Diversity

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I like routines. I’m a pretty strategic, logical, thinker. For everything that isn’t time spent with family, writing or riding, I want efficiency. I want to spend as little time as possible washing dishes, cooking dinner and doing laundry. So I like to work out routines so that I devote as little thought to these tasks as possible. And, yes, I’m a profoundly unambitious cook. The kitchen is not a place of magic for me.

As a cyclist, routines allow me to dress quickly in the morning; I am usually ready to ride, from waking to clipped-in, in less than a half hour. Routines are handy for those weekday morning training rides. If you’ve got two hours to ride, you can’t spend ten minutes deciding on a route, so established routes with known turnaround points are key to me making the most of my riding time.

However, there’s a point when routine becomes, well, routine. After the 16th consecutive week of doing exactly the same ride on Saturday, I tend to go batty. And even though I haven’t suffered that monotony of repetition lately, I have been trying to do lots of very easy miles (any Strava notches in my belt this time of year are purely accidental). And we all know from experience that group rides and going easy go together like multinational corporations and ethics.

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So I decided to do something I don’t often do. I headed inland.

To non-Angelenos, that last statement will probably seem unremarkable. To cyclists of the Westside and Southbay, what I just wrote is considered tantamount to a suicide note. Like all big cities, Los Angeles has its areas of the ruling class (Brentwood and Bel Air), the haves (Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica), the doing okay (Culver City), the getting by (Inglewood and Pico Rivera), and then the hood (Rancho Dominguez—better known as Compton). Los Angeles also has exclusively industrial areas, such as the city of Vernon, which lies due south of downtown and has a whopping population of 113.

As I mentioned, I’ve been trying to do loads of very easy miles. While the coast of Southern California is punctuated by constant undulations of terrain, the area east and north of my home offers hundreds of miles of bowling-lane roads, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings they can be pretty lightly traveled.

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So I took off into parts unknown. Mind you, these are sprawling swaths of suburbanity, spreading plains of asphalt and concrete, so they are known to millions of people but their residents are unfamiliar with Lycra-skinned cyclists and to cyclists, well Canterbury Knolls might as well be the Congo. After all, most of LA south of downtown that isn’t coastal is as hip as new Coke. These neighborhoods are not even stylish in an ironic sense, let alone the revived urbanity of a place like Echo Park or East Hollywood.

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And it’s in these assumptions that educations occur. The preceding two images were shot near Leimert Park, and if anything can convey how a place is loved, how a place matters, how a place is home, it’s public art. The mural was an African creation myth that moved from the Big Bang through the pyramids and right into 20th century music and beyond. It was a remarkable and moving piece of art.

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For the last two weekends, my rides have foregone the coast, both north and south, in favor of routes that take in the city’s rich ethnic smorgasbord. It’s worth remembering that for much of history all Western art was religious in nature. I couldn’t help but notice that as I moved away from the coast the occurrence of churches climbed sharply. And they came in more flavors than we have words for skin color.

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The above was the nativity scene at Olvera Street, the Hispanic district in downtown. It’s a well of deep Catholic spirituality, a place where belief informs daily life, isn’t relegated to an hour on Sunday morning.

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This has been a year unlike any other in my life. And while any year has plenty to qualify it as unique in a person’s life. This one has been so chock full of successes, disappointments, frustrations and downright tragedies, that I realized that right now the bike is, more than ever, my temple, a place where I can think, meditate, sometimes just brood. I don’t have anything to prove—not even to me, so my rides have become an opportunity to explore, to see, to wonder.

The exploration has inspired in me an odd curiosity. I find myself trying to imagine the daily arc of the lives of people who live in Little Tokyo, Silverlake, West Adams. The beauty of Los Angeles is rarely discussed, but the deeper I dig, the more I find. The wonder of what lives I might have led has never been more palpable than as I ride through these neighborhoods.

 

17 comments

  1. Adam

    Back when I lived in LaLaLand, I called Koreatown my home. Every Saturday morning, I’d head through the “doing okay” areas and the “hood” before arriving in the South Bay for the morning rides or on my way to the shop in Santa Monica I moonlighted at on the weekends. The mornings were always pleasantly quiet. Elderly couples, draped in jackets, carried umbrellas for their morning walks when there was no cloud to find in the sky. It wasn’t until I could smell the salt in the air, the waves crashing still barely audible that the masses left their doors for their morning Starbucks. I miss those mornings.

  2. Peter lin

    I live in MA now, but I grew up in southern CA. You are pretty brave to venture East into LA. Hopefully one day LA will be bicycle friendly, though I really doubt it considering southern CA is car crazy.

  3. armybikerider

    Major kudos to you Padraig for venturing off the beaten path that is characterized by watts or heart rate or any other “fitness” measure and instead focusing on why it is that (most of us) ride a bicycle in the first place.

    “……my rides have become an opportunity to explore, to see, to wonder.”

