Monday, September 28, 2009

Riding with Jornaleros

On Saturday City of Lights held its first group ride with participants from the CARECEN day laborer center near MacArthur Park and the IDEPSCA center in the garment district.

Our spoke card graphic, which I really really like, was made by artist Ernesto Yerena, a rising star who has collaborated with Shepard Fairey, among others.

Group rides have a special place in the hearts of the LA bike scene. From their start with Critical Mass, to the ongoing fun of Midnight Ridazz, group rides offer novice and experienced cyclists alike an opportunity to ride around and own the city together. Personally I prefer daytime rides to nighttime ones, since I like swooshing silently through the quiet streets with my panoramic views of downtown LA after dark, and I don't like facing aggressive drivers during the day. So I appreciate opportunities to ride en masse while it's bright out.

Our thinking with this ride was to use a popular model from the bike community in LA, the group ride, as an outreach tool to make stronger connections with cyclists who don't usually ride for fashion and fun.

My assignment as a City of Lights organizer was to hang out at the IDEPSCA center until the ride arrived from its starting point, CARECEN. I sipped coffee with another ride participant, an REI staffer who came all the way from Huntington Beach to ride with us. We chatted while the TV played coverage of a professional bike tour, entertaining the ten or so men sitting in the center. I got a brief lecture from someone about the benefits of green practices (I tried to explain to him that I live at an ecovillage, etc., but he just wanted someone to talk at, not with), and then Ernesto, the staff on duty, told me about an upcoming silkscreening workshop they're going to hold to raise money for jornaleros (day laborers) to join a soccer league.

Then I saw a bunch of cyclists ride up to the center's storefront, and the day had begun.

Here's a picture of the ride just before we started out from IDEPSCA's center at 18th and Main.

(I was filming the scene from across the street, so I didn't make the picture.)

We had ride support from the Bicycle Kitchen, with cooks Arlen, Scott, and Pedro helping out with flats.

We rode through downtown on Main, stopping at Placita Olvera for a brief historical overview from a docent.

Then we crossed the river and made our way to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, where we pooled our resources and paid a few performers to serenade us with "Cielito lindo."

Since this was our first try at organizing a ride with jornaleros, the ride organizers planned just a few stops. So we ended after Mariachi Plaza at Hollenbeck Park, where City of Lights organizer Andy had prepared a feast!

I filmed some short snippets of interview with a few guys who shared their thoughts about the ride. Everyone had fun, none of the jornaleros had been on a group ride before, and new group ride enthusiast Daniel suggested that our next one take us to the beach! Great idea.

We rode home over the 6th Street bridge and swam through traffic downtown because of the big corporate sponsored event going on this weekend.

Since my next big project for City of Lights involves collecting ethnographic interviews with program participants, I made arrangements to start a Spanish/ English conversation exchange with one the riders. That'll kick my university Spanish into street gear!

I'm happy to be part of such a cool team as the City of Lights organizers. At first Allison and I had a hard time finding volunteers who were both bilingual and understood that it was not our intention to belittle cyclists of circumstance because their bikes were poorly maintained or because they ride "wrong," on sidewalks. It's exciting to be part of this not only because we're making our own opportunities for urban cultural exchange, but because I'm part of an activist project that has anthropological convictions at heart.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bike Count!

This afternoon I sat outside the Casbah Café at the corner of Sunset and Hyperion for two and a half hours, sipping cold mint tea, twitching to the disco sound of ELO, and making little hash marks with a pen on some funny diagrams to indicate the passage of bicyclists and pedestrians through the intersection. That's right, I did a shift for LACBC's bike count, the first in this city!

Turns out I'm rare, at least in Silverlake, since I'm a helmet-wearing, bike-riding girl. Only about one lady cyclist went by for every five guys on bikes. And helmets? Ack, don't crush the hair! Or whatever reason people have, they're eschewing helmets like crazy.

I saw a lot of Chicano teenagers, all boys, on bikes, breaking out some bricolage with their gangbanger attire and monochrome fixies. Most didn't fuss with traffic laws. Oh to have the lust for danger that courses through a teenage boy! Scratch that, I'd probably get into waaay more verbal altercations with drivers.

