About Richard
The Journey
World Friends

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Report: #24
Date: 05/19/02
Location: Los Angeles
Subject: For Australian Cyclist. Report #2

As my only reward for writing for this Australian Cyclist magazine for the second time now, I understand that I will help promote bicycling, so here I would like to write a little about some of the perhaps less obvious advantages of using a bicycle to get where you want to go.

Opening Doors; The Bicycle as a Passport.

At times my bicycle has been much more than a mode of transport. It has been like a passport, a discount card, a people magnet, a distraction, a musical instrument, a clothes horse, a tent support, a ship ticket, a meal voucher, a seal of approval, a certificate of distinction, an identity card, an accommodation permit, and a language. It's not always an instant success, such as when I had to spend four weeks trying to organise my passage to USA from Fiji, with a number of failures with various agents. But I successfully upped the ante, ending up at the highest executive level. Then with a string of international phone calls and communiqués, albeit right down to the last minute, after even that agency manager had admitted he'd given up, I found myself with a free (-ish) ship ride to Oakland, California. Two weeks of views where only clouds and flying fish were the only things not beginning with s. One ship crossed our path a few miles ahead. I got on the exercise bike two or three times as part of my plan to stay trim and work off the not-so-low-fat three meals a day and copious supplies of fetta cheese and salad (and also to confound those people who like to point out that I didn't pedal across the sea).

At other times I couchpotatoed I front of a selection of mostly action bent American videos. Kind of preparing mentally for arrival on the shores of that superpower, superstar, superhero nation. It was really no preparation, but it built up my anticipation a treat.

When finally we docked (shepherded by the tugboat Enterprise (ha ha!) and another), late because of a main-engine failure just before sliding under the Golden Gate Bridge, Immigration paid me only cursory attention, as opposed to the grilling I'd expected, and that most travellers get. But presumably the essential checks had all been run on me when I bought my visa in Fiji. They probably knew already that I was a serious ICBM and how many punctures I'd fixed to keep going, and that I would definitely be keeping going and not overstaying.

The late arrival in Oakland meant I had to seek out a place to sleep immediately. "You'll probably get mugged; a white boy cycling through there!" was what the port gate guard greeted me with as I cycled out. Great welcome! But apart from a couple of examples of manic driving, there seemed to be no threat to me. The "people of color" (as is said here) I met and asked directions of, were kind and helpful, and very inquisitive about me. They detained me merely for questions, but essentially they let me pass unmugged. Of course! One night at Berkeley YMCA; TOO expensive, but comfortable and with free phone to say hello to America in the form of mates met on the trail, living in the S.F. area.

However, with the expense of San Fran prompting me to visit a few newspapers offering my story, it was a new friend, an LA Times reporter, who boldly offered to host me and gave me the best welcome possible. He and his Chinese wife cut through the cut-throat capitalist trustlessness and went out on a limb. Thanks and Xie Xie, John and Lily.

Most tourists visiting SF visit the infamous Alcatraz, where according to a diligent "Golden Backpacker" met in the youth hostel (from where, with my head on my dorm bed pillow, I could see the Golden Gate if it wasn't foggy, and hear the foghorn warning if it was) they used to have the only hot showers in the U.S. penitentiary system, to keep prisoners from swimming away. I didn't.

What I did do was to get somewhere that most "good" people, even tourists, never go. John managed to get me into and out of the notorious San Quentin top security jail to accompany him covering a baseball game there. They only play home games. And we were made aware that the US government would not negotiate for out release should we be taken hostage inside. For some reason, the Department of Justice fast-tracked the check they ran on me in two hours, rather than the usual 24.

By, and on the same side of, the perimeter fence of a rough baseball diamond (the name of the pitch to those of you unfamiliar to the jargon) inside, I chatted and joked with men sectioned apart from "normal" society, and saw their very human side. LA Gang members mentioned sympathetically that "my" queen mother had recently died, though as I voiced my anti-royalist tendencies, saying nobody should be set up to be better than anyone else, at least one guy echoed my words almost as I was saying them. Articulately.

Anyway, being there, I had crossed a fine line, and I pointedly felt the great fortune at being able to cross back again. Thanks, John and D.O.J.

Leaving SF late, though just happy to be travel-riding again on terra firma, I stupidly and foreseeably, ran into dark without a hope of reaching my destination. But I remained open to what might happen. Nervous of where to hole up for the night, for my own safety, I hung a rapid U-turn to stop at a Seventh Day Adventist church, which I'd been advised to try by Matron Emerly at a Fiji nursing home I did a photo show at, and which was also operated by Seventh Dayers. After waiting for earnest, kneeling praying to finish, and hastily explaining my position, one "man of colour" stepped forward and said, "Bula!"

"Bula vinaka!" I replied to the Fijian greeting, surprised, and surprising all present. And get this; this man, the head of the diocese there, not only was he Fijian, but he was Emerly's cousin!!! How freaky is that!!?

I needed no further credentials, and they merrily went against their church's actual policy NOT to accommodate strangers off the street. They let me camp in a comfortable, carpeted room. "Go figure!!" as John would say.

Sign of the month:- "OBEY THIS SIGN" read a solitary road sign on a post on my way to San Jose.

Close Shave of the Week:- I broke the law by leaving a state campsite more than half an hour after the 9am deadline, and was almost "cited" by a law enforcement officer. Near Ventura, Californ I A.

Now I'm in LA getting real famous. People do say "dude" a lot and drive more. Still apprehensive about being in USA, in spite of now having cycled the equivalent of once around the equator to get here.

Live Hard!!
InterContinental Bicycle Man
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