I did the LA River Ride this past Sunday, and it was an incredible experience. Sure, the event was fun, but the best part was the astonishing realization I had while riding.
Somewhere around Hollenbeck Park, I thought…my body can be a machine.
It was mechanomorphism, along the LA River.
Growing up in Los Angeles, the car was always the way in which I knew my environment. That changed a little bit as I got into running as a teenager, but the extent of those journeys was four or five miles. Not twenty. It was exhilarating to bike along the river and see what I had (actually) never seen before up close: the flora and fauna of the river, the cute little homesteads along it, replete with fruit trees and roosters. I had never known there were birds in the LA River, much less how physically close the arts-y area of Los Feliz is to hard-struck northeast LA neighborhoods like Lincoln Heights. It was cool to actually see who lived there, and share the same bike path as residents as they went on their morning walks.
It was almost like touring some sort of living museum of revitalized Los Angeles, powered by your own two legs. When you cross a street with your body, you can feel distance and proximity in a way that the media, education, or curriculum can never teach you. You see that old Filipino janitors go to the same McDonalds as old white farmers, and they both like pancakes on Sundays.
That’s what’s radical about this exercise: seeing – and BEING – in your city in a whole new way. Inhabiting space that was formerly deemed uninhabitable.
Crossing Cesar Chavez Avenue, I felt so free and so light! Not at all like I did when I commuted; I wasn’t burning any money, only calories. And the Downtown buildings looked so majestic and tall. You somehow see things more clearly on a bike, even though you’re stripped away of the steel protection of a car. So much of Los Angeles is about filtration – from movie screen to viewer, from driver to car window.
Without a filter, being in the city is a much more intimate and enjoyable experience.
It creates this inspiring confidence, powering yourself over streets that are normally only traversed by cars. You create evidence that it is possible to mechanize our society in new ways – power ourselves off of oxygen, and not foreign (or national!) oil. We don’t have to dump money into a fixture that clogs our transportation system and ruins our health. Besides, if there was ever a bike-able major urban metropolis, it’s probably this one. The weather is temperate, and the LA Basin is mostly flat.
So in the city of Bladerunner, the most radical thing you can do is simply go back to the future: a car-less future.
It’s a privilege to know the city you’re from, and really understand its history from tree trunk to skyscraper to home to riverbed. Los Angeles is a cool place, especially if you take the time to know about it. It’s good to see each other, and see our city, more clearly. And if more and more people do this sort of thing, maybe the new generation of Angelenas (thirty years my junior) can see things differently.