Assistance Is Futile

Late last spring I came to the aid of three eggs that survived a jay attack of the nest the bushtits had built in our backyard Victorian box tree.

It’s the same story almost every year. The gregarious communal bushies work hard together to construct their pendulous nest, eggs are laid, and ultimately either jays or crows find and destroy it and any eggs.

Rarely are the bushies successful in getting a chick to fledge, but in the most amazing exhibition of persistence and perseverance, they never stop trying.

I knew it was futile, but I constructed a wire surround with some old raingutter cover and zip ties that would not win any design awards, but might-could possibly protect against any further corvid attacks. I carefully put what was left of the nest with the eggs inside it and hung it back up in the tree, hoping to draw the parents back.

I pulled it down today. If it had been revisited by any of the group, there was no evidence to support that. The three eggs were still inside, one was broken, perhaps by an opportunistic rodent, and two intact — so small that they fit on a quarter with room to spare. Here they are photographed under my 8x lupe.

Modeling myself on the bushies ability to bounce back, if I had to do it all over again, I would.

Unintentional Bullies

When I was eight or nine years old I had a friend named Martin who, because of our size difference, would get a great kick out of surprising me from behind by jumping up on my back, putting one arm around my neck and with his other hand playfully slapping my head, all the while laughing because it was so much fun. For him.

He did it at school. He did it at his house. He did it at mine. He continued to do it no matter how many times I told him to stop — even after the one time his arm around my neck almost made me pass out and we tumbled to the floor, him laughing and me struggling to breath and stay conscious.

I never returned the favor or reacted in anger more than verbally toward Martin because my mom had made it clear to me since I was bigger than the other kids my age, I had to be very careful how I handled myself, otherwise I might be considered a bully.

I finally told my mom what was going on and she was very upset because she had inadvertently made me so worried about bullying that I was being bullied — however unintentionally — as a result. Then she did the coolest thing. Instead of going to the school or to Martin’s parents, she showed me what to do the next time it happened, guanteeing that it would be the last time. We practiced the maneuver over and over until I had it down. I was both nervous and excited to finally be able to get some payback.

When that day finally came, Martin had come over to visit one weekend. We had finished playing with my Hot Wheels cars in my room and decided to go to the park down the street. I had barely cleared my doorway ahead of Martin to tell my mom in the kitchen when he executed his signature move and started cuffing me about the head, giggling.

I did as my mom instructed: “Stop it!” I yelled. He didn’t. My mom heard me and came out of the kitchen into the living room. I guess I must’ve had a resigned look on my face standing there in the hallway with this kid two-thirds my size hanging off me, because I saw her stifle a smile and replace it with dead seriousness.

“Do you remember what we practiced?” she asked.

“Yes.” I answered.

“Well then go ahead.”

“Now?”

She nodded.

And with Martin giggling and me looking straight at her, my right hand shot back and got good hold of a fistful of Martin’s hair. Leaning forward and pulling him with me, his laughter abruptly turned into a surprised “Hey!?” after which I wasted no time driving my left elbow as hard as I could into his stomach. Martin let out an “Ooof!” and his arm was no longer around my neck and he was off me. In a heap on the carpet looking up trying to find his breath he stammered “Whadya. Do. That. For?”

“I told you over and over to stop jumping on me and you never listen.” I held out a hand and helped him to his feet. “Now you know what’s going to happen if you ever do it again, OK?”

His answer was to rub his stomach and frown in an awkward silence my mom finally broke with a wink at me, asking “Where you guys off to now?” A smile replacing her serious look.

“The park,” I said. “You still wanna go, Martin?”

He stood there undecided, a little sore, and a little sullen at the realization that he’d suddenly lost something he’d enjoyed.

“No hard feelings?”

“Sure,” he said and off we went.

What A Difference A Change Makes

I’m about seven weeks or so into my latest and most favorite evar bike route to and from work that runs roughly 8.5 miles between my home in Silver Lake and my office in Jefferson Park.

It is almost exclusively through quiet (or quieter) residential streets, with the exception of a section on Adams Boulevard which blessedly having recently been dramatically reconfigured between Crenshaw and Fairfax now sports ultra-wide buffered bike lanes.

