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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | Bummer
Hill | SO SOCAL

You Can't Get There From Here

July 26, 1998|Daniel Nussbaum

Without aerial food drops, exotic equipment or the assistance of Sherpas, George Rivera has scaled the equivalent of 50 Mt. Everests since 1993 without ever leaving Los Angeles. Rivera, a 33-year-old downtown bike messenger, figures he climbs Bunker Hill an average of 10 times a day, speeding documents from law offices--mainly south of 5th and between Figueroa and Hill--to the courthouses on Temple. While Bunker Hill rises only 120 feet from the rest of downtown, it's steep, and those ascents add up.

Until recently, Rivera and the 50 or so other messengers who pedal downtown's streets had help from a device unavailable to Himalayan climbers: the elevator. For as far back as the collective memory of messengers goes--about 10 years--they have crammed their two-wheelers into parking garage elevators at 400 S. Flower and made it uphill sweat free. Because the parking structure--which serves the Arco Center, Bonaventure Hotel and downtown Y--was built against the side of the hill, passengers enter an elevator at street level, climb seven stories to the roof and arrive at street level again, this time among the austere bank towers on top. From there, it's a flat sprint to the courthouses.

At the end of May, the company that manages the garage, North American Building Management, banned bikes from its elevators. Signs went up citing the relevant municipal ordinance; newly hired uniformed guards watched the doors and, according to a company executive, braced themselves for acts of vandalism that never came.

Other elevators go up and down inside buildings, connecting the street to floors above. But these elevators do something else. Connecting streets, they become part of the street. The life of the sidewalk enters a box and resumes intact a few minutes later, on the sidewalk above. More than elevators, they are vertical ferries.

Charles McClure, a manager at North American, blames the bikers for disrupting his smooth operation. He describes frightened monthly customers pushed into corners in bike-filled elevators and workers who put in hours scrubbing tire-scarred walls. "We're just trying to protect our property and the people that use the parking garage," McClure says. "We have nothing against the messengers."

Rivera, for his part, points the finger at "rookies and young idiots who blow it for the rest of us." But most messengers have adjusted easily: they now ride the escalators that run alongside the Bunker Hill Steps. The messengers, wearing helmets and backpacks and steadying their bikes on the moving stairway, have melded quietly into the daytime crowds of tourists and office workers on the graceful steps, and nobody's operation seems to be threatened.

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