Los Angeles: Swag Town USA

We love bikes and we love community here at the Root Simple compound, so today we ventured down to the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters to attend Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA bike giveaway. The truth is, of course, that we also love free shit and these events, where city officials line up to pay lip service to cycling, tend to overflow with swag. But today, in the shadow of the swanky MTA tower, only cosponsor Lipton Tea had any swag and an odd glass booth which folks stepped into and grabbed at coupons animated by an attached power blower. If you grabbed enough coupons you were entitled to an ugly Lipton t-shirt. Our dignity didn’t allow us to participate in such a tawdry spectacle, but we did score a box of a hundred tea bags. But we digress.

The main point of this event was to unite fifty people who had written essays about why they needed a bike with their new wheels which were donated by Giant. We had naive hopes that the fifty winners would mount their new bikes and ride off on the mean streets of LA in one big happy flock, like a bunch of ceremonial white doves released from a cage. Of course, the last time we witnessed a dove release was at an event put on by the El Cajon based UFO cult, the Unarius Society. When they opened the top of the papier-mache UFO that housed the doves, the doves refused to leave until, after a long and awkward silence, someone wearing a polyester space cadet uniform came over and beat on the bottom of the UFO. Even then, the doves left slowly, one at a time, for what seemed like a half hour while all the cynical types in attendance stood around trying not to laugh. Similarly today’s Bike Town USA event ended not with a bang but with a whimper – the thirty or so contest winners who bothered to attend shuffled off to load their bikes into their SUVs and drove home where, we suspect, many of the bikes will just sit in the garage.

The handful of speakers who kicked off the event included representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the MTA, the Department of Transportation, Bicycling Magazine, and a former Bike Town USA contest winner from Irvine. Unless I missed something, none of the speakers even hinted that a bike could be used for anything other than recreation. Now we’re all for getting exercise but we think it’s time to take the bike beyond just recreation, and into the realm of transportation – and prove that two wheels are a fun, sexy, pimped-out kind of transportation.

Bike culture is taking off in this city in a big way, with the success of Bike Summer, Bike Winter, and the ongoing Midnight Ridazz phenomenon. We suppose it’s too much to expect a magazine like Bicycling which caters to folks who own $5,000 bikes to get with the program. We applaud the idea behind Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA program – to get people on bikes – but does the web site for Bike Town USA need to feature a prominent banner ad for a gas-guzzling SUV? And what about the cross-promotion with Lipton, the “Live Well Challenge” which suggests enjoying “three servings of delicious Lipton’s Tea a day” along with the bike giveaway. We assume Lipton isn’t suggesting three servings of their products that contain copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

But perhaps we’re getting too cynical here. At that Unarius dove release we witnessed many years ago, after much pounding, finally a group of doves flew up into the sky. The last rays of sunshine cast a golden hue on the small flock of birds as they soared high above El Cajon, a blighted suburb of Thrift Stores and Plasma Donation centers east of San Diego.

Perhaps some in that group of fifty new bike owners will spread the joy and love of riding two wheels and make this tangle of freeways and asphalt a better place.

Secure your Ride Part I

Today’s bike locking strategy is bound to be controversial as the subject of how to secure your bike is one of those tasks, like thwarting squirrels, killing cockroaches and arguing with Republican family members, for which there are no easy answers. We credit this tip to a recent visitor to the SurviveLA compound, Nicholas Sammond author of the award winning book Babes in Tomorrowland and a former NYC bike messenger back in the day.

Now, many of our modern rides come with quick release levers so that folks can throw their bikes in the back of their Hummers and drive to the nearest bike path. Unfortunately these quick release levers make it real easy for crackheads out there to steal wheels for their daily fix. Comrade Nic suggests securing the front wheel quick release lever to the fork with a hose clamp. That way you can just lock the back wheel and frame to a secure object and not worry about the front wheel. Comrade Nic claims that he’s never had a wheel stolen with this technique in many years of riding the bad-ass streets of North America and Nic theorizes that crackheads don’t carry screwdrivers. We hope this is true, and we will add that if you hose clamp your wheel to the fork you will have to carry a screwdriver to fix a front flat. Of course loyal SurviveLA readers already carry a multi-tool (such as a Leatherman) with them at all times to deal with any number of contingencies – yes? You could also replace the quick release lever with an old school nutted axle but then you will need to carry a wrench to get the wheel off to fix a flat. This would be a good point to also suggest that if your seat is equipped with a quick release it’s time to figure out the correct seat height and replace that quick release with a bolt because crackheads also like to steal seats.

