A few of my friends seem to be in a state of eternal vacation. They work a little, they go to school a little. In the remaining hours they enjoy West LA for what it is, a paradise by the Pacific. At this instant a bunch of them are at the beach, getting tipsy and swinging past the blazing sun on the Santa Monica rings.
It’s frustrating. I live by the Pacific, but I don’t have the luxury of letting it lure me into a passive embrace, oscillating like the tide between a little work and lounging on it’s shores. Or, at least, I won’t allow myself that luxury. I spent 10 years pursuing a career in a field which I now no longer want to be part of. Having wasted that time, I feel I must work hard to catch up in the field I would like to spend my life on – activism and politics. I wasted my Pacific hours further inland on mathematics and video games, and now I have to spend these sunny days at my laptop, making it happen.
It’s easy as activists to feel overwhelmed. To feel as if you are following a dark and uncertain path which you walk alone. It’s equally easy for cyclists to irately accept a mantle of victimhood, endlessly persecuted by motorists and the policy makers who enable them. But it’s not really accurate.
“I do what I want!” is the mantra of West LA bike culture. I have a special fondness for yelling it when I’m suffering a sense of obligation. I like it because it’s a tautology, a statement which is always true by it’s very nature. That which you do is that which you want to do, or else you would choose to do something else. Suppose you are doing your homework when you would prefer to be riding BMX. It’s not that you want to ride BMX but you are not – but instead you are saying “I value completing my homework more than riding BMX this instant.” In that sense, you do what you want.
I’m not offering you Santa Monica new age snake oil thinking here – I don’t think that the world is what you choose it to be. If someone tells me that, I offer a diagnosis of too much pilates, crystals, and perhaps one too many tokes. Often you are what the world chooses for you to be. I just feel that, within the spectrum of choices the world offers you, the ones you choose are by definition what you want. If you are in dire straits financially, in a bad marriage and parent of a terminally ill child, perhaps you feel like this is not what you want. Agreed – no one wants that. However, when you consider your other options, perhaps to set sail into the sea anonymously, abandoning all your responsibilities and your family, then it really seems that you are choosing this path – it is what you want. You care, and therefore you want to take care.
I think that’s empowering to know – that you’re doing what you want. It gives you the power to decide to change it.
When we feel victimized as cyclists, we should remember that this is what we want. We ride where we want! We all choose to bike for many reasons, and part of that deal is that we’re going to deal with some crap. It’s a small price to pay for independence, fitness, fun, and a totally different worldview, free of the oppressive confinement of a motor vehicle.
When activists feel ground down and worn out from the endless political posturing, appearances at events, and demands of organizing, we should remember that this is what we chose. We chose it because it’s exciting. We chose it because it’s invigorating, it’s competitive, it’s cutting edge, and because we believe in changing things for the better. We change what we want!
Like my friends, cyclists and activists in LA lavish in eternal summer. Los Angeles is the best place in the universe to bike. It’s wide open and flat and hilly and exciting and urban. You can experience a greater variety of riding environments here within a bikeable area than anywhere else. From Malibu to East LA there are crowded beach bike paths, sprints down Venice, the glitz of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the greatest playground in the universe – Martin Luther King Jr Park – at 39th and Western, the towers of downtown, and the rail yards in Vernon. Cyclists are privy to the great secrets of LA.
All year riding without snow or much rain means that LA is also the easiest place in the world to push cycling. A feisty Neighborhood Council system gives activists the means to scale their projects gradually. The fact that most people never ride bikes in LA just allows the possibility of massive success. Imagine saying “I helped make one of the world’s greatest cities a bike city” at a cocktail party. The music would stop, all the men would clamor to shake your hand with genuine smiles, and all the women would check their look in the nearest mirror, before strutting seductively toward your corner of the room. You’ll be making babies alllllll night.
Biking in LA is eternal summer. Enjoy the sun!
(You all know it’s gonna rain for like two weeks now, right? A ha ha ha ha!)