(Note: I won’t go into the gritty details of what The Great Los Angeles Walk is but I encourage you to check it out and, if you’re going to be in LA the week before Thanksgiving next year, do it. Because, (1) LA is even better on foot, (2) the walk is a lot of fun while also being impressive enough to lord over your sedentary friends, and (3) if you’re reading this, in all likelihood you’re American so there’s a 33% chance you’re obese so you could probably use the exercise. Fatty.)
Part One: We Made It
Gillian and I are in that part of moving into your dream neighborhood and dream apartment when every time you wake up, it’s all brand new again and you get excited to enjoy the life you’ve achieved. For us, that means living in renovated building from early 20th century in DTLA. And to have a balcony. Our bar may be lower than some but it makes us happy.
We woke up on the morning of the Great Walk with that same giddiness but with new praise for our apartment. “We don’t even have to get on the train to get to the Great Walk starting line. We can WALK there.” Last year was the first time we walked together and it took a bit of coordination to make sure we could get her dog walked, have everything we need, and then get to the hideous monster on Temple (the Triforium) by 9AM to meet up with the rest of the Great Los Angeles Walk (GLAW) folks. This year was a breeze. The dog was already there. All our stuff was together. Giddiness.
Los Angeles clouds are a rarity for which I can predict nothing. There are times, like my first GLAW in 2010 (down Wilshire Blvd), where it looked to be miserable but then burned off to be gorgeous, as is often the case with these clouds. Even hour-to-hour weather reports are wrong a lot of the times because what the cloud cover contains is just as preciously secret knowledge to the people with instruments as it is to those who can look out the window. So asking whether we should bring umbrellas with us, despite all the technology at our fingertips, is not a stupid question. We did but I didn’t think we’d need them.
The weather spit at us during the whole way through our short walk to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, that piddly Los Angeles rain that’s short of pissing but wetter than a fog. Enough to make you hate it. Stupid passive aggressive weather.
We met up with the rest of the people on the steps of the Hall just after nine to see more people than I remember ever seeing. The requisite human interest reporter was there (not surprising given the event exists in the dearth of non-turkey-related activities the week before Thanksgiving and that the person who started the event, Michael Schneider, is, himself, press) and I saw a lot of the same people I’d seen the past two years: mostly active seniors, some middle-aged Angelenos involved in the community, and a few young people who are both. But this year there were a lot more of everyone. It was surprising and nice. This is an event I really love and get excited about every year. That being said, I’d already picked out some of the people that wouldn’t make it. Sorry, ma’am. Your dog is not going to want to walk 17 miles.
After a pep-talk and a brief history lesson about the buildings immediately surrounding us and some of the things we’d see on our journey (down Melrose this year), we crowded the steps of the Hall, smooshed together for a group photo. Gillian and I, perennially shoved to the back of any group photo due to our heights, hung behind everyone else. And then, after a few snaps from a host of cameras, we were off.
Immediately, we hit a bottleneck. While sidewalks in much of DTLA are built wide so families can span the entire thing walking side-by-side (I swear they do it to get on my nerves), the sidewalk on 1st Street leading down to Beaudry was not made for 200 people to pass down it comfortably. There was a lot of moving much more slowly than my size 13 shoes would generally allow (my boat feet need a lot of real estate), constantly looking for places to merge into faster moving parts of the group, and, eventually, bypassing everyone by hitting the shoulder and moving forward. The shoulder being the street and into traffic. Whatever, pedestrians have the right of way — right?
Once we were through that, we passed a mural for one of my favorite graffiti artists. Well, two of them I learned. Eyeone and Cache do a lot of murals together featuring Cache’s chickens and Eyeone’s Zapatistas (which, until I started writing this post, I thought were ninjas — apparently I’m not alone).
After we took the pictures of the mural, however, we’d fallen so behind, the only people we saw that were left of our group were the stragglers that probably wouldn’t make it past Virgil anyway. A not-insignificant amount of panic tickled the insides of my fingertips. Not because this was the first time I’d found myself at the end of the pack (previous years found me 30-40 minutes ahead of Schneider’s tweets at times), not because I’d be lost (afterall, we were only minutes away from where we’d started), but it was the ice cream.
Part Two: The Sprint Through Filipinotown
Scoops on Heliotrope was to open early for us and have two flavors of ice cream just for our benefit: Maple Cap’n Crunch and Corn Flakes. It’s not that either of those sounded so incredibly delicious that I needed to have them. But I didn’t want to get left out. I am a great sharer except when it comes to sweet things. Then it’s ever man for himself.
I conveyed my fears of missing out on the ice cream to my girlfriend who did her best not to roll her eyes at me while keeping up. “We’re not going to have to keep this pace for the entire walk, are we?” “No,” I said. “Just until we get the ice cream.” I’m awful.
The rest of our walk through Filipinotown felt like it was on fast forward with my ice cream anxiety, though we’d gotten a better taste of the neighborhood last year during the walk down Hollywood Blvd. But I did manage to get a few pictures of art, structures, and not people, as is my way.
