Get on Interstate 10 anywhere-Jacksonville, El Paso, Berdoo. Ride west until you reach the end.
I get on at the San Diego Freeway. All the way north from the South Bay the traffic has been stop and go. Cars accelerate as quickly as possible to sixty, change lanes in a desperate attempt to escape, then they panic brake. This madness does not stop until I am halfway up the on-ramp.
I do that thing you learned when you got your first bike. I accelerate away from trouble. Sixty, seventy, eighty. Everybody on the road has the same idea but I have the most torque. So I would be fine except half the cars to my left are trying to pass me before they fly to the off-ramp. In the west the off-ramp is always a quarter mile past the on-ramp. I don’t know why.
There is certain macho factor that comes into play when you get on a freeway. About half the men in half the dumpster cars are convinced that I am only out accelerating them because I am trying to show them up. So of course they must pass me and cut me off before I can get in front of them. They must. They must because this is Los Angeles.
And I must beat them because I am born to ride. I win!
I win! I am in the far left lane going slightly faster than all but the most loco. All the NASCAR action is finally on my right. The traffic starts to thin but it never slows.
The end of Interstate 10 is a downhill S curve. The freeway is the bottom of the S. The top curve is a tunnel. I lean through a blind right. I hit a bump. I see something fluttering across the road. I don’t have time to process what it is. I know I should try to miss it. I know I should try to do a lot of things.
I am wearing sunglasses which isn’t as much fun in a dark tunnel in traffic as it might seem. The noise climaxes. Everything goes dark. And, then there is the Pacific.
It was a hub cap. That’s what it was. It was pretty fresh. It still had points. I glance down. My front tire isn’t flat. Nothing seems damaged. I missed the thing.
The Ferris Wheel
I have to glance left. The tunnel runs under the western end of Santa Monica Boulevard-which is the western terminus of old Route 66. The Boulevard becomes a pier. About halfway to the end of the pier is a Ferris wheel and that is about as far as all the motorcycle adventurers from Jacksonville, New Orleans and El Paso ever get.
When I glance back I can see the wheel turning. I can see a couple with their hands in the air and they look happy as balloons. The Ferris wheel seems like a logical place to stop after you have ridden a damn motorcycle across the whole damn country. I know. But I have to tell you that if you stop there you miss the best part of the ride.
Of course, on a motorcycle you go where you look. So while I am glancing at the happy lovers going round and round I drift left which annoys the fine citizen in the big, black Mercedes hiding in my left hand blind spot. He leans on his horn. I slow down and put on my war face. He takes both hands off the wheel and shrugs his shoulders and looks like he is begging me for spare change as he rolls past. So, I spit my chewing gum at him and I am pretty sure from his reaction that nobody has ever spit at him before.
I don’t care who he is. This traffic is a rocky stream and I am a fish. I split the lanes and zig and zag away.
There is a crumbling, fifty-foot cliff on my right. That is the Santa Monica Palisades. Sometimes pieces of that cliff fall down-either because it gets wet and turns to mud or because it gets dry and forms cracks. It is not going to fall today. I know because I feel lucky.
There is a park on top of the cliff called Palisades Park and about once a year somebody films a couple of movie scenes up there. The rest of the time the park belongs to bums. Bums love Santa Monica. Santa Monica is a very wonderful place to be a bum.
“Yeah! Hey, fuck you, too, you motherfucker! Vaffanculo. Fungool! Di di mau, Bee-otch! Chinga! Chinga tu madre! ” Los Angeles is a very cosmopolitan city so really, if you are planning to ride your motorcycle out here this summer you need to brush up on your languages so you will be able to communicate with everyone you will meet.
There is a hundred yards of beach on my left. Maybe it is wider than that. It might be the broadest beach I have ever seen. The Pacific is mottled aqua marine. The sky is a pale, fuzzy blue. The line where they meet, thirty miles out to sea is a blur.
Okay, look. There is no line. You have to imagine it before you can see it. Like the canals on Mars.
Everything you see you see in glimpses, you understand. Even at this time of year the cars are constantly changing lanes, trying to do what I can do, trying to swim through traffic. In the summer it is worse. In the summer a million people are trying to cross six lanes of traffic to get to that beach.
Our Local Laws
This is the Pacific Coast Highway. Locals call it Pee See Aitch. It is two or three or four, mostly smooth lanes in both directions and you will never get anywhere unless you are willing to weave in and out and split lanes. And, splitting lanes in el lay is a dance with the law as well as the traffic.
It is legal to share lanes here but it is illegal to split them. And the difference between the two is a $271 ticket for either “illegal lane change” or “aggressive driving” or both, depending upon the degree of rapport you are able to establish with the cop who stops you.
