Downtown donut

May 21, 2013 § 25 Comments

I had a wonderful bike ride Sunday morning.

It started at 4:55 AM. I rolled down the hill, met Half-Wheel Chris at Malaga Cove, and then pedaled with her along PCH to Crenshaw. From there we rode north to Wilshire, then over to downtown LA, then east to Central Avenue, and back through south central LA to Compton, then Carson, and from there to Manhattan Beach.

No one honked at us. No one yelled at us. We didn’t even get killed.

Instead, we had a good ride, and punctuated it with fresh donuts and hot coffee on the corner of Normandie and PCH. If you want good donuts in LA, ask Raja Black, then listen when he answers.

From bubble to bubble

The thing about Los Angeles is that it’s a city with a tiny bubbles of wealth separated by huge minefields of not-much-wealth and, yes, grinding poverty. The goal of many people is to get from bubble to bubble without having to venture out into the minefields, which are mostly black and brown.

Cars are the bubble shuttles for LA residents, zipping us from one “safe” area to the next. Multi-multi-multi-billion dollar freeways create safe bubble corridors so that we can take our safe bubble shuttle to the office or the beach or the museum or the bike race without the discomfort or the danger of having go out into the minefields. LA’s freeways are safe, right?

Right?

The benefit to this system is obvious. You don’t have to encounter or deal with actual humans. But the downside becomes clear until you get outside the bubble on a bike and start figuring out how to navigate without hitting a mine.

Suddenly, moving around LA goes from being a drive to being alive. Your choices have consequences. Getting from A to B requires more than a tank of gas and your favorite radio station.

What Los Angeles really is

…is a city. It’s not a series of disconnected bubbles as seen through the windshield. On a bicycle you see the transitions and you feel how abrupt they are. As you descend — literally — from the heights of Palos Verdes into Gardena and Lynwood, you notice that no one is starting their day with a Starbucks latte. They’re starting it at the bus stop. At 5:30 AM. On a Sunday.

I always feel nervous pedaling through someone else’s neighborhood like that. Then the bus stop folks give me a smile and I smile back, for just a second, before I return to my chat with Chris, which goes like this: “Quit half-wheeling me.”

Isn’t it daaaaaangerous?

Most of my friends don’t ride their bikes through Gardena, Lynwood, Hawthorne, Lennox, and Inglewood. They don’t even drive it. “Is it safe?” they ask.

What they mean is, “Are the black and brown people going to attack me because I’m a skinny, shrimpish white dude, and take my expensive bike?”

The answer to the first question is easy. Of course it’s not safe. Riding a bicycle in LA puts you in close proximity to cars, who are driven by people actively trying to kill you.

The answer to the second question is not as easy. Depending on the time of day and the location, there are places on this tour route where people would attack you and take your bike no matter what color you are. LA has some rough neighborhoods, and if you hang out on corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Greenleaf on a Friday night with a 12k TT rig, I suppose someone might relieve you of it.

But the simple act of putting on your fancy bike uniform and hopping on your fancy bike and pedaling — briskly — through south central LA early on Sunday morning seems a lot less risky than riding on PCH north to Malibu.

One thing that’s hard to miss if your regular beat includes the pretty coastal cities is the people who serve food out of the trunks of their cars. People living out of shopping carts. Understanding that the best insulating material for the poor isn’t a Patagonia jacket, it’s cardboard.

The downtown LA loop also puts you on what is often cracked, pothole-filled asphalt, the kind of paving that would tear up the undercarriage of a nice car…if there were any nice cars. So don’t forget your spare tire and a couple of extra cartridges.

Flat ‘n chat is the new drill ‘n grill

If you ever do this ride, or even suggest doing this ride, someone’s going to ask, usually with a wrinkled nose and skeptical brow, “Why?”

“Because it is there” worked for Hillary. It won’t work for Crenshaw.

The “because” is simple: Because it’s flat, and because you can chat. I’m not saying you have to give up the drill it and grill it approach that involves hammering your brains out. I’m just saying that every once in a while it’s nice not to have to do 100 feet of vertical for every mile you ride. Sometimes it’s nice to have a bikeversation that contains more than “How are ya?” “Fine. You?” and is followed by hammering ’til you crack.

Most of all, though, by a factor of at least eleven, is the supreme reason to Do The Downtown: It turns into a Donut Ride with real, honest to goodness donuts at the end and cheap, hot coffee enjoyed from a plastic bench.

There’s something special about sharing a quiet, sugar-drenched, lard-filled moment with a friend, when you can look over at her with a smile after having ridden sixty miles together from dawn to sunrise, and say from the bottom of your heart, “Would you please quit half-wheeling me?”

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§ 25 Responses to Downtown donut

  • Peter Schindler says:

    I understand.

  • Tom F says:

    Visiting the Grand Canyon on two wheels.