The first pitstop wasn’t actually Scoops but Valerie Confections, a sweets shop near 1st and Virgil. Their tiny shop was gracious enough to sell the GLAW walkers all manner of delicious-looking treats. Unfortunately, their quaint shop wasn’t made for 200 people to show up all at once and we mobbed their sidewalk table like ants on a discarded cough drop, choosing, eating, talking from the same spot we ordered so other people couldn’t have the same opportunity to disrespect the person that came after them. Nothing on Valerie Confections, but it was kind of a mess.
— Valerie Confections (@ValerieConfctns) November 18, 2012
But my mind wasn’t on the pastries. It was on the ice cream. And while I wanted to just live inside Valerie Confections until I withered away into a pile of powdered sugar, Gillian and I made the decision to move on quickly and leave those suckers feasting on sweets behind. We had a date with Canadian Cap’n Crunch. Because of the maple? Whatever, we wanted ice cream.
Part Three: The Ice Cream Finale, Three Miles In
During our pit stop at the Chevron on Virgil and Temple for some bottled water, the cashier, who may have been all of 18 or 19, maybe 15 (I’m terrible with ages) asked us what all the walkers were about. I didn’t see that many in the store itself but I could see how it would be disconcerting to see a bunch of people who look like tourists of the post-apocalypse walk by you. “We’re walking from downtown to the beach.” I later asked Gillian how she would characterize the look that cashier gave us.
“Disgust?” she began her list of adjectives. “Confusion? Stunned? Is there a word for asking why? There was a lot of Why on her face.” I’d have to agree. She gave us our change but, though we’d entered our conversation with the congenial pleasantries of customer and cashier, we left with something more akin to judgement and distress. She was very worried.
We moved on up Virgil and crossed the three mile mark at Clinton St. “Already?” Gillian asked. What we remembered from our walk last year was mostly the end, a near sprint down Santa Monica toward Ocean Dr as our legs expended the little energy they had left. We shouted and celebrated the numbered streets as we crossed them as if they were the countdown to sweet mercy and, indeed, they were. Blocks were our unit of measurement then and, now, we were barely noticing when we’d peeled off miles. Granted, it was only the beginning but three miles without even blinking is not nothing.
We finally hit Melrose and, instantly, the theme to Melrose Place came on in my head. Although the vast majority of Melrose doesn’t look nearly as glamorous or slutty as the show would have you believe. It’s hard to imagine Amanda Woodward’s sexy backstabbery when you’re surrounded by a working class neighborhood and The Braille Institute.
Once you cross Vermont on Melrose and pass by the Braille Institute, you’re in Bike Country. I didn’t even know the Bicycle District existed until CicLAvia and I’m still too intimidated by the people working at these shops to actually go in there and buy one. One eye-roll and I’d run out of the store, crying, “I’m sorry I don’t know anything about bikes!” I mean, until a few yeas ago, I thought bikes went the same way as soccer in this country: a fascination for children but then becomes an interest only for an eccentric few. I’m just never sure I have enough research to make myself not look like a buffoon and for those guys to send me home with a joke of a bike because I’ll be a great customer story someday. “Oh, this wicker basket makes it street legal? Okay. And the streamers? Necessary for cars to see me? Yeah, that sounds about right.”
But even that wasn’t on my mind. I looked across the street and shook my head. “Those doofuses are on the wrong side! We’re totally going to beat them!” I didn’t see Gillian’s reaction but I can only imagine it was one just as triumphant as mine. We rounded the corner at Heliotrope and there it was. Scoops. With so many people there. HOW DID YOU BEAT US?
It didn’t matter anyway since there was plenty of both flavors left. After standing in line (with Michael Schneider), Gillian and I split the flavors between us so we could also get a scoop of the other ones we wanted (she: basil and goat cheese; me: maple salty oreo). And then we took a bite of sweet victory. Was it worth the hurry? Not really. I mean, they were good and all. But it was an anticlimactic ending to such a spirited hustle. I’m pretty sure we were undercharged, though, so — bonus.
Part Four: Through Hollywood and Awkwardness
We forged ahead. The miles started peeling off and we barely noticed. Ardmore, Windsor, Las Palmas, Sierra Bonita. Boom, boom. Boom, boom. The rain came but only long enough for us to pull our umbrellas and then it disappeared almost as quickly as it started. Gillian got a picture with some inflatable turkeys. We passed by Paramount Studios. We even walked past my mortal enemy, Johnnie’s Cupcakes, without incident (YOU CAN’T HAVE CUPCAKES IN YOUR NAME AND HAVE NO CUPCAKES IT’S RUDE).
By this time, we’re at about the three and a half hour mark. Obviously, we didn’t exactly dress up to walk 17 miles across Los Angeles but the rain made us look like The Walking Dead extras. Neither of us would have even thought twice about how we looked until we saw someone we knew walking down Melrose. Neither of us initially recognized Kerry (name changed), possibly out of a wet haze, partially because she was out of context. We’d seen her at parties, talked with her, commented about how pretty she is, but that’s about as much as we knew her.
