From East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte
On Friday evenings, usually after dinner, your father takes out his money clip and hands you your allowance. For helping with the lawn, dragging out the trash cans, and picking up the dogs’ shit all week, you receive five dollars. He enjoys telling you not to spend it all in one place.
On Saturday mornings, your mother turns the bathroom into a hair salon, her clients a few holdovers from her former life as a beautician. The ladies arrive early and are there until the middle of the day, the house filling with the acrid smell of permanent-wave solution, the steady noise from the salon-style hair dryer that sits on the kitchen table and fits over their heads like a golden space helmet.
Your father works every weekend. (While he’ll claim that Saturday money at time-and-a-half, double-time on Sundays, is too good to pass up, later on you’ll have to understand that he simply preferred his life at the supermarket, a life where he was free to order everyone around as he pleased.) He leaves before dawn, and doesn’t return until your mother’s ladies have gone.
This is why you’re free to roam around on Saturday mornings. Golfland opens at 10, and if you’re not out of the house by 9:30, you feel hopelessly behind schedule. You tell your mother that you’ll be back, choosing a moment where she’s too preoccupied with a curling iron or applying hair dye to ask where you’re going. You retrieve your bicycle from the shed where the lawnmower is stored. You wind the length of duct-taped chain around the seat post and secure it with the fat Master lock. You leave through the side gate, stomping your feet at the dogs to keep them inside.
These morning rides are crisp, the air cold against your forearms, your hands starting to ache. (You don’t have the black, knit gloves that you’ll eventually copy off the riders in BMX Action; and you can’t ride with both hands in your pockets instead of on the handlebars.) You pedal west on Parkway, the lock knocking against the frame as you pedal, the sun at your back, low and bright. You continue until the street ends.
There you veer onto the bike path, the San Gabriel River to your left. In the summer, the river reduces to a series of stagnant puddles. In wintertime, collected rain rushes past sandy islands, overturned shopping carts, and clusters of leafy bamboo. The water cascades over concrete retainers meant to slow it, and it eddies around bunches of wild carp. Sometimes you spot a crane, a shard of white against the green, before it opens its wings and leaps effortlessly into flight. Aside from the occasional team of ten-speeders, who blur past in a whiz of neatly clicking gears and coordinated blue Lycra, you are alone.
When you reach the 60 Freeway, you are minutes away from Golfland, and this excitement is uncontainable. The trail dips downward and you pedal your hardest, gaining double speed. When you’re under the freeway, the unceasing roar of cars overhead, you shout as loud as you can.
Excerpted from Michael Jaime-Becerra’s “1181 Durfee Avenue,” in East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte, edited by Romeo Guzmán, Carribean Fragoza, Alex Sayf Cummings, and Ryan Reft, with permission of the publisher, Rutgers University Press.