Due to the morning time hustle I occasionally drop down Hawthorne and continue straight on into the heart of the city. It’s a solid little 3.5 hour ride, usually cold, always quiet, never any traffic, and the monstrous Los Angeles thoroughfares are devoid of anything except my narrow wheels and the little beam of headlight that only occasionally serves its purpose of lighting the road ahead. Big sodium streetlights, the glare from early-hour fast food joints, and the shimmering illumination from this endless city transform pitch black night into a living, breathing, not-pitch-black-at-all bikescape.
The only real company are the buses, and that’s if you don’t get on the road until 4:45 before taking the long cold drop down the Hill. Even holding the Hawthorne descent down to 35 mph by sitting up erect to catch as much wind as possible, all it would take is a skunk ambling home after a night afield, or a chubby raccoon hustling across the lane before daybreak brings the raccoon’s nighttime to turn my morning ride into an ambulance ride. As the first glimmers of dawn turn the PV roads into death alleys for small creatures, I hope each time that I’m not the small creature…exhilaration always comes with a pricetag of fear.
Giant buses hooked together at the waist trundle by along Hawthorne, taking forever to stop and reload and relaunch, by which time I’ve left them far behind until they pass me again just in time to pull over once more and pick up someone going a long way, early, to a hard job. The far right lane of Hawthorne is so ample and welcoming, like the large, soft arms of a comforting lover into which I can fold myself completely.
Past the 405 you enter a slightly rougher part of town, and after a few miles you’ve cruised into the neighborhoods where people earn a living through manual labor indoors or out, or where the homeless begin scavenging the sidewalks and gutters and dumpsters for the garbage largesse that will keep them alive for another few days.
One terribly ill man in tattered clothes stands in the middle of the giant empty street and calls at me, waving and stabbing with his crippled arthritic fingers and rubbing the back of his hand against the spit and froth that spills forth from his mouth. The morning’s frigid air sears through the holes in his clothes, but his madness either heats him to the core or, more likely, makes him capable of enduring that which we cannot. I’m momentarily afraid and hit the pedals harder, my miracle safety machine leaping forward to take me further into the city’s electric morning bowels of blackness.
Coming up the giant hill at South LaBrea, cresting it and roaring down in the cutting morning dawn, fully owning a lane that in times of full sunlight is the domain of cars, and crashing my rims along the devastated pavement remind me that smooth is for the rich, rough and holy is for the poor. A brief wrong turn twists me in an odd direction, but then I’m found and humming along Jefferson. A bike path beckons “Come hither!” but is nothing but a tawdry promise of short-term pleasure; she ends in a brick wall a scant two miles later.
Washington, the father of a country built on the backs of slaves, and the namesake for the next large boulevard, takes me all the way to the bike path in Marina del Rey. The white and the rich get their nice paving quickly. In minutes I’m on the beach trail, watching while wetsuit-clad arms and legs and torsos on Styrofoam balance, or not, on the swiftly shifting opinions of the morning swell. By nine o’clock I’m seated at my desk , still shivering from the morning cold. And then I turn to the task at hand and remain there, more or less forever.