Down the Coast 5: Los Angelope’d

I didn’t want to go to LA. My plan, vague as it was, mainly involved three things: getting to Mexico by Christmas, sticking as close to the coast as possible, and avoiding Los Angeles like the plague. But here I was, Calvin in the passenger seat, a strange, surly girl from Phoenix in the back, on our way into LA.

From San Francisco, we had hugged the coast down Highway 1, my little Volkswagon taking those Hollywood turns like a sports car. Or, almost anyway. At one point, there was a roadblock, one lane of traffic blocked off and road workers with stop signs, enough of a wait for people to start getting out of their cars to stretch their legs or take pictures of the view. When we were finally allowed to crawl past, it wasn’t an accident or torn up asphalt causing the delay, but a full film crew and a movie set.

When we hit Malibu, just North of the city limits, Calvin started recognising settings from BMX videos he had watched. Soon after that, it was all city. We had left Santa Barbara early to ensure we would hit LA in between rush hours, but it’s always rush hour in LA, so the process of penetrating in was long, though easier than I was expecting.

We were going to a warehouse run by a bike collective called the Los Angelopes. It was in Inglewood, a suburb that I later learned from Nick features heavily in rap songs. Calvin knew the people there through a friend of a friend, who had met one of the people involved through a rideshare, and then had stayed there while bike touring through. Or something like that anyway.

The Los Angelopes build what they call freak-bikes, or tall bikes. Mostly these are frames welded on top of other frames with chains, brackets and brakes modified accordingly. They are mounted by the rider in a similar way to penny farthings, with a run-up and a jump, and look pretty precarious to ride.

A freak bike

The people involved in the collective organise or participate in events and rides, throw or crash parties, play bike polo, make videos for YouTube, dress up in all sorts of costumes, and generally cause trouble. Their warehouse contains an extensive workshop with every tool you could ever need and a full welding set-up. There’s a sound-proof recording studio in one corner of the warehouse, a boat out the back, great piles of milk crates, a bar, and enough bikes and bits of bikes to furnish a medium-sized town. Plus, one of the bathrooms has a black light in it, so at night your pee glows fluorescent in the bowl.

Apparently, the warehouse had originally been built as a ball bearing factory for World War II. The guy who currently owns it – who’s a bit odd by most accounts – bought it with the dream of turning it into a boxing brothel. The idea involved having a boxing ring set up in the main warehouse section where the girls would have boxing matches, while the men decided on which one they wanted and would later take them upstairs to a room.

His dream never came true. Instead, he gave up half-way through the renovations and leased it to a bicycle collective called the Los Angelopes, who now have pretty much free reign over the place. There are ten or more of them living throughout the half-built rooms of the first and second stories. One guy sleeps under a desk on the landing. Another lives in a tiny room under the stairs. And then there’s the constant revolving cast of couch-surfers and friends of friends who sleep where-ever they can find a warmish space to lay their sleeping bag.

We arrived sometime around late afternoon, and most people were out. We unpacked, made some food, tentatively explored and talked to one of the guys about his wheatgrass collection. We settled in. Then, a little after dark, without warning, the place was suddenly descended upon by eight or nine very drunk Santas.

They flooded in, all dishevelled red and white, slurring and yelling. Before long they had all crowded into one of the downstairs bedrooms with a bong and a kitten and had started playing Beatles records as loud as they would go, singing along as loud as they could sing.

They had been at a Santa pub crawl all day, someone explained to us. They had started out sometime in the early afternoon, in two groups, one at either end of the train line. Then they had bar-hopped their way down, eventually converging in one loud, drunken, red and white mess somewhere around the centre of the line.

Soon, everyone was sitting at the bar, continuing to drink heavily. To one side of me, a Santa started lighting aerosol cans on fire. Over in the workshop, a girl in fishnets and welded something together. Somewhere else, a couple more Santas hurled throwing knives at a target on the wall. At one point, I lifted my bottle to my lips just as two wrestling Santas tumbled off the table and into my face, which was probably the best way I have every managed to get a bloody lip.

Then we were climbing into a car driven by one of the Santas, who was reasonably sober now, to crash someone’s work party in another part of town. It was more of a formal affair than we were expecting. Apart from us and the Santas, everyone was fairly well dressed. There was an open bar with three kegs of beer and all the spirits and mixers you could want. There we

Where we slept

re great mountains of pizzas on a table. There was a helium-filled, remote control, floating shark, which Calvin and both I got to have a go at steering.

Then we were back in the car and heading back to the warehouse. There, exhausted, Calvin, the girl from Phoenix and I all collapsed into our sleeping bags on the balcony overlooking the warehouse, which happened to be missing most of the railing that would otherwise have protected us from the drop to the concrete floor of the warehouse below. It was probably around 3 or 4am. The next morning, at 9am, we were awoken by singing.


1 Response to “Down the Coast 5: Los Angelope’d”

  1. 1 Ben Ainslie January 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    A tall bike is the next project.

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