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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.