On my way to celebrate Thanksgiving with the in-laws this year (riding my wife’s abandoned road bike), I ran across an “Occupy Best Buy” encampment alongside the 60 freeway in Montebello.
The Occupy Best Buy folks were parked out in front of a suburban (or exurban?) electronics depot – but with their tents, sleeping bags, and scrappy half-camping half-leisure outfits, they looked like a similar bunch I’ve run into at Occupy Los Angeles camping around the steps of Los Angeles’ city hall. The atmosphere at the strip mall in Montebello was mellow. People seemed resigned to waiting it out to buy some useless electronic crap at discounted prices.
Speaking of Occupy LA, I dropped off a couple of bright orange beach cruisers there a few weeks ago. The “bike camp” put out the word that they were establishing LA’s first bike share. My friend, Damien Newton of Streetsblog LA, led the charge and donated some old beach cruisers. The story of him donating bikes to the cause inspired me to do the same.
After finishing Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws in the San Gabriel Valley, I rode past the Occupy Best Buy campers one more time on my way to the Gold Line train station in East LA. I took the train from its terminus at Atlantic all the way to the Indiana station. Getting off the train in East LA, I rode one block west to meet the brand new green bike lanes painted on 1st Street.
I picked up a flat while riding through Downtown on my way home and decided to stop by the Occupy LA camp one more time before they get busted up by the authorities (as I write this, the clock is ticking on a 72-hour eviction notice the city posted in the park). The General Assembly was a churning pot of echoing voices, yelling out of order, and all sorts of marginal types having their say to whomever cared to listen. While I patched my tube I ran into a fellow cyclist with a slow leak in his rear tire. I patched both tubes and went over to the “bike camp” to see how things were going.
All the bike share bikes were gone – handed out to those in need, I was told. Everyone had moved any valuables off-site in case the police raided the place before 12:01 a.m. on Monday. People at Occupy LA were a little on-edge – talking about what to do, whether to stay and be arrested or split and organize camp somewhere else.
Between the people waiting to snap up discounted electronics and the people trying to alter the course of our republic, I would say that neither group seemed entirely sure of where things were going. The Occupy LA camp, at least, had a staked their claim to a better future and were trying to make it happen at the risk of arrest, head lice, and being demonized as “hippies” in the media. I guess the Occupy Best Buy campers had done the same, but the comfort of discounted home electronics and a churn in retail spending don’t exactly count as an investment in a brighter future for anyone other than the people carrying the goodies home and the minimum wage workers making rent by scanning goods and swiping credit cards.
I think the only person who knew “where things were going” was the guy riding his wife’s bike back home, which is exactly what I did, my head swimming with the contrast between the two sets of campers, the bike lanes on 1st Street, the empty Gold Line train car, and what it all meant for the future of our republic.