Cycle Time Again

Posted on February 23, 2015 by

I delivered Western Union telegrams in Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and Borough Park when I was 16, peddling my three-speed 26 incher through white ethnic working-class Brooklyn with a pouch filled with urgent messages. Knocking on front doors, I’d announce “Telegram!” and then listen for the lock. I would try to leave before the envelope was opened (telegrams often brought bad news) hopefully with a 10 or 25 cent tip.

Western Union was phasing out its local outlets by then and I’m sure I was among the last of the residential neighborhood bicycle messengers (I did continue with the company while I finished high school, working Wall Street on foot).

That’s the extent of my “professional” cycling and my only link to bicycle history. In my twenties, I owned a French-made Motobicane which I shipped from Central Vermont to Santa Monica, where I rode around Colorado Ave. at night, in February, in a sweat shirt.

But after my kids were born, that bike retired to – and was stolen from – the garage, joining, I’m sure, L.A.’s market of “hot” bicycles. Though I would occasionally rent a cruiser for an hour or two from a shop near the Venice Pier, I was essentially bikeless for the next 20 years.

Now here’s the twist…literally.

Stepping off a sightseeing bus in San Pedro (I was escorting a group of Chinese “labor leaders” on a tour of the Port) I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. I buckled but stayed upright. I was limping around for weeks after the sprain, in Physical Therapy at Kaiser when my PT guy put me on a stationary bike.

So this is good for my knee, right?” I asked.

Sure, get’s the blood flowing to the area,” he said.

Think I should get a real bike?” I asked.

Sounds like a great idea,” he said.

A no brainer. Keeps the knees from locking down, adds “cardio” to my daily routine and solves my biggest personal obstacle to routine exercise: boredom.

My basic territory is the Ballona Creek bike path west of the 405 to Marina / Playa del Rey and the streets through Culver City / Mar Vista to Santa Monica / Venice. Early morning mostly, before the warm winter Los Angeles sun starts bearing down.

Very different from the noisy, raucous street activity of South Brooklyn with its butcher shops, fruit stands, teenagers hanging out on “stoops” and crowds of passengers climbing up and down the steps of the West End train above 86th Street. But at this stage, West and Coastal L.A.’s mellowed communities suit my temperament just fine.  (And soon, we’ll be getting our own mini-version of a subway with the Expo Line.)

As for my cycling, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not speeding along on a high-end, carbon fiber road bike wearing spandex bicycle pants and toe clips. Picture instead a guy in sweats and flannel, casually steering a standard, durable 7-speed cruiser with thick tires and upright handle bars.

Retro all the way.

Recreation and rejuvenation is the name of game now and I’m glad to be cycling again. I like the sensation. Free-spirit, adventure, that sort of thing. A later phase for the Brooklyn street kid skidding to a quick stop at the apartment house on Bay Parkway to make a fast run upstairs for a fifth floor delivery.

Comments (7)


  1. Anne-Marie Otey says:

    Great column, Lou! Who’d have thought we share the same Brooklyn roots and both know that “stoop” is a noun as well as a verb?

  2. Jeff P. says:

    Real good idea, Lou. We should ride sometime!

  3. Anne-Marie Otey says:

    Also Dad wants to know if you remember the “Bensonhurst Graphic”?

  4. Ethel says:

    Going aback a little earlier than you, my first summer job, after I got my working papers at age 14, was as messenger girl in Wall Street delivering messages and letters to Insurance Companies by WALKING. Another thing we have in common. I think I earned about 35 cents an hour. My boss liked me so much that he asked me to quit school and work full time for him. My mother was shocked but I never even considered it. I was going to finish Seth Low and Lafayete High School. And by the way, I loved playing handball with my pink ball(what was that called), agains the stoops with my girlfriends. What was the “Bensonhurst Graphic”? Was it around in the 1940′s? Maybe after my time.

  5. Peter Olney says:

    What a wonderful “twist”. How about you join me on a Century Ride soon? No spandex for me either.

  6. Brad Cagle says:

    Brother, you can write… Your imagery of Brooklyn, so close to my delivering the NY times & Daily News in NYC with… Man Landed On Moon… I hear your breath and heart rate rise in this piece… So whose telling you what you already know?

  7. todd becraft says:

    go lou go! remember slo.

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