Carless in Gaza
How I got the SoCal E2 Get-Together, and what happened once I got there
230 miles roundtrip to a place I have never been before, so that, sight unseen, I could meet people I've never met before, and do all of it without the use of a car. This was my goal.
There are some qualifications, of course. There always are. I had at least acquainted myself with a couple of the folks by reading their writeups. And I was very gratefully ferried about a bit in a Yurei's Toyota truck. That's the disclaimer.
So, at noon, I log onto E2 to make sure this thing is still going to happen. This is my final go/no go. After that, I'm off the net, rigged out, clicked on, and bound for La Jolla. I dash off a quick update to tell folks I'm inbound, and to look for the dork on a red Cannondale.
I've preflighted the bike - checked the tires, the charge on my running lights and headlights, degreased and lubed the chain, tuned up the breaks. I've got a change of clothes, rain gear, toothbrush, headlamp, spare batts for headlamp and GPS, tool kit, spare tubes, patch kit, u-lock and cable, vest, arm warmers, helmet, sunglasses, pocket knife, and cellphone. My Garmin 3+ GPS is mounted on the handlebars, with the waypoints I loaded in the day before. I weight myself. I'm toting 35 pounds of gear. My bike weighs 26 pounds - total loadout is 60+ pounds. And I told myself to pack light.
1300 hrs - I leave the house and roll down Sunset. It's a fast ride to Union Station in downtown LA. I was speculating what I was going to have to do with the bike. When the moment comes, I just dismount and push the bike in the front doors. Nobody cares. This is because Union Station acres-large structure operating at about 20% its designed capacity, drafted at the peak of the age of rail. Passenger trams sped across the polished floors, mothers pushed giant kid-rovers loaded with children and kid-gear. I was lost in the background clutter. I grabbed my ticket from an automated kiosk and read The Two Towers until it was time to board
1400 hrs - We're told to board on track 11. The tracks are all accessed from a central concourse that's big enough to run a rural highway down the middle of it. I give into temptation and actually ride my bike the 200 meters down to the ramp up to the track. Time to apply the "national park" rule: when dealing with first-come first-serve distribution of space, take the slot that involves the longest walk. The lazy Americans all jam into the two cars right by the ramp. I am literally the only person in my car for two hours - because I pick the car on the end of the train. To be fair, I ride to the end of the train, which makes it pretty easy.
The train is a marvel. The Amtrak Surfliner sports beautiful double-decker cars with the organic lines of contemporary design. I take my bike right on and hang it from the vertical mount at the end of the car. The train is made in America! I can't belive it. I was sure it was going to be from Canada or Sweden, the way everything with that functional euro-design is. Built by the fine folks at Alstrom in Hornell, New York, the train is the embodiment of everything that is right with train travel. Every car has two restrooms, one of which is handicap accessible. The handicap restroom is entered using a sliding door that moves along quadro-circular arc. It's huge! Plenty of room to change clothes, put clean diapers on your baby, and feel like you aren't a Gemini astronaut while you're using the can.
More of the same with the seating. Parties of 4 can sit facing each other, euro-style. Unlike airplanes, where the seating is designed with weight economy as the main design factor, the seats on the train are like a cross between a good task chair and a lay-z-boy. 6'2" Igloo was extremely comfortable. Every seat had 120v ac power. Try getting that on an airplane. Driven by an massive diesel-electric, this baby has current to burn.
Unlike a plane, there is very little overture and preamble to starting. No jetway, just walk right on. No taxi to the runway. The conductor calls, the doors hiss shut, and the trip begins. You cross between cars on the upper deck. I stow my bag and head back to the cafe car to get a cup of coffee.
Heading south, out of LA, you get the impression that this is the backstage of the city, where all the infrastructure and maintenance for the big show between Hollywood and Malibu takes place. The train passes enormous piles of crushed glass, sorted by color, waiting to be recycled. We pass an acre of shopping carts, more shopping carts than you've ever seen in once place. Once you see it, though, it's obvious - all those shopping carts have to come from somewhere, and economies of scale dictate that it's cheaper to have one distributor handle them all.
