(Update: The Rider hit on Friday night was up and moving Saturday. No word on the condition of his bike)
Friday night, I learned that, apparently, it takes a helicopter for the City of Glendale to be able to track a thousand whooping, yelling cyclists, most in costume, all with flashing lights on their bikes. Because the Glendale PD actually broke out their helicopter to follow the Ride back into Silverlake. “You know,” said one Rider, “I bet they’ve been waiting all year to break out that helicopter. I bet they split it with Burbank and never get to use it.”
The Ride Friday night was the biggest mass bike ride I’ve ever seen. It was compared to rides in SF and NYC, and some people said it was the biggest ride L.A.’s ever had. It was at least a thousand people, on a fifteen mile loop that took us through Echo Park, Silverlake, Atwater Village, Glendale, and then back southwest again to Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park. When I, with the other dozen Westside riders, swung around the corner of Alvarado onto Sunset, we were delighted to see a steady stream of Silverlake riders already coming south. But when we pulled up to the start point, we were shocked. There were bikes everywhere, of all sorts, from tall jousting bikes to BMXs, from mountain bikes (like my Gary Fisher) to beach cruisers, and bicyclists to match. And they had already filled the whole parking lot, and spilled across the street to whatever space was available.
I managed to find Will Campbell in the crowd, but in doing so, lost the Westside crew I’d biked out with, all the way from India Sweets and Spices on Venice in Culver City (exactly an hour’s ride time to Echo Park). This was the first ride I’d been on that was too big for me to find my friends, the people I see on rides every week. So I took a few photos, collected my “Bikes on the Streets – IT’S THE LAW” patch, and geared up to start the Ride.
We started by heading up Sunset, back into Silverlake, and then to Glendale. But every fifteen or twenty minutes, we’d have to stop, to let the ride catch up and regroup. And it was at the first checkpoint that I realized how massive this event had become. There were a few hundred of us at a corner off Hyperion, and hundreds more coming down the street behind us. Some of the motorists around were NOT amused, because it was taking us four or five light cycles to get everyone through the intersections. And then, when we all stopped, we spilled into streets, blocking traffic. But still, for the most part, people still cheered from their cars, even when they had to wait. It’s not every day you see a mass movement like that, of people on bikes, having that much fun – and I’m the kind of sentimentalist who believes that happiness is really contagious. I think a lot of drivers picked up on the joy that we get on the Ride, and that made up for the few minutes they had to wait.
After almost an hour of riding, we got to the Glendale Galleria. I’d never been to Glendale before, much less to this mall – but it seemed to be built on a familiar design. And we all pulled into the parking lot, and flew through, yelling and cheering just to hear the echoes. We rode past the major department stores, much to the disbelief of the few shoppers and staff and security who saw us. And I think that was when we caught the attention of the Glendale PD.
For the most part, the cops haven’t hassled Critical Mass too much in L.A. In NYC, in 2004, there was an incident during the Republican National Convention where the cops pulled cyclists off bikes, and shut down the Mass. Lately, I’ve seen some static and ticketing from the Santa Monica PD. But while a couple of the Glendale cops were actually supportive – holding off traffic while we all rode past – it wasn’t much longer before we started seeing random Riders pulled over by cops. And after we passed the third cop car, the helicopter appeared, and the spotlight came out. “Shit,” remarked one smartass. “They must have found us!”
The cops backed off when we crossed back into Silverlake, and the rest of the ride went smoothly for a few minutes. Until we came back down Sunset. I was playing traffic guard at Sunset and Alvarado, holding back cars through the intersection during light changes, which has to be done to keep the ride in one piece. Then I heard sirens, and saw fire trucks pulling out. I yelled for the Riders to pull over, and they cleared Sunset for the trucks. Then, after the trucks passed, some drunken fratboys dodged around the cars I was holding up, and yelling and laughing, tried to crash through the riders. They were immediately swarmed by cyclists. And by the time that cleared up, and everyone passed the intersection, a crowd had gathered down the street. At an accident scene.
The fire trucks had been for one of us. One of the Riders at the front of the procession had been hit by an older lady, at Echo Park and Sunset. Broken bones, no permanent damage expected, I heard a few minutes later – I haven’t heard anything since. But it slowed the ride up, and quieted us all down. It’s one thing to act like idiots in the face of authority; it’s another to laugh when someone gets seriously injured.
But the ride still went on. We regrouped up by Dodger Stadium (“Chavez Ravine!”, I heard some people yell) and once all several hundred Riders were back in one place, we tore up into Elysian Park. A few minutes later, skirting the Stadium, we came to a dirt path, and began to walk our bikes up to the top, to what had been referred to as, “the make out spot”. By the way, if anyone knows what that point is called, at the top of the path, with the sculpture at the top, could you tell me? There wasn’t much view, due to fog, but we still stayed up there for a while, in groups, um, resting.
The Westside contingent decided to leave a little after 1am. We rounded up the eight riders going back to Westwood/Santa Monica/Culver City/Venice, biked up Sunset to Santa Monica, turned west at Sunset Junction, and, after a half hour burrito break, continued through WeHo. I split off at Robertson, cut through the deserted streets of Beverly Hills to Venice, and then rode all the way west to my home at the beach.
It was an awesome ride, a fantastic experience – AND I’m way proud of myself because I biked from Venice Beacj to Glendale and back. Fifty miles or so, according to Google Pedometer. But mostly, I’m happy that there are so many people getting into Ridazz, and, hopefully, Critical Mass. I have a vision of a city where people ride more bikes, and wave at each other, and are able to really look at their surroundings instead of going by on freeways. And nights like Friday are kind of a preview of what that would be like. Chaotic, sure, and kind of anarchistic, but a totally different reality than the everyday car society we’re used to. Screw you, Henry Ford, and your legacy. Riders, ride on!