200 pounds lighter thanks to a passion for bikes, community news, and tamales
Alhambra recently took its first steps toward developing a bike plan. Carlos Morales, a founder of the Eastside Bike Club and publisher of The Voice community newspaper, was amongst those celebrating. Biking was a crucial part of a personal transformation for Morales, helping him to lose 200 pounds after gastric bypass surgery three years ago. To support his recovery eight friends and his girlfriend started the Eastside Bike Club. Today the club's membership has grown to a highly diverse group of hundreds from Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Morales spoke with the Alhambra Source about how biking changed his life, and how he has paired it with his two other passions: community news and tamales.
You publish The Voice, a community newspaper that covers Northeast Los Angeles and sometimes Alhambra. What made you decide to start it?
In 2006, I weighed 400 pounds and my physician told me that if I wanted to remain alive I had to change professions. I was an event planner and I had a production committee and he told me that I was eating to get out of stress. So part of the transformation was changing my occupation to something less stressful like starting the community paper.
You're a native of El Sereno -- why did you feel this area needed a community paper?
I was always planning events out of Huntington Park, Maywood, Bell. Beverly Hills. In those cities there’s a lot of resources — there’s companies, non profits knocking on doors.
Compared to the other cities I found that in El Sereno there was a real lack of information about events and resources. I said we can do something better, we can do something different. Alhambra until you guys [Alhambra Source] was very separate as well. I think you guys are doing a remarkable job it’s awesome, it’s amazing. [yea!] A community site like Alhambra Source is a tool that every community needs.
Also, when I came back home from Maywood, Bell, I was a little more aware of the corruption that is out there. And I just think that experience helped me to be a better community watchdog. That's what we specialize in, along with safety.
I started editing Alhambra Source with a background in newspapers and a journalism degree. What prepared you for this job?
I think that’s the funny part, Daniela, I do not have a journalism background and I’m still learning on a daily basis. I didn’t take any photography classes; the only thing I knew was how to build relationships. It’s because of those relationships that the paper is today. We do have lots of community volunteers that help us put the paper together. They’ll write the articles, they’ll photograph the things pertaining to the community. The paper has become what people hear, what they see and what they feel.
Now how does biking fit into your community news approach?
I try to do as much as I can on a bicycle. When we started doing this, people started saying what are you doing on a bicycle? Now the police officers both in Los Angeles and in Alhambra recognize me. A recent police pursuit went through Alhambra and ended up in El Sereno. When I arrived at the scene there were television reporters there. All of a sudden I had two LAPD officers, calling me from home asking if it was me on the news. I asked how they knew, and one cop told me, “You're the only guy that we know that will be on a bicylce in the middle of it.”
You started Eastside Bike Club three years ago with friends and your girlfriend when you were trying to lose weight. What does it do now?
The Eastside Bike Club is a community club that holds weekly bike rides on Tuesday nights, we often hold rides on weekends as well. In the winter we get about a dozen people for each ride, and in the summer up to 60. The people who ride with us do it for variety of reasons: To lose weight, to maintain weight, to socialize and some use it as therapy if you will to relief all the stresses of life.
We also host special rides such as a date night rides where couples or singles have met up in El Sereno and ride to Alhambra for dinner and a movie. Last Sunday we did a caroling ride with the the West San Gabriel Valley Bike Coalition. We met in South Pasadena and toured Alhambra, Arcadia and San Marino and visited all the homes that have Christmas decorations.
We also provide a Bike Safety Riding program to educate families on safe bike riding.
What's your vision for a bike plan for Alhambra?
I am very excited to see Alhambra finally discussing their bike plan. During our treks through Alhambra we have seen it all. Motorists have yelled at us to ride on the sidewalks, which is against the law. Also Alhambra Police Officers need to understand the law (Yes you heard me correctly). We have been instructed by several Alhambra Police Officers to ride in a single file, or to stay to the right and ride in the gutter, which places cyclists in a more dangerous position and more likely to cause an accident and cause injury. These officers are wrong: cyclists have the right to take and ride in the right lane of a street.
A bike infrastructure is needed to keep people safe: pedestrians, cyclist and motorists alike. It will also make the city more business friendly. When people are in their car driving past business districts they often pass them up because there is no parking in the area and often leave and go elsewhere. When you are on a bike you can dash around town and not be fighting for parking spaces. A good bike plan will include bike lanes, shared lane markings and signage, but also the placement of bike racks where cyclist can safely and comfortably leave their bikes locked up.
The Cities of South Pasadena, Monterey Park, and Temple City have recently started to work on their plans. Boyle Heights they just put bike lanes on the streets and painted some of the streets green. I am a member of the LAPD bike task force. LAPD has structured a Bike Education module in which nearly all of it's 10,000 LAPD Officers have gone through this training module. We can do the same for Alhambra, South Pasadena and Monterey Park.
So you’ve got community newspaper and bikes. How do tamales fit into it?
Because it’s basically bringing everything that I love to do. I love to organize events, I love the community, and with the success of our first tamale festival it’s things that naturally come to me and it’s very easy for me to work these things together.
The reason we tied these together is simple: I am an event planner and have produced the 1st Annual Los Angeles International Tamale Festival near Downtown Los Angeles several years ago and was a huge success, with over 40,000 guests attending that event. Last year we held the LA Tamale Throwdown in El Sereno. We provided free bike valet service and encouraged families to bike ride to our event. The Eastside Bike Club used it as a fundraiser to purchase parts for used bikes we loan to community members at no charge during our regular bike rides. We were not able to pull it off this year but we will start to plan for next year in 2012.
One of the things I learned is that if you do what you’re pleasure it’s not work at all.
The Eastside Bike Club is selling Easy Tamale System kits as a fundraiser to raise money to fix kids' bikes. More information is available on their Facebook page.