Monday, July 14, 2008

Walking in LA

I don't know, could've been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing's for sure, he isn't starring in the movies.
'Cause he's walkin' in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.

Now that we're living in Downtown I've become a walker again. This has had a profoundly positive impact on my quality of life, which I wasn't expecting even though I grew up in NYC and walked everywhere--didn't even get my driver's license until I was 30.

When I moved out to LA seven years ago, I did my best to stay a walker. My apartment was just 2 1/2 miles from my job at UCLA and I'd often walk home from work, especially in the winter (cooler weather = no sweating). I was also lucky enough to be just two blocks away from a bodega, so I didn't have to jump in my car if I needed milk or chicken for dinner. I even walked to my gym a mile away (imagine that).

The reactions I got from Angelenos were pretty funny. People who knew me from work would pull over when they saw me walking and offer to give me a lift, always with the assumption that my car must be in the shop. I mean, why else would I be walking, right?

When I got a job downtown and moved to Silverlake, my walking and public transit days came to an end. It took me 15-20 minutes to drive the 4 1/2 miles to work. Taking the bus and train took me 45 minutes. I wouldn't have minded doubling my commute, but almost tripling it was a bit too much, so driving won out. And then I got pregnant and then came the zombie months of baby bootcamp, when you're just trying to survive eight feedings a day.

So walking stopped being utilitarian and instead became something prescriptive, like eating fiber. Something I should be doing because it's good for me. Something to add onto my day. Something to be scheduled. Walking wasn't an organic part of my life anymore. With some predictable and not-so-predictable results.

Of course, I wasn't getting any exercise and even with my short commute, I was spending way too much on gas. But what was worse was the sense of isolation. I was constantly alone in my car with no one to talk to and nothing to look at except for other cars. Driving was lonely as hell. Plus I never got a chance to shed tension from work so I'd get home in a terrible mood and feeling exhausted. And all this was with a total commute of less than an hour a day. I can't imagine what it's like for people with truly hellish commutes, the ones who drive in from the Inland Empire or Orange County.

Then we moved Downtown and wow. Becoming a walker again has profoundly changed my life for the better. Yes, I'm saving a buttload of money on gas, and I've dropped five pounds. But beyond that, I feel like I'm back in the middle of life again. I walk down the street and I'm surrounded by people. I can hear their conversations, I can look at their faces instead of looking at dim, featureless ovals through a windshield.

When you walk, you expose yourself to the unexpected. You're not cocooned in a climate-controlled pod, walled off from the rest of humanity. You get to see a man pushing a bunny down Broadway in a baby stroller. You get to see an older Asian woman with bleached blond hair in Pippi Longstocking braids, wearing a pink dress and using a bright orange emergency rations kit as a purse. You get to see a woman who owns a newstand and feeds the pigeons behind the Los Angeles theater.

I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, "But you also get to smell pee and be pan-handled by homeless people and sweat when it's hot." Or even, "That's all great until someone mugs you or snatches your purse." Well, yeah. But I don't think that your goal in life should be to avoid all unpleasant experiences at any cost. Sure, you'll probably feel safer if you limit yourself to car/office/home/mall. But what are you losing in return? Would you rather be the kind of person who needs this list? (from

There are many ways to increase your daily steps. Use your imagination and come up with your own list:

    • Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend
    • Walk the dog
    • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
    • Park farther from the store
    • Better yet, walk to the store
    • Get up to change the channel
    • Window shop
    • Plan a walking meeting
    • Walk over to visit a neighbor
    • Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding

            I'll take smelly streets and the opportunity for unexpected joy and delight.


            Anonymous said...

            I love walking. Even when I was in Los Feliz I walked, Boyle Heights I walked, I walk everywhere, even when I had a car I never used it. It seemed like such a waste of the outside, but you know the pee smell. I'm trying to get used to it, but it's getting a bit overwhelming with the heat and all.

            Downtown is pretty stinky in all areas, except Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo is great. It's pee-fragrance free!!

            South Park isn't that stinky, but the their are stinky little yuppie snots, so that's just as bad.

            There has got to be something we can do about the pee smell, it's killing me seriously. I was sitting at Cafe Pinot and I smelled pee. Walked to Pete's there it was again. Pershing Square, it's like it's freakin chasing me. And those public toilets are always broken. We need one on every corner or let homeless people use the toilets, they do in NY or some parts at least. I think it's the law if you're disabled that they have to let you use the toilet.


            Anonymous said...

            You know what is ironic? When, back a few months ago we had an on going dialogue about Baldwin Park, one would have never thought that you and I actually share sentiments about living, especially urban living, and how important some of these things are to a higher quality of life.

            yet, more often than not your entries strike a cord.

            I guess part of the points that I was making before were lost in the mix. Developments like that in B.P. are so much bigger than national chains. That's part of the equation, and at times an undesirable portion of what it takes to change the landscape of the L.A. area.

            Either way, you'd be surprised how much you and I think alike, and I'm getting the impression, that our life experiences are also quite similar.

            Li said...

            Hi Chuppie,

            I'm glad you're still reading and weighing in. I agree that we seem to have a similar sensibility in a lot of ways, despite the Baldwin Park kerfuffle. I enjoy reading your comments on the LA Eastside blog, and have to admit I often find myself agreeing with you.

            Browne, my landlord has started having the sidewalks around our building scrubbed down every morning. Let's hope everyone else does it to0 so that pee smell goes away. Of course, it would be a lot better if people had access to toilets, but it's a hard thing to do without the toilets turning into places where people fix and turn tricks. It took NYC almost 15 years to get public toilets up and running.

            Anonymous said...

