Indian’s Super Chief Gallops into the Urban Frontier
It never rains in Southern California, except for today, and yesterday. It’s been pouring, turning streets into rivers. Seems like the better part of valor is to live to ride another day. In my case, that’s the “temporarily” purloined Indian Super Chief Limited. It is, however, a lovely time to have a beer can regatta in my alley. The water is flowing at about two knots so conditions are pretty good, but that’s another story for another pub.
Not that the Super Chief couldn’t handle the wet; proof positive provided in the Arizona ghost chronicles (Haunted Highways: Into the Arizona Ghostlands, Parts I, II, III), recently seen here. Riding bud, B. Valerie Gibbs, and I got instantly soaked to the bone in more than one monsoon while exploring the desert frontier. Part of the adventure, they say. Who knew fun could be so miserable? I guess anyone who has ridden a motorcycle into the wild yonder.
A (brief) break in an otherwise rain-soaked ride. Wild or urban frontier, riding through a cloudburst is not much fun.
The biggest issue, at least for me, is visibility. There wasn’t much of it, especially with sunblock running into my eyes and the walls of rain drowning my view. It can be done, but it’s not much fun. The absurdity of navigating a motorcycle through a cloudburst feels more like a perilous circus act than actual riding. If you can quickly frame it as a supreme challenge then you can feel a great sense of accomplishment if, you know, you live.
Some also regard regularly riding a motorcycle through a dense city another kind of challenge, one for deserving idiots and lunatics. Call me crazy (I prefer sanity-challenged), but I love it. Far away and a life ago, Valerie taught me how to ride. After a few hours of wobbly practice, I crossed a windy George Washington Bridge from his New Jersey camp, slid down the Westside Highway and back to the city shack I called home.
B. Valerie Gibbs, the friend responsible for all this motorcycle madness in my life. I owe him a debt of gratitude.
What a rush; it was absolutely intoxicating, like I had entered a different reality on the wings of a rocket ship. In a way, I had. The world looked and felt and even smelled differently when hanging onto a big, huffing engine, hurling yourself higgledy piggledy into the wind. It delivered me to new spiritual heights otherwise unattainable. Of course, reality has its downside.
Pedestrians had no care or concern for you, especially when herded in large numbers. They brazenly crossed Manhattan streets as if you could just fly over them (I tried, didn’t work out so well). Other vehicles paid you no mind. Taxis would run you over to pick up a fare. What happened to citizens being terrified of big, bad bikers, giving them a wide berth while mothers hid their children? Part of the adventure, they say. I was rudely woke to the truth that this is all not some great Peter Fonda movie cast with respectful citizens, men and women of questionable virtue, and coppers too fearful to bother you, and maybe a minister trying to save your oily soul. Regardless, New York City had a new prince, at least in my delusion.
“Go West, Young Man,” so I did.
Earning my chops on NYC mean streets shot me with plenty of adrenaline jolts, a high that had me buzzing for a couple of years. I survived mostly intact, eventually rolling further west into the New World. First, the Arizona outer-lands beguiled with its otherworldly landscapes and virtually ideal year-round riding. It was a biker’s paradise, as long as you kept moving. You can take the boy out of the city, but after awhile, the city wants him back. Los Angeles was calling.
Welcome to the jungle. Los Angeles reminds me of NYC a bit, except rain or snow isn’t always falling on my head. Both are filled with diverse neighborhoods that can change in a block, little ethnic restaurants, mom and pop shops, low-end bars, high-end boutiques, insane traffic. New York, however, is a denser, more concentrated city, offering a lot of opportunities for mischief and mayhem within a short putt. Ride to five or six joints in a day, crisscrossing town, and you’ve gone maybe 10 miles. Tinselly LA is much more of a sprawling community with some identity issues. No one really agrees on what “Los Angeles” really means. Is it Hollywood? Downtown? Venice? Malibu? Santa Monica? Woodland Hills? Seventy seven Sunset Strip?
The concrete jungle. Photo by Indian.
There is a quantum of geographical snobbery where exactly Angelinos call Los Angeles. I haven’t found two yet who agree. Technically, anywhere in Los Angeles County is Los Angeles, but tell that to someone who lives in “the valley,” and they’ll chuckle while Hollywood Hills home owners will snicker, looking down literally and figuratively at the valley dwellers below.
In fact, there are at least two valleys, but that’s another story. To be a littler clearer, valley girls, the ones with the from-nowhere-else-on-earth accents who are usually crucified in film and TV as stuck-up, shallow, overly made-up airheads, are natives of the San Fernando Valley. As it happens, so am I, but I don’t speak with a valley girl accent…do I? To murky it up a bit more, Santa Monica is within Los Angeles County but is considered an independent city, as is Malibu. Venice is part of LA, but off on its own little weirdo world. Confused yet? I am.
The endless city.
The only place on a map marked as “Los Angeles” is Downtown LA, or commonly called simply DTLA, about 15 miles east of Santa Monica. It is the only place a former Manhattanite would think of as a city, with its semi-skyscraper buildings, performance venues, museums, restaurants, bars, some hustle and bustle, a few bohemian blocks and assorted street denizens. Doubtful it will ever have the street life of NYC, but close enough, for now. If anyone knew where the real LA was, it surely had to be here.
I rode the Indian Super Chief Limited into the Arts District, a loose collection of boho coffee shops, galleries, trendy stores, restaurants and bars, a brewery or two. Rolling east, the Los Angeles River forms DTLA’s sunrise border, its cement beaches seen in many a movie car chase. I’ve done a few photo-shoots in and around and on top of the old, art deco and somewhat crumbly 6th Street Bridge, recently replaced by the brand-new 6th Street Viaduct. Miss the character of the old bridge, but moreover, something is now missing from this neighborhood, if you could call it a neighborhood. Not long ago, it was a collection of pre-war warehouses, some converted to living spaces, and various other mainly brick buildings of questionable intent.
The old 6th Street Bridge, dearly missed.
The whole area looked like a movie set, a kind of grunge Disneyland for creative types, which is why it attracted so many film and TV location scouts and photographers. Tragically, while the new bridge was being built, chunks of this precious place were being converted to lux apartments and barfie new restaurants. The soul of the city had been swallowed up by developers. The neighborhood had gone to hell. It was sad. Too much greed, too many laws ruin a place.
I aimed the Super Chief toward the new bridge, hoping there was someone left, an OG who lived in the edgy part of town who knew what’s what. I spotted a pedestrian.
“Excuse me, citizen, but can you please tell me where Los Angeles is?”
“You’re in it, dummy,” he said with some slight condescension.
“Exactly, where in it am I?”
“This is where it’s at,” he explained, swirling his eyes about.
“Oh yeah, man, I can dig it, but can you tell me how to get there?”
The Super Chief by the new 6th Street Viaduct.
Obviously I had met one of the city’s famed eccentric street types, probably an actor, maybe a producer. After he told me where to go, which seemed impossible, I rumbled around the city streets, stopping here and there, suddenly realizing:
LA is everywhere.
*L.A. skyline image by “Discover Los Angeles”