Go to the Venice Electrical Mild Parade for a COVID-19 escape
It’s Sunday nearing sundown and the day by day carnival that’s the Venice Seashore Boardwalk ought to be winding down, besides right here at Windward Plaza Park extra individuals are streaming in than heading for his or her automobiles. They usually’re all on wheels.
Sebastian “The Mild Man” Butler (“Get lit or get hit”) is in his standard Sunday spot, promoting $40 strips of LED lights and serving to prospects with set up. Close by, a lanky man with shaggy silver hair and in-line skates is driving a bicycle in circles across the park, weaving out and in of the group, his skates balanced awkwardly on the pedals. And a glamorous girl with lengthy, auburn locks is frantically tying one more material butterfly onto a bicycle so laden with purple and pink wings, lights and streamers it’s arduous to inform there’s a motorcycle there in any respect.
Close by, surrounded by music at chest-thrumming quantity, James Lightning, a tall, imposing man greatest often called Mad, stands quietly by his black electrical bicycle that’s towing a trailer with an enormous speaker on the again and an iPad hooked up to the entrance so he can simply management his tunes and his lights. He’s dressed all in black, from his helmet to his masks to his saggy jacket and pants, and other people discuss him reverentially as a result of he’s a Venice legend, the person credited with making in-line skating an artwork on the boardwalk within the Eighties and lauded in a documentary about that point referred to as “Roller Dreams.” Awestruck individuals level him out in whispers, giving him broad berth, and Mad, who’s pleasant to anybody who approaches him, in any other case lets his music do the speaking.
Extra bikes with sound programs arrive, blaring R&B and salsa, together with individuals on skateboards sporting elaborately lit-up backpacks. Because the sky darkens, the lights get flashier, and the din makes all conversations shouted.
And within the midst of the cacophony strides maybe the one man with the ability to summon the Mild Man and Mad and almost 300 different individuals from throughout Southern California on this Labor Day weekend. He’s sporting spherical light-up glasses that twirl with coloration and fluorescent exercise garments in a coloration he calls highlighter yellow. Even the soles of his footwear are flashing fluorescent.
That is the Captain, recognizable by his lengthy, white dreadlocks woven with beads and hair jewellery that symbolize the issues he loves — horses, bushes, fish and, after all, bicycles. The Captain, a.okay.a. Marcus Gladney, 46, is the founding father of this 5-year-old weekly descent into joyful insanity, the Venice Electrical Mild Parade, which takes place every Sunday at nightfall, open to anybody with wheels and a want for enjoyable.
As sundown approaches, the voices and music merge right into a quieter hum; we’re ready for the sign to begin. Dozens of individuals on one, two and 4 wheels are turning on their lights and searching expectantly towards Gladney’s large seaside bike, Massive Pink, which appears prefer it’s been dipped in LED lights — 5,000 to be precise — wrapped across the spokes and handlebars and each inch of body. Like Mad, Gladney has a trailer hooked up to his bike to hold his audio system and a battery to energy his lights. In contrast to Mad, Gladney’s bike is just not motorized; he has to pedal and preserve on the entrance of the pack.
The sign comes about 7 p.m. Gladney performs the parade’s theme track — “Sundays@Sunset” by his girlfriend’s daughter Meilin Chen Fefee and William Barry — as individuals jostle towards the entrance of the group, after which Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” blares from Gladney’s speaker, one of many official begin songs for the parade. Gladney flips on his lights, making Massive Pink glow like a celestial being, and there’s a momentary, dumbfounded hush. Then he’s off, driving west on the bike path towards the Santa Monica Pier, with no less than 100 different dazzling riders whooping and zooming in his wake.
The Electrical Mild Parade, arguably one in all L.A.’s least recognized and most beloved traditions, is Gladney’s brainchild, and he tends it faithfully each Sunday. The one instances it’s been canceled have been for rain or for a couple of months this spring, when the seashores have been closed because of the coronavirus.
Gladney mentioned he was 40, proprietor of a carpet-cleaning and water-extraction enterprise, when he left his hometown of Kansas Metropolis, Mo., to maneuver to Los Angeles in 2014, partly to comply with a then-girlfriend’s Hollywood goals and partly to discover a area of interest for himself.
After six months, she’d had sufficient and went dwelling.
“I’m nonetheless right here,” Gladney mentioned.
These first few months after their breakup have been lonely, Gladney mentioned. He didn’t know anybody. However each day, all day, he spent his time at Venice Seashore. “I used to be having fun with the tradition, the boardwalk, the individuals, the music, the incense burning. … Venice Seashore is my coronary heart.”
