Summary – day 21 – Los Angeles (Hollywood) to Los Angeles (Seal Beach) Thursday 15 September
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 33 miles, actual: 39.17 miles
Avg. speed: 13.4 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,529.08 miles
After yesterday’s various arguments, mishaps and other assorted debacles, we decided to take things as easy as we could today. We thought that one way of easing our path south through LA might be to pick up a bicycle map of the city and to speak with people in a local bicycle shop to listen to their advice on where best to ride in LA, and – perhaps more importantly – where to avoid. We looked up the closest bicycle shop to our hotel – it was almost 4 miles away, (this is LA) and we decided to take a bus.
It was warming up as we went to Lion’s Bike Shop on West 29th and South Vermont. When we arrived, we explained what we were doing and asked if they had a bicycle map. They didn’t. The next nearest shop was in Downtown and we were thinking that it would be good to look around there anyway, so we headed off to the town centre.
Downtown LA is just bizarre – glitz and glamour slap bang beside poverty and decay. It’s one of the most unpleasant facets of many US cities. Large numbers of homeless people, poverty and dilapidation is very evident with boarded up shops and people selling off their possessions outside their houses. All this goes on right in front of everyone else. No-one else seems to notice or care much. Especially the better off, who seem to take the view that poverty is somehow inevitable, the fault of the poor and that nothing can (or should) be done. It’s very obvious that many of those living rough have mental illnesses of some kind and doing so little for them strikes me as so particularly cruel in a country that is so rich and that actually is so full of people who are kind and generous. I have to say that LA seems worse than anywhere else that I’ve seen in America in this respect.
In Downtown LA ‘street hosts’ have been employed to assist tourists. They’re a brilliant idea and funded by an additional agreed levy on local business taxes. We asked one of the street hosts, Humberto Terones, for directions to a bike store. When we explained why, would you believe it? He had copies of the LA bicycle route map to give away! So we needn’t have gone all that way to Lion’s Bike Shop after all. Humberto did direct us to a lovely independent bicycle shop just around the corner, though, so we headed over there to talk about the quickest/easiest way to Seal Beach.
After a pause for coffee we went over to The Spoke – a lovely shop, selling bespoke bicycles. The co-owner told us about the new 50-mile LA River cycleway that would take us to Long Beach – and he explained how best to get to it. So, route fixed, we spent the next a couple of hours exploring Downtown LA.
We wandered through the Water Plaza with its extraordinary dancing fountains next to the tall skyscrapers. We passed MOMA and then visited the LA Music Centre, home of the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, the base of the LA Philharmonic. The building is amazing – designed by Frank Gehry and has the same look as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, all swooping and curving walls of shining metal. It’s beautiful. I wish that I could attend a concert there – especially with Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, but the new season hasn’t begun yet.
We needed to get on out way, so we took the metro from the LA civic centre back to our hotel. Before leaving earlier in the day, we’d checked out of our rooms and put out bicycles into a hotel store room. We retrieved our bicycles and cycling gear and went to the men’s ‘restroom’ to change into cycling gear. Mike first, then Matthew. While he was getting changed, Matthew ‘forgot’ to lock the cubicle door, (or so he later claimed). Picture the scene: Matthew, stark naked – apart from one sock – sitting on the toilet pan and putting on the other sock, when a man walks in on him. The man was a little bit surprised. I think that even in California, you could get arrested for hanging around nude in men’s toilets, (a smart US-style lawyer would obviously be able to argue that one sock isn’t nude).
* Matthew here, I most certainly did lock the door, clearly a faulty lock.
We scarpered pretty quickly after that, (both fully clothed). Armed with our cycling maps and a route, we started our journey out of Los Angeles.
As we rode away from the Wilshire Hotel, I noticed that one of the (two) bottle cages on my bicycle had broken and wasn’t holding the bottle firmly. I was a little worried that a water bottle might jump out when I rode over a bump in the road, so alerted Matthew to keep an eye out for a bicycle store where I might be able to buy a replacement bottle cage. We spotted a bike shop on South Hoover Street and we called in. E&R Bike Shop is staffed by a man called Eduardo and his young son, Roberto. They were really impressed when they heard about our trip. Eduardo was curious about how we knew about his bicycle shop and when we told him that we were just passing by on our way from Canada to Mexico, he said that no-one had ever called in before while they were passing by on such a long journey. I picked out a new bottle cage and fitted it on my bike. I gave the old one to Roberto as a memento of our meeting! He has a bit to learn about running a bicycle shop I suspect, as he said that he thought the best way for us to get to Seal Beach was to take the train! He couldn’t quite understand why anyone would want to cycle there! I asked Eduardo how much I owed him for the new bottle cage and he said he was giving to me for free as a souvenir of our visit to his bike shop in Los Angeles. That was so very kind of them, it’s wonderful.
Our journey down Hoover brought us to the the University of Southern California campus. Students in the USA are back at college now, so it felt nice up be on such familiar territory. Lots of cyclists, of course. Just beyond the university campus was a beautiful rose garden, a science centre with aeroplanes attached to the wall, then to Matthew’s delight the stadium from the 1984 Olympics. Matthew has made comments about my boyish fascination with planes and trains. I can report that Matthew has a prodigious knowledge of – bordering on obsession about – past Olympic Games: which city in which year, (including winter), losing bidders, whether they made a profit or not and so on. His joy was unbounded to be at the stadium that made a huge profit after the financial disaster that was the Montreal Olympics in 1976, (the concept of profit or loss was irrelevant in Moscow in 1980 apparently). Pictures taken and we continued on our way.
After the stadium the route quickly moved us into a series of poverty-stricken and run-down neighbourhoods. Dilapidated churches had been set up in abandoned shops almost every few hundred metres. It seemed to me that god wasn’t doing much for the people in these neighbourhoods though, so why people were wasting their time and money on such chicanery is beyond me.*
*Matthew again, clearly people need to have hope in something when life isn’t so great. It wouldn’t be my choice either, but I can understand what motivates people in this direction.
After much longer than I expected, we found the LA River cycle track. It was fantastic: wide, smooth, flat and really well used. We had a lovely ride down to Long Beach, chatting with a few other cyclists as we rode along. In Long Beach we saw the Queen Mary – a beautiful luxury liner from the 1930s and now a floating hotel. Beside the Queen Mary the great domed hangar that housed Spruce Goose – the biggest flying boat ever built. I’d been to see both last time I was on the west coast with Paul in the Mid-80s and even though I knew they were at Long Beach, I didn’t expect to see them on this trip. It took my breath away – a magical sight in the setting sun. The rest of Long Beach was a bit of a post-modern nightmare, bridges that looked like roller coasters, for example. The good news was that there was a fantastic cycle path along the sand, for miles. If we turned around we could still see the ship and a huge bridge behind it. All around us, cyclists and runners. Bliss.
We were only about three miles from Seal Beach when the cycle path on the beach ended. There was a slightly unpleasant ride in the near dark over two busy freeway junctions to get to the Ayres’ Hotel in Seal Beach. But the hotel was such a treat, really spacious and nicely furnished. Mathew went to fetch a pizza and we ended our evening eating while listening to three episodes of the Archers. We know how to live!