Make Santa Monica Weird!

In my book, Austin, TX, has its priorities straight.  First of all, the city embraces non-conformity (hence the slogan “Keep Austin Weird!”).  Second, according to Bundle.com, Austinites spend more money on food

per year than residents of any other American city.  And, according to sources ranging from DailyCandy to Anthony Bourdain, they certainly do seem obsessed with food.  In town for a wedding at Chapel Dulcinea on the campus of the Wizard Academy (??Would Harry Potter be tying the knot here??), I arrived armed with a list of food trailers – complete with GoogleMaps printouts – to hit in the SoCo neighborhood, where we stayed at a petite (and just a touch creepy) 2-bedroom house found on Airbnb.com.

We landed at just past midnight to heat and humidity that hit like a truck.  95 degrees!  At 12AM!  And they didn’t let on for the next 2 days in town.  I was constantly somewhere between drowsy from heat coma to shivering in AC-powered igloos.  The worst part was that I was ROBBED OF MY APPETITE!  I am one of those people who get hungry every 2 hours, which may sound a bit high-maintenance (and often is), but what it also means is that I get a little dose of happiness 6-8 times a day.  It sucked having one of my major reasons for living taken from me.  I pushed on, however, and had 5 mini and not-so-mini meals that day anyway.  The standouts: cappucino-flavored shaved ice from Frigid Frog, mini-corn muffins and carrot cake French toast from South Congress Cafe, Mexican vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and bananas from Amy’s Ice Cream, and a 1AM cheese slice from Home Slice Pizza.

Carrot cake French toast: so unlikely, so good! Credit: K.G. (thank you!)

Partly because of the suffocating temperatures, I enjoyed Austin more at night.  My hat off to the locals: they party like ROCK STARS!  Cramped with people and traffic, the 7 blocks of 6th Street between Congress and IH35 felt like Madrid on steroids.  As a non-drinker and someone who doesn’t function well without sleep, I am no night owl, party animal, or any such synonym, but I had a really good time.  I loved how the venues go vertical and offer rooftop lounges, as we discovered at Six Lounge.  No cover, fast-moving lines, a strange lack of attitude from the bouncer – hell, I got in wearing denim shorts and flip flops (We LA kids have been so oppressed by the door Nazis at home, we kept expecting people to be mean to us)!

Something else super awesome that I want to import home – the pedicabs!  There are something like 17 companies

in Austin running almost 250 of these bicycle carriages, which was quite evident on Saturday night.  Pedicabs piloted by ultra-fit cyclists were everywhere, chauffering revelers around, leaving motorists feeling like suckers.  I immediately thought that they would be perfect for a place like Santa Monica.  First, we have tourists galore.  Second, we boast a stunning coastline that just begs for some open-top cruising.  Third, awesome weather.  Fourth, we are already a bike-friendly city.  So why the hell doesn’t this exist already?

Turns out, it did, for a one-year trial in 1998, to much grumbling from the taxi drivers.  What happened after the conclusion of the trial, I have no idea as no information could be found.  The city of Los Angeles also used to have such businesses, but the last of them shuttered in 1992.  In 2009, the Department of Transportation specifically drew up regulations governing pedicab operations that make such ventures sound downright foolish.  For example, passengers must be secured by seat belts as well as don helmets; failure to comply lands the driver a $500 fine.  This rule appears to have now been reversed.  In addition, there is rather specific language regulating the type of attired worn by operators: “failure to present a neat personal appearance” could cost them a fine of $25 AND immediate suspension of service.

I believe that the desire of the city to err on the side of caution comes from a good place; after all, people have died as a result of pedicab accidents.  However, the regulations should focus on promoting safety and training in the context of a smoothly-running operation, not be so restrictive as to discourage the start of any business at all.  Pedicabs would be a wonderful addition to a city already heavily dependent on tourism anyway; that they also happen to be environmentally friendly is something that should be lauded and publicized, not nipped in the bud.

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