We’ll get into some other bike locking ideas in other posts, but if you have locking strategies you’d like to suggest please leave some comments. In the meantime internet bike guru Sheldon Brown and the folks at the NYC Bike Messenger Association have lots of bike security tips. And whatever you do don’t just lock the frame – make sure you lock both wheels and the frame to something secure!

And why do so many bikes get stolen? Cops in Victoria, British Columbia have a theory that disassembling and reassembling bikes soothes methamphetamine addicts.

“We’ve come across lots of sites littered with bikes and bike parts,” Const. Peter Lane said.

“They sit in the bush with hundreds of parts just fiddling with them all day…”

“For some reason, they find fiddling with bike parts satisfies that need for stimulation,” Lane said

Mutant Squash


Today’s incredible picture comes from photographer, bike cultist, and composting Culver-Town revolutionary Elon Schoenholz. It’s a freak squash that grew out of his regular old household compost. The funny thing is that nobody at the Shoenholz Compound – neither Elon, wife Bryn nor new bambina Nusia eat squash – so the origin of this new hybrid compost squash is a mystery.

This brings up a bit of botany. Plants “do the deed” with flowers which contain both male (pollen-producing stamen) and female (carpels) organs. Flowers produce seeds, which depending on how they were pollinated may or may not produce offspring that resemble the parent. Some plants pollinate themselves before the flower opens thus producing seeds that are the same variety as the parent. Other plants rely on insects and birds for pollination and can produce offspring that are hybrids if the pollinating bug or bird happened to visit another variety. Squash has completely separate male and female flowers that appear on the same plant, a characteristic called monoecism (from the Greek meaning “same household”) which is an evolutionary strategy for avoiding self-pollination. Corn is another example of a monoecious plant. Plants can only cross pollinate within their own species so watermelons can’t cross with lettuce, for instance. But there are many different varieties of squash, everything from butternut squash to spaghetti squash to various inedible gourds, so you can get some very freaky mutant cross-breeds. Results of these hybrids can be unpredictable. with accidental squash hybrids tending to get tough. But some hybrids are a crap shoot that pays off. The SurviveLA compound has wild cherry tomatoes that have self-seeded for years with excellent results–producing some of the best tomatoes we’ve ever eaten, with no work whatsoever on our part. But this summer they seem to have hybridized again and now yield less flavorful fruit.

More information on the botany of pollination and advice on saving vegetable seeds can be found in this excellent article. Also of note, the new issue of Make Magazine, the Popular Mechanics of the geeky hipster art school crowd has a story on “hacking your backyard plants”. But in the meantime, a tip of the SurviveLA hat to a new squash variety: Cucurbitaceae Nusia.

Maggots!

Like a lot of the agricultural duties around our urban homestead, composting requires time and initiative. Unfortunately both our garden and our energy level are at a low point, both sapped by the record breaking heat – anyone see Al Gore’s movie? The result of this lack of effort has been the maggot party currently going on in our compost pile.

The best compostin’ revolutionary I ever met, photographer Becky Cohen maintained a three pile system contained in bins she made out of scrap lumber. When the first bin would fill up, Becky would transfer the contents to the next bin, thus aerating the pile and creating room for additional materials. This aeration, combined with making sure to keep the pile moist produced a hot pile that kept the pests away and produced a high quality compost in a relatively short period of time – a few months. You can find instructions on how to build this type of compost system with used pallets on this web site.

Other composting systems include the lazy person’s single plastic bin, which you can make out of a garbage can, or you can buy a specialized composting bin. This is what we use around the Survive LA compound. The process is simple – put compostable materials (no meat, fish or oils!) into the bin, keep it moist but not wet, and wait a year. Also remember not to put weeds in the pile as the seeds can spread to wherever you use the compost. To speed up the decomposition process in a single pile composter, you can remove the compost contents, mix them up with a pitchfork, and put them back in the pile. Our composter is bottomless, so the soil underneath the bin gets fertilized as the compost decomposes, so when we move the pile the previous spot becomes a fertile new planting area.

