Saturday, November 28, 2009

Santa Fizzle

(That's "Santa Fe" to those who do not speak izzle.)

We've been riding around in the heart of a mecca for bourgie m'er-f'ers. Santa Fe does not sit on a grid for the most part, its narrow streets radiate out from the Spanish colonial plaza, but it's been a very pleasant city to explore by bike.

Amtrak's Southwest Chief carried us overnight from LA to Albuquerque. Then we detrained and saw this, which alarmed us slightly:

Bike boxes aren't supposed to come open during transit, so it seemed Bobby's bike might have been again smooshed. Fortunately it only suffered additional bending to the rack that they'd bent last time we took our bikes on the Chief.

We toured Albuquerque for a few hours. A lovely friend happened to be home for Thanksgiving and met up with us, introducing us to the state cookie, the biscochito. It's not a delicious combination of biscuits and cheetos, but rather a crispy sugar cookie with tones of anise.

The Rail Runner ferried us up to Santa Fe later in the afternoon. This train is a lot like the Metrolink commuter trains I ride in Southern California, except with a heaping of regional idiosyncrasy. The seats are bright red, and the Looney Tunes' roadrunner sound (meep meep) plays as the doors close. Plus, unlike Metrolink, it's super cheap; it only cost us $5 apiece to travel the 70ish miles between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. On Metrolink that trip would cost something like $12, which is the price to ride between LA and Oxnard, roughly the same distance apart as the New Mexican cities.

The bike securement system on the Rail Runner is not as easy to use as Metrolink's, though.

Once we arrived in Santa Fe, we started reveling in visiting a city on such a different scale from LA. The distance from the train station to my sister's job? Like a block. The distance from my sister's job to her house? Maybe eight blocks. The distance from her house to the Plaza, the historic city center? Around nine blocks. Perfect for biking! Drivers have been courteous, too, except for one society-looking lady from Colorado who'd probably knocked back a few too many appletinis before she drove back to her luxury accommodations.

This place is full of what Bobby has termed "fauxdobes," pleasant simulacra of the pueblos that the Hispano and Anglo settlers gleefully destroyed for hundreds of years (this state's got a bloody history that gets in your face all over the place).

To escape the upscale consumption marathon of the Plaza area, we decided to bike a few miles out of town to a city park, achieving our goal of biking to hiking opportunities. Climbing hills at 7200 feet challenged me quite a bit. The nice part, though, was zipping down the highway at sunset. That's why we look so smug in these pictures, cause we felt pretty badass.

Beyond the hiking area sits a Japanese-style spa complex called Ten Thousand Waves. Having scouted the route yesterday, we made our way back up the hill today and spent many hours enjoying an outdoor hot pool, sauna, etc.

Now it's snowing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Student Fee Hikes, Moonlit Bike Ride

Last Thursday the UC Board of Regents met at UCLA and voted to raise undergraduate student fees by 32% (Here's an NY Times article on the subject). I went to UCLA to protest along with students from throughout the UC system.

I am still fairly new to protesting, having succumbed to the apolitical stupor encouraged, unfortunately, by a liberal arts education. What I mean is that, having fully accepted the concept that there are multiple perspectives to everything, and that action in one direction will not necessarily achieve the desired effect, I spent my first adult years detached from the political system. The first step toward shaking me out of this inactivity came when a colleague at the nonprofit where I worked in Portland in 2007 listened to me brag about not voting (as if I were somehow too smart to participate in the system) and shook his head. As another Chicano from Orange County, he straight out told me that I was being an idiot, especially because I can represent an underrepresented group. Point taken, John!

Now that I'm up to my ears in bike activism, I've learned oodles about how decisions get made at a local level, and I do my best to stay informed about elections. After I vote I wear my "I Voted" sticker with pride for days.

And even my academic self is okay with action, as I've been pushed by my progressive department to view any choice to remain "objective" as a choice to cede control of my work to others. Because, the theory goes, we are gonna be biased one way or the other, and the more effort we make to choose a bias, the better we are at accurately representing something.

So this academician-citizen took the 720 over to Westwood to join the protest. As I rode my bike through the commercial village that separates UCLA from Wilshire I saw four helicopters circling over the campus, the only indication that something unusual was afoot.

At a protest there is lots of chanting. At a protest largely attended by undergraduates, there is also lot of leg, cleavage, and flirting (see the NY Times article picture). My grad student friends and I pulled back from the crowds at some points to comment on the act of protesting as a nostalgic performance, a reference to some 1960s fantasy brimming with youthfulness, passion, and whimsy. It really felt to me like a rite of passage more than anything, like a thing that these kids knew how to do because of what they'd seen in movies, read in books, or whatever.

A simulacrum, but a heartfelt one. Many of the protesters were students of color, and as a teaching assistant it thrilled me to see so many undergrads demonstrating for their own and their peers' rights to a quality, affordable education.

And now, a tale from my regional lifestyle:
When there no longer seemed to be a focus for the crowd of protesters, I embarked on an adventure via 920 to Santa Monica. I needed to get to Long Beach to shake hands with Jeff Mapes, author of Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities, and I figured I'd try to do it by heading south on the beach path that zips from Malibu to Palos Verdes. From there I could hop on a bus, #232, all the way along PCH to the Long Beach Transit Mall.

