Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 2

In my previous posting, I had described my fairly regular bike ride to Venice Beach up to the central Windward Plaza. The trip continues…

Beyond the main plaza, the bike path wavers near the boardwalk north until it reaches a unique attraction, the Venice Beach Freakshow housed within an extended patio building. On weekends and in season, a loud speaker announces in barker fashion the various wonders visitors will see for a nominal admission price. Occasionally, I have seen a fire-eater performing on the patio to bring customers in to see the show. This freak show is currently the focus of a new AMC reality program, so it is attracting more tourists to the boardwalk. I must admit that as of this writing, I have not tuned in to see the series. Nor have I stopped on my bike rides to see the show itself.

At this point, the bike path snakes outward and around a series of grassy palm tree patches. Visitors and homeless alike gather on these knolls to view the waves coming in to the shore. My goal is reached when the bike path slides back to within a foot or two of the boardwalk, two short blocks away from the Santa Monica border. I get off my bike and walk it across the short sand strip to the red-stripped “no vendor” entry area on the boardwalk. Then I cross the pedestrian traffic to a small store called N’ice Cream on the north side of Thornton Court. The store sells gelatos and sorbets, made fresh every morning in their main shop on Abbott Kinney Boulevard, just blocks away. I choose one of the four fat-free sorbet flavors of the day and get two scoops in a cup. I enjoy the watermelon flavor when available and thought the champagne flavor during New Years was very creative. I take my cup and sit in one of their chairs to enjoy the broad variety of visitors walking along the boardwalk.

I mentioned the “red-stripped” no vendor area on the beach side of the walk. This provides an open entry area to the beach within the marked spots all along the beach side of the boardwalk where artists, musicians and small vendors can license a position to set up a canopy and pitch small souvenirs and artwork to visitors. At N’ice Cream, these spots are taken up by an artist selling colorful framed paintings, a small vendor selling marijuana design t-shirts, and Tom the photographer selling a small selection of 8×10 souvenir prints of Venice. It has only been a few cold and quiet weekdays when I have noticed their spots to be empty.

It is during this time of people watching that I realize just how famous worldwide this stretch of beach and storefronts truly is. I have heard just about every language and accent pass by me – German, Japanese, Spanish and more. Winter appears to be the season for European tourists, while summer is perfect for Aussie tourists. However, the bohemian flavor of Venice attracts a broader flavor of travelers, those seeking to explore the wilder side of human nature and enjoy the starving street performers populating the boardwalk. I was amused recently by one nattily dressed pedestrian who was walking his dog down the boardwalk. The dog was leashed per the law, but the man had trained the dog to carry the other end of the leash in his mouth, scolding the eager pup whenever the leash was dropped. A dog walking himself! I just had to shake my head.

Having finished my sorbet, I toss my cup into the ice cream cone-designed trash bin and walk my bike back over to the bike path. It’s time to head home by backtracking my trail and re-navigating the bike path with fellow bikers, Segway renters, skaters and seagulls. The bike path is posted as being for bikes only, no pedestrians, but many visitors find the concrete path to be a lovely walk on the beach without the sand or crowds. There would be no issue passing a group of walkers going single file along the right side, but many tend to bunch into conversation groups or pair up as couples holding hands in double wide formation. If they are called out for being on and blocking the bicycle lane, they have no problem glaring back or giving out a not-so-mild invective even as they stand on the large white bike icon painted regularly along the trail. All I can say is that it is just part of the challenge and experience of keeping fit and enjoying this world famous location.

Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 1

I have been lucky to travel and see many amazing places in the US and Europe, but my recent unemployment has reminded me of an old truism – one often forgets to visit the wonders in one’s own backyard. Shortly after I had purchased my townhome on the westside of Los Angeles over a decade ago, I purchased a bike to enjoy an occasional ride to the beach, but I allowed my job to turn that occasion into an annual or biennial event on the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend. When I was laid off over a year ago, I suddenly had extra time on my hands which I used to write and publish a novel as well as get myself into better shape by riding my bike two or three times a week down to Venice Beach. Just off the boardwalk, a concrete, two-way bike path snakes it way from Washington Boulevard to the Santa Monica pier and beyond towards Malibu. I found that I could head down Venice Boulevard straight to the bike path, turn and bike up to the northern end of the Venice boardwalk, take a pause and head back home all within an hour. Add an extra half hour and I could add the Santa Monica Pier to the round trip.

The boardwalk basically begins at Venice Boulevard North on the south side. The pedestrian strip does extend farther south to Washington Boulevard, but the adjoining buildings are all residential, out of sync with the eclectic vibe from the stores and sights to the north. A stark indication of this vibe is the first store at the Venice corner, a medical marijuana dispensary whose clerks come out into the boardwalk in green scrubs announcing, “The doctor is in.” The bike path at this location is separated from the boardwalk by a city parking lot. During mild weekdays in the winter, parking is a reasonable five dollars and readily available. Film and TV crews will often take up half the lot during these off season periods. During mild weekends in the winter, the parking rate doubles as traffic backs up on Venice. When the weather really warms up, the lot full sign pops up and the backup traffic is forced to turn around and find a way out of the jam. I wave to them as I navigate my bike through the traffic into the lot to the bike path entryway on the other side.

As I bike north on the path, I catch glimpses of the open-air gym of Muscle Beach, the handball and basketball courts, and the children’s playground grouped north of the parking lot. The bike path curves in just past the police station and then curves back north between Windward Plaza and the skateboard park. This is the busiest area of Venice Beach as Windward Plaza is the beach side’s extension of the open area plaza signifying the central entry point to Venice Beach and its boardwalk. Next to the skateboard park, a modern art sculpture of five iron bars stands vigil over two flat-top concrete cones and a couple of concrete walls painted over with graffiti art. Navigating through the pedestrian crosswalk and skateboarders can be tricky at this point even during light off-season days.

