Visit the Venice Electric Light Parade for a COVID-19 escape
Go to the Venice Electrical Gentle Parade for a COVID-19 escape
It’s Sunday nearing sundown and the each day carnival that’s the Venice Seaside Boardwalk ought to be winding down, besides right here at Windward Plaza Park extra individuals are streaming in than heading for his or her vehicles. They usually’re all on wheels.
Sebastian “The Gentle Man” Butler (“Get lit or get hit”) is in his normal 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 using a bicycle in circles across the park, weaving out and in of the gang, his skates balanced awkwardly on the pedals. And a glamorous girl with lengthy, auburn locks is frantically tying yet one more material butterfly onto a bicycle so laden with purple and pink wings, lights and streamers it’s exhausting to inform there’s a motorbike there in any respect.
Close by, surrounded by music at chest-thrumming quantity, James Lightning, a tall, imposing man finest generally known as 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 dishevelled jacket and pants, and folks talk about 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 known as “Roller Dreams.” Awestruck individuals level him out in whispers, giving him huge 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 methods 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 facility to summon the Gentle 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 shade and fluorescent exercise garments in a shade he calls highlighter yellow. Even the soles of his sneakers 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, timber, fish and, after all, bicycles. The Captain, a.ok.a. Marcus Gladney, 46, is the founding father of this 5-year-old weekly descent into joyful insanity, the Venice Electrical Gentle Parade, which takes place every Sunday at nightfall, open to anybody with wheels and a need 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 huge seaside bike, Large Crimson, which seems 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. Not like Mad, Gladney’s bike isn’t motorized; he has to pedal and maintain 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 gang, 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 Large Crimson glow like a celestial being, and there’s a momentary, dumbfounded hush. Then he’s off, using west on the bike path towards the Santa Monica Pier, with at the least 100 different dazzling riders whooping and zooming in his wake.
The Electrical Gentle Parade, arguably one among L.A.’s least recognized and most beloved traditions, is Gladney’s brainchild, and he tends it faithfully each Sunday. The one occasions 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 observe a then-girlfriend’s Hollywood desires and partly to discover a area of interest for himself.
After six months, she’d had sufficient and went residence.
“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 daily, all day, he spent his time at Venice Seaside. “I used to be having fun with the tradition, the boardwalk, the individuals, the music, the incense burning. … Venice Seaside is my coronary heart.”
He wasn’t bicycling at that time; he hadn’t since he was a child. And daily, 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 residence was lonely — a small residence with nothing to do — and after a number of weeks, Gladney mentioned he bought 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 using bicycles with lights on their wheels. It was a tremendous sight. I requested a man, ‘The place do you get these lights from? And he mentioned, ‘Sebastian the Gentle Man.’ And the subsequent day, I purchased a motorbike and began using.”
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 vital, Gladney had discovered a buddy, hanging out with Butler as he offered his LEDs and finally serving to him set up lights on prospects’ wheels. Butler used his personal light-decorated bike to lure prospects, and Gladney quickly discovered the Gentle Man had a following amongst native celebrities who most well-liked to experience their bikes at night time, beneath 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 might price 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 known as ‘The Late Late Show,’” Gladney recalled. “I mentioned, ‘Who’s going to be as much as watch it?’ And he mentioned, ‘Hopefully all people, 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 using in these hard-soled gown sneakers, his toes slipping off the pedals, and I used to be considering to myself, ‘Please don’t wreck on my bike.’”
After the Corden encounter, Gladney mentioned he started to see many extra LED prospects. 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.” Folks reacted with delight, Butler bought extra gross sales, and Gladney had an epiphany.
“These lights make individuals blissful. They made me actually blissful 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 Gentle Parade started in November 2015: Gladney using his bike within the Venice nightfall, inviting others to affix, at no cost, each Sunday at sundown.
The primary group had about 60 riders, but it surely 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 simply 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 exhausting 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 immediately makes good 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 achieve Santa Monica Pier, the place we experience beneath and into the car parking zone, weaving previous startled drivers and drained beachgoers looking for their vehicles. It’s each stunning and absurd. Households with excited kids wave and name as we head again to the Santa Monica boardwalk after which, a brief distance from the tony Shutters lodge, we go 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 modifications relying on the place you experience, since each fourth bike appears to have its personal sound system. For those who gawk an excessive amount of, you fall behind, and Pablo Nieves, one among Gladney’s many parade highway displays, 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 using his bike each Sunday is an enormous 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 quite a lot of work. There’s no cost to be within the parade, however a couple of years in the past short-term rental firms instructed Gladney that their tenants needed to affix 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 stay in downtown L.A., so that they lease a big storage unit in Venice, a couple of mile from the boardwalk, and maintain all their bikes there.
Organising takes time and effort. They arrive in Venice a few hours earlier than the parade begins to examine in renters and get them comfy 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. Throughout the top 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 entice eyeballs. He’s additionally began designing and constructing autos 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 probably the most ladies … or most guys,” he mentioned.
The pandemic shut down Burning Man this yr, however Gladney has even larger targets. “I’ve been doing the parade for 5 years, and I do know I can’t do it without end.” Ultimately, he’d love to steer night time rides in different components of town, to advertise protected biking at night time, however greater than something he’d prefer to create an animated tv present primarily based on the Venice Electrical Gentle Parade.
“It will function us in actual time, in actual life, using beneath the Venice signal, after which change to live-action animation the place all of us flip into little children on bikes, selling protected biking at night time, educating us the right way 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 accountability and values, “that even homeless individuals who might have made dangerous choices are nonetheless people deserving of our kindness, and that cops are actually our pals.”
Gladney mentioned he aspired to be a state trooper earlier than he dropped out of faculty, and he has a detailed buddy who works as a police officer. He’s watched the protests outdoors his downtown residence, 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 comfortable spot for individuals as a result of I do know all people has a mother, all people has a dad.”
Not like most of the individuals wandering the boardwalk, most parade members begin the parade sporting a masks, however we rapidly be taught it’s exhausting to bicycle any distance sporting a masks, particularly with glasses on. They get so fogged up it’s unattainable to see the highway forward, so many individuals who began with a masks at the moment are using with faces free to the wind. We’re separated sufficient that it feels protected, 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 site visitors circle at Windward Avenue and we’re heading again to the boardwalk, this time towards our last vacation spot, the top of West Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey. After all of the fantastical lights of the bikes, the conventional lighting outdoors the block’s eating places and bars appears garish and slightly unhappy. Gladney walks by way of the gang, 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 need to experience a couple of extra miles again to the storage unit.
Everybody’s drained and a bit subdued by the point we arrive. Gladney arms out a memento shirt to one of many renters because the others limp to their vehicles. However this can be a candy fatigue, and the exhilaration of the experience lingers.
“That is about individuals having a very good time,” Gladney says, “and loving each other.”