He wasn’t bicycling at that time; he hadn’t since he was a child. And each day, he’d go away the seaside at sundown, “as a result of everybody mentioned, ‘Don’t be in Venice after sundown; it will get loopy.’”
However dwelling was lonely — a small condo with nothing to do — and after a number of weeks, Gladney mentioned he received curious. “I made up my thoughts to remain on the seaside and see what occurs at night time. And that’s after I began seeing all these individuals driving bicycles with lights on their wheels. It was an incredible sight. I requested a man, ‘The place do you get these lights from? And he mentioned, ‘Sebastian the Mild Man.’ And the subsequent day, I purchased a motorcycle and began driving.”
Then he discovered Butler and spent $20 that night time on two 7-foot strings of LED lights to wrap round his wheel spokes. Extra necessary, Gladney had discovered a good friend, hanging out with Butler as he bought his LEDs and ultimately serving to him set up lights on prospects’ wheels. Butler used his personal light-decorated bike to lure prospects, and Gladney quickly realized the Mild Man had a following amongst native celebrities who most popular to experience their bikes at night time, below cowl of darkness.
“I used to be amazed in any respect the celebrities he knew,” Gladney mentioned. One night time, three males in fits requested how a lot it could value to lease their bikes for a scene in a brand new late-night speak present. “I checked out Sebastian and he mentioned, ‘$100 apiece.’”
The next night at Windward Plaza a British man stepped out of a black Mercedes-Benz. “He launched himself as James Corden and mentioned he was beginning a brand new present referred to as ‘The Late Late Show,’” Gladney recalled. “I mentioned, ‘Who’s going to be as much as watch it?’ And he mentioned, ‘Hopefully everyone, mate.’”
Corden got on Gladney’s bike, and the plan was for him to experience it in circles across the plaza for the cameras. “He was driving in these hard-soled gown footwear, his ft slipping off the pedals, and I used to be pondering to myself, ‘Please don’t wreck on my bike.’”
After the Corden encounter, Gladney mentioned he started to see many extra LED potentialities. He put a number of strands of lights on his wheels and body, mixing crimson and yellow “so the bike appeared prefer it was on fireplace.” Individuals reacted with delight, Butler received extra gross sales, and Gladney had an epiphany.
“These lights make individuals comfortable. They made me actually comfortable after I first noticed them,” he mentioned, “so I requested Sebastian, ‘Has anybody ever began an organized biking occasion with lights?’ And no one had, as a result of no one had the imaginative and prescient.”
And that’s how the Venice Electrical Mild Parade started in November 2015: Gladney driving his bike within the Venice nightfall, inviting others to hitch, free of charge, each Sunday at sundown.
The primary group had about 60 riders, however it didn’t take lengthy for the numbers to develop. Now it’s usually 100 to 150 riders, he mentioned, and on Labor Day weekend the quantity swelled to 300.
“I mentioned, ‘I’m going to begin a bicycle parade for everybody, and I’ll be like Willy Wonka and the Pied Piper mixed,’” he mentioned. “Willy Wonka is my favourite, my absolute favourite, with all the colours and magic and making individuals really feel welcome. … I’m speaking the Gene Wilder model now, the opposite is just too darkish.”
Using within the parade is each thrilling and terrifying, all these glimmering bikes jockeying for place on a path that feels too slim to accommodate us all. Bystanders holding cellphones line the path, grinning or gaping on the passing present, and as soon as once more it’s arduous to know the place to look, on the noisy, glittering line of cyclists or the myriad faces as we whiz previous.
All of it appears so surreal that Gladney’s Willy Wonka obsession out of the blue makes excellent sense, particularly the 1971 film’s title song, which begins:
“Include me and also you’ll be
In a world of pure creativeness….”
It doesn’t take lengthy to succeed in Santa Monica Pier, the place we experience beneath and into the car parking zone, weaving previous startled drivers and drained beachgoers looking for their automobiles. It’s each lovely and absurd. Households with excited youngsters wave and name as we head again to the Santa Monica boardwalk after which, a brief distance from the tony Shutters resort, we move a unadorned girl writhing to some music solely she will hear, seemingly oblivious to the snickering individuals close by or the stream of lighted bikes.
The music of the parade adjustments relying on the place you experience, since each fourth bike appears to have its personal sound system. If you happen to gawk an excessive amount of, you fall behind, and Pablo Nieves, one in all Gladney’s many parade highway screens, gently encourages you to maintain up.
