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.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I realize that despite the title of this blog, I’ve not been doing very much walking in Hollywood lately.  The reasons are explicable enough.  I’ve been finishing a novel, I’ve been away, and the weather has been punishingly hot.  On the first day of October the temperature around these parts hit the high nineties.  Come on.  That’s not right.

So it was good to get out last week, walk from the lower slopes of the Hollywood Hills and head down for lunch at a little place on Melrose Boulevard - Melrose being the southern boundary of Hollywood in most people’s estimation – and then I walked back again.  It was about a 3 and a half mile walk in each direction, and it did punch a bit of a hole in the day, but that was the idea. Of course I saw the “typical” Hollywood stuff, which in some ways was a bit predictable: the big cacti, the stylish architecture, the cool old cars, the interesting people.  But a walk in Hollywood is never wholly predictable.

As I walked along Hollywood Boulevard, for instance, there was a parade, or I suppose motorcade, of vintage police cars.  My first thought was OK, well maybe this is just the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood on a weekday afternoon, but I discovered later that it was an event “to increase awareness of public safety officers,” and the cars were driving from the Los Angeles Fire Museum to Broderick Crawford’s Walk of Fame star – not a huge distance.  And it’s true - nothing heightens your awareness of cops like hearing sirens, seeing a bunch them packed into old cars and glaring out the windows at pedestrians.

Broderick Crawford - good looking cop.
Of course there was feral furniture: mattresses, couches, a gigantic mirror  There even seemed to be some feral art – though it could just have been a piece of old board with paint on it, but who am I to judge?

Everyone says that LA is the most suburban major city in the world and that’s probably true – but it did strike me on my walk just how industrial parts of Hollywood are.  The industry in question happens to be the movies, but a warehouse or storage facility for movie equipment or props looks much like a warehouse or storage facility for anything else. 

And then right there on La Brea Avenue there’s the Cemex cement works, churning out lord knows how many tons of ready mix, right across the street from the Target and the Best Buy.  How many major western cities have one of those in the middle of a shopping area?

And of course I saw some fellow walkers – not so very many but enough, a combination of the cool and quirky, those who were working too hard at being cool and quirky, and those who were just downright quirky.

There were graffiti-slash-street art, naturally – some Bansky-esque stenciling – which is getting a bit old, surely, although it hasn’t got to look actually retro just yet.  And I saw this extraordinary graffito on Melrose itself:

When did anyone last feel the need to write Bill Cosby’s name large on the side of anything?  And did it have some connection with the vaguely lewd ad for pants on the bench next to it? Or with the pita store behind it?  I don’t know. Every city has its mysteries, and some just have to remain that way.


  1. {Apologies if this is yet another duplicate comment, but I am in browser-hell with Blogspot for some reason. So, I have accumulated a few remarks that don't seem to have been posted at all...}

    I was referred to your blog and your books by the idefatigable blogger, Guy Savage, who says he is your No. 1, but certainly not only fan. I am enjoying your books!

    Now, in what movie can I find that image of Crawford with the...er...reclining lady?

    Regarding your remark:

    "Everyone says that LA is the most suburban major city in the world and that’s probably true..."

    A persistent URBAN myth if there ever was one! Don't believe this propaganda encouraged by Manhattan chauvinists. Remember too that there are 8M people in NYC, and 80% of them DON'T live in Manhattan.

    Aside from the difficulty of defining what is and is not a suburb, the densities found in LA are actually among the highest in the USA. (I can go on about this a lot...)

    West Hollywood is especially densely settled, and when you consider that there is a lot of space taken up by industry, it is still more remarkable. The view of LA as a "suburban" city is very much outdated, if it was ever true. In the forty years since I left it (I grew up on the extreme fringe, in The Valley) it has steadily 'densified'.


    1. Hi - easy part first - the image of Broderick Crawford is from Fellini's "Il Bidone" - which I confess I've never seen but it looks like a cracker from the stills.

      And yes indeed re my remark - problems defining both "suburban" and indeed " Los Angeles." But I have read elsewhere that LA is much more densely settled than people suppose (or perhaps like to believe). One definition of suburban might be the number of people living in houses or "single family dwellings" - and I can't immediately find any statistics online to compare LA with other cities. It seems a pretty high percentage as you drive or walk around, but a city like Sheffield in England where I grew up, would beat LA hands down for percentage of single family houses - of course Sheffield is comparatively small - half a million maybe. And (believe it or not) rather less fun than LA,

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And obsessing on this slightly. I found a list of US city population densities on Wikipedia.


    And yes indeed - LA "suburbs" such as Maywood, Cudahy, Huntington Park, West Hollywood all make the top 20, and plenty more down the list. Of course this is LA County rather than city. And I confess I had never heard of Cudahy until this very moment

  3. {Darn! Foiled by the browser again. So hard to write the same comment twice!!}

    As I was saying...

    I only make comparisons within the USA. We are very thinly settled, and our national population density average is about 250 per square mile! Compare that to Japan or Belgium. We don't have any cities that remotely approach the densities in Tokyo, Lahore, or Amsterdam. Manhattan is a definite exception. (I did look at that Wiki table too).

    I noted that I can go on about this a lot, because part of my job, when I'm doing work, is to make statistical maps with computers using the latest census data. And no, I would not select single-family houses has a criterion of suburban-ness, not in the USA: there are plenty of them in Brooklyn, for example, and not just row houses, but detached wood-frame homes.

    A good book on these issues, and preconceptions surrounding them, is Sprawl: A Compact History. (I love that title.) The author was pilloried quite a bit by the sustainability crowd for his urban heresies, but I think he's a good analyst overall.

    If you are idle, you might find my two blog posts of interest: they have some links and pictures. I think that's all I said. Time to try again...



    1. Yes I remember Sprawl getting a bad press - I just looked it up on Amazon and they also recommended Suburban Nation, which I guess must define the term somewhere within its covers. The authors apparently are "Founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism" - why does that make me so uneasy?

      i am googling even now.

  4. The author of Sprawl is rather critical of The New Urbanism.

    I have been enjoying Female Ruins - makes me a bit nostalgic for my hometown, nostalgia not being something I feel often. I guess it was your mention of the Capitol Records tower.

    Have you ever seen the former Samson Rubber-Uniroyal tire factory (now a jeans outlet?) along the Santa Ana Freeway? It is in the style of a an Assyrian palace or citadel. My only glimpses of it were as a boy being driven to that other fantasy node, Disneyland. I think it set me up for life in a way.

    I assume you are already familiar with the news of the Cardboard Cathedral in NZ, not to mention Zabriskie Point, which features another destroyed house in the desert.

    1. Of course I hardly knew LA at all when I wrote Female Ruins. And it seems the Capitol building is about to disappear behind a couple of new skyscrapers. Zabriskie Point - oh yes. Only seen the Samson Rubber-Uniroyal from the freeway but there is some glorious odd-looking cocntsructions along the freeway near there - I always promise myself I'll get out and poke around - but never do.

      Sometimes I think I'm the only person in America who's never been to Disneyland.

  5. As a boy, I found After Many a Summer Dies the Swan very funny on SoCal, even though it was old then. I read it a few years ago, and it still seemed on the mark. If you haven't been, I'd visit Forest Lawn Cemetery rather than Disneyland.

    But that's the old(er) LA...I don't really have any sense of what's the scene today...