Take the wrong way home

March 4, 2023 Comments Off on Take the wrong way home

Leaving LA on a bicycle is always frightening, weird, eerie.

No matter where you’re leaving from, you contend with traffic. Lots of it. But more than that, you contend with the compression. Of people, spaces, buildings, air, and of course vehicles.

Heading south you go through the bike-unfriendliness of the South Bay and get spit out into the industrial pit of Wilmington and east Long Beach. Overloaded trucks pass within a foot or two, glass and road detritus is everywhere, the air stinks of methane, diesel exhaust, nameless poisons.

Through Long Beach proper the traffic is much kinder to bicycles, but it’s still dense and packed and ugly. Poor people mix with destitute people, and everyone mixes with the cops. The liquor stores on every block, the ratty building facades, and the heartlessness of urban America greets you with a jagged leer no matter where you look, as unavoidable as Uncle Sam’s finger in a recruiting poster.

But the farther you go, the less pressurized everything becomes until, without noticing it, you’ve left the density, almost as if you are being exhaled. You breathe easier. Your legs spin more freely. Every second no longer seems pregnant with danger. Before I knew it, I’d reached my destination for the night.

My motel on PCH was clean and the bed was soft. I turned on the heater and flopped down. After an hour I noticed the heater was just blowing cold air, so I called the front desk. “The heater isn’t working,” I said.

The lady was mad. “Did you turn it on?”

“Yes. That’s how I know it’s not working.”

“But did you turn it on where it says ‘heat’? Did you do that?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m calling. Because it doesn’t work.”

“Just a minute!” she said angrily, giving the phone to her husband.


“The heater isn’t working.”

“Did you turn it on?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m calling.”

“I’m not an air conditioner expert.”

“Neither am I. And it’s the heater.”

“I will come and look at it. But no guarantees.”

“I don’t need a guarantee. Just a heater. It’s freezing in here.”

“How it can be freezing in dere? It’s not freezing outside.”

“Well, I’m freezing.”

“It cannot be freezing. I will come look at it.”

After a few minutes there was a knock on my door. I let in an old man who was grumpy and wearing a huge down jacket. No wonder he wasn’t freezing. He fiddled with the knobs.

“Look,” he said angrily, “I cannot fix dis. I’m not a heater expert. All I can do,” he said as his anger mounted, “is give you another room. You want dat?” He said it as if I’d asked for a hundred billion bajillion dollars, or for a working heater.

“Sure. That would be great.”

“But the room is next door.”

“I’ll try to make it.”

“And one ting! If the heater doesn’t work it’s not my problem!”

“Why would I move to another room with a broken heater?”

“It’s not broken! I checked and it’s fine!”

“Um, okay.”

“Get your tings!”

I did. The new room’s heater was going full blast, hot enough to smelt steel.

“You like dat? Dat good enough for you?”

“Yes. I think it’s going to be fine.”

He stomped off, then turned around. “If it breaks, not my problem!”

I nestled into the cozy covers and dreamed of pizza.



Comments are closed.

What’s this?

You are currently reading Take the wrong way home at Cycling in the South Bay.


%d bloggers like this: