At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I must confess that my favorite moments from CicLAvia are the quietest ones.
It was exhilarating to be hurtling along the route through an empty downtown as Los Angeles was still rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. It was 8:30 am and I was on my way to Watts to meet up with the East Side Riders and the streets were ALL MINE. And yes, I rubbed my hands gleefully when that thought flashed across my brain. Or maybe I did it because my hands were freezing–it was a rather chilly morning. I don’t remember. But I know I was gleeful. That much is clear.
I joined up with the Riders around 92nd and Central Ave, just after they had set off for the South Hub of CicLAvia, 6 1/2 miles north of the WLCAC, where they began. The journey was slow, giving passersby and pedestrians more time to appreciate the spectacle the Riders always manage to create. Catching us in front of his restaurant, the proprietor of Randolph’s Smokehouse even offered to open up the place and cook us some ribs. We declined, unfortunately — we had business to take care of. We needed to be at the South Hub of CicLAvia to help the ParTour team launch their official RideSouthLA map of Watts.
“Watts in da hooouuuuusssssssee!” greeted us as we rolled up to the African American Firefighter Museum.
Although not quite South L.A., the hub served as a great introductory point for those who were interested in exploring the area. The ParTour team spent most of the morning encouraging folks to try the ride to Watts, organizers from T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. educated folks about their work in the community and promoted political engagement, hourly tours headed south to visit the CENTRAL AVENUE: A COMMUNITY ALBUM exhibit showcasing past and present photos taken by residents from the area, and the Mayor himself showed up with the Real Rydaz to promote the expansion of the route.
A few friends and I left the hub and headed up along the south branch of the route, marveling at out how luxuriously spacious it felt. It’s like the best-kept-secret of CicLAvia, hidden in plain sight.
Curious about this and seeking respite from the downtown crush, I parked myself at the Roundabout at 7th and Spring Sts. I was soon joined by a sun-bather, a book enthusiast, and a guy who had been on his way to do his laundry and accidentally found himself in a sea of bicycles.
“This is pretty cool,” said the would-be doer of laundry, looking somewhat awestruck as we watched the CicLAvistas whirl around our astroturf oasis. “I had no idea this was happening.”
The view from the roundabout was a little dizzying, but also mesmerizing. As someone who has been 99.5% car free for nearly 20 years and cajoling friends to trade in four wheels for two for almost as long, it was inspiring to see the excitement on people’s faces. Angelenos were talking with each other and taking in their surroundings for a change, instead of staring at their phones.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone giddily voice the equivalent of “I go through here every day but I never saw that before!” I’d easily have enough to pay my taxes…which the peace of the car-less quiet gave me the brain space to realize I had not done yet.
The communal joy that radiated from people — even when “traffic” jammed up at some of the intersections downtown — managed to infect the police and the tired traffic cops who had been vigilantly working the route since early in the morning.
Many agreed that “it was a good day.” Cops got to be heroes by reuniting parents with hysterical lost children. Or hysterical parents with their children, depending on the situation. No one was arrested and injuries were few. A traffic cop said it was nice that people were in such a good mood, given that he and his colleagues probably rank as Angelenos’ least favorite people.
“Yeah,” he sighed, anticipating the return to business as usual. “Just wait ’til tomorrow.”
A riot of colorful piñatas and tasty street food options greeted those that did venture toward the South Hub. For many visitors, it was their first time in the area. Oscar, a worker in the district, said it was great to see such a diverse mix of people not only coming through, but stopping to check out their products.
“People have been asking us if we are here other days,” he said, excited that he had the opportunity to educate new potential customers about the district and invite them back.
Other vendors along the route seemed equally pleased by the small boom in business they were experiencing. The only one who wasn’t was a hapless and potentially drunken fellow selling coconuts out of a cooler.
“They just fly by, pshooom,” he said in Spanish, imitating the sound of a speeding cyclist while throwing his arm wide and almost losing his balance.
You can’t please everyone, I guess.
The arrival of three o’clock was the moment some of us had been waiting for. As most participants drifted off to bars or to take the Metro home or to rest aching legs, I found myself feeling a bit like a kid at an amusement park, unwilling to go home and determined to ride the whole route again. Cars were still avoiding the route and many of the barriers were still up, allowing me to ride gleefully in peace until almost 4 P.M..
I wasn’t the only one. Boys on their fixies wove their way along the route, thrilled to finally be able to move at a high speed. Others rode slowly down the middle of streets, appreciating the breathing room and the ability to talk to their friends without the fear of losing them in the crowd. Others took the moments of quiet as an opportunity to approach police officers and thank them for helping make the day a safe and memorable one.
These are the days I am wildly and passionately in love with my city: the days when we all become a little more human and a little more connected and the city edges toward a better version of itself.