Down the Coast 6: All City

It had taken us a good part of the day to leave but eventually we set out in search of the beach, Calvin on his BMX, me on a borrowed, banana-seated cruiser from the warehouse. We found mostly city. On a hill by a school we saw it sprawling, stretching on and on in every direction. L.A. is a city of cars and our cycling took place with difficulty: on earthquake-ruined sidewalks, or nervously pressed to the gutters on the roads.

It hadn’t take too much convincing to get Nick to join us in LA. A few stories of drunken Santas and a place to stay and he and Alex set off down the coast road from San Francisco, where we’d left them. While we were searching for the beach, following the sun vaguely southwest and asking frequent directions, he was leaving Alex in a hostel and heading to meet us at Venice Beach. Calvin and I eventually found the coast – an equally uninterrupted sprawl, only this of flat sand and ocean – and rode north to meet him. Finally on a bike path, we rode through flocks of roller-skaters, past markets and drum circles, basketball games and impromptu parties, just as the movies suggest. We found Nick on sunset, then sat down for over-priced beers and bad burgers at a cafe fronting the beach.

When we got back to the warehouse, a couple of the guys were setting up a bike polo court. We set up at the bar and watched, helping when asked. There was a professional bike polo game going on nearby. The players were due later that evening.

We walked to a shop nearby and bought booze. The warehouse settled into its usual nightly state of chaos. The bar was declared open, which happens when there’s booze enough for everyone, at which point, people are permitted to smoke inside to avoid the social breaks going outside would cause. Bike polo games started up in the court and the night descended into drinking and bike polo and card games and conversation.

The next day, the three of us drove around to all the places Nick had heard about in rap songs. We drove through Inglewood, down Crenshaw Blvd, through Compton, then down to Long Beach. It all just looked like more city to me. Not even interesting city. Just sprawl. LA is the same as far as you can drive: we drove down two or three lane main roads, past auto repair shops and smog checks, fast food joints and petrol stations, supermarkets and cheap liquor stores, dissected regularly by numbered interstates. I couldn’t see much worth writing rap songs about, but I guess you’ve gotta work with what you’re given.

In the winter, the beaches are mostly deserted. But we found one anyway, walked along it for a while watching the waves.  Then we drove north to Bel Air, Beverly Hills; got lost a bunch of times and got to Hollywood on dark. We drove down the Sunset Strip, through the Hollywood Hills. It was all just street light, headlights, tails lights and more sprawl. Complicated collections of highways and exits. Suburbia just beyond. In the end, we drove for hours, the city another repetition of all the others, the only difference being the names, their fictional familiarity.

Back at the warehouse, people were playing bike polo on the left-over court and angle-grinding poles apart. Calvin and Nick joined in while I watched the game of bridge going on at the bar. On of the players was the guy who slept under the desk on the landing. He had great dreadlocks and I told him so. I usually don’t like dreadlocks but these were tight and thin, black and tidy. They looked good on him.
“Want one?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, mostly joking.
“Pick one.”
“Um. Ok.”
“Grab a hold of it.”
“I could go get some scissors or something.”
“Nah. Just grab hold of it.”
I did as I was told. Slowly, he pulled his head away from my hand I felt the vibrations of the chosen dreadlock being ripped from his scalp like a weed from dry soil.
“A souvenir,” he announced, re-shuffling the cards.
“Thanks,” I said.

After a while, Calvin, Nick and I went for more beer. After so much time in the car, I insisted on walking.
“We should drive,” Nick said.
“Nah man, it’s not far. Let’s just walk.” We were going to a different place, hoping to find a better selection of beers than what the little corner shop nearby had to offer.
“Really. Let’s just drive,” he said.
“C’mon dude. We’ve been driving all day.”
Eventually, reluctantly, he agreed. I though he was just being lazy, but as we got deeper into the neighbourhood, I began to realise why he had been so insistent. It took me a while though.
“Man, all the food places are closed,” I said as we neared the supermarket. I had left my watch at the warehouse. “They close pretty early, hey.”
“It’s not really early,” Nick said.
“What time is it?”
Nick checked his phone. “10:30.”
“Shit,” I said. “Really? When did that happen?”
Most places were closed. What few people there were left on the streets watched us go by. Car slid past slowly. Nick didn’t say anything, just gave a quick nod.
“Fuck, I didn’t realise. If I had known how late it was…” I said.
“This isn’t exactly a good neighbourhood,” Nick said.
We went quiet.
“We should have driven,” I said.
“Yeah.”

The walk back was nervous and quiet and quick. Suddenly the streets seemed very dark and very deserted. I became very aware of my wallet.
Finally, we got back to the warehouse. The entrance is down an alleyway, and there’s a gate to get back in, which requires an electronic clicker to get through. We were just pulling it out, when a figure appeared from the shadows.
“Give me your fucking wallets,” he said, low and serious.
We froze. I immediately started to panic.
Then the figure started to laugh.“You guys got a clicker?” he said. “I left mine inside.”

“Fuck, did you guys fucking brew your own or something?” one of the girls asked when we finally walked in, and everyone laughed.

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