We click past giant windowless white cubes - logistical hubs for nameless companies. Outside one of these, I see a group of Latino men eating their lunch. They are eating beneath a cluster of palm trees. The door open behind them is 3 feet thick, revealing a lightless interior. White fog spills out onto the roots of the palm trees. The men are dressed in massive insulated overalls, they look like the forgotten Mexican Sherpas for Scott's Antarctic expedition.On the straightaway between San Juan Capastrano and Oceanside, my GPS clocks the Surfliner making a solid 90 miles per hour. Godspeed the Surfliner.
Near Irvine, under the shadow of a 7-story high hangar of unknown purpose, an entire subdivison lays abandoned. A low progression of identical brown duplex stucco homes stretches into the distance. There are unused basketball hoops. Some of the windows still have their curtains up. Where did the people go? Did they climb aboard the experimental aircraft housed in the hangar, and fly off into ten thousand singing tomorrows?
1600 hrs. I detrain in Solana Beach. Up on the street, I fire up the GPS unit. Under my "waypoint" view it says: PORKY1 9.2 MI. "PORKY1" is the waypoint for Porkyland, where the get-together is slated to begin. I begin pedaling, making good time - running at a solid 17 miles an hour. I am the human-powered cruise missile, out of the tube and on track. Then I hit my first hill.
The thing I didn't do as planning for the trip was to run an elevation profile. This is where you plot your path into a map program, and then have the program compare your route to the terrain. The profile will tell you where the hills are, their grade, how long they are, total gained elevation, etc. I didn't do any of this because I tend to overplan, and I was trying to be more easygoing california guy about the whole thing. In my mind's eye, the land between Solana Beach and La Jolla is a flat alluvial plain, paved with small, bike friendly roads. It's next to the ocean, after all.
This would be a valid statement on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It would be valid within the LA basin. But it flies in the face of California's geology. The first hill is a doozy. It takes me about 30 minutes to get over it, as I climb past the Torrey Pines State Reserve at about 7 miles an hour. At least my second assumption was right - the roads are great - smooth, with a wide bike lane.
1730hrs - I'm finally getting close to La Jolla. The breadcrumb trail on my GPS is like a long, wiggly snake. My ground track has wound up being around 15 miles. I've done over 100 in a single day, but not with 35 pounds of gear and not on a mountain bike. The traffic thickens up. The GPS says I've got about 2 miles to go. I am nearly killed by a soccer mom as she yaps on her cellphone and pulls wrong-way into a do-not-enter bus lane. The bus screams to a halt, horn blaring. I am screaming at the woman "YOU CAN'T DO THAT! YOU CAN'T DO THAT!". She never even gets off the phone as she continues to drive one handed.
I make it out alive. Up ahead, the road goes from 4 lanes to 2. At the end of the merge, this big white guy has parked his pickup truck and thrown on his hazard lights. I take a look at him and think, "Great. This motherfucker is lost and when he asks me for directions, I'm going to say, 'I can give you the UTM Grid coordinates for Porkyland, the Holiday Inn, and the Amtrak station in Solana Beach.'"
I roll to a stop. The guy is maybe an inch taller than me, buff, with a Tim McVeigh high-and-tight flattop. Definitely military. "Are you Igloo?" he asks.
I do a kind of mental doubletake, "Uh, yeah. That's me."
We shake hands. "I'm Yurei. I saw you and said, 'Cannondale, GPS on the handlebars, headed southbound. That's got to be Igloo.'" I'm pleased that Yurei read my posts. I'm even more pleased that he's observant and drives a pickup truck with a bike rack in the bed. 3 minutes later, we're on the road. Very shortly thereafter, Yurei, who tells me to call him "Screech", says, "It's got to be right near here." I say, "Yes, the unit says it's 150 feet from here." We both look up and there it is.
I'm looking for a guy with bleach blonde hair - lost&found. Yurei and I spy him sitting right outside. The hair is a tipoff, but he also looks totally unlike everyone else in La Jolla, that is to say he doesn't look like he works as a financial analyst who drives a Lexus SUV and wears a polo shirt on the weekends. Lost is a pretty quiet guy, but as the evening progresses and he gets a couple of kamikaze's in him, he loosens up considerable. He was my fellow ethanol lobbyist during the post dinner chaos. Ok, "chaos" is a strong word. There were no instant replays of pigs gunning down brothers in the streets, but there was a kind of amorphous stage of aimless wandering that actually turned out to be some really golden conviviality.