Nieves describes himself as a disabled veteran who boxed for the U.S. Military and earned titles because the European champion. He’s 64 now and will get Botox photographs each 30 days to assist relieve his horrible complications. However driving his bike each Sunday is a giant assist too.
“I assist Marcus. Marcus is my buddy,” says Nieves. “And I’m right here each Sunday at sundown. I inform individuals, it’s the place to be anytime you wish to get out of your head.”
All of it appears lighthearted, however for Gladney and his partner-girlfriend, Sherry Fefee, Sundays are loads of work. There’s no cost to be within the parade, however a couple of years in the past short-term rental corporations informed Gladney that their tenants wished to hitch the parade however couldn’t discover bikes to experience. Most seaside rental retailers shut at sundown, so Gladney made the plunge: He bought 15 bikes, wrapped them with lights and rents them out for $80 an evening. He and Fefee reside in downtown L.A., in order that they lease a big storage unit in Venice, a few mile from the boardwalk, and preserve all their bikes there.
Establishing takes time and effort. They arrive in Venice a few hours earlier than the parade begins to verify in renters and get them snug on their bikes.
Gladney calls Fefee the “spine” of his parade, and their Sunday routine is about like clockwork. Fefee additionally works 12-hour shifts as a nursing director in Orange County. In the course of the peak of the pandemic she was getting 15 to 18 calls an evening about COVID sufferers, he mentioned, so whereas the parade is figure, it’s additionally remedy. “She wants the parade to clear her thoughts.”
Gladney markets the parade and the bike leases on social media, and even had a Muppet-style puppet, full with white dreads, designed in his picture to assist appeal to eyeballs. He’s additionally began designing and constructing automobiles for Burning Man, a nine-day arts-and-community occasion within the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, the place fanciful LED-encrusted bikes are de rigueur. “At Burning Man, he who has the brightest bike will get essentially the most ladies … or most guys,” he mentioned.
The pandemic shut down Burning Man this 12 months, however Gladney has even greater objectives. “I’ve been doing the parade for 5 years, and I do know I can’t do it ceaselessly.” Ultimately, he’d love to guide night time rides in different elements of town, to advertise secure biking at night time, however greater than something he’d wish to create an animated tv present primarily based on the Venice Electrical Mild Parade.
“It will function us in actual time, in actual life, driving below the Venice signal, after which swap to live-action animation the place all of us flip into little children on bikes, selling secure biking at night time, instructing us tips on how to be good individuals and fixing issues, like discovering a misplaced canine or serving to a cat caught up in a palm tree.”
He envisions a healthful present like an old-style Saturday morning cartoon, one which teaches duty and values, “that even homeless individuals who could have made unhealthy selections are nonetheless people deserving of our kindness, and that law enforcement officials are actually our buddies.”
Gladney mentioned he aspired to be a state trooper earlier than he dropped out of school, and he has an in depth good friend who works as a police officer. He’s watched the protests outdoors his downtown condo, however he hasn’t gotten concerned. The Black Lives Matter motion troubles him “as a result of all lives matter to me,” he mentioned. “I’ve a mushy spot for individuals as a result of I do know everyone has a mother, everyone has a dad.”
In contrast to most of the individuals wandering the boardwalk, most parade members begin the parade sporting a masks, however we shortly be taught it’s arduous to bicycle any distance sporting a masks, particularly with glasses on. They get so fogged up it’s inconceivable to see the highway forward, so many individuals who began with a masks are actually driving with faces free to the wind. We’re separated sufficient that it feels secure, till we cease and crowd collectively ready for a light-weight. We’re nonetheless pretty separated by our bikes, however some individuals fumble for his or her masks as we wait.
A fast whirl across the visitors circle at Windward Avenue and we’re heading again to the boardwalk, this time towards our remaining vacation spot, the tip of West Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey. After all of the fantastical lights of the bikes, the traditional lighting outdoors the block’s eating places and bars appears garish and just a little unhappy. Gladney walks by the group, telling everybody it’s the official finish of the parade, however he can’t linger right here. Some individuals will keep to drink and socialize, however he and Fefee and all their bike rental individuals must experience a couple of extra miles again to the storage unit.
Everybody’s drained and a bit subdued by the point we arrive. Gladney palms out a memento shirt to one of many renters because the others limp to their automobiles. However it is a candy fatigue, and the exhilaration of the experience lingers.
“That is about individuals having an excellent time,” Gladney says, “and loving each other.”