Walking Home

A nice little piece in the LA Times about Will Self walking in Los Angeles. LAX to Watts is a significant endeavour. I’ve done it by bus a few times and even that takes a couple of hours.

It reminded me of a day I walked from the outskirts of London into the West End. The Macguffin was the fact that I didn’t have money for the tube, but it ended up being a pleasure in itself. It was almost a straight walk — maybe ten miles — down the Edgware Road, through Hendon, Cricklewood, Kilburn, Maida Vale, Marble Arch. I can date it precisely, because it was the Monday that the (fantastic) XTC album Oranges and Lemons came out, and buying it was my treat at the end of the walk.

Riding a bus gets you much closer to a city than driving a car, cycling gets you closer than riding a bus, and walking — especially this sort of long city-walk performed despite the existence of other options — is just the best way to soak up the feel of a place and really understand the geography. One of the alienating things about LA is that, not only don’t people walk, it’s more or less impossible to get from anywhere you are to anywhere you might want to be by walking; if you have a go at it, incidental pleasures on the way are pretty meagre. It’s not a city for serendipitous wandering.

One of my heading-off-to-sleep thoughts (you can only really do it when you’re safe and warm and home) used to be to imagine myself either dumped in the middle of nowhere — a moor, a desert, etc. — or some known but distant place, and then either to imagine the pleasure of arriving home after a monumental trek, or to play a game with myself, where I’d try to figure out what sort of reward I’d accept for willingly undertaking such an adventure. I’d put myself in a desert on the other side of the world, or perhaps just a long night’s walk through the cold and dark away from the bed I was currently in. Would a hundred pounds be enough? In the end, the pleasure of arriving home — with the memory of what it felt like in the desolate starting place — always seemed the real prize.


  • *nod* Walking has always been the only way I can figure out my way around a new town, and it’s also a treat for me. It doesn’t need to be walking _home_ necessarily, just a stroll from somewhere to elsewhere.

    Can you really not do that in LA? Did they build it like that on purpose?

  • > Can you really not do that in LA? Did they build it like that on purpose?

    I’m no urban historian. On purpose? Kinda, but not so that it would be hard to walk around. LA grew quickly into the huge amount of flat land in the LA basin and the San Fernando Valley. All that space, so why not use it. So you had these huge sprawling developments, with long wide streets, which streetcars would trundle down. When the streetcars died, cars filled the gaps, and it was too late for urban planning on a more human scale. Add to that the fact that LA is a very low city – only in a very few patches do the buildings rise above a couple of storeys – which means there’s generally very little shade from the baking sun. Very little green space, and what there is has to be brutally managed.

    There’s really nothing to match the density and variety of experience that you get wandering around London, say, or Edinburgh. Durham, even.

  • Hi,
    Former Angeleno here. The streetcars didn’t die: they were murdered by Standard Oil and Goodyear Tires. They did a fine job of turning LA into a non-walking, driving-only city. The buses are worthless unless you’re going somewhere close.
    Regardless, check out the story on the murder of the streetcar, it’s a good story. Wish I had a book to recommend for you.
    I love your writing….it’s so….so…thoughtful and thorough. You are gifted.
    I’ll be back for more.

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