As I listened to "Confusion" for about the tenth time, I thought about other things it would be fun to count:
- Number of people walking around with iced drinks in hand
- Number of people walking with friends or by themselves
- Who violates traffic laws more, cars or peds or bikes?
- Number of cars occupied by just one lonely person
- Number of pampered pooches using crosswalks

Many people passed through the intersection more than once. It was a pretty fun site to watch cause there's a lot of struttin' that happens along Sunset. I saw several bunches of teen girls holding their asses out at a juicy angle, the better to look uninterested behind their oversized shades. As a young person better schooled in Portland hipsterdom, I find LA hipsters too processed for my taste; where in Portland you'd find a soft fuzz, here there's a bunch of dead hair poking out of a suit that isn't quite old enough to be interesting. In Portland there are worn out sneakers, here there are stressed jean cutoffs. And butts come out a lot more here, that's for damn sure! Hot stuff.

After my shift was done, and I thought my eyes were going to bug out from all the concentrating, I went into Kelly Green down the street and bought some eco bourgie stuff. One of the people I'd seen walking a dog across the street like five times was in the shop, so we chatted, and I found out that the bike count was covered on NPR (nice work LACBC women!). She also sheepishly admitted that she was only out walking cause she'd lost her car keys. Ha! Well, she chose the right time to walk around her neighborhood, cause I got her down for like four solid crossings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Park(ing) Day Unwelcome at MacArthur Park

There's this ongoing annual arty/ architecty event called Park(ing) Day that happens all over the country. This year it happened on Friday, September 18.

In LA, it's taken the form of nonprofits setting up the usual temporary "park" in a parking space, feeding the meter and providing some diversion to passersby while simultaneously promoting their project. My amazing friend/collaborator Allison planned a park for City of Lights on Wilshire in MacArthur Park. We wanted to combine the public space statement that is a temporary park in the street with our ongoing efforts to publicize the bike movement to Latino cyclists in Central LA, so the activity Allison designed invited passersby to draw their ideal bike routes on maps of this part of town.

We had a nice park set up, with five people sitting under a shade canopy, many LA-appropriate succulent plants in pots, and my little Vox amp blasting Café Tacuba, when a police car approached. It slowed, and a window came down. We chatted with them, explaining what we were up to in the parking space, that we'd fed the meter, and that they were welcome to stop and have some orange juice. They drove on, and I felt my adrenaline drain away slowly. I'd never heard of any Park(ing) Day parkers getting harrassed by cops, and assumed it was totally legal since it's such a popular, national event, so I figured that was the last of it.

However, the same car circled the block, and pulled up behind us. This time the two officers got out of their car, and questioned our choice of parking space. We were set up on a curving part of Wilshire, the block that goes over the park on a bridge, and there were no other cars parked along our stretch. Right in front of us was a bus stop, and the signalized intersection of Park View and Wilshire after that. The officers were skeptical about our safety, since drivers routinely speed along that stretch of Wilshire. What if we had some traffic cones? No problem, I called Bobby, and he said he'd bring some from the ecovillage, where there's a bunch. This seemed to satisfy the police, who left to sit in their car.

But no, they still didn't like the whole idea of the thing, so they called in back up. Then we had four officers, including Iris Santin, who has been building a reputation as a bicycle-friendly officer in that district, questioning our presence. We repeated over and over that this event happens all over the city, all over the country, for just a few hours one day a year. Among themselves the officers decided we needed to get out of the street.

I called friends at another park, just a few miles west on Wilshire at Western, and they gave me the name of a police officer who had stopped at their park, seemed enthusiastic, and gave them a number to call him if they had any problems. They passed on that number to me, I called it, and reached a police department switchboard. I asked for the officer they'd named, but apparently the dude was on his day off. I explained the situation to the lady on the phone, who put me on hold and then let me know that they'd sent a superviser to our location. As I hung up the phone, I realized that the superviser was already there, bringing our total to five cops and three cars, agreeing that we needed to get out of the street.