You can ride your motorcycle right next to a car and as long as you and he are both completely in a marked lane you are as legal here as medical marijuana. The moment you are in two lanes at once you are probably guilty of an illegal lane change. If a cop sees you doing this repeatedly you are probably guilty of “aggressive driving.” Not every cop will pull you over but some cops will. Because, you know, their shifts are long and it is a way for them to pass the time.
Flow with the traffic then push as far up to the front as you can at the red light. Flow. Push. Repeat. In a couple of lights all I have to do is beat the pack off the line. A fool is some status car tries to hang me. When I dust him I try to show a little style.
Mel Got Drunk here
The traffic gets bad again right at Sunset Boulevard. There is a place called Gladstone’s right there and there is a sea breeze so I can smell the fried fish. Mel Gibson got busted over there for drunk driving a couple of years ago. It seems the cop who nabbed him was Jewish. And apparently Mel made some unfortunate remarks about who killed Christ and who is behind all the big banks and who starts all the wars and so on. Mistakes were made. Public relations professionals had to be employed.
This is a neighborhood called Pacific Palisades, where Brentwood meets the beach and they will arrest you for anything here. They ticket starlets for exercising in public in Pacific Palisades. This is old, staid Hollywood. The streets climb up from the beach at mad angles. And, from the Coast Road all you can see is the beach on one side and stacks of houses clinging to a hill on the other.
And, now I am stuck behind somebody who can’t drive. Blonde. No, two blondes in a tricked out Cooper convertible. It is one of the new ones with the supercharged engines. These Coopers are about $35 thousand fully tricked out in California and she must have just bought this one. So, I am guessing, she believes in our new President’s economic recovery plan. Big time. Or maybe she just got a part.
The Quest For Blondes
Who drives a Cooper convertible? Who tricks one out? Do I know her? Oh yeah.
Well, I sort of know her but not really. She isn’t as pretty as she looks on TV. She is turning pink in the sun. He hair looks thin and odd ends of it are flying around like albino bats. Her friend is cuter than she is. But the pink one’s not bad. She is cute with no makeup.
And, damnit, neither one of them will look at me. Even when I pull right up next to them and make my motorcycle real loud they still keep pretending to ignore me. How the hell do you ignore a 200 pound man on a 600 pound motorcycle with a 115 decibel heartbeat?
“Hey! Hey! You work out?”
I guess they couldn’t hear me. I let them get ahead then I catch up at the next light. You know. Two young actresses. At once. Again. I pull up next to the passenger.
Nothing. Nada. Crazy as it seems, I guess there is the possibility that they are not out riding around hoping to pick up some strange biker. In fact, they might not have to pick up guys at all. Geez. Maybe, they don’t even find me attractive. Or even worse, they might think my motorcycle is obnoxious. Maybe they are trying to get away from me.
Well, good luck, ladies. I have never pretended I am not an idiot.
So, I continue to harass the two cute blondes all the way through Malibu village. There is a cliff on my right with mansions teetering on top. And a solid wall of multi-million dollar beach shacks lining the road on my left. The million dollar shacks all have their backs turned to the road and they are a solid wall because that is how they keep people like me off that stretch of beach.
Stay Out This Means You
People have been fighting over this 27 mile piece of coast since the 1920s. The state of California had to sue the railroad heirs who owned this land before they could build the Pacific Coast Highway in the first place. Then those railroad heirs figured the highway had ruined their view so they might as well just start selling the land off. Which is how there came to be a Malibu.
Every inch of California is supposed to be public land as far inland as the high water line. The law says, “development shall not interfere with the public right of access to the sea.” But the bleeding heart, Hollywood liberals who live here still build walls to keep the trashy, conservative people from ruining their views. And then they hire guards to run off the stray surfer who makes it over the walls with his board.
The fairly famous, Hollywood campaign contributor David Geffen sued to privatize the beach in front of his house a few years ago. Geffen said it would be unsafe and unpractical to let “dirty” people surf where he could see them from his living room.
I give the blondes one more try.
“I get it now! I get it! I promise! I won’t try anything! Just let me watch you two!”
The blonde in the passenger seat finally glances over at me. I can’t tell if the look on her face is the faintest of smiles or the coldest of sneers.
A Day In The Bu
I give up and speed away right into a mess near the Malibu Pier. Glendale Harley, the dealership behind The Love Ride, is sponsoring a run called “A Day in the Bu.” Really. I’m not making that up. It is a “Ride Against Domestic Violence.”
And, that is a worthy cause. I do not want to even hint that it is not. Really, I am pulling for Rihanna and Chris Brown just as much as any of you but it is not something I spend a lot of my time thinking about. You know, I have my own problems. And, I am not much of a joiner anymore.
If I was I would probably still be up to my neck in all that club stuff. And, as opposed as I am to domestic violence I don’t want to spend twenty dollars today to ride with a bunch of people I don’t know.
