RIDES OF SPRING : When the Sky Excites Restless Spirits, the Road Is There to Lead the Way

We're night creatures, trapped in the searing eternity of day. We cope, but secretly we believe our behaviors have been modified to fit the demands of contemporary living: Craving the rewards of work, we rise just before or with the sun. Our morning newspaper is ever on the porch, and we retrieve it while the coffee precipitates. Half-conscious, we shower to the Muzak of newscasts, then pore over the daily calendar and account books we maintain with religious ague. There's the endless flow of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, departmental meetings, guild affairs, business pow-wows. And having to parent, we are as married to the rhythms and dictates of the Los Angeles school district as we are to each other.

There's the ceaseless scramble to improve our TRW, belt-tightening for the IRS, weighing the advantages of the latest high-tech gizmo from AT&T; or cost-saving offer from GTE, working out at the YMCA, keeping abreast of the latest NIMBY scuttlebutt and, of course, the status of the O.J. trail.

Then there are private obsessions, get-rich schemes and easy-living dreams that cause us to frequent late-night copy, fax and coffee shops, seek out galleries, museums and poetry hangs at every odd moment, squeeze out precious spare seconds to explore the musty-dusty shelves of vintage bookstores and collectors' racks. We chew over our frustrations in low-rent Chinese or Thai restaurants or sweat them off in upscale Westside billiard hangs. We do it yet feel simultaneously cursed and blessed, living within the speed limit as we carve out our spot on the edge of the 21st Century.

Then something hits, a psychic temblor. The evening desert skyline--blackened heads of raffia against the gold glow tinged with red violet lingering on the blue horizon--ignites the fires behind our eyes and under our soles. And that gibbous moonrise awakens the night owls. Suddenly, there's no such thing as sleep. Time to ride. As fast and as far as we can afford, rambling the 101 east to the 5 to the 710 south to Long Beach at 3 a.m., surfing the AM dial till James Brown screams "Gimme mah thang--what you got, what I need. What you need, what I got" as we count the off-ramps still closed for quake reconstruction.

Now the sky is steel-gray, and silver smoke billows against the purple haze dotted with amber and white glistenings, the lights of refineries where the earth is pumped for the slick spoils fueling our universe of nonstop consumption.

Bell Gardens ahead.

There's the draw of The Bicycle Club, for another type of bird, mini-Vegas round-the-clock. We swoop and dive. It's too nice a night to be inside. Marvin Gaye and the road call for nostalgic healing. We circle around and head down San Pedro way to the cliffs. I point out the ghosts of romantic places where lovers used to come to neck, parked shoreside, watching the tide, the rhythms of golden oldies and sweet somethings accompanied by the rush of waves.

We find our way to a view point, park and pick our favorites among the constellations. We share recollections until a ribbon of sunrise threatens the basin, announcing it's time to go. We hurry back to the car and reluctantly head homeward. A brief jam near the 105 breaks the spell, with traffic backed up from where they're still working on the people mover, then the lanes open again. We're surprised so many other drivers are caught in the early rush, perhaps some like us with just enough night left to catch a few winks.

Meanwhile, back in our neighborhood, someone's slouched at a bus stop, picking through the change in his palm. Someone's crouched at a pay phone, talking urgently, slapping at the air. Someone's switching hurriedly up the pavement in institutional work shoes, tugging at the wrinkles in her uniform. Spring has come to Los Angeles. Time to get ready for summer.

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