I entered the conversation, keeping my voice steady as I explained, again, that this event was happening all over the city with no problems; why should our park be an exception? I told them the name of the friendly officer who had visited Wilshire and Western, and they dismissed that with "he's off today."

The superviser had a hard time understanding why we were in the street to begin with, confusing Park(ing) Day with bike lanes or something. At one point they claimed we should get out of the street because a pedestrian had been killed right near where we were set up the day before.

During this conversation, a car pulled up next to our space and three women tumbled out, beaming at us and asking about our park. "We're from the CRA," they told the police, who told them to get back in their car and move along because they were blocking (hypothetical) traffic. I explained to the police that people knew to look for us here because of the Park(ing) Day map distributed online, trying to emphasize, again, that we were part of a larger event.

When we asked if we could set up in a different parking space, like on Park View, which is a lower traffic street, they just repeated that we could not be in a parking space because were were not a vehicle. Iris Santin stormed off to her car after I continued to express my confusion over what, exactly, we were doing wrong, and I tried to reason with the superviser, but, eventually,
we got out of the street.

We schlepped all of our many accoutrements down to a corner that the officers had decided it would be okay for us to use, though the shade canopy was out of the question on a sidewalk.
After calming down for a bit, we moved across Wilshire to a shady area and re-set up our park. Passersby commiserated with our situation, and eventually the day went on like it was supposed to.

Bobby called the office of Ed Reyes, the councilperson for District 1, and someone there spoke with the police superviser who had kicked us out of the street. The superviser told the council office staffer that we could set up in a space on Park View, directly contradicting what they had told us earlier in the street. As we'd already spent another 30-45 minutes re-setting up our space, we decided to stay where we were.

I left for a few hours to visit other parks, and found a lot of astroturf and happy people, but no similar stories of police harrassment. I guess MacArthur Park just isn't allowed to have something that many other parts of LA welcome.

At least Allison was able to collect many bike route suggestions from people who stopped at the park.

City of Lights organizer Andy Rodriguez speaks with a passerby on Friday. Photo by Allison Mannos.

Here's Allison's entry about the day on the LACBC blog. Sadly we were too caught up dealing with the police to take pictures of our first park on Wilshire.
A photo of us also got posted on LA Streetsblog.

I've been reading a lot of interpretations of Bourdieu and Merleau-Ponty this week, so I understand that the officers are just unable to see possibilities outside of their own daily routines, but man, is it ever disheartening to struggle for change in LA sometimes!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unfathomable Mystery

I was idly reading a book when I heard Adonia in the kitchen exclaim in increasingly incredulous tones "what the fuck... what the FUCK??" She then invited me to guess what was in the toaster. I peered in and spied a blackened mass. Fearing the worst (fried mouse or giant cockroach), she rattled it out to reveal a mostly melted kryptonite bike lock key:

We have two working theories. The cats like to carry small objects around, so it is conceivable they could have moved the key. However, they are not known to frequent the counter the toaster is on. In addition, even for a cat it seems ridiculously idiosyncratic to drop a key in the toaster.

The second is that in the hustle and bustle of moving last March, the key could have been jostled into the toaster. This seems slightly more likely, since we were moving only a few blocks and moving with great haste (1 minivan, 6 hours, a Gadda-Lugo record). Since we did zero packing ahead of acquiring the services of a minivan, we were creating bizarre packages of objects. The toaster could have been thrown in a pot that also had a small cactus and a bowl of loose change and keys in it.

This leaves the troubling implication that it has been melting in the toaster since March, and that we did not notice the fumes of plastic and batteries melting (it's the kind with an LED light built into it), potentially consuming trace amounts of burnt plastic in our toast. On the upside, the key still works, so now we have a backup for that key if I manage to lose it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chick Strand's Short Films at the Egyptian

Last night I went to an LA Filmforum tribute to Chick Strand, a filmmaker who passed away in July. I'd been intrigued by her bio, which includes a training in anthropology, and I wanted to see if her films could be considered ethnographic. That's a big yes.
Not only did she film a lot in Mexico (which, in the grand 19th century tradition of studying the "other" would make her work automatically ethnographic), her work paired sound and images in very evocative ways (which is ethnographic in my own reading, focusing more on ecstatic experiences than on narrative).

