Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chopadero Doo Dah

So What owns your brain time? What fills your head in that rare hour alone with your thoughts? Like when you're driving, for example. Long list of movies? Long list of books? The TV networks? The newspapers? The internet? The War? The End of the World as We Know It? Lots of foolishness masquerades as serious stuff out there, and if you pay too much attention it can just make you sick. What is important? What are you going to- well, do?
Sometimes the best choice is to allow yourself to relinquish your hold on the events of the world. If the Apocalypse comes on our watch, we won't be able to postpone it. We may as well enjoy the last days of the finest thing that ever happened on Planet Earth-

The miracle of Western Civilization.
Which is- slack.

That is- time on your hands, and the means to enjoy it.

Slack well done is a power plant that generates joy. It charges up the spirit, lightens the soul, and fills you with enough silly to laugh for days afterward. It heals you up from the abrasions caused by the media's daily assault on your sanity. Having fun makes you a happier person, and I believe that God wants us to be happy. But we still have to choose.

Small gestures are the seeds of great trends in our lives. The most casual decision spins out events in a vast web of coincidence that catches us up and connects us with others in ways we never dreamed possible.
But, once again-you have to choose. You have to make that casual decision, and extend the small gesture. Waiting for life to find you means sitting around and waiting forever. Television is dying to devour your slack.

In the meantime- what kind of stuff are you going to fold into your resume? When you see your life flash before your eyes in that last few seconds before The End- what kind of stuff will be on the screen? Your choice.
There is always the choice of either doing some thing, or doing no thing: Always choose Life, right? Even when it means asking yourself- just how much fun do I want to have here? It's like surfing- sometimes you don't realize how big the waves are until you paddle out to sea. And once you're out there, "I don't want to deal with this" is not an option. But I'm past the rash behaviors of my youth. Mostly. I mean, risking life and limb is out, but that still leaves a lot of cool stuff to do.

I'm on the Freeway heading for Pasadena.
And I can't shake the odd feeling that I'm paddling out into some big swell.
It's just a parade.
Yeah, but...

I've been hearing about the Doo-Dah Parade for years. It was originally a send up of the Rose Parade, but now any connection between the two events is a total accident. Still, it's a chance to put on a yearly freak show, and who in California can resist the opportunity? It's one of those events that gives Southern California its well-deserved reputation for kookiness. It's also one of those things like the Renaissance Faire- You say to yourself, "Yeah- some day I'll have to go see it," and then you never really go. But, as I noted earlier-Small gestures are often the seeds...

Browse around on the computer. Hit the 'gotta' have it' button.
And I'm getting off the 210 Freeway on Sierra Madre Boulevard heading south- hooking a left on Colorado Boulevard, East Pasadena. I pull off Colorado on Altadena, and there's a free parking place less than a block down. I pull the truck over, and I've got that deep water feeling again. I start unloading the Spoiler. I'm not just going to the Doo-Dah Parade. I'm gonna' ride in it with The Chopaderos.
And as always, I'm early.
The first truck of bikes pulls into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn right around when they said they would. Chuck, from Cyclone Coasters pulls around the corner. Here we go. The morning comes alive as bikes are unloaded, wrenches twisted, tires checked, greetings exchanged. Tada and his film crew are back. They rode along on the Cyclavia trip, and will be filming us again today. I got acquainted with a few of the Chopaderos from the Cyclavia ride, and a few other 'Deros come out for the monthly Cyclone Coasters ride in Long Beach. So I'm feeling less like a total stranger, which helps ease this recurring case of the willies- Just how much fun do you want to have? I've already paddled out.

Below- Bikes in the truck. All pictures click to enlarge

Below-Make unloading a brand new chrome plated cruiser

Just like Christmas

Everyone is saddled up. We get the signal, and a moment later the bikes in front of me are rolling. The Chopaderos get ready to make the plunge into the Do Dah. My feet are on the pedals, and there are no second thoughts. Just pay attention, and go. The pack rolls out of the parking lot, down Colorado, left at a side street, right at another, and we're there. Sort of. That is, we're in the staging area- the alleys, and small parking lots behind the storefronts on Colorado Boulevard. We jostle the dozens of choppers into our spot in line.