Seeing her on Melrose, especially dressed in something more business than her house party clothes, hair did and all, was like worlds colliding. Here we were, dripping with rainwater and sweat, wearing loose clothing, probably slouching like primates as we tiredly walked toward lunch and Kerry was in a clever pantsuit and careful makeup. We must have looked homeless. Which is probably why neither of us turned around to say hi until a few steps past each other. No names were passed. We just spun around, stopped, and greeted each other warmly. Then an awkward pause where we could’ve inserted, “Oh, hey, we look like zombies because we’re walking across all of Los Angeles today. How are you?” But none of that. We just stared at each other like unsocialized idiots. The pause probably lasted for a couple seconds but the end couldn’t come soon enough. A wave goodbye so she could rejoin her party of better-dressed dudes. We went back on our way to looking for our lunch spot, commenting about how we look like giant monsters.
Part 5: Into the Nightmare
We made it to ink.sack in decent time: 9.5 miles in 4 hours. After gobbling down an okay sandwich (with ink. in the name, I was expecting a little more) and sucking down a Calypso Peach Lemonade (for all of you who miss Fruitopia, this is where it went), we set off again into — Beverly Hills.
I can’t speak the name without getting that awful Weezer song suck in my head. It’s in there now, rattling around with that barely-sung choral refrain, the “gimme gimme” reminiscent of early ’00s Offspring (think “give it to me, baby”), and an ability to spin just on that wormy part without letting me mercifully extend the song to completion. It just sits there on my brain, resetting every time I see “Beverly Hills” (which is about every three feet in Beverly Hills) or even take steps in cadence with the beat of the song. That’s where-I-want to-be. A friend of mine finds herself singing “BINGO” to herself when she walks since her step tends to sync with that song. When walking the dirt paths of Beverly Gardens, you have no choice but to fall in line with River Cuomo’s evil genius.
By the time we reached Santa Monica Blvd, that old familiar stretch from last year’s campaign, the rain went from overture to aria. Well, an aria sung by someone that’s not so good at breathing through her notes. It was still spotty but heavier when it came, further complicated by the trees of Beverly Gardens that liked to collect the water and dump it on us without a moment’s notice. Besides the water torture, I also started noticing a weird trend of sculpture that I don’t think I picked up on last time I went through this park.
Just a series of nightmarish figures along the way. With all the money in the world, we’re still placing these monstrous things around? Is this to scare off the riff raff? Why not just put up a gate that tells visitors to “abandon all hope.” Beverly Hills (and Century City): la citta’ dolente.
After stopping off at the Century City Westfield Mall for a bathroom break, using those sweet Dyson Airblades, and getting a snack, we hit the road again, marching our way through the rest of Century City and into the depths of Westside, which is my mortal version of eternal torture. I don’t know what it is about things on this side of LA (I rarely venture past Fairfax unless necessary) that rubs me the wrong way but it does. The Westside feels like the sprawl in the rest of city but stretched out for longer, like the miles themselves increase in length along with the strips of urban nothing on the sides of the road. The miles that had been giving way so quickly now dolefully surrendered. After Sepulveda (which I can now pronounce correctly), the time between miles seemed to slow down to almost an eternity.
I think part of the reason is that I don’t find much along the way to and into Santa Monica very interesting. Though reaching Santa Monica proper was better than the stretch of comparative wasteland leading up to it, it isn’t until we get near the beach that the city has much to offer along this stretch of road. Though we didn’t find ourselves counting down the streets like we did last time, there were more than a few times that we “felt” like streets should be coming soon because our feet and our hips and our old person parts needed those milemarkers to arrive.
Part 6: We Made It
And they did at last. We got down to less than a mile and, had this been on a day that decided early on to be the textbook definition of dreary, we would’ve seen the sunset into the ocean. Both times I’ve completed GLAW before, it was always in the dark or with an unimpressive sliver of the sun left above the water. It just seems like this sunset and I can’t get on the same page.
Getting to the end of a 17-mile walk doesn’t get old, though. Three times I’ve done this and three times I get that same rush of relief that it’s over and accomplishment that I just walked across most of the width of this vast city. The weird thing about my doing GLAW is that I originally started because I wanted to meet new people but, by the time the whole thing is over, my body wants nothing to do with the exhaustion that comes with socializing. The after-parties always sound like a good idea until I actually finish. And then all I want to do is get on that 733 and head back into town. Or at least my version of “town.”
So instead of heading to Wokano with the GLAW survivors (while I didn’t hear of any actual casualties, there were a lot fewer people in the After picture than there were in the Before), Gillian and I got a warm beverage at the Coffee Bean up the street and almost missed our bus back into downtown. We rode down Venice Blvd the whole way, looking at the buildings and sights in the dark, already ready for next year’s trip and commenting on whether this should be the path. I wouldn’t mind ending up in Venice Beach after three trips to Santa Monica. I’m not sure what the sights are but I’m sure there’s enough history to spare for a walk.
Although in the end, I’m not sure I care where the walk is. I like it too much to not do it. As long as it’s not Ventura. I’m not going to the Valley. I’m talking to you, Schneider.