Her "Guacamole" (1976) moves from a market where a woman hunches under a huge side of meat, lifting it off a hook, to some dark interior where light filters through orange and red pebbled windows. Meanwhile the music's tone gets darker and darker, while a woman's voice undulates in gitano style, singing about the soul of a child. The play of light and water, droning tones.

One of my favorite shots was in "By the Lake" (1986). She shows a staircase flanked by dozens of blooming geraniums, pink and red bursts with green, vaguely geometric leaves. Some beautiful tone is building in the background, and then water starts darkening the stairs, which frees the music and it wanders.

We sat clapping in the dark for a woman who is dead. During the long pauses between films, as the projectionist loaded the next volley of images, I half expected to see this gypsy woman's form appear in the gray theater. What a strange incantation it was, since so many of her films evoke the angelic with shades of the demonic. But she stayed gone, at least to me, who did not know her.

Then when I got home people were sitting in the street enjoying a campfire. I joined them, though I'd missed the s'mores.

Two Options for Public Space

1. Fill it with people
2. Fill it with cars.

On Saturday our neighborhood got together to paint the street outside the ecovillage, with inspiration from Mark Lakeman of Portland's City Repair.

I wasn't really sure how many non-ecovillagers would show up, since we're actually not that well known in the neighborhood. It turned out that a few people had gone door to door in the week leading up to the streetpainting day, and had let neighbors know that we'd be hosting a fun event for kids. So the kids showed up in force! I hung out with three siblings whose grandma lives across the street. They enjoyed my cats, the fish in our lobby's aquarium, and the chickens in the courtyard.

My neighbor Kathy took a lot of pictures of the process, which can be viewed here.
And Erik Knutzen wrote about the day here.

We painted for hours and hours. There were tasty vittles available, and I didn't even notice that I was straining my muscles by squatting for hours at a time while painting a new streetcar line where the old one used to be. I made a brick stamping device from foamcore, an old broom handle, corduroy, and a lot of duct tape. Behold the results:

My neighbor Joe wrote a good description of the old H Line that ran down our street from 1920 to 1947. The lettering was done by another neighbor, Kwan Wu, who is currently studying signmaking at LA Trade Tech.

The trolley tracks connect up with the main design of a lizard DJ'ing on a bike wheel through a really neat wave section:

At the top of that picture you can see the green tarp enclosing the lot that will soon be a community garden, thanks to the efforts of ecovillagers and others who lobbied LAUSD to reconsider their plans to put in a parking lot on the site.

At the end of the day we decided to use an old coffee cart as an experimental free store outside our main building, moving all the things that had been gathering dust on our free table out there. People have already been taking things, which is good.

It was a lot of fun taking over the street and watching kids play wherever they liked. You do not see kids playing outside in our neighborhood until there is a space created for them (and their parents) to feel safe. Many drivers use our little two block street as a way to avoid traffic on Vermont, and gun their engines through the piddly stop signs that are meant to calm them down. Ecovillagers are now committed to reclaiming the street as often as possible, and have already shut it down again for a potluck since Saturday.

And now for that other way to use public space: fill it with cars. The Brewery is an arts complex in Lincoln Heights, just NE of downtown LA. I'd heard about it for a while, and we rode there for a friend's birthday party after Saturday's painting was done. Since the space is a converted industrial facility, I assumed there would be a visible emphasis there on sustainability as an aesthetic principle. Not so, unfortunately. The place is a fortress, with inward-facing units, and the courtyard is full of cars. There wasn't even bike parking, we just locked up to a rail. I could see some artists hanging out in their doorways, trying to experience the "colony" aspect of the place, but with so many cars parking and parked in front of them I don't see how they can even make eye contact. Maybe some artists there will soon revolt and be like, huh? Why should our courtyard be given over to cars? But I guess that explains how they can have lofts for $2,000 in somewhat ungentrified Lincoln Heights: secure parking for the Benz.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More Bike Riding in South Orange County

