In light of the recent report by SmartGrowth America and George Washington University stating that Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a “major” walkable urban area, and having been inspired by a stage piece in which a young man talks about his conquest over obesity, and also because I had two rum and Cokes on the airplane… last week I walked home from LAX. Walked. From United terminal 7 to Santa Monica. According to online estimates, that’s about eight and half miles. It wasn’t the pentathlon, but near the end I was hurting all the same.
Whether people ever do that, ever leave LAX and return home by foot instead of in a vehicle, I can tell you that it’s no small feat even to attempt to walk out of LAX. I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was a sidewalk that gets you to Sepulveda Boulevard. I didn’t know either until a pleasant young man at the airport removed his Beats headphones and guided me to it. I was on my way.
Here I should note that I carried no real luggage; I had only a canvas bag with four days of t-shirts and briefs (can we say “briefs” in a family newspaper?) and a script from a theater project I was consulting in Denver. The weather was pleasant, and I had the entire afternoon before I had to be anywhere. “Walkable Los Angeles”? Let’s just see about that.
The first thing you notice is that there are lots of gaps in sidewalk paths. Once I was around that long stretch of Lincoln that wraps itself up against the runways, there were boulevard triangles and areas under bridges that simply are not meant for pedestrians. In other words, one might walk as much as a mile and then suddenly there’s no continuation of the sidewalk. You just have to improvise… under a bridge or through some ground cover. You’re a hobbling creature out of your car exoskeleton.
Then you get up to that area at one end of Westchester, and things are again normal. Sidewalks and street crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signs… there is clarity of way. But with less challenging terrain, you notice other things that you would never see from a moving car. Like a perfectly good lawn chair, discarded and laying on its side. Or a bunch of color snapshots – the old school film camera type – that must have spilled as somebody was moving in or out. For a few minutes, I voyeuristically considered the photos as they lay on the pavement. Christmas at Grandma’s. Somebody with their head under the hood of a custom hot rod. Young people smiling and sitting side by side; were they still in love today?
Now I was near Loyola and headed down the hill toward all those wonderful apartments and condos they excreted onto the Ballona Wetlands. It’s one thing when you’re racing to the airport and zipping past something like that: an entire small city almost literally built overnight and featuring faux exteriors that bespeak a complete lack of caring by designers about what one calls “home.”
It’s quite another to be on foot and walk past building after building, realizing that there often is no humanitarian purpose pushing development other than the desire to turn a field brimming with birds and plant life into a cash register.
Now I’m almost to that bridge over the river and there’s no pedestrian path whatsoever on that bridge. I’m wondering if it’s even legal for me to try and balance precariously on the foot-wide curb running across the bridge. Will I be busted by the police? What would be the charge? Walking to where the sidewalk stops and trying to continue walking?
I’m off the bridge, and now the nautical breezes of Marina del Rey welcome me. Getting off Lincoln and beginning my weave into Marina, I pass through an open-air shopping mall where people in expensive sportswear enjoy Pinkberry and coffees with other people in expensive sportswear. I’m sweaty, and I have a weird canvas bag I’m toting. Parents indicate their children should look away from the strange man on foot.
On into Venice, I stop at a Subway for some orange juice and a chance to sit down. There’s a TV monitor that plays commercials constantly, adding to the already enchanting atmosphere of a Subway shop. Next, I’m deep into the canals where years ago we rented a very small house. It has, of course, now been replaced by a large expensive architect-y thing of some sort. Still, the ghost of Abbot Kinney hovers beside me as I envy the canoes the canal dwellers have parked in front of their homes.
I’m almost home. There’s one more hill, up 4th Street at Rose. I’m going to make it. I’m reminded of a Burt Lancaster movie based on John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” where by the end of the film we realize Burt has been dead the entire time. I’m swimming/walking home from Los Angeles International Airport. Here’s my dog! I’m home. It can be done! But… I’ll need better shoes next time.