The route is not without its faults — none across Los Angeles is — but its biggest has been the transition to its third act in the mornings, which begins with a run south on 6th Avenue from Pico Boulevard. Almost exclusively I’ve been getting there in the mornings and coming back evenings through the intersection of Norton Avenue at Pico, which is awkward if I’m being kind and a shitshow if I’m being honest. Thanks to a giant landmarked old church building on the south side of Pico Norton north of that boulevard and Norton south of it are not aligned, and especially in the mornings Pico is always gridlocked with traffic heading west. Couple that to traffic signal timers that heavily favor Pico, when and if I finally get the greenlight to proceed (it’s acutally a pretty big if as I’m forced to roll over and punch the pedestrian beg button if there are no other vehicles waiting with me), I have to often thread somewhat precariously through blocking vehicles whose drivers are far more concerned with getting past the jam than waiting for some old white dude on a bike to get across it safely. Once through that I hang a tight right to access 6th Avenue, which while a two-way street, at that point is ridiculously little more than an alley entrance with parking allowed on its east curb. And because of that narrowness I have to be very mindful of any oncoming vehicles, most of the drivers of which are far more preoccupied with getting onto Pico than with sharing the road.

Here’s a route map that shows what I’m talking about. That blue squiggle (blue means slooooooow travel speed) is a GPS representation of me arriving at Pico on Norton, having to roll onto the sidewalk to press the beg button and then return to await an eternity for a green:

There’s a reason Norton has a No in it.

Norton Avenue from Pico north to Country Club Drive is in and of itself an aggravation, relatively heavily trafficked and often pocked with double-parked vehicles that need to be navigated around.

But habits tend to cement pretty speedily and that’s been the way I’ve come and gone — until yesterday morning. For whatever reason as I was westbound on Country Club Drive approaching 4th Avenue, I thought “what the hell” and hung a left onto it. To my satisfaction I found it substantially less crowded as well as less impacted by double parkers (who I hold in a disdain second only to those who park in bike lanes).

To add joy to my satisfaction, once I crossed Pico (by the way: much quicker and smoother than when crossing at Norton), a very nice buffered bike lane begins that I rode only one block to 15th Street, where I hung a right, traveled two blocks west and then hung a left onto 6th Avenue headed south. Grinning all the way.

Here’s a route map of that (note the lack of blue squiggles:

4th Avenue, I love you!

Is this a little thing? In the grand scheme, of course. But from my perspective looking over a set of handlebars as I thread a bike through a big city, I can’t overestimate the importance and value of such a discovery.

Perishable Skills

I’ve been mentally beating myself up over a confrontation yesterday, after being honked at and screamed at by a speeding motorist to “Stay in the bike lane” while going around another parked car in it.

Of course: the motorist thought he’d left me in his wake, but of course I caught up to him at the next red. I tried to convince myself just to “let it go,” but as I drew closer and the gasshat either needed gas or figured out he wasn’t going to get away with the harassment scot-free, he ironically drove in the bike lane about a block to bypass the traffic stacked up in the No. 2 lan and to dive into a gas station. Empty gas tank, empty head or both? Who knows.

When I arrived I ignored my better self and circled around his car to get a better look at the driver. He got out not liking that at all, and like a fear-aggressive dog feigned a charge, barking at me to “get the eff away from his car,” which I did while remaining on the bike, which put me at a disadvantage, but I didn’t want him to see it as a cue to escalate. Just because a dog is frightened doesn’t mean it won’t bite.

GIF: Unrepentant. Entitled.

Anyway we fuck-you’d at each other for a few moments. He strangely made it a race thing but it all ended without anyone going to jail and me riding away upset for two reasons.

The first and least important is that I reaffirmed for the 1929467567888th time that I share the road with motherfuckers. Proud ones. Unrepentant ones. Who’ll harass and terrorize others with a total disregard and then make it your fault when you call bullshit. These people just suck on a molecular level as if it’s in their DNA.

The second and most important reason I was upset is that I so readily violated my golden road rule: THOUGH SHALL NOT ENGAGE.

I was most dramatically taught that back in 2009 with a similar incident. But no matter how much I make it my mantra it’s clearly a perishable skill, perhaps one that needed this egregious incident — the worst since I started riding again — to reboot/remind/reinforce. It shouldn’t have.

The rest of my ride home I was like Eeyore on a bike, slowly and ultra-glumly pedaling, terrifically bummed out at such a lapse.

And when I got there, I told Susan I could use a hug, which she lovingly provided and when she asked why, I said “Some days you slay the dragon, some days the dragon slays you and some days you slay yourself.”

