I always start my ride from the bottom end of the L.A. River bike path, with its metal heron cutouts, entering the narrow gate that dead-ends on Crystal Street. Landmarks plague me with memories on the way in: bad early-’80s drug deals in the parking lot of Rick’s Drive In & Out, late-night 12-step after-meeting neurosis at the Astro Family Restaurant and, though I can’t see it from the bike, I feel the Dolly Madison bakery. In the early ’90s, Exxxile was a sex club where my late (as in dead) buddy Robert used to work and where I ran an occasional private “play” party called Initiation. The courtyard seemed to be inspired by Salò’s Circle of Blood, made much less serious shadowed, as it was, by Dolly’s tower.
The path is about riding through all that, and it’s probably not enough that it’s a mostly flat, easy ride — roundtrip is no more than a couple miles — but the relief of being away from automobile traffic makes it worth doing laps. Whenever needed, the bike path gives me an ill sense of nature and industry that is the ugly/beautiful monotony of this city. There’s been talk of extending the path to Chinatown, but so far that area is overgrown with trees and inserted with homeless camps. To my right is the river with its egrets and ducks, at times swelling grandly with water and islands of trees. Simultaneously, I ride under power lines so hot the sizzle affects my nervous system. River realness suddenly divides into four concrete troughs, and on the left the slow lane of Interstate 5 is a mere eight feet away. Protection returns when a division widens and is planted forest-thick with a grove of trees, followed by the John Ferraro Athletic Fields, which are either busy with a dozen soccer teams or homo-cruisy with men wanking in their cars, and the occasional erect bicyclist “showing” in his nylon bike shorts.
I think about how many fantasies play out here, from the multiple golf courses to a complex, divided dog park, but mostly the proper dude ranch. I watch a cowboy ride his horse through the river bellydeep and try not to disturb his trip. The Autry Museum has a banner up: “What’s West. What’s Next.” I try not to breathe as I ride through a dense 100-meter cloud of gnats. Though I’m not remotely bored with the scenery, I decide it’s insane to keep riding back and forth, so I take the other side back.
This is my first time deviating from the path other than taking one extension to have a brownie sundae at Bob’s Big Boy. On this side I have no metal railing to keep me from falling into the river, and to my left is a sliver of park with a young heterosexual couple all but fucking, followed by a series of ranch houses and horse stables. I startle one family having dinner al fresco on plastic furniture in their backyard, 10 feet from the river. The road quickly becomes so rough and full of crunchy undergrowth that I reclassify this as off-roading. Finally I reach my end: a padlocked gate. I dread riding back with my tail between my legs past the family dinner and horse people, then remember: The way back is always quicker.