Since finding doctors is an annoying hassle, I've been making an inconvenient trek down to Laguna Hills to see mine since I moved back to So Cal in 2007. Fortunately and unfortunately, my insurance is changing this month, so on Wednesday I made my final trip to the hellish medical tower that houses my doctor's clinic.
I'd figured out a route from the Irvine Train Station to the Laguna Hills Mall area last year, but this time I decided to try a different route since I would be starting from UC Irvine. I've mapped the new route, which follows Moulton Parkway, and added it to my South Orange County bike map on Google:

View South Orange County by Bike and Transit in a larger map

Riding through Laguna Woods, a massive retirement community behind gates, I had to climb some long, steep hills. For some reason, though, I didn't start getting honked at till I turned onto busy El Toro Road, where a downhill let me fly. I think I even got honked at by a bus (!) that had a bike on its front rack (!!?).
Moment of triumph: I finally reach the medical tower and start locking my bike up to the railing I've used as an improvised bike rack since they lack bike parking, and a little old lady comes up to me and says, "How did you get here so fast? I was turning out of Laguna Woods, and saw you creeping up the hill, and you're here already?" I explained that since drivers in Orange County do not know how to behave properly around bicyclists, I tend to ride as fast as I can to keep up with traffic. "Well, you look great," she replied as she walked away.
So not only did I get to interact with one of the drivers of those seemingly impenetrable luxury OC cars, it was a positive one to boot!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Heidelberg Project

This weekend Mark Lakeman of Portland's City Repair will visit LA Ecovillage. He's giving a talk on Friday, and helping facilitate an intersection repair project on Saturday. Details here. I first learned about City Repair in 2006 when I took a video editing class at Portland Community Media (PCM), the cable access organization. My group decided to create a short documentary about City Repair, whose big street paintings and cob benches dot Portland. I was most familiar with the stuff near the Pied Cow off Belmont. Class time ran out, and we never finished the piece. What stuck in my mind was the new editing techniques I'd learned rather than City Repair and its mission.

However, now that I live in LA, and have become much more sensitive to community-building as a pastime and goal, I think City Repair is a great organization.

In Detroit you can visit something that reminds me of City Repair, though it is one man's vision as opposed to a neighborhood creation. Tyree Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street on the eastside of Detroit, watched it fall apart as people moved away and houses came down, and twenty years ago started turning his block into an art piece called the Heidelberg Project.

Bobby and visited the street a few weeks ago, and were surprised to find that Guyton himself hangs out there and attempts to stage interactions between different types of visitors. His project embodies the DIY spirit, and that's his take-home message too: don't wait around for the government or anyone else to step in and solve your problems, do it yourself.

The project itself features re-used building materials, industrial byproducts, houses made into 3D canvases, stuffed animals, and so forth.

Bobby's pictures are here on Flickr.

Here's one view, featuring the painted street:

And here's me and Tyree:

He and his photographer were tickled to hear about our bike trip, and when I asked Tyree if I could get a picture with him, he insisted on hopping on Bobby's bike.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Boogie Boarding into Compton