Officer Discretion

So on my morning bike commute March 10, 2022, I was rolling west on 11th Street approaching Normandie, when I saw in my rear mirror an LAPD patrol car about a half-block behind me. At Mariposa Street, the next intersection, I slowed, cleared it of cross traffic and kept going, after which the officer driving also rolls the intersection,

For the record, this is how I ride, whether or not a police officer is present: Upon approaching an intersection be it a four-way stop or two-way, I slow, clear it from both directions, and if safe keep going. If there are any vehicles either approaching or stopped at the intersection, I will yield the right of way to them. Is it a violation? Yep. The law is clear in that just like any multi-ton motor vehicle I am obligated to come to a full and complete stop at every stop sign before proceeding. Have I been cited for it before? Yep. Is there a chance I’ll be cited for it in the future? Sure. In fact, I was expecting to get cited for it this morning — or at least pulled over and chastised.

Because as you’ll see in the above video from my rear-facing helmet cam, after the aforementioned LAPD cruiser executed the same violation I had done, the officer appears to speed up. Perhaps it was in an attempt to pull along side me and just warn me what a bad bicyclist I was. But stopped vehicles lined up from the red light ahead at Normandie prevented him from coming up next to me as I continued to the limit line, so instead he pulled in directly to a stop behind me while we waited and waited for the green light.

Badge Of Honor

I was quite surprised he didn’t light me up. Maybe it was the cameras on my helmet. Maybe it was the old “Los Angeles Bike Battalion” badge I have pinned to my backpack replete with a black band representing all those cyclists who’ve lost their lives on these streets. Maybe the officer had better things to do than detain and write up some old guy on a bike for executing a completely safe slow-roll through a residential area stop sign. I don’t know why, but he exercised his discretion — as he should have. The light turned green, I continued west on 11th. He turned right on Normandie.

The Irony

For the last month or so I’ve adopted a new bike commute route to/from work that includes a short stretch of Adams Boulevard whose lane configuration between Crenshaw and Fairfax was recently and drastically changed from a four-lane roadway to two, with large and buffered bike lanes added.

This was done as part of the city’s Vision Zero Initiative, with a primary reason being that Adams Boulevard had become one of the most dangerous and deadliest roads in Los Angeles. According to LADOT, Adams saw 59 severe and fatal collisions between 2009 and 2019. From 2012 through 2019, nine people were killed in car crashes there: six pedestrians, a cyclist, and two people in cars.

The new bike lanes are glorious. Super-wide in both directions with additional buffer zones between them and the vehicular lanes, I greeted them with awe, which was quickly tempered by the reality of impatient motorists, now forced to stack up in the oft-backed-up single vehicular lane, who will regularly and fragrantly poach the bike lane to cut past the stack. I know this because it is the rare morning or evening commute when I’m on Adams Boulevard when I don’t witness such violations happening.

Case in point, one of the most egregious, which I encountered on my morning commute of March 2, 2022, at approximately 0735 hours involving the driver of a white Ford F150 truck, California license plate 20234B1, which you can watch in the video footage captured first from my rear-facing camera and next my front-facing helmet camera. In the first video the truck is in the distance behind me in the bike lane but eventually catches up to my position until it’s approximately one car-length behind me. The driver then signals right and merges back into the vehicle lane. The second video shows the driver passing me only to merge closely in front of me back into the bike lane where he continues forward for several more blocks until he’s out of sight.

This is an aggravated violation of California Vehicle Code Section 21209, which states: “Motorists can only drive on a bike lane to: (1) park; (2) enter or leave a roadway; or, (3) prepare for a turn from an intersection. A motorist that unlawfully drives on a bike lane must pay a fine of $238. Drivers that violate Vehicle Code 21209 VC will also receive one point on his DMV driving record.”

Still from rear camera video showing California License 20234B1
Still fron helmet cam video showing F150 badge indicating the model of truck.

There’s a bunch of irony in this half-baked implementation of the Vision Zero Initiative. In making this modification of Adams Boulevard theoretically safer, they’ve actually compromised it for pedestrians and cyclists by leaving the bike lane buffered instead of protected. What’s the difference? “Buffered” is just space, usually delineated by paint on the asphalt. “Protected” involves some structure — at the minimum fixed bollards or pylons, at the maximum raised concrete islands — that provides an actual barrier between vehiclular traffic from bike traffic. Obviously with buffered lanes the opportunities for scofflaw motorists — like this one I met this morning, and those I will undoubtedly continue to meet going forward — to poach the bike lane and put others at risk

Which leaves me wondering the city’s thought process. Was raising the lanes to protected status a cost issue? Did they figure that after a couple cyclists or peds get mowed down by violators then they can always come back and upgrade it to a protected form. If so, how very un-Vision Zero of them. In the meantime, I’m not sure what the city expected. It takes away a full lane and expects the motorists who’ve long used that street and now impatiently stuck in all that additional traffic to behave and accept the delay? To NOT get angry and frustrated and make wrong decisions? I’m not excusing these actions, I’m just saying officials’ inaction comes off as either naive or abdicative by those who signed off on the final project.

