Sunday, February 13, 2011

"How do you solve a problem like Maria?"

The honking you hear along Park Avenue in Echo Park isn't coming from motorists.

It's just Maria the Goose, out for a spin with her friend Dominic Ehrler.

Ehrler is a retired investor who was befriended by the web-footed waterfowl 10 months ago at Echo Park Lake.

"When she first started following me around like a dog I got goose bumps," Ehrler said. "David Foster, one of the parks people here, finally introduced me to her. He said, 'You know you're being stalked! Her name is Maria.' "

These days, Maria greets Ehrler each morning about 8 when he rides his bright red motor scooter down the hill from his Figueroa Terrace condo.

Then she leads him around the lake as Ehrler pulls out a bag of tortillas retrieved from a store trash bin and feeds the park's other geese.

"I especially look for sick birds or ones that are hurt," said Ehrler, 65.

Maria gets her own two tortillas as she waddles at Ehrler's side along the park's paved pathways. At the end of their jaunt, she stands guard at his feet, pecking and biting strangers who step too close to her friend.

After about an hour, it's time for Ehrler to go. Maria is there to give him a sendoff.

Ehrler fires up his scooter, and Maria steps in behind it. When he pulls out of the parking lot Maria races down the sidewalk, launches herself from a curb and takes off after him, flapping her wings and honking her way for two blocks down Park Avenue, inches from his helmet.

"Oncoming motorists are always surprised. You can see their eyes get real big when they see Maria behind me. She's a big bird," he said.

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