A while back I got heavily into Stacy Peralta's surf and skate documentaries, spending a week home sick in Portland watching them over and over while huddled on the couch I'd dragged next to the little gas heater in my big drafty home. Even though I grew up a few miles from the beach, the fact that I was a mixed race girl from a poor family meant I didn't get into the surfing thing, and had only spent a little time on boogie boards as a teenager. Nevertheless, I feel the lure of a magical surfing film like Endless Summer. Peralta's movies give a bit of that vibe, though they suffer from a very unfortunate tendency toward the music video. That is, the cuts are fast, overproduced, and there's like fifty songs crammed into an hour and a half of documentary. He seems to be more into the moment than the big picture, although the stories he chooses to tell are so interesting that his movies still manage to overcome their own short attention span.
Then this week Bobby and I lifted some ancient (like circa 1987) boogie boards from my mom's garage, and ever since I've been scraping my belly up on a scratchy old styrofoam board that is falling to pieces. But do I feel like Laird Hamilton? Maybe just a little bit.
Today when we got home from the beach we decided to watch Peralta's newest film, Crips and Bloods: Made in America. As former residents of Long Beach, Bobby and I spent a lot of time in 2007-08 riding the Blue Line through South LA, and I got exposed to a very different style of "ghetto" than the comparatively lush and pastoral subdivision where I grew up, which was considered a ghetto nevertheless by white South Orange County residents because it was home to Mexicans. Traveling through the towns and neighborhoods I'd heard of in the rap songs that came in my bedroom window in that simulacrum ghetto, and later shared in dorm rooms at my fancy liberal arts college, I learned the scale of poverty, segregation, and inequality existent in Los Angeles. It's off the fucking charts, as it is in most American cities. A lot of people wouldn't consider riding the Blue Line, and it's another symbol of the fear of public transit that keeps people in their cars in LA.
So anyway, Peralta's film chronicles the legacy of segregation and the lack of conventional opportunity that have contributed over many years to the current gang situation in South LA, telling the story of a facet of the cultural zone I've passed through on the Blue Line. It does so in a sympathetic manner, choosing to portray gang members, both active and former, as human beings caught up in conditions not solely of their own creation. I particularly appreciated the attention paid to the role of private funders in granting money to nonprofits staffed if not founded by community members in South LA. Because, in the end, the film wants to be a contributor to an activist movement that fights to provide choices for young people (but especially boys, women only appear in the film as crying faces of wounded motherhood, I think it only showed one interview with a female gang member) in an environment that, according to the film, has led to higher levels of PTSD in children than that of wartime Baghdad (they quote a RAND Corporation report at one point).
In other words, once again, Peralta managed to tell a story that stuck with me despite the shitty editing techniques he's popularized.
And all the while the movie played outside roared the helicopters. It occurred to me, reading through the unfavorable reviews, that maybe the context of LA matters, that I'm going to feel the movie a whole lot more cause I live off Vermont on the grid that connects my part of town to the part in Peralta's movie. Manohla Dargis, writing from Manhattan, can focus on filmmaking but in the city where the film lives, it's about the story.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Orange County Too Racist for Buses?

Add $95 to my annual transit fees. UC Irvine will no longer offer free bus passes to students. But this is one small part of a much larger debacle.
I know Orange County harbors a lot of ill will toward immigrants, and the poor, and anyone who isn't an American Dream success story, but I didn't think administrators at the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA) would be ignorant enough to actually propose eliminating bus service here. I was wrong.
What do these people think bus service is for? Do they understand that public money pays for every mode of transportation in some way? Where do they think the money for their freeways comes from, Carrie Prejean? Or maybe their church offerings every week?
The utter selfishness of suggesting something that would make life immeasurably harder for people who already struggle in this closed county shows how un-Christian, un-American, and ultimately inhuman people here can be.
Fortunately I'm not alone in my indignation and outrage. There is a group that has formed around transit advocacy in Orange County. Since I found out about the fare increases, service cuts, and potential total elimination of public buses in Orange County starting from a note on Metrolink's website this morning, I've read a bit of the Transit Advocates of Orange County's blog. What a relief that there are some rational minds lobbying for fairness in this mess. I'll have to add attending their meetings to my list of things to do. Also, their website lists upcoming public meetings with OCTA staff and board of supervisors.
We all need to get around public spaces to get to work, consume endless amounts of garbage from big box stores, and get back home again to watch television for hours. Just because someone uses a public bus instead of a public freeway to do so does not mean she has less rights to that service than the freeway user does. In this case the cultural differences that allow the dominant group here to think of bus riders as menacing undocumented walking stereotypes blow my mind, and make me want to cry.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