And, yet that is what I wind up doing anyway. For a stretch of about a mile bikes are clumping together into little impromptu packs. And, I smile and I nod and I try to be nice and I go ahead and put my feet down and sort of shuffle along every couple of hundred yards.
Then I pause at a last light and I blast up another hill past Pepperdine University and at last I am unfettered and free.
Slow Down You’re Goin’ Too Fast
For miles there is no traffic: Only wide, white beach, the patch work sea, the pale blue sea in the sky, the imaginary line where the two seas meet and hill after olive drab hill tumbling down to the ocean like Kauai. The road is smooth and straight. The speed limit is 60 and I don’t want to go any faster than that.
I’ll go as fast as I have to go to be safe but I want to watch the waves rolling in all the way from Alaska. I want to watch the surfers bobbing up and down on the waves, waiting and waiting for just the right wave.
For thousands of bikers in Los Angeles every single weekend this is the Sunday ride. Big Harleys, choppers, Gold Wings and crotch rockets all take the same road to the same meeting place. The beaches zip by: Surfrider, Corral, Paradise, Westward, Zuma, Broad, Nicholas Canyon, El Pescador and Leo Carrillo. They are the Gidget, Beach Blanket, Planet of the Apes, From here to Eternity, music video beaches.
You know these beaches. Wherever you are, in Russia, in Australia, in England or New Jersey you know these beaches. You know them because you have seen the movies. You dream them. And, the last of these beaches is called County Line.
The Ventura County Line is near the top of a gentle hill. And, just past the crest I start to slow down because Neptune’s Net is just ahead on the right and it is easy to miss.
If this is the summer you make the great trek that every biker threatens every summer to make; if this is the year you ride all of Route 66 don’t stop at the Ferris Wheel. Finish here at Neptune’s Net.
Before Southern California became what it is today, before the housing developments and the strip malls and the Starbucks flowed all the way to the sea the California coast was a different place-all bikers and surfers, beach combers, bohemians, eccentrics and misfits. That was the old California of cool jazz, beat poets, mellow cops and live and let live. And, now Neptune’s Net is one of the last little bits of that.
Fifty years ago this was a place called Jake’s. A guy named Jake Eastman built a hamburger and fish shack here in 1958. A married couple, Paul and Dolly Seay bought the place from Jake in 1974 and changed the name to Neptune’s Net. Somebody else owns it now.
Up through the early eighties people still camped out on the beach across the street and built bonfires at night. Now that is as illegal as aggressive driving or an unsafe lane change. Things got different in the eighties, when the real estate boom hit, and no remote piece of real estate could stay cheap.
The beach changed, bikers changed, surfers changed, California changed. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to ride in here all the time before he became Governor but nobody has seen him come around for awhile.
Michelle Pfeiffer rode her Harley in here one day in the 90s. She had a beer and rode away. And, it was no thing. Now if she rode in here she would probably be leading a convoy of paparazzi.
Paul “Bono” Huson came in one day for a beer and some fried shrimp. He asked the guy at the counter, “Do you like the band U2.”
The counter guy said, “No. Not really.” So, Bono turned around, walked away and minded his own business-which is probably the last time that happened in history.
Nobody comes here for the food. You put your order in at one window. You pull your beer out of a cooler and you pick up your food and pay at another window. It is all lunch truck variety burgers, dogs and burritos. The fried clams, shrimp and fish are greasy and chewy. There are a couple of tables inside or you can go sit sidesaddle on your bike and watch the show.
You come here for the ride. You come here because this is what is here.
A couple of great looking choppers roll in and ride around and around the lot looking for a place to park. The lot used to be dirt but then the new owner decided to make the joint fancy and put in asphalt.
A guy on an immaculate, antique Beemer rides in. The guy doesn’t look like me. I think he is a big shot of some kind. He probably gets blonde starlets two at a time all the time. “Just like the Nazis used to ride,” I tell him. He doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t even see me.
I pull my camera out of my saddlebag and stroll across the street to get a photograph. I get a great shot of a couple of cars flying down the coast highway. I wait for a guy on a bike to ride past before I try again. The guy pops a perfect, 45 degree wheelie right in front of but I am too slow to catch him in my lens.
I get back on the bike. I can go left or right, north or south. It is still only about one o’clock and the time just changed so I get an extra hour of daylight.
North it is. Into the curves that climb past the big rock at Point Magu. Past the Navy base, through the farm fields to the smell of fresh tortillas in Ventura. To Santa Barbara. Through the San Marcos pass.
That is where I will go. The San Marcos Pass.
I know another bar up there. Stage coaches used to stop there in the good old days. Coach drivers and desperadoes used to stop there and drink beer at the same bar. I’ll go that far north. Then maybe I’ll come back.