Just as the sunlight faded, I made my way down the path through Santa Monica, Venice, and then Marina Del Rey. At that point, though, there's an inlet for boat traffic, and I ended up zigzagging through marinas for about half an hour before giving up and trying to find a major street that would take me across the water. I found a path that eventually led me to the Ballona Creek trail, and I got to ride straight into the moonlight along the funny peninsula that runs between the creek and the marina's channel.

Then I made it back to the beach path, sliding along an empty white road with the moon on my right. I mean it was freaking awesome. When I made it to Hermosa Beach, I popped up the hill to PCH and had a delightfully short wait for the 232.

The bus ride took an hour, meandering through such exotic locales as Lomita and Harbor City, eventually cutting through Latino Wilmington, and then meeting up with the Blue Line along Long Beach Boulevard. I saw a few classy mid-century strip malls and motels, and more than one homey diner.

Leaving the bus, I hopped into the new 1st Street bike lane and zipped through my old neighborhood, Alamitos Beach, making my way to the museum. I arrived at 7:45 pm, my epic journey taking me 3.5 hours total to travel about 30 miles (it would've been less if I'd known how to get through Marina Del Rey).

I did what I'd gone there to do and then went home on the Blue Line.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

City Symphony and Symphony City

Yesterday I ran errands in Hollywood, dropping off an order for business cards, and picking up records and a wig.

Despite the pronouncements I have heard from those who would view Hollywood as LA's version of a revitalized Times Square (where'd all the prostitutes and drunks go?), I think it's still a remarkably scuzzy place for a tourist trap. At least lots of different types of people like to go there, making it more of a mish-mosh than most of segregated LA.

Once night fell I entered the Egyptian Theatre to see Sufjan Stevens' "The BQE," which turned out to be a triptych film in the city symphony genre (see all the movement and traffic! technology and humanity and architecture!). The soundtrack realized in full the leanings he has shown toward serial composition and classical a la Americana, kind of like a mashup of Philip Glass and Aaron Copeland. I liked the parts that sounded most tinkly, with bells and quiet arrangements, not the splashier crescendoes so much.

Most of the visual elements of the film consisted of shots of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Unfortunately the movie also featured some hipster hula hoop performers whose air of ironic detachment did not lend itself well to the screen. Awkward dance moves and shaggy legwarmers are best left to Burning Man, WTF Sufjan.

Then instead of staying to watch the other city symphony films being screened we left on a tip that Terry Riley would be playing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown. Scooting over on the subway, we bought rush tickets for $10 and locked up our bikes on an unused rail.

While we waited to enter the in-progress performance, I realized that we would also be listening to the Kronos Quartet. Thrills!

Two and a half hours and many avant-garde compositions later (Matmos and some guitarist/composer were also featured), Terry Riley took the stage, white beard gleaming above a snow white blazer. His bald head loomed over the honey-toned organ on stage, and he led Kronos, Matmos, and the guitarist guy in a blues-y raga composition.

But then everyone else left the stage, and Terry Riley went over to the massive and ridiculous explosion of an organ that dominates the center of the concert hall. The technicians had made the lights that shine up the pipes magenta, so the old master played in the center of a diabolical ensemble over which he had total control, manipulating the keys and buttons and pedals of the organ at will. I'm not fancy enough to have a camera phone, but many people in the audience snapped pictures of the sight.

He played on and on, and eventually we had to escape from the spectacle in order to catch the Red Line home. What a strange vision!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gold Line Fun!

Crowds + new train + bikes + camera = see below.

Mariachi Plaza Station, from the gazebo there.

Bike parking and bike lockers at Mariachi Plaza.

People in the street! This is 1st Street closed for the Boyle Heights Block Party they held in conjunction with the Gold Line opening. Everyone's crowding around to hear and see a lady singer belting out baladas.

Down below, people waited in line to ride the new subway to East LA.

Here's the new public art in the Soto Street Station. The overhanging egg in a wire nest is a bit silly, but I really like the map of old Los Angeles overlaid with blue birds. Go see it yourself, my picture doesn't do it justice.

This is the view of the LA River from the 1st Street bridge during the magic hour.

And if you turn around on the bridge, you can now watch the trains approach and depart downtown LA. This is my favorite stretch of the new line, cause you can ride your bike alongside the train and wave at the people inside. Since it was a Sunday, the bridge had very little traffic. It felt like a train/ bike only bridge. What a dream!

The loveliest moment of the day came when people disembarked from the train at Mariachi Plaza and clapped. I don't know if they were applauding the historic return of rail transit to East LA, or some other happy event, but it made me feel really good inside.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

cicLAvia in the News

Upon returning from Bogotá, Colombia last fall, Bobby and I helped form a committee to bring a ciclovía to Los Angeles.

This month we got covered by the Los Angeles Times (Who's quoted? I'm quoted!). As proof that mainstream media has a long reach, a fellow grad student in faraway Michigan wrote to me since he is also planning to do a dissertation about bicycling.