Slowly, the group coagulates. Quizro and Spouse arrive, who also don't look like Risk Management specialists that lease an E-class Mercedes and golf at Palm Springs on the weekend. They instead look like the gentle yet hilarious observers of humanity that they are. The Quiz has a kind of wide-eyed look about him that belies a person who is obviously a keen student of human nature and a guy that is able to relish the absurd in any situation.
Many folks have shown by now (see robot roll call). I was really worried that people wouldn't want to talk. I get asked by the burrito gal running the cash register where I'm from. "You are not from here?" she speculates. I tell her I'm from Virginia. This becomes something of a recurring riff for the rest of the evening, that I am of the Celtic peoples. It can be included with Chihuahua's white rural america riff, and the great leitmotif of "landscape as smell." Foax, Chihuahua is one funny motherfucker. The guy was an unending font of local color on Reno, Nevada - a place I never really thought about much, but now really really want to visit. In particular, I want to see the abandoned mine with the cyanide pits. I'll check my rifle with my baggage, and with any luck I'll get to shoot some holes in an abandoned vehicle.
The unstructured time begins. At the time, I was amused with the clusterfuck factor, but was later really happy that we had the time. Everyone jawed, dorked out. Yurei had his picture taken as the Iron Giraffe Ranger. Prole quietly sang Costello's "Allison" to herself as we walked along. I was disappointed for her when the karioke thing failed to pan out. She really wanted to sing. Perhaps, in some alternate reality, she would have burst into song, about how there was no karioke in Gilead. There would have been a couple of male backup vocals as the song and dance number spilled into the street, Prole in the lead. It was one of the things I thought about on my bike the next morning.
2300 hrs - Yurei bales us out. As a local guide he grabs the initiative and takes us down to this great pub down in San Diego's Little Italy (which I never knew it had till I was standing in it). M_Turner has a glass of white zinfandel, his second of the evening. There is something simultaneously ridiculous and appropriate about this. M has this Grizzly Adams beard, and a big pony tail. I imagined him slugging down pints of porter, the foam caught in his moustache. Nope, the guy wants a glass of zinfandel. But he drinks it like he means it, so it fits like a glove. There was a kind of slow boil glee to the guy that made the wine the right tipple - sipping at the fun of the evening, savoring the buzz. As I corner Quiz for cooling my Hunter of Fascists WU, Yurei is explaining phase-array radar to Chihuahua. This involves some serious diagramming on the back of a coaster. Chi is eating it with a spoon. This is how you know it's an E2 crowd - everyone has this kind of latent omnivore state that gets clicked on, and then they set about interrogating the world. It's something that I've always taken as a sign of intelligence, of being alive. Kids do it all the time, but most adults cruise on by on autopilot. To look at Chi_G only moments earlier, deconstructing the jukebox, you would not think he would be having this conversation with Y, but he's not just politely listening, he is in full-on question-and-answer mode with Yurei on the difference between search radar and targeting radar.
It's over. Yurei is a real brother-of-man and runs me back to my hotel. I go into full geek mode, guiding us in with my GPS, reading it by the light of my headlamp. Yurei talks about building out a night-vision friendly headlamp. We are both unregenerate gearheads. I fall into bed, and puzzle out my ETD for tomorrow (it already is tomorrow) as I fall asleep to a commercial for an herbal breast-enhancement product.
01 APR 01, 0700hrs - I wake up to mariachi music. I am pretty hung over. In my "pack light" approach, I have no pain reliever, no powerbar. This won't happen again. Time to hustle. I shower, dress out, police the room for stray gear, and hit it.
It is a long brutal grind out of La Jolla. The town is silent, seemingly abandoned, perhaps visited by the experimental aircraft. A light, cold mist falls over the road. I'm cranking up to the Torrey Pines headland. I hit the flats, roll past the Salk Institute. Then it's on.
The hill I had climbed yesterday. I watch my speedometer climb to 45. The bike spins up, the gyroscopic action off the wheels makes it feel like I'm on rails, indestructible, a one-man locomotive. The pines pan past. I sing "Allison" to myself as the Pacific breaks into view, the surf driving in as long white ribbons of foaming water. The hangover is gone, I smell the ocean in the onshore flow of air, and am suddenly suffused with a high pure joy. It is an easy ride back to the train.