I caught the bus to meet Justin and his girlfriend, Lynzie, in Santa Monica. We were going on an insane Friday night bike ride. As I headed west my nose was deep in a paperback. I listened to an older African-American man in ratty sweats and unkempt hair hitting on a woman of considerable girth. I couldn’t help but to eavesdrop as he told her of the places he’d take her. She walked off the bus and this man in his late 40s reminded her, “Holla at me!”
I wasn’t the only one laughing. Another African-American man missing his front teeth, but dressed in a dignified manner was also chuckling. The man in sweats said to the toothless man, “What you doing in my business? I’ll fuck you up blood and crips style. We’ll get off at the beach and I’ll make you wear a skirt.”
“In 58 years I’ve never worn a skirt. I’m not about to start now.”
“You heard of Fennis?”
The toothless man replied, “I knew Fennis.”
“You can’t be Fennis. I knew him. He was a great boxer.”
“You want to see my ID.”
“No, if you say you’re him, you’re him.”
“Damn right, I’m him. I like you. You got sense. I want you to work for me.” The toothless guy started chuckling, but the man who took hair grooming tips from Don King continued unfazed, “I own a Gold’s Gym. I’ll put you in members services.” I was at my stop, so I was unable to hear the extent of his business empire.
I walked two blocks to Lynzie’s house. We ate dinner and Justin lent me a bicycle. This ride was going to be a challenge. The brakes were on handlebars that were curled like the horns of a ram. I had to hunch over to feel comfortable on the bike. Justin warned me I was going to break my back if I kept it in such a scoliotic posture. But with all the hills we would be gliding down I wanted easy access to the handbrakes.
We were running late. I struggled to keep up with them. My back was hurting, my knees were cramped from the low seat, and I stupidly wore shorts and a long sleeved San Francisco Giants t-shirt into the cold night. We made it to Venice Boulevard on the way to downtown to meet the hundreds of other riders. My plan was when we got to La Cienega Boulevard I would break off from them and have a hot Friday night double date with my pillows. But somehow I kept going. We met with another group. One of the riders had a backpack with speakers that blasted out techno music. If I got too close behind these other riders the music and the flashing red lights on the backs of their seats turned me into Helen Keller. But still I kept going.
We were downtown. We made it to the start of the official rally. It had a Mad Max apocalyptic feel. Hundreds of bikers were blasting music and drinking from their liquored up bottles. I stretched out my knees like the old man I am. At 9:00 we started the massive group ride. We were a pack of over a hundred so we no longer had to worry about cars. Instead one had to be more concerned of other cyclists. We were all in close proximity of each other, so you had to be extra careful of not swerving into another bicycle.
Red lights were to be ignored. This was a herd mentality, so the laws of traffic did not apply to us. Fortunately no motorists had the same attitude. Justin kept telling us not to lag in the back. “The lions pick you off one by one at the back.” He was still bitter over getting a $400 ticket for running a red light at one of these night rides.
We headed south and east. I soon recognized where we were, in an area of Los Angeles I only entered during the day to substitute teach. The ride organizers got us to the hood. Justin had another warning. “This isn’t the place to get a flat tire.”
Kids were overjoyed to see us. They cheered on this Tour de South Central that overran their streets. We passed by Jefferson High School, home of the Democrats. I pointed out the convenience store where I had yelled at one kid for threatening to hit another with a two by four plank of lumber. A legless old man did wheelies in his wheelchair and asked if he could join us. Justin didn’t believe me that in this neighborhood you see stray pit bulls roaming around until he did see such a drooling beast.
The intermission was in the middle of South Park on the corners of 51st street and Avalon. All hundred of us chilled out, munched on snacks, and relieved ourselves on the palm trees. As the ride resumed Justin, Lynzie and I agreed that if the group headed further south, we would break off and head towards public transportation back to our respective homes.
We meandered through the streets and found ourselves immersed in conversation. Justin was trying to embarrass Lynzie by revealing how as a child actress she guest starred on Full House. She played a friend of Stephanie Tanner. This got us talking about how Candace Cameron’s older brother, Kirk Cameron, was now a right wing Christian who makes viral videos blasting Charles Darwin. Somehow this transitioned into how Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio got their start on Kirk Cameron’s show, Growing Pains. Which then got Lynzie and Justin to tangle their handlebars. I saw it all in slow motion. Lynzie fell to the pavement and then Justin tumbled over his handlebars landing on his back.
“Bikers down.” The chorus screamed. I stopped to see if they were ok, but that almost caused another pile up. An elderly man ran into my back tire and I was told by others to keep going. I finally found a gap where I could pull over. To my grand relief Justin and Lynzie rode by seconds later relatively unscathed. I really thought an emergency room visit was in our immediate future.
We headed west through the campus of USC. A drunk dorm resident who reminded me of Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds kept yelling, “Yeah! Yeah!” Then the group headed south. We were contrarians and went north. We encountered lone cyclists. It was interesting to see this thriving subculture in the midst of the mecca of cardom, Los Angeles. we kept talking about how we were going to take the bus back, but Justin said most buses only allow two bikes on them, so we’d have to split up. We continued having the debate over whether we should wait for a bus all the way back to my house. There they caught the same bus I had taken many hours earlier to begin the night. I envied them as fabulous job opportunities were to be had on the 720 express.