LAPD, Crosswalks, Enforcement, and the Law

All LA officers seeking bicycle certification must take a training course through the police department. Yesterday two of the instructors of that course, members of the LAPD Bicycle Coordination Unit, came to LACBC headquarters downtown to meet with City of Lights people.
In our outreach at the Carecen Day Laborer Center near MacArthur Park, we've heard from multiple people about getting ticketed for sidewalk riding. Technically it is legal to ride on the sidewalk in LA, though officers are allowed to cite bicyclists for riding on sidewalks with a "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property" (LAMC 56.15). This complicates matters when you're trying to educate bicyclists about their rights. Basically an officer can cite a person for sidewalk riding if he/she feels like it, especially if the cyclist does not speak English and is unprepared to defend himself. While most of the bike advocates I've spoken with strongly advise riding as a vehicle instead of on sidewalks, there are still many people in LA who feel safer on the sidewalk (even though in reality the sidewalk rider exposes him/herself to far more blind driveways).
Okay, so moving from there, the issue we've come across is that riding on sidewalks around MacArthur Park and the Metro station there has led to some day laborers getting tickets. My collaborator Allison went to the park to investigate signage there, and discovered that there is no clear stance on whether it's okay to ride a bike in the park or by the station.
We presented photos of these ambiguous signs to the very gracious bike school instructors, and they agreed that the situation is unclear. However, as they emphasized over and over, there's not much that can be done in terms of changing enforcement of the law; officers on the street won't listen to other officers telling them what to do. Police culture aside, it is true that what we need to do is lobby for less ambiguous policies around bicycling, but as someone who is currently fighting a jaywalking ticket, I know that vulnerable road users get scapegoated in LA as a cause of traffic. Selective enforcement does have an impact because it determines how policies get implemented; in this way cops do play a role in interpreting policy.
It's going to take a lot more work to decriminalize carfree mobility in Los Angeles, but at least there are thousands of officers out there who have bike school certification, according to the folks we met with.
But what are they learning in bike school? One of the issues we discussed was riding in crosswalks, which has been covered recently by LA Streetsblog and SoapBoxLA. According to one bike instructor, it is always illegal to ride a bike in a crosswalk because bikes are considered vehicles, and the bicyclist would be going the wrong way, traveling perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Bikes should be walked across crosswalks because off a bike a cyclist is a pedestrian, the instructors agreed. As an example, they mentioned an LAPD officer who was riding across a street in a crosswalk, was struck by a car, and then was cited for riding in a crosswalk.
Later in the day we talked with a longstanding bike advocate about the crosswalk issue, and he pointed out that it's a bunch of BS because bicycles are not "vehicles"; they are "devices" in California law.
Bicyclists are not pedestrians, and we're not drivers, yet we must fit into a legal system built around those statuses. This leads to much illogic.

Santa Monica does have some nice stuff I guess

On Sunday I read this article in the New York Times about this public pool run by the city of Santa Monica. It's on Marion Davies' old beach estate, it's made of marble, and it only costs $1 to get in on Mondays ($10 all other days of the week). So the next day we got down to Wilshire and 720'ed it all the way to the coast. The 720's great if you can avoid rush hour crowds. It gives you a tour of downtown, Koreatown, Mid-Wilshire, and Beverly Hills. Sure it bounces as it thuds along Wilshire's pockmarked face, but the air conditioning can't be beat on a really hot fiery day like we've been having in LA.
We took our bikes along, and rode along Ocean Avenue when we reached downtown Santa Monica. Ocean has a bike lane, and fairly low traffic. I didn't bother to write down the address of the Annenberg Community Beach House where the pool is located, so we rode around confused for a bit. Then I thought to look over the cliff at Palisades Park and sure enough, far below along PCH, there sat the modern additions to the estate that I'd seen on the internet.
There's a café included in the estate complex, so we had lunch there before heading to the pool. Since it's a popular spot, and Mondays are probably a busy day because of all the bargain hunters like me, we had to put our names on a list and come back later to see if we could get into the pool. Fortunately we were on a beach, so we went swimming while we waited to go swimming.
All that remains of Marion Davies' once-sprawling estate is the long, narrow, marble pool and a guest house that's open for tours. The raucous parties I've read about in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books are echoed now by the screams of children whose parents bring them to the pool in droves. I couldn't help but think how strange it was to see petted little spoilt ones bobbing about in the marble pool that was built for the drunken frolics of stars and starlets.
Continuing our tour of Santa Monica, we rode to the public library. It's airy and light, really nice in comparison with downtown LA's library, which suffers from a postmodern addition that turned its gaze inward rather than allowing patrons to read by windows. Anyone who has a California ID can open an account at the Santa Monica Public Library. They even have a café. It's not as much of a "statement" library as the Seattle library designed by Rem Koolhaus, but it still forces the visitor to recognize that libraries aren't just about shushing and card catalogs anymore.
Since Bobby was on the verge of a job interview, we also visited the Third Street Promenade to get him some non-pastel-colored socks. I expected it to be like The Grove, LA's hideous homage to Main Street, USA, complete with a slap-in-my-face trolley ride through the fiberglass promenade for people who wouldn't dare set foot on an LA bus. Third Street did have some of the same simulated nostalgia, but since it crosses city streets I also saw a lot of insurrectionary pedestrian behavior. At least it allows people to interface with gridded street traffic on foot, something the Grove avoids. The only streets you can cross there lead to the giant parking garage that looms over the consumption zone.
But it was good to escape Santa Monica, with all its homeless and bossy rich people! It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't exchange it for Central LA.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Biking Across Michigan, Day 3: Portland to Brighton