Southern California earns it's reputation for craziness. And I'm here with the Chopaderos getting ready to add to that reputation. We're right behind the Whistling Diva in her unrestored convertible 1970-something Volkswagen Thing, and right in front of a rock band dressed as Mormon missionaries- white shirts, ties, blacks slacks, bicycle helmets, and electric guitars. A spot or two behind them the Hare Krishnas are drumming, and chanting (with loudspeakers) while pulling along their circus colored juggernaut. There are women floating around in all manner of curious costume. There are folks in dog suits, stilt walkers, mask wearers, clowns, and queens of all genre and gender. And the Chopaderos outlaw bicycle club. Everyone waiting in the warm April sun.
Below- Welcome to RidiculousBelow- Mask wearers

Below- Women floating around in all sorts of curious costume

Below-And the Chopaderos Outlaw Bicycle Club

Below- Smog beast of the Whistling Diva

Below- Tada (plaid shirt) and crew never stop

Below-Queens of all genres

Compare and Contrast

Below- And Queens of all genders

Below- Last minute adjustment
And soon enough we hear air horns. The show is starting; the entries roll slowly forward. Remember the Whistling Diva, and her 1970-something Volkswagen? The last tune-up on that car called for new breaker points, spark plugs, and condenser. My guess is that the car was still under warranty when they did it. We inch forward engulfed in the cloud of toxic yellow exhaust belching out of those ancient pipes. This ain't good. The shirt and tie and helmet kids are rocking out behind us. We're getting close to Colorado. T hands out tortillas, and announces a quick change of plan. We're going to ride circles around the rock and roll helmet kids. Genius. This will extend our street time, and get us out from behind the smoggy Diva. Suddenly we're rolling, hooking a right on Colorado Boulevard, springing forward so we can heel a hard tight U-turn and loop back behind the rock band. I've done parade riding. It's a little tricky to ride a circle that progresses along a straight line, even with a regular bike, and the full width of a four lane street. Here all we get are the right two lanes. Some of these bikes (like mine) have a turning radius larger than a car's. Easy Rider this is not. This route is half a block down the right side of the street, a U-turn, a straight ride for a block before U-turning again, half a block more, then turn right to exit by the same street we enter from. The crowd spots the chopper gang on their bad ass bicycles. At this point everything sort of compresses into a blur. Tortillas and marshmallows are flying everywhere. We're crankin' on it, then going slow, coming to a full stop frequently, reach down and gather a couple stray tortillas, a marshmallow beans me back of the head, I'm riding again trying to get the Spoiler heeled around, zinging the tortillas Frisbee style, taking hits from marshmallows, getting all the way back to where the Hare Krishnas are pulling their float, and there's T off his bike leading the crowd in shouts to the laborers HEAVE HO, HEAVE, HO...,

Below- In the middle of the Madness
Below- Cutting back in front of the Hare Krishnas

Below- T off his bike directing the crowd. "HEAVE HO"

... and we're around the last U turn, stop to toss marshmallows at some kid, sling another tortilla, and the next thing, we're going right off of Colorado, back up the side street, around to the parking lot, and it's over.
Holy cow, what was that?

I have absolutely no sense of time right now- How long were we out there? What the hell just happened? Everyone's tires are full of marshmallows; how did we end up here? There is still a long line of parade entries inching toward the starting point. One by one they dive into the mosh pit. So when you see your life flash before your eyes in that last few seconds before The End- what kind of stuff will be on the screen?

The bike gang regroups. We pause for some picture taking, and then hit the street for a cruise down to a local watering hole. All the way down Colorado, people drive by honking their horns, shouting, giving the Chopaderos a thumb's up. We decompress for about an hour, and then head to the Dog Haus gourmet hot dog place for lunch.

