Off-Road Convention

By David Friedman
Senior Fellow

Los Angeles Downtown News
August 18, 2000

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 autograph.

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 of Playboy.

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.

Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Downtown News

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