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A Morning Coffee Ritual at the L.A. River

This L.A. River article is part of a donation matching challenge grant supported by Newman's Own Foundation. Learn more about the L.A. River and a special thank-you gift of an original handcrafted mosaic necklace that commemorates the river.
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Waking up in the morning can be abhorrent, especially if you're startled out of bed every morning by the sound of an angry alarm, which then triggers a mindless sequence of getting to work. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Each Wednesday morning from 7 a.m. until about 9 a.m., coffee enthusiasts and cyclists gather at the recently opened Sunnynook Park, a 3.4-acre park just north of the Glendale Hyperion bridge, to take some time out of time. In a Zen-like attempt to achieve a piece of sanity in a crazy, busy world, these early risers have committed themselves to be present in the moment, by the river.

"The way I look at it, even an okay cup of coffee on the river with friends is better than a pretty decent cup of coffee in your cubicle at work," says organizer Errin Vasquez, an avid cyclist and a television editor in Hollywood, who lives in Alhambra. Vasquez started these early morning gatherings last August.

Vasquez is a bike commuter. His daily ride can range anywhere from 12 to 25 miles one-way "depending on how I'm feeling," he says. Just like many Angelenos, he used to hurry to work, concentrating on efficiency rather than beauty, but a cycling ride with friends in Minnesota opened his eyes.

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"It was really cold outside. It was sub freezing, actually, and my friend said, 'We're just going to pull over and make some coffee, stop and hang out for a while,'" recalls Vasquez. "I thought it was crazy because it made more sense for us to get back to the cabin as soon as possible. But we did stop and it was the highlight of that trip."

After his return home, Vasquez wanted to recreate that feeling of taking a break in the middle of a crazy day. "It's the slow down and enjoy the day attitude that prevailed instead of racing to get to work," says Vasquez.

He then started making a little pilgrimage like his Minnesota experience on his way to work, just like others have done around the country, from Oregon to Ohio. With just a small thermos of hot water, he would stop somewhere scenic and watch Los Angeles unfold before him. "I was just hanging out and letting it kind of happen."

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His destination of choice used to be Elysian Park, on a spot that overlooks Dodger Stadium, but when friends started joining him, he moved to the Los Angeles River banks. "It's a thoroughfare for commuters," says Vasquez. "A lot of cyclists use it to get from point A to point B in the morning."

Inspired by Vasquez's idyllic Instagrams of blue Los Angeles skies, green surroundings, and friends, more and more people showed up. Soon, numbers swelled from five people to about twenty people every Wednesday morning. The #larivercampcoffee was born.

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Armed with a coffee mug, perhaps some sweets, and a little time to hang out in a half circle of small rocks at Sunnynook Park, people from the neighborhood and beyond embraced this mid-week morning ritual. They called themselves the Los Angeles County Coffee Connoisseurs, a made-up name for a very real thing, according to Vasquez.

#larivercampcoffee became an open secret for those who hung out in local bike shops, listened to coffee brewing podcasts, or just perused Instagram, and Facebook. An offshoot effort has even begun at Ballona Creek with #BallonaCreekcampcoffee. "I'm kind of blown away," says Vasquez. "It seems to have struck a nerve with a lot of people."

Like many grassroots efforts, #larivercampcoffee doesn't have any rules. Come with coffee or don't. Come with a bike or don't. If you would like a different kind of morning, you're welcome at the #larivercampcoffee. The river is open to everyone.

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Follow Errin Vasquez on Instagram to find out when the next #larivercampcoffee happens.

Photos: Errin Vasquez