Slack well done. It was all very good.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Bikin' with the Chopaderos

Click to enlargenate

Eight thirty AM Sunday finds me alone in Mariachi Plaza, East Los Angeles.

Waiting. This is typical. I have a mania about being on time. Waiting, boredom, anticipation, I can handle, but I have an absolute horror of being late. The Chopaderos are supposed to be here at ten; I'm almost two hours early. I'm glad to be here at all. The weekend started badly, with toothache pain Friday morning. By Friday night it reached vicodin level. Saturday morning found me in the dentist's chair, fortunately with vicodin as a reward. No serious pain this morning, but I'm wrung out from pills and little sleep. That's OK. I'm here
From time to time bicyclists emerge from the underground Gold Line rail station, and head toward the Cyclavia starting point several blocks down Boyle Street. Today the city belongs to bicycles. Seven and a half miles of downtown are blocked off for bikes, skates, scooters- anything without a motor. Today I'll be riding with the outlaws. I've been looking forward to this the way an eight year old anticipates Christmas. Soon enough we'll roll, but for now, there is nothing to do but wait.

So, how did I get here? What are the links in the chain of events that finds me alone in Mariachi Plaza, waiting for an outlaw bicycle club called the Chopaderos early on a cool Sunday morning in April? It's always an interesting mind game to trace back the ties in the web of coincidence that connects all things in life, especially when you've got vacant brain time, like when you're driving. Or sitting and waiting. How do I find myself here?
I could go back to sometime in the early 70's, when I ran into a guy with a beautifully restored Schwinn Autocycle at Huntington Beach pier. That got me hooked on classic bikes, and got me started building my fleet. But I wrote about that in an earlier series of posts entitled The Jaguar Project. The first link in this particular chain came about a year and a half ago when I was filling in for the custodian at one of the local elementary schools. I was daydreaming about motorcycles- revisiting the cross country trips I made on the Harley back in the early 90's. Thinking about those long solitary summers on the road, the runs to Sturgis, the parties out in the backwoods of Tennessee, and West Virginia. And thinking how far behind me that stuff is, now. I took to searching out pictures of choppers on the web. How cool it would be to have the means to build one... Then I stumbled on to the picture of the Spoiler- a chopper with pedals.

I had to have that damn bicycle. I found one, bought it, and that got me going on bicycles, again. Soon I had it tricked out with a three speed, a suicide shift, a new saddle, and sissy bar.
But just having a chopper bike would have gotten me nothing except a reputation for being eccentric around my home town. The crucial link came when Mary and I were riding our (boring) comfort bikes around Huntington Beach. We ran into a guy that had an incredible old Shelby Airflow. He told us about Cyclone Coasters, a group that meets each month for an antique/classic bike cruise. I got the chopper bike up and running, and then set out to bring the classics out of the crates they'd sat in since the nineties. We got to the first Coasters ride last June. It was there that I heard about the Chopaderos.
A chopper bike club? You gotta' be kidding me. Really?
I had to look into this. And now I'm here in Mariachi Plaza, waiting. And soon enough I catch a glimpse of a truck loaded with long bikes pulling up around the corner. I wheel the chopper over to the far side of the plaza. This is it. They're here.

Click makes pic all big.
One by one, by two's and threes they arrive. I have met a couple of the guys a few times, but that's it. It's always a little awkward the first time you meet with a group, and unlike Cyclone Coasters, this group is an organized club. Nonetheless, I'm not stressing out over it. Getting older has its advantages- you learn to take things in stride, bide your time, and allow, rather than force things to happen.
These guys have some incredible bikes. Some are customized Basman cruisers, others are one off hand built choppers. A couple of young guys with video cameras are working their way through the growing crowd. They're shooting some footage for a possible cable TV project- maybe a viral web cast. They go about this like professionals, handing out releases, and video recording everyone's permission to appear on screen. Who knows? This may be the fifteen minutes of fame I've been told I have coming. I'll take it.