And speaking of inaction, Lastly, in the interim it would productive if LADOT and LAPD law would organize and coordinate a plan to increase awareness and to attack violators. Increase signage as a preventative meaure a la those found in high-occupancy lanes on freeways And don’t just put a single patrol out there on a random basis issuing tickets for a couple hours, but conduct an actual long-term operation dedicated to making it clear that violators will not be tolerated.

But for right now, they are.

Now Just You Weight A Minute

So after years of not really trying to lose weight — and as a result gaining weight — I’ve turned things around. Slowly.

But first, a brief weight timeline, from the time of my July 2013 graduation from Rio Hondo College Police Academy — coinciding with the lowest I’ve weighed in my adult life: 198 pounds. Of course the climb up from that began almost immediately. Funny how fast you rebound when you completely suddenly top a rigorous physical training schedule, coupled with a complete removal of aaaaall the stressors involved in academy training. Within a couple months I was above 210. Factor in the new stress at that time of a prolonged period of unknown as to whether all that hard work was going to pay off in me getting hired as a humane law enforcement officer for spcaLA, and there was an increased amount of comfort eating going on, to the point when I completed the physical exam as the last hiring hurdle I was at 227.

And all the while rationalizing it because even though it was a gain of roughly 30 pounds in the span of five months, me anywhere below 230 is still nothing to be too upset about.

Trouble is it didn’t stop after the elation of getting the job. Instead, over the ensuing seven years, I just kept going up to the point where in June of 2019 at my next physical, I tipped the scale at 252. Certainly I didn’t take that lying down. A few months earlier I’d purchased an ebike and had recommenced bike commuting to the tune of logging more than 2,600 bike miles in the ensuing 11 months, but ebikes being ebikes all relying on the motor to do most of the work did was keep me at or around that weight, which was frustrating and defeating in its own right.

Then came March 2020 when the pandemic halted everything. Not only was I suddenly not riding at all, but even once the lockdown ended by choice given the levels of infection as well as the overcrowded hospitals I elected not to ride for the next 16 months as an overabundance of caution against taking a spill on my bike or getting hit by a car either of which might leave me laid up in some overloaded ER’s hallway.

Which brings us to my most recent physical in June 2021, where the scale told me my almost entirely sedentary self was now near the heaviest I’d been in my adult life; 262 pounds. My doctor was all WTF. No moreso than me, especially when considering that over the years on that climb up to such a disappointing plateau, I’d made smart, conscientious choices about what I put in my body: I practically eliminated diet soft drinks so prevalent througout my entire life (seriously, I’d consume upwards of four cans of Coke Zero a day), and I followed my wife (though not quite as strictly) as she chose to journey on a path without meat and dairy.

But those healthier diet choices did not automagically translate to a slimmer waistline.

As coincidence would have it, a few days after my physical I got a deeply discounted offer to try Noom, and signed up. For the first several weeks I dove in and was dedicated to reading the daily articles and got a good sense of its philosophy — even moreso I was strict in logging my meals. Eventually I quit the reading, but not the logging, and it’s proven to be the deciding factor in my slow, steady progress downward. There’s just something in the daily tallying of calories that helps me succeed — even though I almost exclusively exceed my calorie allocation by a few hundred every day.

The weight loss has been glacial . My first step on a scale on June 12, 2021, read 258.1, but three days after that I was at 260.8. From there though cumulatively it’s been super slow and steady in the right direction, aided at the beginning of November 2021 by me finally ending the bike ban and getting back into my commuting groove.

A side benefit of adding that physical activity is that I’ve been making a concerted effort to ride powered more by me and less by the bike’s motor. And it’s paid off. I did a 22-mile recreational ride over the weekend, and spent a fair number of miles at the lower pedal-assist levels of 1 and 2, never going above 3. In the past, I would live at level 3 and wouldn’t hesitate to put it on 4 or 5 to flatten out hills,. Now I’m excited and pleased when I don’t.

When I stepped on the scale this morning, it read 231.8, leving me a pound away from a cumulative loss of 30 pounds. The comparison is that I’m only a few pounds of being back to where I was when I got hired. Sure, in this age of diet quackery that promises maximum pounds shed in minimal time with minimal effort, eight months is a “long” time to drop “only” 30, But I’m pleased and proud of the accomplishment, and looking forward to the rest of the slow road to go to reach my goal of 210. I imagine it may take me until June to get there — just in time for my next physical where I will look forward to my doctor saying WTF but in a good way.