Friday, June 05, 2009

Giro de L.A.

The skies cleared by the afternoon and I took a leisurely bike ride. It was one of the most pleasant bike rides I've ever undertaken.

It was so pleasant because it was so unhurried. It was 25 miles of riding and photographing a few slices of my city
at a pace of my choosing. I wasn't training for a ride, or for my health, I wasn't headed to the market or the post office, I was just out for a bike ride.

My primary challenge was to come up with some photographs using my DSLR (Nikon D60) with just one lens, with one focal length, my 35mm f/2. I would leave my little digicam, with it' amazing zoom lens, home. My ride would take me through the Miracle Mile, up trendy Melrose Ave., over to Hollywood, on into downtown - with Chinatown and Olvera Street - and then back to my start via broad Wilshire Blvd.

And I hoped to photograph both the cityscape and the landscape, as well as some of the residents of Los Angeles. I wanted to encapsulate, in a few images, a sense of the city, a sense of its diversity found in many of its forms.

The secondary challenge was to have a good time exploring the streets of Los Angeles by bicycle, which is far easier to do than I think most people realize. There were so few people out on bikes, and so many cars. There were so many parking lots, so many "No Parking" signs, so much space in the city catering to cars and so much signage prohibiting them.

The photographs might have been better, or there would have been more of them, or they would have been different, if I had walked, rather than ridden my bike. I would have missed, though, so much of the city, because it takes a lot longer to explore it on foot than it does on a bike.

Had I traveled by car, I would have missed the sights and sounds and smells I enjoyed on my bike.

The ride might have been longer, tougher, more physically beneficial if I hadn't stopped to make photographs. And yet the camera and the bike made, this afternoon, for the perfect synthesis of two of my passions, making my mind and my body work together in new ways as I connected with a city both grounded in a laid-back past and caught up in continuous flux.

The streets I chose had few hills, and it was easy to glide to a stop wherever I wanted, to make my photographs. As I was in no hurry, my agenda was broad enough to allow me to enjoy all that I experienced.


- Photographing the art deco facade of the old May Company department store, now part of the Los Angeles County Art Museum complex. I saw and photographed it in reflection of a vandalized window of the Peterson Automotive Museum, across the street.

- Meeting local residents, from an attractive Los Angeles Lakers basketball fan on trendy Melrose Avenue, to a shopkeeper on Olvera Street, from Colin Bogart, a grant coordinator for the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition (we met twice, by random chance, in areas far apart in the city!) to someone hoping to hook catfish in the Echo Park lake.

- The Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, on Fountain Ave., just east of Western Blvd.

- Protestors objecting to proposed cuts in the state budget that will effect, among others, patients with HIV/AIDS; and a protestor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; similar protests to the wars take place in other parts of Los Angeles on Friday evenings.

- The Self-Realization Center, on Sunset Blvd., a quiet retreat in the midst of the city. I spent a few minutes contemplating the reflection lily pads contained within a large, ceramic pot, and forgot about everything else around me.

- A view of the steep hills above the Silver Lake Reservoir, north of Sunset Blvd.

- Beautiful Echo Park Lake, which was turned into a city park from the reservoir it had been in 1891. (The massive Angelus Temple, opened in 1923, was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, a popular - and controversial - evangelist. The book by Sinclair Lewis, and the film of the same name, "Elmer Gantry," were somewhat based on McPherson.

- The Chinese dragon gate over Broadway, at Cesar Chavez Avenue.

- Produce in Chinatown, and the wonderful smell of food wafting out of the restaurants I passed as I explored a little of the area north of Cesar Chavez Avenue.

- The Virgin of Guadalupe mural at the La Placita church, across the street from the historic city plaza and Olvera Street, a touristy shopping district that supposedly duplicates the look and feel of a Mexican village. At one time visited mostly by Los Angeles Anglos, the little avenue now boasts a much more cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse set of visitors.

- City Hall in reflection of a bus window.

- Jacarada trees in the heart of gritty downtown.

- A view across the lake at McArthur Park, as I decided to put away my camera and head for home.

Los Angeles, by and large, is a wonderful city to explore - and commute through - on a bicycle. And I think I did well with my choice of subjects and camera on a few hours' ride.

The Route

Begin at Pico and Fairfax Blvds. North on Fairfax, east (right) on Melrose, north (left) on Wilton, right (east) on Hollywood.

Continue on Hollywood, the east onto Sunset Blvd. Continue on Sunset, which becomes Cesar Chavez
Left on N. Alameda Street - stop at Olvera Street, the Central Plaza and the La Placita Church.

Exit La Placita Church onto N. Spring Street, follow south (becomes S. Spring). Right (west) on 7th, right (north) onto Figueroa, left (west) onto Wilshire.

Follow Wilshire Fairfax, left on Fairfax (south) back to Pico.

Note: click on photos and a larger version should appear.

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