introduced them all to each other. Then, at the Bergmans' tribute, Jewison was out of town and appeared only in a video tribute, but Jones and the Bergmans talked about him a whole bunch. Marilyn Bergman even told the same joke about Jones offering them a writing job on Jewison's In the Heat of the Night at both events, with a slightly different punchline at each.
I sure enjoy observing the performance of Hollywood's social networks, though it leaves me feeling a little dusty and used afterwards. For the vast majority of us, the only role is to clap and laugh.