It was too hot for the hills and too
foggy at the beach, so I decided to mountain bike to the Democratic
National Convention. I unloaded my rig well west of the 110
Freeway and pedaled Downtown.
Penetrating the ever-thickening police presence proved the
first major obstacle. Cops in riot-gear blue and beige were
crowding the sidewalks, filling doorways and barking orders
on walkie-talkies. Skittish officers asked repeatedly, "Where
ya goin'?" or shouted, "Walk that bike!"
Traffic was surprisingly light as I circled the Fashion Institute
of Design and Merchandising, and boarded-up buildings nearby,
all shut down for the convention. Staples Center was completely
enclosed by a massive cement-anchored fence arching over the
street like a huge chain-link tidal wave. A few confused, credential-clad
delegates anxiously looked for passage through the barrier.
Nothing much was happening at the protest pit, the parking
lot just north of the arena. A few scraggly spectators listened
to a French woman complain about health care. Someone's giant
inflated Liberty Bell sagged in the afternoon heat. Later that
night, crowds would gather and rocks and bottles would fly.
Things were popping, however, at the canopied entrance to the
massive media village flanking Staples. I dodged a squadron
of network vans and taxis skidding to a stop and unloading technicians
in shorts and glowingly made-up news celebrities. I rode with
care as people rushed to famous pundits seeking a picture or
Turning up Figueroa Street, I nearly collided with delegates
crowding a booth full of provocatively-dressed women hawking
a local strip joint. No one seemed much concerned about their
party's recent rediscovery of God and politics or its repudiation
Across the street, a Caribbean steel band played in front
of an old Spanish hotel. Indian food, pasta and cappuccino could
be had in the lobby.
Figueroa was a sea of limousines, kids in blue blazers, people
wearing X-games sunglasses, and women in New York black. "Bush
or Gore-Not a Choice!" read a bearded protester's placard. The
street oozed privilege.
A line of riot police formed at the Biltmore Hotel. One cop
waved me up to Fifth Street. "Hurry," he urged, "we're closing
everything down in one minute." I wove through the auto gridlock
and turned right toward Pershing Square.
There I found crowds of almost entirely young Caucasian kids,
dead-ringers for tie-dyed sophomores at Oberlin, Reed or Swarthmore.
"I just wanted to raise consciousness," shouted one with a microphone,
"about the importance of hemp." Signs about corporate greed,
Nader, Native Americans and Mumia Abu-Jamal were strewn everywhere.
A chant denouncing Gore's ties to Occidental Petroleum began.
Tired of milling about, the crowd surged west on Wilshire. A
protester annoyed riot police by photographing them. Motorcycle
cops roared by, a helicopter churned overhead and side streets
were blocked. Like a giant human geyser, Pershing was once again
sending forth a stream of demonstrators.
There was no place to ride, and I noticed the police glancing
suspiciously my way when the protesters kept giving me solidarity
salutes. Anyone on a bike, I guess, was presumed to be cool.
I pumped toward Bunker Hill instead.
I didn't get very far. All of the roads in front of the big-time
law offices, many with strong Democratic Party ties, were sealed
off for invitation-only evening festivities. "Can't let you
go there," said a guard. I thought about ignoring him but the
phalanx of cops a few yards beyond convinced me otherwise.
I snuck through a gap in the buildings, and nearly ran over
a party planner talking on a cell phone. "You don't want to
go to Paramount," he was saying, "this is the place to be!"
I dodged a forklift raising party lights, weaved through several
drinks tables, rode over the Astroturf gracing the street, and
headed to Third Street.
Two dozen Highway Patrol cars, each with large red letters
in the window, were deployed along the freeway overpass. I thought
about asking what the markings meant, but decided not to risk
it. A few blocks west, the silky smooth asphalt, so new it had
yet to be painted, abruptly gave way again to broken cement.
I found my car and packed up the bike. A lone traffic cop
in my rearview mirror was the last I saw of the convention.