It was 5 a.m. on Saturday and most of Los Angeles still slumbered, but the invasion of the Pier People was already under way. On freeways and highways from El Monte to Woodland Hills, battered Fords and sleek Jags streamed toward Santa Monica Bay's pleasure piers.
Steve Garcia from Glendale, a fisherman and a regular at the Manhattan Beach Pier, was just arriving with his wife and two children.
"Early in the morning, before the sun comes up, that's when the fish bite," he said, lugging fishing rods, a tackle box, folding chairs and an ice chest out to the far end. The kids followed, hugging their jackets against the cool morning breeze.
Garcia, in a frayed blue sweat shirt and Dodger cap, was among the first to arrive and stake out his favorite spot at the railing with a view of the Pacific.
He wasn't admiring the big picture, however, at least not yet. There would be plenty of time for contemplation later, when noon rolled around and people began to think of lunch, a cold beer and a snooze in the sun.
Now he peered down where cold, green water swelled and lapped around the blue-black mussels clustered on the pilings.
"I think we're going to get some big ones, halibut and bonito maybe," he mused. "It's going to be a good day."
Love to Walk the Planks
For Pier People, an eclectic assortment of residents from all over Los Angeles, a day spent at one of the fishing and pleasure piers on Santa Monica Bay is a good day.
In fact, each year the five piers--at Malibu, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach--attract about 10 million visitors for whom happiness is the chance to walk the planks.
Even a slew of recent bad news about wind and wave damage caused by winter storms and the May 27 fire on the Redondo Beach Pier hasn't staunched the flow.
Don Souther at the Hermosa Beach Pier, a Los Angeles County lifeguard for 22 years, knows the attraction well.
"The piers are like a magnet," he said. "I don't know exactly what it is--maybe walking out over the water or watching the waves roll under the pilings--but we see people out on this pier every day of the year."
By midday, the sun was high and hot, cars were swarming into beach parking lots and the invasion's second wave was in full force.
The scene was a sociologist's dream: more fisherman, teen-agers on roller skates, kids riding skateboards, couples hand in hand, bicyclists taking a rest, strolling seniors and parents pushing strollers.
On the Santa Monica Pier, Arizonans Elsa and Henry Zettelman were getting set to whirl away a few minutes on the historic carrousel.
"I don't think I've been on one of these since I was 10," Elsa said, settling into a painted sleigh while Henry climbed onto a white horse and clutched the brass pole.
On the wood planks of the 720-foot Malibu Pier, couples in summer white topped off brunch at Alice's Restaurant with a stroll out over the water.
On the end of the cement-decked, 1,294-foot-long Hermosa Beach Pier, Clyde and Karen Menin of Woodland Hills had set out their buckets and chairs and rigged four rods to the railing.
Good Place to Watch
Clyde, keeping a sharp eye on his line while he read the Sunday newspaper, paused to explain that he has fished off the Hermosa Pier for 42 years.
"Right here is a good spot to sit and watch the waves, watch the airplanes take off and watch the people," he said.
A few steps away, Troy Horne, 20, was trying out a new rod and reel while Tracey Holmes, his girlfriend, stood beside his wheelchair kibitzing. Horne, paralyzed in a dirt-bike accident on the Mojave Desert last February, was on a day outing from Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey.
"This is the first pier I've been to," he said with a big grin. "The fishing is great, although I would rather have been surfing."
Ramp a Bit Steep
How's the pier for wheelchairs?
"The ramp is just a little too steep," he said, "and there are some cobblestones, so Tracey had to help push. But we're having a great time."
There used to be many recreational piers along Santa Monica Bay, but over the decades they've gone the way of all wave-buffeted structures: knocked down in storms or pulled down by their owners.
The Venice Pier, once one of the most popular in Southern California, still juts into the sea, but its vigil is now lonely. In 1983, monster waves buckled its approach ramp and cracked the cement, and the pier was officially closed in November, 1986.
Group Presses for Reopening
One of the area's newer piers, built in 1965 and owned by the city of Los Angeles, the Venice Pier remains closed for lack of agreement on a renovation plan. But its defenders have formed a support group called Pier Pressure, whose goal is to repair and reopen it.
The same 1983 storm also shivered the Santa Monica Pier's timbers. The north section, known as the Municipal Pier, lost 420 feet off the end and Looff's Pleasure Pier (the south part of which supports the carrousel building, businesses and the parking lot) also was damaged. The city of Santa Monica is rebuilding both.