Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Day of Boxers and Bikes: Manny, LA Bike Summit and Lance Armstrong

My Saturday: 18 miles, 13 hours, four locations and two world-class athletes.

It was one of those days. And what a day.

I left the house at about 9 a.m. and rode the two miles to Historic Filipinotown to catch a "Mayor's Community Day of Service" event at SIPA on Temple, where there were already hundreds of people there partaking in a mini neighborhood fair on a closed-off Robinson Street. City-sponsored young citrus trees were being given out to residents, teams of volunteer cleanup crews, armed with brooms, left and returned, music played and people waited patiently to see the champ: Manny Paquiao.

At about 10:30 a.m. he came out, planted a tree on Temple, and was given a proclamation by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When Manny spoke, I was curious as to how the champ would botch the mayor's name, as most people are prone to anyway (FTR: he pronounced it, "Billyaaaaaa...uhhh...agosa." Close enough for jazz!).

Surprisingly, yet unsurprisingly, scores of community folks came out: Filipino senior citizens, Filipino American college students, and even the Los Angeles Derby Dolls - who are tenants of SIPA-owned property - united in keeping the neighborhood clean. Of course, without Manny it wouldn't have been a big deal (nor as well-attended), but whatever works, works.
An hour later or so I skeedaddled on bike down Temple, Glendale, Figueroa, 4th and down Flower to L.A. Trade Tech college, where the LA Bike Summit was taking place. The usual workshop format I'm quite used to as a community person awaited me, but it was cool nonetheless.

I did see many familiar faces in the local "bike culture" scene, including people I've never seen outside of the Hel-Mel element. That made me wonder whether this preach-to-the-choir event had any efficacy to it at all, or whether it was meant to inspire optimism, organizing, advocacy and action.

One of the workshop sessions I attended was LA County Bike Coalition's "CiclLAvia" concept of setting up a weekly network of streets closed, yet permeable, to automobile traffic (open to bicycles and pedestrians) based on Bogota, Colombia's "Ciclovia," which has been a tradition there since 1976.

The concept got everyone's minds a-buzzing, bringing up ideas and concerns alike. Some people asked about how transit buses would be affected, which was a legitimate question. I suggested that outreach be done to community groups and nonprofits to increase buy-in by having them schedule coinciding festivals or events. I also recommended including churches (who are also prone to be affected) and having them encourage their congregations to ride their bikes to church.
I'm curious though to see the after-effects of this program. Granted most people or organizations already knew each other, and probably see one another fairly often on bike rides. But Saturday was a day to keep the two-wheeler stowed away and use our heads for a moment.

Still it was cool to be in the company of bike-minded folks, (including fellow Barackcyclist Carlos Morales from the East LA Bike Club) who want to make a difference.

Afterward, I rode with friend and fellow cyclist blogger type Will Campbell back to East Hollywood where we caught up with 698 other riders for the 2.3-mile LiveSTRONG ride with none other than Lance Armstrong.
We donned yellow shirts reading "Hope Rides Again" (the lucky few got to wear black shirts and
start the race alongside Mr. Armstrong. All this time I couldn't help but be amused by the fact that the world's most famous cyclist will be riding a bike in my neighborhood, reputedly the center of the city's bicycle culture. Just amazing.
We set off towards the Sunset along...well, Sunset. Yellow boxes of chalk were given away for people to draw or write messages expressing their or their loved one's experiences with cancer.
I also got a kick out of someone scrawling "MIDNIGHT RIDAZZ" and the skull logo on Sunset by Edgemont, wondering whether Mr. Armstrong saw it...
The ride ended not too long after it began, with a dramatic swoop of yellow-shirted masses turning due north on Vine Street. We dismounted just yards ahead at Selma, and parked our bikes at the bike valet, when lo and behold a giant Shepard Fairey iconic mural for Armstrong was painted on the south wall of the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. The messages: "Defiance, Courage, Action!"

Inside we were treated to a private audience with Mr. Armstrong himself, alongside Lance Armstrong Foundation head Doug Ulman and Nike CEO Mark Parker, and later joined by artist Fairey. Armstrong was introduced by actor and comedian Ben Stiller, with the night closed by a concert by another famous Ben - Ben Harper and his new band, the Relentless 7.
Mr. Armstrong was humble, honest and inspiring. He even made a comment advocating for better safety for cyclists on the streets.

An interesting point, as when I talked to some fellow cyclists prior to the ride, I noticed that most of them were the "sport cyclist" types that ride only in closed-road conditions, one I talked to told me he was "terrified" to ride on the streets! This is something I do every time without much thought...Just an interesting perspective on the different types of bike riders that are out there.

To end this real long post, and to tie it all together, I'm reminded on the power of celebrity. Los Angeles, and especially "Hollywood," for whatever definition is applied, gets a lot of flak for its association, or even obsession, with celebrities. But todayI saw the power of celebrity being used to encourage and inspire -- whether it's fighting blight on the streets of Historic Filipinotown or fighting cancer worldwide, prominent role models can get people off their apathy chairs and into action...if it works, it works.

Now, imagine if we can get Lance to advocate for bicycle safety awareness by motorists on the streets. Imagine a PSA with a motorist cussing out a cyclist on the street, only to learn it's Lance Armstrong. And no one would cuss out Lance Armstrong. Again, if it works, it works.

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