Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bikes as Fashion Accessories

Now that Urban Outfitters is selling $300, customized bikes with flip flop hubs (which means they can be fixies or single speeds), I think we can safely say bicycling has reached a sort of apex in the fashion cycle.
In my studies of fashion, art, subculture, and other fields of production, it has been clear that the aesthetic trumps the functional (unless, of course, the aesthetic is functionality!) in the end. What is built into these products is more consumable than sustainable. Is it different now that bikes are fashionable again? Can bicycling survive its embrace by fad generators such as Urban Outfitters?
Surely there's something more to riding a bike than looking cool, at least for a lot of us. The embodied experience of moving through space fast, propelled by one's own feet, wind whipping the face; it's not just a trendy thing. The look is, however, very important to a lot of riders. Many eschew helmets, despite the evidence that they protect heads pretty well, simply because they look uncool.
So what I sometimes imagine happening is that bikes will go from being a sort of underground, in-the-know device to being wildly popular among teeny boppers and Miley Cyrus and whatnot. Based on Pierre Bourdieu's explication of cultural fields, we should expect that this popularization will drive the OG bicyclists back into their cars, or onto buses, or something to escape being associated with the now overexposed bicycling trend. But isn't this case different? Bike advocates want bicycling to become popular, and not for the same reasons that an artist might want her work to get recognized, or a DIY designer might want her fanny packs to get mass produced at Target. The gain, the profit of bicycling to advocates is social. The more people we get on bikes, the better our cities and our sociality becomes. There certainly is an industry of bicycling that benefits from increased ridership, but there are also legions of bike enthusiasts who write magazines, blogs (ahem), and books about how great biking is.
Will the bike movement grow stronger as bike fashion gets more popular?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Irvine in July

This photo, which I took from a bike path in Irvine, pretty much sums up south Orange County for me. In the background you have the base, which is a naturally splendid environment bounded by Saddleback Mountain to the east and the ocean to the west. Next, oodles and oodles of subdivisions, each more stuccoed than the last, housing hundreds of thousands of families. And then, of course, the freeway. This is the 405, a few miles from its joyous reunion with the 5 at the gridlocked junction known as the Y. Next we see a channelized waterway, and last is a regional recreational path. Does this picture illustrate "the good life"? Are there people who find satisfaction in having their homes look exactly like their neighbors', who prefer freeways and windy subdivided municipal roads to urban grids, who don't mind taking walks and bike rides along strange, frozen waterbeds that lie next to manicured lawns, chlorinated pools, and paths that try to be whimsical in their curving?
Of course!

This was my view if I turned my back on the freeway scene in the last picture. I like the primary colors and the sweeping brown hills.
Later, from the Irvine train station, I had a fantastic view of Saddleback Mountain. Houses haven't yet crept up the side of the mountain, but I wonder if they're in the works at the Irvine Company or Rancho Mission Viejo, two large landholders in this part of the world that have devoted themselves to maintaining old timey, ranch-ish images while burying land under profit-'sploding McMansions.

Suburban melancholy aside, later when I got home to LA I figured out a nice way, using patented Bobby technology, to secure my bike on the Red Line. I carry an innertube on my bike rack because it is handy for tying things down, and it also works as a securement device.

This way I could sit down and try to read a volume on the ethnography of walking instead of straining my arms to reach the overhead railing and bucking with each rumble of the subway in its flight down the tunnel.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

City of Lights Video by the Illustrious Ms. Adonia

I made this video to show people what the City of Lights Campaign is all about.

It was kind of refreshing working on a video project that wasn't just based on my ecstatic musings about cats and industrial landscapes. And I am a firm believer in the abilities of movies to convey an idea swiftly and clearly. I may not be the next Jamison Handy, but a girl can dream!

cicLAvia Workshop at g727 and other Saturday Affairs

On Saturday the LACBC Ciclovía Committee, of which I am a loyal and enthusiastic part, held a ciclovía workshop at artist/planner/awesome Angeleno James Rojas' gallery in downtown LA, g727. James' workshops involve a short presentation, then a little prompt from him on what we should be visualizing, and then about half an hour to plan a city scene based on the prompt using the wide variety of small objects he has collected for this purpose. For our workshop he asked participants to create bike-friendly spaces for cicLAvia, the Los Angeles-specific ciclovía our committee has been designing for the past nine months.
We had about twenty new faces show up, including a Colombian/ Puerto Rican artist named Carolina Caycedo who is doing a show at g727 this month. She spoke enthusiastically about growing up with ciclovía, like how teens flirt there, and show off their hot bods and whatnot.
Here I am working on my little project flanked by Carolina, Jonathan Parfrey (LA environmentalist extraordinaire), and Bobby, he of the moustache.