  4. Harold Woodley

    A fantastic post Padraig. My favorite organized ride of the year is the City of Angels Fun Ride. It’s far from the toughest or the longest ride on my calendar but it’s definitely my favorite as it takes you through some of the same sections of the city that you have been riding recently. It also comes complete with rolling closures provided by the LAPD which makes it even sweeter.

  5. Jesus from Cancun

    You brought me some nice memories. I used to live in Chatsworth some 25 years go, and pedal my way to the Rose Bowl and the Griffith Park rides.

    I had the Northridge Tuesday-Thursday ride and the Topanga Cyn. ride just a few blocks away from home, so sometimes riding that much farther sounded like too much. But there was something in the city scenery that I enjoyed, something very unique to L.A.
    Even after the Topanga ride, a friend and I sometimes rode back to PCH and took a scenic ride to Venice for lunch and then Sunset and Hollywood Blvd to take a look at the species that hang out there.

    Yeah, that was crazy sometimes. Traffic was often bad even back then, but being from Mexico City that was not a big deal. But it was worth it, every now and then. I am only sorry I never got to see anything like that orange Bentley in person, though!

  6. LesB

    Your shot of LA city hall reminds me of a time I ventured inland.
    It was some sort of cycling-promotion event sponsored by the city, with booths and live music and speeches and porta potties. Part of the event was that bicycles would have free access to the urban rail transit for the day.

    So I pedaled up to Redondo and got on the train for my free ride just for the novelty of it.

    Apparently cyclists were not common on the transit at that time. All the other riders in the car were commuters dressed up in their natty commuter outfits.

    The seats were all taken when I got on, so there I ended up standing in the front of the car feeling kinda naked there exposed to all in my spandex-y outfit, getting strange looks.

    But the event was nice once I got there; LA times photographer took a photo me and the bike which was never published, the Ditty Bops were in concert and there was food.

  7. SusanJane

    Great reminder to look beyond the everyday, Padraig. Two good resources for finding the out of the way is the phonebook (yes, really) just look up religious, cultural and historical places; also most places have some sort of historical society which can lead to historical architecture, covered bridges, cultural centers, granges, etc. in handouts or publications. Having a sense of place on the planet is a great thing.

  8. tinytim

    Dude, for a compelete change, try living/riding in Northern Ca and then moving to the Inland Empire. The only good thing about the IE is the 8000ft climbs (complete with snow now). I think what bums me out the most about places like the IE or 99% of LA is the complete lack of non-corporate culture. Instead of green windswept pastures, oak woodlands, redwood curtains, Socal offers up endless bigbox stores, giant escalades that dont let you merge over, and lame over crowded single track. Though, the riding up in Ventura county is sweet.

  9. michael

    efficiency = intelligent form of laziness

    at least, that is my excuse ;)

    my favourite term of all time is;

    shibumi = easy, effective efficiency (it can mean a whole lot of other things too, as most japanese aesthetic terms do)

    simplicty friendos, it’s all about the voluntary simplicity

  10. Pingback: Tonight’s post, in which I say goodbye to a friend, and your pre-New Year’s weekend links « BikingInLA

  11. Patrick O'Brien

    Padraig, thanks for the reminder to do the occasional adventure. I used to go to the Fullerton Hughes aircraft plan on business trips, bakc in the late 80’s, from here in AZ. I would always fly into John Wayne instead of LAX, and take Harbor Blvd. all the way instead of the freeway. Took longer but way less stressful and way more interesting. Especially strawberry fields in the middle of a city!

  12. jason

    @ patrick o’brien … it’s a god awful Bentley Continental.

    Great piece. When I lived in Las Vegas, I loved these sorts of rides. There’s not better way to truly see a city than on a bike. Riding the seedy backside of the Strip was a surreal (and, in retrospect, potentially lethal) experience.

    Now, living on the Front Range, the riding experience is vastly different. And, most of the time, I would say it is better. But not always.

    Random aside … Thanks to your review, I was gifted with a Road Holland jersey for Christmas. What a superlative jersey. Thank you.

  13. Travis

    Great post! And makes me miss the diversity of LA. Here in north county San Diego it’s mostly tract homes, white people, churches, and strip malls. There are of course a few bastions of cool here, but on the whole I miss “city” living. Having said that, it’s way more bike friendly here and I can do 1000 feet of climbing right outside my door.

  14. Michael

    I have never ridden in LA, but have ridden through the grittier (and often more interesting) parts of other cities. Cool that you have found these places! Probably many of you have read David Byrne’s book “Bicycle Diaries”. I give a copy to a lot of my friends. He travels with a bike (typically a beater, so he doesn’t worry about it) and explores cities as he travels. Some of his on-bike musings are pretty interesting, and I enjoyed seeing how completely different our thought processes work! Incidentally, his description of Buenos Aires would be quite different now – while not a truly bike-friendly city, it is a lot more manageable from the seat of a bike than it used to be.

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