Departures Decathlon, Part I

David Alvarez

Last week, this column noted the many ways to access the Departures: LA River series of interconnected oral histories, texts, photos, videos, audios and ephemera.

The same, on a greater scale, holds true for the entire and ever-growing Departures series, which has now generated more than 250 interviews and, by our count, one score of fantastic interactive murals.

So, Departures' oral history skills may be robust and fit, but what about the panoply of subjects so far covered? What's the shape of their shape?

To explore that question, we first thought about putting together Departures remix on the Modern Pentathlon. The Olympic events for this discipline including, in this order: Fencing, swimming, riding, running and shooting.

We could have called this section, "shooting," but given the horrors of gun violence throughout the years in Los Angeles, we'll pass on the shooting-guns-as-sport concept and stick with saying "filming" instead.

We then considered a literal recitation of the Decathlon - a sport good enough for Jim Thorpe, Bruce Jenner. But hard to figure out what would pass as, say, the "pole vault" or the "discus throw" in Departures series.

(The "long jump" is most definitely Lewis MacAdams' 40-year art project to revitalize the Los Angeles River.)

So, in the great spirit of the Academic Decathlon - viva Granada Hills High - and its use of the Olympian term, we present our own variation on the theme, the Departures Decathlon.

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This week, the first five Departures cataloged athletic endeavors. Next week, the next five. Here goes:

TEN: Bicycling

Departures: Venice features the reflections of David Alvarez, a Venice High School student.

Standing with a hand on his bike's seat and another on its handlebar, Alvarez speaks of regularly joining the "Taco Tuesdays" Culver City Police Station to Dockweiler State Beach ride executed by a crew from the very loosely affiliated bands of city cycling aficionados called Midnight Ridazz.

"I just got on a bike and I thought it was really sweet," Alvarez says. "Rather than being at home and just being lazy. Grab a bike, go for a ride by my self, escape on the creek by myself. Put some music on, some techno, get pumped up, just ride."

Alvarez also talks about how he used to ride a beach cruiser, but switched to a "fixie" - a fixed gear bike; meaning, one gear, no brakes other than dragging your feet.

Alvarez also says he once joined in a "crank mob" that put 1,000 riders on the road from Venice Beech to Koreatown.

Special bonus - How to play soccer, or at least some plush version of hackey-sack, with a roll of toilet paper.

Visit the Departures page here or watch the video below.

NINE: Dancing

Departures: Chinatown includes three sub-chapter interviews with music journalists Jeff Spurrier and Anna Summa. They covered the punk rock and new wave music scenes that took hold in the late 1970s and early 1980s at Chinatown joints such as Madame Wong's.

Culled from one of the interviews:

Spurrier: "It was a community of people that really supported one other. They slept with one another. They shared drugs. They shared alcohol. They shared secrets.

Summa: They shared music.

Spurrier: They shared music.

Summa: They shared dancing.

A Departures slideshow of Summa's photos found here captures fans looking ecstatic and in some cases, dancing. Also in the slideshow: a topless future pop star.

Jeff Spurrier and Ann Summa

EIGHT: Soccer

In world futbol, the player who affects the most control over the flow of a game is referred to as being the most "influential."

When It comes to youth soccer in Los Angeles, Raul Macias is the Michael Bradley of organizers.

(That's right - the full throttle, two-way Bradley is more influential than even Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan.)

Macias is the President and founder of the Anahuak Youth Sports Association. He's an organizer and an advocate; in certain circles he's practically synonymous with Eastside youth futbol. Departures: LA River interviewed Macias in a familiar spot - the Rio De Los Angeles State Park.

The Departures photo shows Macias with the new "active" State Park's playground, office, and softball field backstop visible behind him. He's wearing an Anahuak logo shirt and a ball cap that shadows his forehead and eyes. If Macias is looking past the Departures interviewer, he'd see the park's primary, artificial turf soccer pitch. Off in the distance: the mostly dirt pitch.

See Macias' photo and listen to his audio-only history in English and Spanish.

SEVEN: Horseback Riding

In this Departures: Richland Farms piece, Compton Jr. Posse executive director Mayisha Akbar stands in front of the gates that separate a visitor from her backyard open air equestrian arena.

This is where the neighborhood kids she mentors and motivates mount their hoofed rides and practice for English and Western style riding competitions.

The kids also learn life skills, and as Departures and others have reported (including me, for LMU, here), receive what Akbar calls a "safe haven" from gangs, violence, and other woes.

[Bonus: More horse riders, out on Compton Creek.]

In the Akbar interview, below, horses are visible in the background, in their pens. A rooster enters the shot, too.

SIX: Handball

The Departures: Venice interview with handball player Albert Lopez is preceded by a typically stylized interstitial introduction - this one featuring a two-on-two handball match in progress at Venice Beach's Venice Recreation Center.

(Side note: Does anyone ever refer to the "Venice Recreation Center" - as opposed to saying, "the handball courts at Venice Beach," or something similar?)

Lopez's interview begins with him saying he's been playing on these courts for ten years; that he'd come Sunday mornings at 7am, work out at the speed bag nearby, and then hang out and play his sport until 4 or 5pm.

Lopez then explains handball's rules to the Departures interviewer. "The object of the game," he says, "is just to kill the ball, make it roll out or make a guy run back and froth until he gets tired, see who has the longest wind, in other words."

Lopez then concludes: "It's kind of like boxing, but instead of hitting a person, you're hitting a ball."

The Lopez interview can be found in this cluster of interviews. Or view the video below.

Next Week: A Departures Decathlon, Part 2, featuring fencing, surfing, skateboarding, paddle tennis and kayaking.

Recently by Jeremy Rosenberg: Five Great Departures: LA River Moments and, When A River Just Ain't A River

Photos: Via Departures

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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