            There has got to be some kind of special spray or something. Some kind of technology. With all of the advancements in the world, you think it would be something to neutralize the smell of urine. The bleaching thing I see people do, its worse, because that kills everything, so the first thing that attaches to just grows and grows and sadly the first thing is usually pee or doggie pooh and there you go. It's a vicious cycle, one of the biggest menaces in downtown LA :)

            And the rat condos we're building, the low shrubbery (rat flats) and the palm trees (rat high rises), those are all things that should not be in a cement city with lots of density. It brings rats along with the obsession people have out here with feeding pigeons and stray cats.

            The low blocky type plants around Pershing Square need to be pulled out and replaced with something that rats can't hide and plot in.

            Anonymous said...

            Good for you! You are improving your physical and mental health AND saving money.

            Love and Hate LA said...

            I totally agree. Ive been doing without a vehicle since 2005, I think the walking and interacting is part of the urban, city living.
            Sure nothing is easy but with time and repeating it, you get use to it and even start to enjoy it.
            A big plus for me is not just the health benefits but also the money saved from not having a car- no gas, insurance, maintenance, or parking.
            Sure you have have to plan more ahead of time, but oh well.
            With the troubled economy and gas being so high now- my friends and family don't think its so crazy not having a car.

            jim said...

            the smell around the sb lofts and sb manhattan is largely due to dog urine. the area right by the entrance to the five star parking lot and garage from spring street is a particularly potent area.

            Anonymous said...

            What a great read, and something I can really relate too!

            I've always been a 'walker' - 1/2 hour each way to high school; would always walk if it was within 45 minutes of where I lived.

            Same thing when I moved to Chicago because you could walk the neighborhood and there was so much to see and do.

            Here in downtown LA, there isn't as much to see but I find we walk more than everyone else around us. On more than one occasion we have found ourselves in a conversation, "... and then we walked ..." and someone asks if we have a car. Yeah we have a car, but why not walk to Rite-Aid, or somewhere for lunch.

            Anonymous said...

            I used to hate walking- "Nobody walks in LA"- ha ha! But it definitely gives you a different view of things that you don't normally notice. And it is good fat burning- I used to do the elliptical thing for an hour a day inside, then realized it was far better to just be walking my dog for an extra hour (and I lost more fat).

            Love you blog and your thoughts, Li- keep it up!

            BusTard said...

            Lemme tell ya about walking. You may have heard it all before, seeing as you too are a former New Yorker—but I feel I have a relatively rare angle, having preferred to walk most my life, except when I drive back to NYC, or over to Atlanta, or usta drive for punk and thrash and metal bands in a time I will not mention owing to its period dating me—but the one thing that I gotta state is that Los Angeles is coming up on its centenary. As such, most folk here are fat, lazy, ignorant or unable to define "walk" let alone do so. A bit of walking would do most folk well, and a few miles a day is not much. I do at least eight a day when drunk, and I wear out the soles of two pairs of custom-fitted Allen-Edmonds every nine months.

            But back to my first gripe.

            When I were here in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, I walked everywhere. Even in Orange County. And one thing I recognised even back then was that folk in SoCal were rude, owing to their isolation. Their preference to cars allowed them to be rude and run off, and when they got out of their private motor vehicles, they were no less rude albeit surprised when others called them on their rudeness.

            Then the drive-by shooting starting, which I have always felt was a natural devolution to the disconnection.

            In New York, as you know, most everyone has to deal with everyone else. We all knew we were running for a train, or bus, or cab, or something before it closed or he/she left to run for THEIR train, their bus, et al. (It contributed to the "rude New Yorker," unfortunately, and we all knew that was maddening because it was a bit of bullshit owing to the collective laziness of the rest of this infant nation.)

            In Los Angeles, lazy seems to be a career. Like Terri and Dale Bozzio sang/drummed, "nobody walks in L.A." These days, more of the "nobodys" are indeed on the footpaths, but too few do walk. They wander, stumble, stop, block, impede, and all manner of NOT-walk on the narrow sidewalks. It has become worse in downtown, where the working class, accustomed to a close nabe of the same sidewalk people, have been invaded by dog-walking jerks as well as other other mindless middle class schmoes. (Not a fortnight ago, at Spring and 5th, I watched as some well-dressed schmuck ran into two pedestrians—even as a purple-shirted "safety" officer watched and did NOTHING—with his damn dog, and did not even apologise.) On the subway, the lazy gits STAND on the down escalator—too often on the right. (I have learned that even politely passing them tends to inspire audible sighs; what the hell is wrong with this place?!) I usta make a big deal by way of the Dead Escalator series on The Bus bench, but know I understand: fat and lazy taxes the system! If only Metro (neé MTA, neé RTD) had installed no escalators, and then conspired for a fuel crisis: viola! instant L.A. obesity obliteration!

            I'm tellin' ya: if Los Angeles is gonna be something other than a town, then it needs to get over the baby steps bullshit. And that goes for the everyone: get the hell out of the way or learn to friggin WALK! It especially goes out to the privileged, who need to know that this is not west L.A., nor the Valley, nor Wisconsin. Any given block of downtown L.A., transplanted to even the easy Village, would be a bloodbath.

            Time is today that this fat-laden paradise get up off its collective arse and burn off some of that necro-obesity. If anything, get thee big butt and cottage-cheese trees to the library to learn what downtown usta be before Hollywood abandoned it, before the cars creamed the first Red Line, before Central Avenue became the frozen fish market (which, I cannot help but add, is NOTHING like the mob fun of Fulton Fish Market near the piers!), before Pershing Square became a concrete travesty and certainly before downtown became a zombie zone that is now being poorly resurrected by the folk who come from the regions that sucked it dry.

            But start first with this: WALK! And at least do it in a fashion that is not stupid. After all, there will be some several million more of your kind arriving over the next seven years.