There are also expensive tumblers, that rotate the compost in a large barrel. We’ve never tried one of these things and reviews that we’ve seen are mixed.

With any compost pile it’s best to maintain a 50-50 ratio of carbon material to nitrogen materials. Carbon materials are essentially everything that is brown, like dead leaves, sawdust and dry grass. Nitrogen materials include fruit, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. The type of pile you construct depends upon the materials you have available to compost. Becky had lots of grass and leaves on a fairly large piece of property and the three pile system seemed the best to deal with a large amount of materials. We purchased our bin from the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation which hosts informative workshops where you can purchase a plastic compost bin for half price. The workshops are held at the Griffith Park Composting Education Facility.

The compost bin should be easily accessible from the kitchen, but far enough away so that compost problems, like smells and rodents don’t migrate to living quarters. Our pile is located too far from the kitchen, so in our laziness stinky piles of rotting fruits and vegetables often gather on the kitchen counter.

The presence of maggots in our pile indicates that we have an overabundance of kitchen scraps and a pile that is not hot enough. Turning the pile – much easier to do in the three pile system, increases the temperature and kills off the larvae. Another option is to put the kitchen scraps in a worm composter and use the big outdoor compost pile for leaves and other materials that flys are not attracted to. Worm composting is the best option for apartment dwellers.

But let’s get to the real reason we’ve brought up the topic of maggots. It’s really just to mention an exotic cheese from the island of Sardinia called formaggio con vermini, a pecorino cheese infested with live maggots. It’s apparently somewhat of a macho thing to eat this stuff and connoisseur insist that the maggots be active and wiggling. Like compost, cheese is a living system and formaggio con vermini may be the ultimate expression of life expressed in a food. Americans, unfortunately, both in their choice of presidents and their eating habits reject such exuberant expression of life. The French marketing guru Clotaire Rapille made this observation about how to sell cheese to Americans:

“In America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that’s where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.”

Paradoxically the life in the compost pile – the unwanted maggots- are there because we neglected our duties and treated the pile as a morgue for our unwanted food scraps, without properly aerating it, without giving the pile water and attention.

SurviveLA Food Review: Mary Jane’s Farm Organic Buttery Herb Pasta

This guest review from one of the SurviveLA compound sistas, is the first in a look at long term food storage options. Freeze dried food like this is marketed both towards backpackers and holed-up-in-the-bunker paranoid types. Exceptionally long shelf life makes freeze dried food a good, though expensive, option for your emergency pantry.

Field Tested July 22, 2006 on Mt. Silliman

The name of this dehydrated entree is somewhat misleading. It is in fact a form of your classic boxed mac n’ cheese: elbow pasta in cheesy powder sauce, only sans the bright orange coloring. It is good, being similar to the upscale Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Maybe Annie and Mary Jane smoke pot together somewhere in OrganicVille?

I did not notice the herb flavoring, and did not miss it, because I find when you are exhausted and camping at 10,000 feet your palette is not as adventurous as it might be ordinarily. This is comfort food, and works very well in that capacity.

That said, it is ripe for doctoring, because it is so very basic. I brought along a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes from the SurviveLA gardens (and dehydrated in the compound’s solar dehydrator – more on that in a future post), and that added the perfect amount of interest. Nuts, canned tuna, fresh veggies if you wanted to carry them, all would work well too.

You cook this entree in its own bag (a paper bag instead of a foil pouch, which is nice). All you do is add 3/4 cup of boiling water, reseal the bag and wait for ten minutes. I used a Pepsi can stove to boil the water, incidentally. It cooked well, with only a couple of the elbow noodles escaping hydrating and ending as crunchy surprises on my fork.

The pouch claims that it holds 1.5 servings: a Mary Jane’s Organics eccentricity. I scarfed the whole thing down without difficulty and I’m a girl. I think Mary Jane intends us to buy more than one dish and share them on plates like civilized beings, rather than selfishly wolfing them out of the bag. Oh well.