Pics grow huge with a click.

But now I'm hearing bells. The ride is about to begin. The group moves out by twos and fours and, Here we go! This is what I've been waiting for. I'm ridin' with the Chopaderos. The first leg of the run is down hill; we gain some fairly serious speed, and the fat rear tire on the Spoiler sings on the pavement. We approach the iconic bridge across the LA river filmed in countless television shows and heaven only knows how many movies. A stop on the bridge for a group shot...

Click me and I grow.
And then we're rolling again- through Little Tokyo, around through the artist district, and then we make the right onto 7th Street. This. Is. It.
The city in all its glory.

Here's where the strangeness of what we are doing hits home. These streets are never quiet. Cars, buses, truck, sirens.- gone. There are bicycles, pedestrians skateboards, and the soft hum of the crowd. Our pack moves slowly through the traffic, and everyone on either side does a double take, and points, as we pass. Guys on road bikes slow down and ask questions. Others just stare, incredulous. We pass a cop trying out some kid's three wheel scooter. Other cops are cruising along, or watching the few intersections where the ride is halted for cross traffic. They seem to be diggin' it. They're friendly, courteous, in synch with the vibe of the day. We pull off to the side near Hope Street. One of Chopaderos, Fez, has bike trouble.
The delay gives everyone a chance to take in the scene, and watch the parade of bikes pass by. You see a little of everything- road bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers, but we seem to be the only bunch on choppers. I'm a little surprised- I expected to see more stretch bikes, or some classics. I haven't seen anyone from the Cyclone Coaster group either, but this crowd is huge- easily in the tens of thousands. After about twenty minutes, or so the word comes down- Fez's bike is out of commission for now. So we we roll again.

Click to embiggen

Next pause is for a pit stop at McArthur Park. The sun is out, the sky has cleared up, there's a band playing, and the park is full of partiers. And the Real Rydas show up. This is an all black bike club on the most outrageous looking machines on the street. Bling is the theme: mirrors, chrome, multiple spare tires, zillion spoke wheels, and springers unbolted from the fork head, so the whole front end flips under the bike. I clicked a bunch of pictures, but only a couple came out.
Here's Fonda, meeting with the Rydas . (second pic)

These too shall grow-click

At this point the traffic is getting pretty heavy- just like LA on any normal day, only without cars. The cops are pushing us off to the side of the street, so we cruise on. Now we have to climb some hills into East Hollywood. That's the only drawback with a chopper- you can't stand up on the pedals, and grind; you gotta' just grit your teeth, and tough it out. But everyone makes it up the hill, past the pretty girl handing out grapefruit wedges, past the rock n' roll string quartet, around a few more turns, and then there it is- Melrose Avenue- end of the line.

Click to increase your size.

We hang out here for about an hour, and I'm glad for the break. I've been up since early, breakfast is a long ways down, and I don't want to eat on the still tender tooth. Here, there seems to be the mix of bikes that I did not notice on the pass through downtown- more cruisers, a few classics, a bunch of folks with quickly scribbled hand made signs protesting coal. Coal? Welcome to LA.

The ride back is mostly down hill. The day is getting late, and soon the streets will be opened for cars again. The group gets spread out very thin, and it's hard to keep track of the patches. As we return to the downtown area, I see the Chopaderos gathering at a corner bar. Bikes are thick as spaghetti around the place, and it's standing room only inside. I pull over, but by now I'm just beat. I want to hang out some more- want to keep this day going for just a little while longer, but my tanks are drained, my needle is on "E", and I have to just call it in.
So it's back through little Tokyo, back over the bridge, and then back up the steep incline to Hollenbeck Park that started this long strange trip. Beat as I am, I suddenly get determined to make this final hill without getting off to push. Crank by crank, yard by yard, it's like climbing out of the inferno, until I see the baricades. I stop at the corner of Boyle, and then coast back down the hill to the park. I come around the bend in the road. There's my truck. Waiting to take me home.
It's been a good one.