more tales from the counterculture

In August, I wrote an entry on going beyond being a Middle Class White Princess. I’ve been playing lately with the idea of simply dropping out of the surface existence that is supposed to represent America. Tom Robbins expresses it in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, in writing about the end of Society As Based on the Economy. Coupland hit on it, in a brief moment of realization, in Girlfriend in a Coma, when he dooms the main characters to an existence as eccentric derelicts with burning eyes, constantly asking questions of life, memory, society.

But on Friday, I was most reminded of Gaiman’s ideas in Neverwhere, of the underground London on a parallel plane. His concepts there play off our habits to avoid looking at anyone who is outside of our immediate societal section, to try to ignore the homeless, the filthy, the poor. But London, Underground is a world of characters from outside any semblance of day-to-day existence, from a level just outside of the reality we see. It’s a London filled with magic, and with pockets of Time that go back through thousands of years of the cities history. There are still centurions from Rome camped on the Thames, and the dark cars on the Tube contain a medieval-style court.

Friday, I was at Midnight Ridazz, which started in Echo Park. We’re used to the Westside versions of the ride, which have only a couple dozen people. Westside Critical Mass only has about a hundred people at most. So when we showed up to find about two hundred people on bikes, it was a shock. “Holy shit,” was about all I could say.

We pulled our bikes into the mass, and looked around. This was an entire tribe. There were all sorts of bikes, from cruisers to the extreme trick bikes. There were dozens of the sort of cut-and-paste high end bikes I remember from my days associating with bike couriers in Victoria – expensive frames and parts which look like a mishmash, but ride at top speed. And there were all sorts of people to match, from girls in the sort of alt-fashion outfits I only wish I could create, to hipster boys in secondhand sweaters, to the cargo-shorts-and-leggings moving bundle of rags look that works best for hardcore cyclists. It was insane.

And then the ride started, and we left to go through Echo Park, and over to MacArthur park. These were actually supposed to link up, to be one big park, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the 101 came through, and divided the neighborhoods, and MacArthur Park (which is just north of downtown) is one of the zones of L.A. that is now Better Than It Was, But Not A Good Idea To Be In Alone. So when we headed down, towards the Park, my immediate reaction was that I shouldn’t be in that neighborhood. Likewise when we crossed under the 10 towards USC, and again, as we ended the ride in Highland Park.

And all that is ridiculous. As we rode by, people still cheered and yelled and honked at the ride. Once in the mob of Riders, many of the class barriers were gone. When you’re completely outside the structure of conventional society, the barriers simply do not hold.

So that was why I thought of Neverwhere. This seemed more like a lost tribe of bikes & their riders, a mass of people that coalesced out of the woodwork of Los Angeles, a population that normally goes invisible, until you’re part of it. And, to add to the surreality, we were going through Old Los Angeles, the residential sections that date back a hundred years. It was like falling back in time, going down quiet streets, crossing railroad tracks, flying over the bridges across the River. It was like seeing the city before it went wrong, crossing those pockets of history in Old L.A.

We ended the ride in Highland Park, and decided to call it a night. And so, we left to follow the small groups of riders heading back towards Silverlake and Echo Park. And that was when Andrew’s pedal fell off, just as we were crossing the L.A. River, going north from Highland Park to what was Chavez Ravine (and is now Dodger Stadium) This meant we had to slow down, and walk, along the river north, past Dodger, and around on its north side. What would have been a ten minute ride became a half hour walk. And I thought I knew where I was going, but I was only about 80% sure. “Dodger Stadium borders Echo Park to the northwest, Silverlake to the northeast, Chinatown to the south,” I told myself, “and the river runs north-north-east just outside downtown, so if we go along the river and then cut across the Stadium…we hopefully won’t end up walking all the way to Glendale!”

The weird thing was how quiet it was for being a mile from downtown L.A. It was dead silent out there, and felt more like walking through a small town. The steep slope of Dodger was on the left, and the streets of tiny square houses that line the river were to our right. And when we walked up along the north side of the stadium, with the hill still on our left, there were only a few houses set back into it, houses with yards built on a rural scale, where the house is set far back from the road. If it hadn’t been for the 110 on the other side of the street, it wouldn’t have been L.A. at all.

We came down from the stadium hills and found ourselves on Glendale Blvd, and headed south to get back towards Echo Park. Then I realized where we were. “Dude! This is Edendale!” I squealed. I recognized the Public Storage that now sits on the site of a 1920s movie studio, from back when Edendale was the Hollywood, and Echo Park was just becoming more urban than rural. Edendale was the edge of L.A., back then, and it was used for sets in many early movies – and now it’s gone, swallowed up by L.A., and redesignated Echo Park. But that meant from there, it was just a matter of walking a few more blocks to get back to Sunset, to Echo Park itself, and to where I’d parked my car.

It just added to being a little outside reality though, to the sense of being outside any sort of normal time in Los Angeles. Old L.A. still exists, in places, in the city, despite the general civic consciousness to the contrary. There’s a lot of places in the city that aren’t 2005 at all, much less 2005 in Los Angeles. It’s almost like going back to a time before Los Angeles took all the wrong paths, divided itself with freeways and racism, and recreated itself as a mess.

So that was Friday. And last night, I was out in Burbank, back in 2005 for Prom at an Elks lodge. But that’s a whole other entry.

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