Past this point, the bike path curves in toward the boardwalk, turning back north to snake along in close proximity. Near this point in the boardwalk, there is an open air restaurant with a faded red-and-white canopy over the eating area that extends over the entry of a small independent bookstore, Small World Books. I pitched them to carry my book in their store as a local author, but the owner let me know that the store is too small to carry unknown books on consignment. One day, I hope to sell enough books to entice them to stock a few copies of Legacy Discovered on their shelves.

To be continued…

Valentine’s Day

It is Valentine’s Day and for the second year in a row, I have not been able to carry out a personal tradition of mine to celebrate the day. When I first graduated from college, I got a job driving a messenger route for a title insurance office. I got to know many of the receptionists and representatives in the escrow offices well on my route, so on Valentine’s Day, I would buy a couple of dozen carnations and hand out single carnations to the women along the route. When I finally found a job with ABC Television and later transitioned into the publicity department, I carried the tradition over to my female co-workers in the office. Every year, I would bring in two or three dozen carnations in mixed colors and allow each woman to choose one from the batch as I brought them around. The only year I knowingly passed on my tradition while working for ABC and Disney ABC was in 1994 when Valentine’s Day came less than a month after the Northridge earthquake. Instead, I sent all of the women a message that instead of flowers that year, a donation was being made to the Los Angeles Food Bank to assist victims of the disaster.

I truly believe that a little act of acknowledgement makes a bigger difference than a grandiose display. It does not create a heavy sense of gratitude debt or imply a hidden agenda. It simply says I notice you make a difference, a message spread evenly to all of my female co-workers. As for my fellow male compatriots, there never were any jealous reactions – either in not receiving their own acknowledgement or in the momentary interest I presented to each woman. Instead, I helped represent the male side of the staff, gave a lift to the female side of the staff and helped raise a more pleasant interactive atmosphere to all members of the staff.

However, this will be the second year that I have not had a job on Valentine’s Day, so there has not been a group to distribute flowers. Instead, I have had to be content sending out a virtual acknowledgement to my Facebook friends. Still, the message is the same in acknowledging that they make a difference in my life.

eHarmony – The Business of Online Dating

In August, I had a friend who felt I was “too good a person” not to have found a partner in my life and pretty much strong-armed me to join eHarmony. I completed the complex personality questionnaire with her at my shoulder and then balked at paying the sixty dollar monthly subscription fee, considering my current employment situation. After all, the ads do promise that I can see my matches for free. However, what was available to be seen was just words, the descriptive answers in the member’s profile, as photos are blocked as well as the ability to communicate with the matched members. Even though eHarmony’s advertising is not very upfront about this, it seemed reasonable in order to justify the subscription fee for full membership. Then some of the women reached out to me, sending me a smile or a selection of five questions to initiate contact. I felt it was only proper to respond, but discovered that no communication included responses. Naively, I expected at the time that these paying members would receive some indication that I would not be able to respond at the time since I was not a paying member.

During the next few weeks, I kept receiving daily notifications of new matches, averaging five to seven a day. Then, I received a promotional e-mail offering a three-month-for-one deal. I signed up for the deal and started to go through the 100+ matches I had already accumulated. I felt compelled to start by responding to the women who had reached out to me with initial five questions. This led to five meet-and-greet dates over the next several weeks, providing me with a couple of new Facebook friends, but the “One” was not in these dates. Among the initial group of women who had reached out to me, I was disappointed that the guided communication with the most promising match suddenly stopped in process without reaching the meet-and-greet stage. I was still getting the daily five to seven new matches during this time and now had well over 200 matches. It was time for me to choose from this group and reach out to a few of these matches. There was no way that I could even consider sending a smile to every match in the ever growing pool, but I suddenly had no luck in getting any response from the few I chose to send a smile or an initial set of five questions.

After getting several new matches from profiles that had not been active for over a month, plus a few that were obviously phony, I realized that a portion of my matches were with non-paying members who would never be able to communicate with me. I also realized that no profile contained any indication to a paying member on whether that profile was open to communication or not. I went back to the profile of the promising match that suddenly ended and realized that all of her communication to me occurred during the Labor Day weekend which had been promoted as a free communication period for all members. As soon as the promotion ended, her communication ended with me. This meant she was likely a non-paying member, perhaps a new member signing up for a free trial. Even though I was now paying for the service of finding and connecting with women, I was cut off from completing a connection with a very positive match because she was not a paying member and we could not complete the guided communication over a three day free weekend.

What I began to wonder was what percentage of my matches were members who had just signed up for free or had gone inactive. There was no way to determine this, but the sudden inability to get any responses from my initial communications made it seem likely that this percentage was substantial. I felt like I was part of a roulette game which had been partially rigged by the House. There was no way I could put a chip on every number on the table, but many of the numbers were already foregone losers. The point is I was paying expressly for a service that was being undercut by the business model. I was paying more to be an ad for eHarmony than to find that special connection. I truly suspect that the best ratio of paying communicable matches was when I first joined for free and decreased gradually up to the time my three month reduced fee subscription ended. Since I determined not to extend my subscription, I wanted to be sure that my profile would not be used to bait-and-switch another trial member. I changed my membership settings to not receive any more new matches and then added in the additional information section of my profile for my current matches that I was no longer a paying subscriber able to communicate or respond to any initial outreach. I did add that if anyone wanted to know more about me, I could be found by searching for Legacy Discovered on Amazon.com. If I was being used to promote eHarmony to others, I felt I should be able to put in a little self-promotion of my own.