Had I known I would eventually move to Northern Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance I would have opted to study Spanish instead of German during high school. Not that I don’t like spechen’ die ol’ Deutsch every once in a while, but it hasn’t exactly been the most practical language out here… until last week.
I was taking the bus down to the beach to get my bike tire fixed when a frail old man entered my life. Being the strapping young lad that I am, I offered him my seat in exchange for his infinite wisdom on the ways of the world from a much elder perspective. That prospect was shot down quickly though, as the first words out of his mouth were something to the extent of “I no speak English” in some strange Eastern European accent, following which he quietly looked away. Great, I thought, he’s probably ex-KGB and I just gave him my seat. Thankfully my months spent at the bike shop last year had actually taught me some Russian… yes, Russian… so I dropped a little bit of this and that on him and bam, he perked right back up.
Mind you, I’m far from fluent. I can barely even say that I speak it, outside of “Hello, my name is Brendan, I am an American” and a few other fun phrases. He didn’t speak much of it either, surprisingly, but it was enough to learn that another slight tongue of his was actually German. Well well well… Guten Tag, mi amigo!
We were off, two passing strangers seventy years apart, brought together by some happenstance broken second languages. This 94 year-old Romanian was visiting the U.S. for the first time in ten years with an optimistic outlook on America. Maybe he was just being nice, but he said not to worry much about our economy; despite the tremendous debt and domestic bickering we’re still a jewel of the world and that in five years he expects “everything to be fine”. Five years was either a rough estimate or a clever jab, so I asked what he thought of Obama. “Good for the poor people” he said with a kind smile. Take that as you will.
The next thing to catch my eye was his lapel pin: an Italian flag. Apparently this guy was a total boss back in the day on Italy’s police force. Some kind of Lieutenant. I didn’t have time to connect the dots between Romania, Italy and Germany though, because all of a sudden we’d arrived at the beach and he had places to go, whoever he was. I was far too caught up in our conversation to get a picture of him or even catch the man’s name. Come to think of it, I never shared mine either, but that was just fine. It was the most culturally rewarding experience I’ve had since moving out here. German finally paid off!
After getting the bike tuned up, I headed up into the Topanga Mountains, just north of Malibu, for their annual Earth Day festival weekend. Hippies, cajuns, tribal dancers, DeadHeads; they all came out for this one. I stuck around for a short afternoon and was off, down through the local canyon boulevard that zigged and zagged back toward the ocean. It was a good day to have the bike in top shape, because there was a solid five or six miles of (what felt like) 45 degree descending sharp turns and two way traffic. This wasn’t your typical road through the hills, either; it was a narrow sliver cut down the center of a mountain. Next time I’ll try to strap a GoPro camera to my helmet and time lapse it… you’ll wish you were there.
Feeling sprite after a great day on the road, it seemed only fitting I got into my first street race on the way home that night. While I realize 90% of my readers are East-coast, I’ll have to tell this story like you’re a local, since it’s a lot better that way and because all L.A. stories are somehow told by what roads everyone took to get where they were going (see: SNL’s Californians skit, it really nails it).
Heading east on Broadway as I was leaving Santa Monica, another white guy in his 20’s pulls up next to me. Road bike, no headphones, front and rear lights… this rider was legit. I looked over for the salutatory nod, but he wasn’t one for kind gestures. Eyes locked completely on the light ahead of us, waiting for the green, he was on a mission. Sure enough, it turned and he was gone. I’ll admit I never shift down enough when stopping to get a nice quick jump at the next takeoff, so he had me beat. But just like every silly sports car here, all that speed only gets you up to the next red.
There we were, waiting side by side again, still no acknowledge of my existence. Once, I could understand. A second, maybe. But by the third, it was on. We exchanged short victories, back and forth from one light to the next. After crossing under the 405, most intersections really start to open up, so it was thankfully no longer a game of Stop ‘n Go. The race was on, no doubt about that. Another mile and the hills start to roll, so we really got some climbs in there, which was fine at first… but at that pace I started to miss those red lights. We’d merged with Santa Monica Blvd a while back and the most dreaded intersection for a cyclist has got to be at Beverly Glen, the bottom of the biggest hill for at least another ten miles, right in front of the reciprocating incline. When you catch that green going downhill you’ve hit the jackpot, but if it turns red you’re done. Lo and behold, he catches the green and I’m just far enough behind to see it change yellow as I start the plunge and then bam… red. Game Over. No crossing Go. Not collecting $200 dollars.
I don’t get to physically compete much nowadays, which is a little depressing, so this kind of spontaneous race was a rare challenge that could have really done wonders for my ego. But instead I sat at the bottom of a hill, waiting like an obedient little hamster for permission to cross the street. There are a lot of intersections out here that see their traffic really dry out at night, but this isn’t one of them. I wasn’t going anywhere. The shame of the loss wore off along the rest of the ride home, as I figured I’m still relatively new to the world of road bikes, so I chalked it up to experience and enjoyed the last few miles. That final sprint through Beverly Hills is especially nice at night since the place is borderline empty, a nice little cruise down into Miracle Mile once you hit Wilshire Blvd, which was now within sight. Another pretty big intersection, so it had a decent line-up of cars waiting on both sides of the red light.
To my surprise there was a familiar figure there, resting, ready to cross Wilshire and keep heading north… it was him. White Guy on a Bike. My chance for redemption and the classic You-Didn’t-Know-It-Was-Actually-Overtime kind of guilty pleasure victory. Coasting in at an even pace, I lined my arrival up perfectly with the intersecting lights changing and I hit ours exactly on the green. Ben Kenobi would have been proud of this Force-like timing on my approach. Before my rival had a chance to pedal even once, I’d zipped on by and hung an immediate right across him into the far left lane of Wilshire heading east, giving him a farewell wave as I rode down victory lane toward home.
The other big success last week came when I finally shipped my 1TB Western Digital external harddrive (longtime codenamed: COLLEGE) up to Wonderphil Entertainment in San Francisco, carrying our final exported deliverables of The Essentials, which will hopefully mark an end to the film’s final active chapter in my life. It’s been a wild ride… so hopefully some foreign territories will pick it up and have just as much fun watching it. High hopes for the market in Cannes next month!
And in case you haven’t seen the latest edit, check out the film’s NEWLY COMPLETED Final Distribution trailer HERE! Not gonna lie, it makes this movie look pretty awesome.