My friend and collaborator Allison Mannos took the picture. She also got a lovely one of my bicycle:

I used my shiny new panniers to transport drinks for the workshop from the bourg-tastic Ralph's downtown. They can securely carry five bottles of Perrier, three bottles of Tejava, and a modest jug of Martinelli's, I've now discovered. That's a lot of glass containers.
After the workshop we went to a massive craft fair being held at the California Market Center a few blocks away in the Fashion District. It was called "Renegade," but was mostly cutesy stationery and full skirts made of different layers of cotton or whatever. I bought some nice cards and ogled a lot of excellent designs. It made me want to revive my enthusiasm for craft fairs and make some stuff to sell again. I'd just have to accept that craft fairs are good places to meet other DIY designers, but not good places to make enough money for a fancy dinner out.
And then, after that, we went to a bbq and met lots of lovely art students. Quite a Saturday.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

LA the Port of Los Angeles

That's what they're a-callin' it these days. How does that make sense as a name? Is there an implied colon? Like "LA: the Port of Los Angeles"? But the way our tour guide said it was more like "LA the Port." I only caught the trailing "of Los Angeles" from the promotional materials they sent home with us, which are now strewn about on the floor in a code only the cats can decipher.
So we went on a tour of the Port of Los Angeles (their silly marketing names be damned!) put on by the Green LA Coalition yesterday. This included a boat tour of the massive superstructures that dominate the southern LA coastline, numerous moments of greenwashing, and a lot of opportunities for epic pictures.

Colorful ships carrying tons and tons of products for Americans to buy at superstores. But the environmental effects of so much freight moving in and out of the busiest port in the country get offloaded onto local residents of the cities of Wilmington, Long Beach, and Carson. We listened to presenters from Coalition for a Safe Environment (CFASE) talk about their efforts to improve air quality in this area, working with the port to ensure higher emissions standards for trucks. The small costs of improved trucking technology would impact the price of that made-in-China trinket at Wal-Mart by mere pennies, but LA is famously dull when it comes to rational transportation and environmental infrastructure and planning. For example, someone from another organization spoke about the proposed expansion of the 710 freeway to 14 lanes, which would dump more and more diesel particulate matter on homes, schools, and gardens, filling the throats and lungs of children with debris.
Ugh. LA makes it hard to believe that there is progressive work being done in other U.S. cities. When I go to Portland or pretty much anywhere out of Southern California it's like emerging from a gray nightmare. And hanging out with activists and advocates gives one a feeling of hope because they're all working damn hard on these issues, but also leads to rising swells of indignation because one can no longer ignore the connections between such an everyday American action as buying some throwaway crap and asthmatic children in the poorest neighborhoods of Long Beach.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coast Starlight Again

After ten days of vacation in Portland, we had to say goodbye to that fair city. We departed Bobby's family home in Westmoreland on our bikes, loaded with panniers and backpacks, and headed for Union Station in downtown Portland. From that part of SE Portland you can take the Eastbank Esplanade all the way across the river on the Steel Bridge, ending up right by a pedestrian bridge that takes you over to the station.
Amtrak provides bike boxes for $15, with a bike transport fee of $5, for a total of $20 to lug a bike between Portland and LA. This is a better deal than Greyhound's $35 for sure, especially cause you don't have to somehow drag a bike box to the station and then break your bike down. Amtrak's bike boxes are large enough that all you need to do is lower the handlebars to one side and then wheel the bike on in.
And we got lucky cause these nice people from Seattle were just arriving at the station with bike boxes and they offered us theirs in lieu of us purchasing new ones. So it only cost $10 to get two bikes 1,000 miles down the west coast. Huzzah!
Then it was ride, ride, ride for thirty hours down to Los Angeles. And what a nice trip! We spent a good deal of our waking hours in the observation car (the one with all the windows- here's an example of one from the Empire Builder that goes between Chicago and Portland:


At the Eugene station, we got out to get a breath of fresh air since it was an official "fresh air smoking stop" (incongruous, no?) and saw all these prisoners looking at us passengers from their cell windows.

This was a tad creepy.
Most of the trip was delightful, filled with overheard conversations about seafaring, alcoholism, and this one lady who kept falling asleep while eating her salad.
Finally we made it back to LA at 8:30 pm on the 4th of July. From the back end of Union Station where we were unbundling our bikes from their boxes we could hear fireworks and firecrackers exploding in all directions, occasionally glimpsing the explosions themselves.
Then we got on the Red Line for the last transit portion of our journey, cuddling our bikes up in one of the new bike areas Metro has created in the subway cars.

They ripped out a seat in each car, but without signage or securement for bikes. I only know about this development because of LACBC's role in pushing it forward. Put up some signs, Metro! And some velcro straps, too.
When we got to our stop and made our way down Vermont to the ecovillage, we heard booms and screeches all around. Invisible pyrotechnics enthusiasts set off blasts behind buildings, in parking lots, and in streets. And then at home we climbed atop the roof to see the lights going off in all directions. This has been the most warlike 4th of July I've ever experienced, maybe that's more true to the spirit of fireworks, eh?