She saw me fiddling with the car keys. It was 5:30 AM. “You ain’t takin’ onna car, I hope.”
“Uh, yeah I am. I’m going to the La Grange mixer after work and it’s on the West Side.”
“Don’t you remember I was tellin’ you I’m drivin’ onna girls party night tonight?”
“How come you ain’t listenin’ anything I say about me and you got big old commode seat ears when somebody’s talkin’ onna drinkypants biker party?”
“Commode seat ears?”
“Means big old ears can catch any old crap.”
“No big deal,” I said, knowing it was a huge deal. “I can ride my bike there.”
South Bay vs. West Side
My friends on the West Side regularly made the trek down to the South Bay for our occasional bike events, and that was invariably a labor of love because the traffic from there to here in rush hour is mind-numbingly bad. If Sausage & Co. were willing to brave the 405 for us, it only seemed right that I’d do the same for them. Still, doing it on a bike presented problems.
The biggest problem was, of course, clothing. You can show up at Naja’s wearing a bike outfit, or a t-shirt with holes in it, or with bicycle helmet hair, and you’ll fit right in. On the West Side, you simply can’t. Whereas you can be ready for any event in the South Bay with a quick pass of dental floss and a bit of de-stinkifier to dilute the B.O., West Side casual is a highly sculpted, carefully developed look that takes time, money, and incredible attention to the details that will make what you’ve “just thrown on” look like something out of fashion magazine.
After wet, sticky bike clothing and the musky stink of armpit, my next challenge was, of course, the biking itself. I’d done the NPR that morning and knew that by the time 4:00 PM rolled round I wouldn’t feel like climbing back into my smelly kit and riding for thirty miles to a bar I’d never been to. The “never been to” issue was also a problem: I didn’t know the roads in West L.A. at all and had no idea what roads were best for a bicycle.
Be like Wike
By 4:30 I was heading to the bike path, and somewhere around Manhattan Beach I saw Wike blazing by in the opposite direction. We waved. Minutes later he had flipped it and rode up to me. “Where you going?”
“That sounds good. Where?”
“I’m not sure. Somewhere near Beverly Hills I think.”
Most people would want more information about someone doing a thirty-mile ride to get beer. “Like, what’s wrong with the beer around here?”
“Nothing, but La Grange is having a mixer, and I need to get mixed, and they always come down here, so this time I’m going up there. Wanna go? I have no idea where this place is.”
“What’s the address?”
Wike, who knows L.A. like a human Googlemap, grinned. “Okay. You’re gonna need some help. I’ll go have a beer with you. I think I can get us there.”
As we came to the turnoff onto the Ballona Creek bike path, Wike veered left. “No Ballona Creek?” I asked.
“I’d rather bike through a hostile Afghan village with ‘Jesus Saves’ taped to my forehead than take that thing,” he said. Ballona Creek is famous for toughs who lie in wait and attack passing bikers for their bikes and the five or ten dollars they carry in emergency change.
“It’s that bad, huh?” I’d never taken it, but my computer map recon before setting out indicated it was the best route.
“Yeah. We might have a little traffic on the streets, but it’s no big deal.”
When your ‘no big deal’ is my colonic cleanse
Before long we were tearing up the gutter along Admiralty, Lincoln, and an entire network of surface streets that were choked to the throat with cars. This was urban guerrilla riding at its most intense, and it involved somehow following the wizardry of Wike as he hopped potholes, power-slid around gaping cracks, bunny-hopped onto curbs, sliced impossibly narrow slits between swaying buses and parked cars, split lanes, charged around tight corners in tandem with sedans whose numbers were inches from our hips, sprunted through yellow lights, raced ghetto dudes on green-and-yellow-and-purple fixies, and shot through darkened freeway underpasses filled with glass, rocks, nails, condoms, and detritus from the week’s auto collisions.
I’ve made a note to myself. “Riding up Pico from the 2000 block to the 10000 block is not for the faint of heart or for those who like a clean chamois.”
We got to the bar half an hour before the party and had to beg to be let in with our bicycles. The bar, Steingarten L.A., was run by a friendly manager and friendlier hostess who let us park our bikes on the patio. We clattered across the stone floor looking like the bike dorks we were. Two beers and a bratwurst in, we couldn’t have cared less.
At 6:30, Wike got up. “Thanks for the beer, dude. I’m headed back.” And back he went.
The La Grange partiers were filtering in and everyone pretended that you know, since they were a bike club that it was, you know, totally okay for me to be standing in, you know, a stinky, wet bike outfit and cycling cleats that sounded like an angry man pounding the floor with a hammer every time I walked. More beer was poured, much of it in the form of Belgian triple, and more food was eaten, and by the time the party ended I had lost the $130 taillight on my bike and my credit card.
With Belgian triples, though, you don’t care. “Who needs a fuggin’ light at midnight in L.A.?” I slurred.
The person who needs a taillight at midnight in L.A. is YOU
Several La Grangers were concerned that it might be difficult for me to get home, seeing as it was a long way away and I lived on top of an unlit hill. Others thought that I was only getting what I deserved. Still others were hugging me good-bye with their arms outstretched and touching me only with their finger tips and what looked like rubber gloves.
“Even in the South Bay,” I thought, “I’d be considered rather gnarly.”
As I reached into my jersey pocket to put on my glasses, I realized that I didn’t have them. I’d left my Rx clear riding glasses at home and only had what would be most helpful for a long night’s trek in the dark, my Rx sunglasses with extra black tinting to keep out the bright California sunlight. There didn’t appear to be any of that, and when I put them on things got noticeably darker.
“You’re gonna fuckin’ die, hon,” said Foxy. “You want a ride home?”
“Nah,” I slurred. “I can ride on the bike path.”
“You’re still gonna fuckin’ die, hon. But I can at least give you a ride to the Santa Monica public toilets. That’s where you seem to meet everyone anyhow.”
I let the comment slide, grateful that I wouldn’t be riding Pico at night.
The long march
Once I started pedaling, the mixture of beer, bratwurst, beer, Korean BBQ appetizers, beer, my lost taillight, beer, and my lost credit card started to add up. “Why do I feel so bad?” I wondered. “And why does the start of a measly 25-mile ride feel like the end of the Bataan Death March?”
Of course … by totaling up the morning’s ride and the commute to Steingarten, it was already an 80-mile day + greasy food and beer. This would be a full century, finishing with a 1,300-foot climb in the dark. Thankfully, it was also cold, so I had that discomfort going for me.
It took forever to get home, and I got to observe a complete cross-section of late-night life on the bike path. Waifs texting in the moonlight, homeless people looking for a place to lie down or for perhaps a waif, strange women pushing baby strollers with babies in them, men running up and down steep staircases and grunting, and bargain hunters combing through the trash cans. By the time I hit the bottom of the big hill I was frozen to the core and barely turning the pedals. Somehow I got up it and got home.
I can’t wait for the next mixer on the West Side with the beautiful people. But I might listen a little more carefully to Mrs. WM when she tells me about her schedule.