Bearings and how to find them

Golly! While browsing through my blog posts, I discovered that (a) I haven’t posted anything since mid-2014 (shame on me), and (b) a draft article that I wanted to post as a follow-up to my scary scooter moments in LA.

Should I throw it away? Should I post it anyway, with more than a year’s delay? Blogging is such a time-consuming affair but every PR person tells you that you should keep it up regularly and be always up-to-date. I am such a PR person. Still, I can’t abide by my own rules.

Well, I decided to post it. My draft wasn’t finished so I had to come up with a few memories to conclude the story, like those movie-makers who have to replace an actor deceased in the middle of the shooting with a stuntman or, nowadays, a digital copy. I mark the transition with [2015]. And here goes!

Week 3. In the meantime, I have spent a whole weekend driving a rented motorbike to get some more experience driving around LA, so I am starting to get the hang of it. As long as I don’t stray too far from the areas that I know. Because here’s the catch: my biggest challenge is orientation. I couldn’t find my bearings if you paid me for it. At least not at first. Or at second.

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The Royal Enfield I rented in LA for a weekend.

Landmarks are no use to me. In the first week, I found myself turning regularly left where I was supposed to go right, simply acting on the fact that I spotted what I believed was a landmark – a café bar called “The Bean Factory.” Except that it was the wrong landmark. What I had remembered was a parking lot with a big sign on it saying “Angry Bear Corner” or something. How I managed to mix these up, I don’t know.

But this is a thing of the past. By now, I know not to turn left at the Beans but at the Bear. I remember the “dips” in the road (probably earthquake damage) where I need to brake and learned that the [2015] right-turn to the UCLA was coming up when I passed the smell of the dry cleaners of Sepulveda Bd. Because this is the thing when you’re driving around a city on a two-wheeler – there are all these scents in the air. Others on my daily route to uni were:

  • the spicy scents emanating from the Mexican restaurant, day and night, on the corner Washington Bd. to Sepulveda
  • the horrid fumes of burning asphalt below the Santa Monica Freeway crossing with Sepulveda, from the never-ending road works on that spot (which regularly gave me the edge over car drivers as I would weave my work through 2 miles of traffic to the front of the queue), and
  • the delicious scent of coffee wafting in the air when I approached the Bean café, accompanied by the welcome sights of the “Persian Square” (on Westwood Boulevard between Wilshire and Pico), with its saffron-ice cream parlours and advertisements in Farsi for Iranian lawyer services.

And then I would arrive at my destination. Sometimes.

Hang on, there are some more notes from this 2014 post, so I’ll write about these in part 2.

Motion

What to do with all the little video clips that gather dust on one’s non-linear editing software, without being used because they are too short, too shaky, too boring, too low-rez, with awful sound and terrible pans and tilts? Correct, you throw them away. Not so in this case. As part of my experimental series, which is really very much a cobbled-together set of mini videos that lack any kind of theme, I tried to find a common denominator for some of the clips I have collected over the years. The result: Motion! If you can tell me what the author wanted to convey with this piece, please let me know.

Lone scooter in LA

It must have been the slight onset of madness that made me do this. Most definitely.

Since last Monday, I am riding a 125cc motor scooter of the Vespa type around Venice. I.e. Venice, Los Angeles. And beyond. Aside from the oddly named Freeways (what’s free up there, I ask? OK, no road tax, but other than that?), no place is secure from me. In fact, it’s more my own security that I am worried about. The first week has already given me a taste of the multifarious hazards two-wheelers are exposed to in this very very large city.

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For one, nearly everything else is much larger than you. Although there is a notable trend in LA to buy smaller cars, there are still enough metal behemoths around to make you feel claustrophobic at traffic junctions. Even motorcycles, as rare as they are, come more often in the super-sized Harley variety than in “normal” human-sized models. Not to speak of the roads. They come in Starbucks sizes: two lanes (short espresso), three lanes (a mini regular), four lanes (large with cream), and more (premium but still manageable). One lane? Can’t be measured.

Then there are the cracks in the road. I can only assume that it is the thousands of mini-earthquakes the area experiences every week, or perhaps even every day, that tears apart the tarmac to this extent. Every other day, there seems to be another bump or hole in the Avenues I have to master, which the scooter is never too happy about. There is even a dip on Washington Ave. for which you kindly receive advance warning through a sign saying “Dip.” Once you mastered that one and think you are safe, there is nearly immediately another one, without warning.

But there are also upsides. First of all, road behaviour is much more courteous than in Europe,. Drivers generally give you an incredible amount of space to maneuver, on both sides and in front of them. Never heard a nasty word about me weaving through traffic either – rather to the contrary, cars moving to the side so I could pass. People are incredibly forgiving of uncertain driving styles – it’s rare to hear someone honk.

In a generally energy-conscientious US state like California, it is also not rare to get positive remarks about riding a scooter. I received one already on day two, and someone even enquired about the scooter while crossing the six lanes on a junction. From a distance of at least 50 metres, he still shouted at me: “And how many gallons per mile?” I had no idea – gallons?

Then, there are my personal safety precaution. Nearly all other scooter drivers (still a rare sight) that I so far encountered, seem to be content to adopt the Italian fashion of T-shirt with bermudas and slippers of even flip-flops. Not me. Paranoid as I am about safety, I gear up every day with leather jacket, gloves and long trousers. I also always ride with full beam on, day and night, in the hope that no one gets so blinded by the mini-beam that she or he cuts off my way and runs me over. Gulp.

Finally, there is the colour. I’ve seen all kinds of scooters here so far, but none in bright orange. What a statement.

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Chukka with Muybridge

A clip that brings together polo, the royal game, and the photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge for a former governor of California, Leland Stanford, in 1878. The inspiration for the short came from a collection of photographs I had taken of polo chukkas being played in the UK and Austria. My brother-in-law introduced me to the game a few years ago and it has fascinated me ever since, even though I can’t play it much on the Continent – while it is a fairly accessible sport in the UK, it still retains its elitist status on the Continent. Happy birthday, John (said brother-in-law)!