After a night at Portland's only motel, the Best Western American Heritage Inn, a stone's throw from the interstate, we hopped back on Grand River Avenue and scooted our bikes toward the state capital, Lansing. Here we hoped to find a nice afternoon break and some riverside trails to give us a break from highway riding. Based on the state seal, I expected plenty of tuebor and circumspice, dancing stags and moose, the works. The capitol building proved animal-free, but full of nice details that are original to its 1878 construction or were added in the intensive restoration they recently completed:

This is a ladies' restroom outside a senate hall. What trim!

Nice light fixture.

Cast iron staircase from Philadelphia.

And the dome.

The architect who designed this building, Elijah Myers, had a significant influence on capitol architecture in the U.S., and coincidentally the other capitols he designed are ones I've visited (Austin and Denver).

The rest of Lansing appeared lackluster to this bicycle tourist, though we did nicely manage to pass through the city using river trails and bike paths through Michigan State University. Alas, eventually the campus ran out and we found ourselves flung once more onto a busy highway. Grand River Avenue goes through many many big-box-exurban nightmare zones. We kept expecting traffic to die down, since we were getting out of a city and back into the country, but the buffaloed small towns full of huge chains kept coming for some time.

After a while traffic did get lighter, and we could ride more comfortably. Then I spotted an ice cream stand and ate the biggest banana split I've ever seen. And managed to ride another 15 or so miles afterwards!

The day gave out just past Howell, where all the white folks were out to celebrate a melon festival. Usually I'd be all over a melon festival like flies on...melon, but there were no motels to be found near that little burg. So we rode to an interstitial zone between towns where there was a cheap ass motel with horribly smoke-riddled rooms. Let me tell you, it is a shock to grow up in California and then visit other parts of the country where people smoke a lot; and it's not just the hipsters, it's like grandmas and shit! And the restaurants have "non-smoking" sections, but that's a crock. And if you sit outside, the mosquitoes drink drink drink!

Our cheap motel was pretty grim. It's called the Grand View Inn, and here's a picture of the 60s themed room (that's right, theme rooms in rural Michigan). Our room wasn't themed, though, unless the theme was jail or something.

On TripAdvisor you can read the planted review of the place, which I'll just copy here cause I'm a jerk:
This is very good motel, clean and staff is very helpful. All shopping and resturants are very close by. We stayed at the Jungle Jacuzzi suitres one day and Wester Jacuzzi on second day. WE LOVE IT!!!!
We were provided a free bottel of wine for our anniversary too.
I recommned this motel to all. This is an ideal place for brideal shower, wedding day stay, anniversary too. You can treat your love one by staying in this romantic suites.

Online hotel reviews are hilaaarious, we've discovered. Either they're written by the sort of people who carry Febreze in their purses and expect something other than threadbare pillows for $89/night, or by the migrant families that run the establishments.

Fortunately we got to watch more "Married with Children," which has apparently taken over TVLand's entire programming schedule. It plays for at least two hours every weeknight.