Situationist for a Night

One or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.  

-The Situationists

Devils Gate

If your car radio is forever tuned in to NPR on the way to work, you’ve probably heard “Hidden Brain” with Shankar Vedantum, on NPR’s Morning Edition. I keep an open mind while listening, but often I wonder if mainstream psychology isn’t just a spin on common knowledge, confirmed by a study. Last week, as one example, the “Hidden Brain” discussion question didn’t really unlock any mysteries: Why do people take boring jobs? It turns out, people make up lovely ideas about a job they’re applying to, only to find out it’s unbearably dull after they take the offer.

Please continue reading in the voice of Ira Glass.

Which brings us to the theme of today’s program: Expectation vs. Reality.

Now switch to the voice of David Sedaris.

I myself have learned not to entertain expectations. I don’t mean the expectations that take the form of delusions (“I will get up at 6am and go to yoga class!”). Oh no, I entertain delusions on a daily basis. I mean the expectations that lead you down a rabbit hole on a quest for excitement and spit you out on the other side, sweaty and incoherent, asking yourself, Why the hell am I here, and when do we get donuts? 

I’d heard about A Passage Of A Few People Through A Relatively Brief Moment in Time (called the Passage Ride for short) on the radio, and was intrigued. According to the website, the Passage Ride is a bike ride that convenes every Wednesday night at a donut shop in Korea Town. The routes are long and ambitious, and every night, of course, has a theme. The organizers send out an email to subscribers–a teaser, if you will–on the day of the ride.

The inspiration for the Passage Ride came from the work of these intellectual fellows called the Situationists and is designed to get people to “drop their usual motives.” Usually, the excursions–from what I’ve gathered–are interested in exploring a certain man-made or geologic feature of the city. Once, the riders rendezvous’d with a giant boulder inching its way down the street on its way to become the art installation Levitated Mass at LACMA.

For two consecutive Wednesdays I was out of town, but read the peculiar emails. The night after returning to Los Angeles, I put my bike in the trunk of my car, gathered a water bottle and LED-equipped reflective vest into a pannier and drove to Korea Town. A broadcast of the original radio adaptation of War of the Worlds was on the air. In it, a terrified reporter dutifully narrates the scene before him: the mysterious spacecraft that had landed in a New Jersey farm was opening up, revealing a gruesome creature. Chaos ensues, and the reporter excuses himself from his audience momentarily while he flees.

It was the night before Halloween, and the ride was called “The Devil May Care”. This time, there was no boulder, no phenomenon to muse over. The Devil may care, but let us tonight be unconcerned. Expectations be damned.

I arrived at California Donuts at 8:30 pm and anxiously waited for others to show for about 20 minutes. At 9:00 we took off. Fumbling with my vest, I fell to the back of the group. We rode for a few miles down a busy boulevard, moving swiftly and in unison like a school of fish. We were in Silverlake before long, riding along the reservoir. After Silverlake was, I think, came Echo Park, then Pasadena, then Glendale. To be honest, I had no idea where we were most of the time. It was both liberating and nerve-wracking. 

We walked our bikes up steep, rocky switchbacks in a park; wandered into flood control areas; off-roaded up a hill to enjoy a scenic overlook; and descended down a ladder to a graffitied tunnel at the Devil’s Gate Dam located in the Arroyo Seco. We lifted our bikes over fences and shimmied ourselves through. Although we must have trespassed quite a bit, it seemed like we had a special permit to bike anywhere we dared.

About 15 miles in, I felt like I was peddling through mud, even on flat pavement. I wasn’t feeling very chatty and I wanted a blood transfusion or whatever Lance Armstrong used to take. Finally, kicking off the final third of the journey, we got to the downhill portion of the ride. I was overcome with relief although I had to keep stopping to give my hands a rest from squeezing the breaks.

At the end of the 4.5 hour, 30 mile trek, the garish yellow light from the donut shop sign was a beautiful sight. My hunger overcame the desire to get home and crawl into bed immediately. I ordered a big donut which I inhaled in the car, while visions of my adventurous new Wednesday nights fell like crumbs in my lap.

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