Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


 On Saturday October 22nd at 6 pm I’m leading a walk in Sheffield as part of the Off The Shelf Literary Festival. In order to make life difficult for myself, and I hope to make the walk more interesting, I’ve decided to turn it into a “project” that invokes mapping, memory and “emotion recollected in tranquility” – all the great Romantic pedestrian virtues.

The project is an apparently simple one.  I go for a walk near my current home in Los Angeles.  Then some weeks later, accompanied by festival-goers, I go for a walk in Sheffield, the city where I was born and brought up, and where, in my time, I’ve done a great deal of walking, but which is now partly (and increasingly) unfamiliar to me.

The idea is that the two routes should, in one sense, be as similar to each other as possible: the same length, taking the same amount of time, walking the same “shape” on the map of each city. 

I decided that the two walks should be as “circular” as possible, i.e. beginning and ending in the same place, and attempting to carve a circle through the geography of each place.  You can make up your own mind about the deeper symbolism of this.

So I began with a map of Los Angeles, specifically of Hollywood, and I traced a circle on the map, using the very latest hi tech cartographical methods – I drew round the rim of an inverted martini glass.

Of course you can’t literally walk in a circle on the streets of Los Angeles because much of the city is built on a grid, but I designed a route that was as close to circular as possible.  In fact, as you see below, it wasn’t really very close, or very circular at all, but that’s the nature of the enterprise: the best laid walking plans are always confounded by the situation on the ground.  The map (as they say) is not the territory.  This map, like all the others, is clickable and will then enlarge.

The Hollywood walk is now done, things have been seen, notes have been made, photographs have been taken, some of which are visible below.

The walk was arbitrary to a degree and it isn’t exactly a tourist route, but I thought it best to include one or two places that people are likely to have heard of even if they’re unfamiliar with LA: Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Vine Street, and it was a route that from time to time gave views of the Hollywood Sign.  

Having done the Hollywood walk, I traced the shape of that route on a sheet of transparent plastic.

I then placed that sheet over the map of Sheffield, and that will be the route I’ll try to walk there on Saturday the 22nd.

Of course the geography of Sheffield, the layout of the streets, doesn’t conform to the geography of Los Angeles, so the shape of the walk will have to be modified again according to local topography.  The circle becomes ever less circular.  So here’s the route I’m actually proposing for the Sheffield Walk.

The idea, always subject to change and decay, is that as I walk the route in Sheffield I’ll consult the map, the notes, the photographs of my Hollywood walk.  I’ll be able to say things like, “If you were at this point on the route in Hollywood you’d be looking at the Capitol Records building or a marijuana dispensary, or whatever.  And we’ll compare and contrast this experience with conditions on the ground in Sheffield.

I realize that in many ways this is walking made needlessly complicated, perhaps even made absurd, but in the end, on the day, in Sheffield, we’ll simply be going for a walk, seeing what happens, seeing what there is to see.

Below is another map of the Hollywood walk, this time with numbers that correspond to the specific points where I took photographs. 

OK, I admit it, not all the photographs were taken on the very day of the walk, and one of them was “borrowed” from an online source because I couldn’t get a good shot.

1 – Why a lot of people like it in Hollywood: sunshine, palm trees and the Hollywood sign looming in the distance and legal medical marijuana. 

2 – An actual Hollywood walker – pushing (I imagine) a large proportion of his worldly goods in that rather stylish pram.

3- The Capitol Records building – one of Hollywood’s most famous “programmatic” pieces of architecture.  It looks like a stack of 7 inch vinyl singles, if anyone knows what that is anymore.

4 – A graffito painted on a wall under the Hollywood Freeway.  I walk past here all the time, graffiti appear regularly and within days city crews come and paint them over.

5 – Right in Hollywood, right by the freeway, the Vedanta Church, sometimes called the Vedanta Temple, the home of the Vedanta religion in Southern California – Aldous Huxley was a big fan.

6 – The coming together of concrete and greenery.  I always wonder how long it would take “nature” to reassert itself if mankind miraculously disappeared from the face of the earth.  Not long at all, I’m imagining.

7 – Pla-Boy Liquor – I love the name, I love the signs, and this is supposedly where Ed Wood bought booze in the later years of his life.  People who’ve live nearby also assure me it’s one of the more scary, crime-ridden corners in Hollywood.

8 – The question of when graffiti become murals, and when murals become street art is a vexed one, but I think most of us would call this one art, but on the other hand, we now know that every damn thing is art if somebody says it is.

9 – Mannequins in one of the many stores on Hollywood Boulevard designed to satisfy all your stripper needs.

10 – A movie theater in a geodesic dome, and an inflatable Spiderman on the roof.  Does it get more Hollywood than this?



  1. Hello Geoff,

    Very familiar pictures. I live outside the circle (on Beachwood Drive), but I spend a lot of time walking in that area.

    Besides Ed Wood, Tiny Tim (Tiptoe Through the Tulips) used to shop at Pla-Boy Liquor during his 15 minutes of fame in the late sixties, or so I was told when I worked in the neighborhood a year or two later. By the mid-to-late seventies, Yucca and Wilcox was supposedly one of the most crime-ridden areas in Los Angeles, but I heard a few years ago that they've cleaned it up somewhat. I had a friend who lived there about 15 years ago and he said he couldn't go outside after dark.

    At the location of your graffiti picture under the Hollywood Freeway on Argyle, did you notice the chicken living there last spring? I also walk past there all the time, and for a few weeks it was there most times when I walked past. I wondered if it was there by its own choice or if some homeless person had it there as a pet (or a food source). I took a picture of it on the way home from my March 5th walk.

    There's now a better view of the Capitol Records building because they finished the demolition of the old KFWB building and took the fence down.

    Maybe someday you and I will encounter each other on the streets of Hollywood, or maybe we already have but had no way of recognizing each other.

  2. Thanks so much for this Neil, if you're reading. I didn't know that Tiny Tim frequented Pla-Boy Liquor, but it fits.

    I did indeed see the chicken under the Hollywood freeway but only once - and I swear I saw a nest and an egg there too - but that may have been wishful thinking.

    In that same location I once saw an interesting encounter between a punkish-looking female street waif, and a tough-looking old homeless guy. The girl asked the guy for a cigarette and he replied, "I pick up cans to get MY smokes." Hollywood dialogue indeed.