Sunday, August 18, 2013

i figured out why i sometimes see ducks on the freeway

It’s because there is a river in L.A. I knew this, of course. I saw Chinatown, and I’ve stood on various overpasses watching water trickle between the famous cement banks. I also know that there’s a lot of talk about revitalizing the river, and that now you can legally kayak parts of it.

I even wrote a very short, near-future short story in which the river’s natural flood planes have been restored. No one is allowed to live there for safety reasons, so naturally a bunch of shantytowns spring up there and get wiped out every time it rains.

But it didn’t really register that we had a river until I biked a giant piece of it today with AK, Pedro, Alberto and Alberto’s new friend Andrea. Alberto was unemployed for a while, and he used a lot of that time to get in superhuman shape. Sometimes he pushed himself too hard and blew out a joint. Again, my alleged perfectionism fails here—I’ve been exercising frequently, but I’m never the person who does a bunch of cardio before yoga class, you know?

Rollin' on the river.
I held my own as we wound through the Elysian Valley, humble homes and car repair shops on one side of us, river on the other. It was really a river, with islands of trees and brush, and long-necked water birds that had an endangered look about them. (The ducks didn’t look endangered. I have a soft spot for hardy, fat, invasive urban species, maybe because I’m a member of one.)

There’s still a no-man’s-land quality to the area, even though it was well populated with bikers, joggers and at least one fisherman, whom I’m a little worried about. The greenery is punctuated by power lines. The backdrops are train yards and freeways. But we did see a brigade of kayakers, and it’s easy to imagine this as hot property in a few years, the junk yards giving way to artisanal olive oil shops.

Department of water and power lines.

Part of me was all excited to tell people Hey, check out the river! But that was dumb—because the birds and the three-eyed fish and the coyotes and the people in the small tagged-up houses already knew about it, and because excitement about semi-ruin is usually the first stage of gentrification.

We rode to the eastern (I think) edge of Griffith Park and ate fruit and veggies and some great couscous salad Andrea made. With baby carrots in hand, I befriended a pair of local rabbits. One was white, one was horchata-colored and both were clearly not native. Griffith Park is a terrible pet-dumping ground, and I worried about what might happen to pale bunnies who didn’t blend into the brush once the sun went down. But at least they would have a good meal before the coyotes got them.

A feast fit for a bunny.
“I think they’re doing fine,” Pedro said. “They look like they could skip a meal, if anything.”

The trip back passed quickly, the way returns always do. The river spat us out on Figueroa, and it was a little disorienting to be back in the land of gas stations and Home Depots. But also nice—within a block of our house, we could get a beer, a smoothie and a patch for AK’s bicycle tire. We felt rich.

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