  • New Girl says:

    Beautiful morning, FANTASTIC ride, FANTASTIC route, THE BEST company & conversation. FANTASTIC the blog.

    Thank you,

    HWNG*

    * ARG keep tugging on my jersey :-)

  • Alan Geiger says:

    Many riders have irrational fears of riding through “Indian Country”, which in my experience are unfounded, this after over thirty years of weekly trips from Central Park through Harlem to the George Washington Bridge. I could (if I still had a memory) count on one hand, the number of unpleasant incidents seen or heard about, happening to groups of riders or single female riders, who routinely ride through the poor (and gentrifying) streets of Central Harlem. Escaping the chaos of angry hordes of yuppies on costly bikes, daydreaming tourists on rentals, and countless other Park habituees, with a common attitude that their activity is somehow superior to yours, entitling them to more space to do it, regardless of consequences, the friendly greetings on the streets of Harlem are even more appreciated. I haven’t done so yet, but I’m hoping that the less privelidged, but in some ways, perhaps more civilized neighborhoods of LA have a similar character. If I have to dodge one more beach blonde driving a white van, jabbering on the phone…

    • Admin says:

      No question, I get more nasty looks and hostile driving behavior in PV than anywhere I’ve ever ridden. Even Texas.

  • brad bailey says:

    Thank you. that was a beautiful article.

  • vickie v says:

    Working Downtown for over 40 years and not always taking the freeway, but all the street in between the 110-91-710-10-5-101-etc…driven through all the neighbor hoods to fabric mills, contractors, manufacturers, lunch spots. My most memorable day was leaving downtown at around 7PM…the freeway was empty, which I thought odd? I turn on the radio and then I see it…fires on both sides of the freeway off the 110 heading to South Bay…that was a scary moment :(

  • Joe Camacho says:

    My best rides are from Culver City through USC then Vernon and then head south on any street Until I get to PV. The scenery on is as good as any PCH/Malibu/Canyon suffer fest. LA ROCKS!

  • DpCandND..FBBC says:

    I live half-time in downtown LA now…do the commute (its a two day commute) from San Diego once a month…and it can get dicey…but…
    I haven’t yet been hit by a car or mugged, and that’s more than I can say
    for riding in North County or the cracker burgs of San Diego (La Jolla, Mission Hills, etc.). It is good that you have reminded us about the contrast in “life” between people who get up at 4:30 to work out, and those who get up at that time to catch the bus….good stuff, here.

    • Admin says:

      We get locked into the same biking routines out of comfort, convenience, and the need not to have our world look differently, or worse, to look as it really is rather than the way we’re trying so hard to imagine it to be. LA to SD…nice.

  • Hwy. 39 says:

    Thanks for the great read. I suspect the reason the people waiting for the bus smiled at you is because they are cyclists, too. The don’t wear lycra or ride $12k TT rigs because they use their bikes as transportation, not recreation. Who has time for recreation when you work seven days a week at three different jobs without benefits.

    LA\’s Invisible Riders

    • Admin says:

      Yes. In fact, they aren’t even cyclists. They are bicyclists, or better yet, they ride a bicycle.

      It’s the last group that I’m trying to get into. Old ways die hard, or not at all, though.

  • Al Lakes says:

    Asked a buddy to join me for the Cyclones Monday Nite Ride yesterday. He checked out the route which included areas east Culver City with streets called La Brea, Slauson, Rodeo, and Figueroa. Although the ride begins in Northeast LA and rolled through MidCity and Culver City, he noticed the mile of Fig from SC to Downtown and in his mind the ride became a South Central life or death adventure. “I rode on Fig from the South Bay once and most of it was crack heads and hookers.” Anyway, he didn’t come out, most of the ride was full of conversation (yep, riding the flats helps) and when we reached the South Central bike lanes the occupants of the only two cars which passed us screamed out encouragement. Good stuff.

    • Admin says:

      Damned straight. And it’s no coincidence that there’s a huge bicycle club called “Compton Riders For World Peace.” Prettiest bicycles I’ve ever seen anywhere, slow enough to talk, and just out enjoying the RIDE.

  • JEFF says:

    Can I follow your crew (and maybe chat some) downtown to watch the Civic Center Crit? Sounds like you know the scenic route.

  • Jonathan says:

    A quartet of Oranges rode from the Southbay east through Gardena into Compton (Greenleaf), Carson, Wilmington (Alameda is a great TT), Pedro, then back around PV last weekend. Without a doubt – the people we interacted with during the middle of the ride were way more friendly.

    I love urban bike adventures and how they open eyes to the place we live in, not just the bubblebutts…

    • Admin says:

      Man, thanks for posting this. It increases other riders’ interest in trying new routes and makes a better variety of rides available, especially since you posted the ride on Strava. Your Beach Cities-PV-Gardena loop was way cool.

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