Commuter Status

cool-runningsI biked to work today which means that I’m a better person than you. First of all, I live in LA, so it’s like I’m a Jamaican bobsledder. That metaphor doesn’t quite work because there is a vibrant LA bike culture, but it’s pretty exclusive, probably because biking in LA is difficult, so those who do bike, develop a pretty big chip on their shoulder. So, actually, maybe my metaphor is accurate. According to Cool Runnings, Jamaica does have a bobsled team, but only the dedicated few participate. I’m experiencing a little bit of the biker chip on the old shoulder. I work in two different offices, and both of them have heard me brag about how I’m “changing the world.”

Inside the LA metro.

Inside the LA metro.

It took me a while to work up to making the commute. I live on the other side of the world from both of my jobs. To bike to work, I first have to use LA’s paltry metro system: it’s beautiful and almost brand new, but doesn’t go very many places. The metro part of my journey is the hardest part. The subway cars are crowded, and no one wants the horns of my bike handles ramming into them. The best strategy is to find the handicap seats and park there. I’m a strong believer in dressing the part, so I wear my helmet on the subway and my new Chrome bag.

Mine is turquoise and pink.

Mine is turquoise and pink.

The Chrome bag was a controversial purchase. It cost as much as half of my bike. Traditionally only for bike messengers, the hardcorest of hardcore bikers, the bag makes me feel like a poser. But it’s extremely comfortable (my one complaint is that the shoulder strap tends to isolate one of my breasts, making me feel self conscious) and carries all my necessities (change of clothes – no one wants to start the day with sweaty underwear), so by buying the bag, I’ve made my commuter status possible. “Commuter status” is something I imagine will mildly impress the boys who work in the bike coops I go to to put air in my tires. I may not ride a fixie or win midnight road races, but I’m saving the world.

Fixie in action.

Fixie in action.

This whole status thing isn’t something I entirely dreamed up. When I first moved here, I wanted to meet people by going to group bike rides, like the famous Midnight Ridazz, so I joined this website called LA Fixed. In order to join the website, you have to explain why you want to be a member. I said I wanted to meet people, and they deigned to give me access, assigning me “scrub status.” What does that mean? How do I rise above scrub level? This is just one example of fixie arrogance. I was biking through Silverlake the other day, and someone yelled, “Get a fixie.” Later, after I had stopped blushing, I realized I should have yelled, “Get some brakes.”

They didn't even listen to Biggie.

They didn’t even listen to Biggie.

After transferring from one metro line to the next, which means carrying my bike up and down four flights of stairs, I emerged at Western and Wilshire. I was ready for the six mile bike ride to Century City. Every weekend I bike through Chinatown and then Downtown, in order to get to Echo Park, so I’m used to biking with cars a few inches away from me. I get pretty aggressive on my bike, and it’s kind of liberating, to yell at and hit cars, weaving through traffic and blowing lights. Of course, I always check for cop cars before running a red light, and I’m sure my glance over the shoulder, an obvious tell, will one day get me a ticket, that and breaking the law. Another illegal thing I do while biking is listen to music. The first thing I noticed when I got out of the metro was that my Ipod no longer had songs on it. I would have to make the trek without any music. I bike a lot slower and politer without encouragement from Notorious B.I.G.

After scoping out relatively peaceful roads, I had planned my route using Googlemaps. I was going to go south on Western then west on Venice to San Vicente. San Vicente would take me to Fairfax, where I would go south to Whitworth. Whitworth would take me all the way to Century City. The potholes going down Western scare me, and my fear makes me swerve to avoid them, pushing me farther into traffic. I find it helpful to chant, “Please don’t kill me.” Once I’m on Venice, the journey is a lot smoother and fun.

I wasn't biking in this ensemble.

I wasn’t biking in this ensemble.

There’s a small hill right by a hardware store, so all the day-laborers waiting outside shout a mixture of encouragement and sexual harassment in Spanish and English. My Ipod normally blocks out male commentary. Apparently, women bikers are pretty exciting. In my neighborhood, men communicate their approval with a single honk. They do this even if you’re just walking, and you don’t have to be dressed up or wearing a miniskirt. The honk really just means they’ve recognized that you possess a vagina. When you’re biking, a honk could mean life or death, so I used to take it a lot more seriously and slam on my breaks. Now I know that it means, “Hey, I notice that you’re female today.”

This is what my bike looks like.

This is what my bike looks like.

Whitworth is a beautiful and peaceful, tree-lined street through the mini-mansions of Beverly Hills. I fantasized that Beverly Hills hadn’t seen the likes of me, racing through stop signs. I made it to work in an hour. I’ll get quicker, I promised myself. Actually, it takes me the same amount of time to bike as it does to drive. A couple of bike messengers were locking up at the same time as me, and they commented on my Chrome bag, “Wicked colors.” Did they think that I was one of them? My bike probably gave me away, but inside the building, security eyed me, wondering if I needed to sign in before my delivery. I felt energized and ready for work, and I used to hate being trapped inside all day, but I didn’t feel trapped anymore.

This is what I look like, but also with a helmet and facial features.

This is what I look like, but also with a helmet and facial features.

Going home it was cold and dark, but I packed my lights, gloves and a scarf. As I got warmer, I shed layers. I smelled people’s dinners as I biked home on Whitworth, peaking in through dining room windows. This is a part of LA I would never have noticed before. The subway was a lot less crowded, and as I pulled up to Western and Wilshire, there were some fixtards practicing their tricks. None of them were wearing helmets or lights, so I looked like a supernerd with my helmet and spelunking head lamp. I darted past a fixtard who was moving backwards and didn’t see me. He nearly fell. I felt superbad, as in super cool and remorseful.

I left work at 6:30 and made it home at 8. Then it was time to pack my lunch and get ready for the next day of saving the world. I fell asleep at 10, exhausted, and I didn’t want to do it all over again in the morning, but I did. This time I had music, and as soon as I was on my bike, I was having fun. I wasn’t worried about eating the office candy, and I didn’t have to schedule a trip to the gym. It feels like a small revolution: one of the few political acts of my short, privileged, white life. I want to put some hokey statement on my bag, “One Less Car.” But who needs to get political when I’m having so much fun.

3 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    F*ck yeah! I think it’s awesome you’re wrestling a bike commute out of LA, and hope it continues to be as fun as it sounds like it can be. I sold my car when I moved to Portland, in part because if I don’t have it, I can’t drive it. It helps that the city is relatively compact, and legendary for being bike-friendly.
    Thus, back to my main point- Camille, you rock! Keep on biking and writing insightful social commentary! (but not at the same time)

  2. Adriana says:

    guess what. i got me a part-time job in century city, too. if i can get a better bike, i will be joining you.

  3. Jochem says:

    Nice!
    I use my bike to get to work since a few days… Okay it’s fixed but i’m not a hipster.

    I enjoyed reading this.. i think the cars vs bikes situation is worse there as it is here in Holland.

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