Other websites, including a drivers' forum, picked up the thread from the LA Times' website.

Then ABC did a little segment on cicLAvia.

Streetsblog also did a post about us.

Woo hoo!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another Bicyclist's Manifesto

I rode fast along Virgil, pumping my legs and allowing my body to swing from side to side as I pushed up the last hill before I went under the 101 freeway.

I would usually avoid a busy street like Virgil at 3:30 pm, the beginning of the tire-squealing, rage-filled spectacle known here as “rush hour,” but there is no other way to cross the 101 between Virgil and Vermont, an even busier arterial some distance west.

As a young person who has made the decision to live carfree in Los Angeles, I have made the transition from riding inside of cars, where too often we sit frustrated in gridlock or isolated from the city around us, to riding bikes and buses, where I no longer have to maneuver a ton of steel around hundreds of thousands of other, similar tons.

Once you get outside of your car, everything changes. The sounds, the sights, your impression of humanity. Namely, many people drive so sloppily you would think they do not understand that one in fifty Americans will die in an automobile accident. What is this mass delusion that allows us to get in our cars and drive so poorly?

To illustrate this point, let me tell you about some of the things I saw as I rode home from a local bookstore today.

The most egregious sloppy driving I witnessed came from people turning corners: one man accelerated into his left turn, one hand clutching a cell phone to his ear, crossing into the opposite direction’s turn lane. His face registered no joy in this reckless action. A car full of young men swerved in front me a few blocks later, deciding to ignore their red light for some reason.

After I made it past the freeway and coasted the last few blocks until I would leave Virgil for relatively calm neighborhood streets, a few last hazards came from people who slammed on their brakes to make turns. This caused the people behind them to slam on their brakes because they had been following very closely, with some of them swerving to avoid the nuisance of having to stop. One almost swerved into me after some person had the audacity to attempt a left turn, but thought better of it at the last minute.

Finally I turned onto 1st Street to climb the last hill before my block at Bimini Place. Before I started pedaling up the hill, though, I watched an elderly man run across the street at a corner, where he legally had the right of way, to avoid being hit by the cars coming down the hill I was about to scale. They barely paused, indicating that he was indeed right to run; how dare he break the flow of their trajectory?

Almost reaching my intersection, I pulled into the left hand lane and signaled my left turn, all according to the rules of vehicular bicycling. The two cars that flew past, within inches of my body, either resent the techniques of safe riding or simply don’t notice that people outside of cars do not have a two foot buffer of steel around them.

Who are these people? They are parents and children, brothers and sisters.

Who gets into a car and forgets everything about common courtesy in a mad rush to reach some distant destination? Many, many people make this choice, conscious or not, every day.

These are not aliens from outer space inhabiting human forms, these are not drone cars driven by some future technology.

As a bicyclist, I pay extra attention to drivers because so many of them apparently feel exempt from having to pay attention to the environment around them. At this point in time, this is the cost of having the freedom to move through traffic, shifting from the sidewalk to the street as needed. I get around with ease, but I'm sure as hell not going to ride around the way I see people driving, so that means paying attention to every vehicle I pass.

Whether driving on your own block, or fifteen miles from home after work on Friday afternoon, you put everyone’s lives at risk when you drive recklessly.

Cars are inherently dangerous. Why add to this baseline by treating your gas and brake pedals like video game controls?

If you’re fed up with the vagaries of the roads, with having to sit behind rows and rows of people like you, try leaving the car at home sometime.

You have nothing to lose but your ulcer.

My Heart Belongs to the Hot, Dusty Pines

On Sunday we ventured east to Pasadena, where we ate breakfast with family in a white midcentury corporate plaza that now houses a Souplantation.
Postmodernism aside, we were there to finally access the Angeles National Forest, after months of looking at those distant mountains with longing on those clear days when the haze has not swallowed them up.

Not knowing much about the forest, I'd found some information about the Echo Mountain Trail to the Mt. Lowe Railway area, which sounded promising. We accessed it by following Lake Avenue through Pasadena and then Altadena until it ends at Loma Alta Drive. As we drove past the Lake Avenue Gold Line stop in my mom's car, Bobby and I realized we had found a trailhead that would be easily accessible by bike and transit. Hooray!

It turned out we didn't have much time for hiking, but I consider it a thoroughly successful reconnaissance mission. The trail rises from the old Cobb Estate, and since it was a pretty hot day sweat soon covered us all. Some mountain elf we met on the trail told us that you could see a groove carved along the edge of a canyon, evidence of the old Mt. Lowe Railway's path, but I'll need to get some more detailed information for our next visit.

I'm a child of Southern California mountains, since my family landed in San Bernardino in the 1890s and raised grapes in the hills there till the Depression struck. Even after she left that agricultural life, my great-grandmother took all her offspring on nature expeditions. My mother's subsequent appreciation for hiking and camping took root in me as well. The exhiliration I feel when I hit a dusty trail, surrounded by chaparral and breathing in the wafting smell of hot pines, goes a long way to making this girl feel human again.