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.

Friday, January 31, 2014


When I was out and about walking, beating the bounds of Hollywood a couple of weeks back, I came across an interesting bit of ruin – an abandoned gas station on a strangely large plot of land, on Western Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard.  There were fences all around the lot, but in any case it was the end of the day, it was getting dark and there were no lights in the place.  But I was intrigued.  This is how it looked on Google earth.

 So a couple of days ago, I went back.  Still, thinking I might do my “every street in Hollywood” project, I didn’t go directly.  I walked down Wilton intending to turn left at Sunset but I dunno, I guess I was enjoying the walk and found myself a few blocks south of Sunset on Lexington (“drunk and dirty more dead than alive” as they say, though not about this Lexington) and I had to back track.  My eventual route looked like this:

Well, in daylight the place wasn’t much more visible than it had been in the dark.  The fences were at just the right height to prevent you looking in, and although there were gaps here and there I could only get a very restricted view. 

Yes, the place was definitely an abandoned gas station, but it must have been abandoned a very long time ago because there were palm trees growing up between the pumps. There was also a huge area of space behind the gas station, with sheds, bits of furniture, multiple garbage cans, and although it didn’t look exactly lived in, it didn’t look like it had been left completely to the elements.  Somebody at least went in there and swept up once in a while.

I still couldn’t see over the fence, of course, but this is why a camera isn’t such a bad thing for the urban explorer to have. By holding up my arms and pointing the camera over the fence I could manage to get some pictures.

They’re not exactly the most revealing pictures about who, why, when, or how, but then I did some zooming in, like Decker in that scene in Bladerunner that once seemed unimaginably futuristic, all that “Track 45 right.  Stop. Center and stop. Enhance 34 to 36. Pan right and pull back. Enhance 34 to 46. Pull back. Wait a minute …” Wait a minute indeed.  Was that a person sitting in there?

 Well, the more I look the more I’m sure it wasn’t a real live person.  I think it was an inflatable or perhaps a solid rubber version of the Hulk.  Incredible.  Another ruin deity presiding over his domain. 

I did a circuit of the streets around the whole of the ruined lot and found myself around the back of some brand new building project that’s going up on Sunset Boulevard.  I think it’s going to be a new Target but I could be wrong. I rather liked what I saw.  It looked like some sort of medieval fortress, crenellations, bizarre fortifications.  I’m going to bet it doesn’t look nearly as good when it’s finished, but I’m sure it’ll look better in a couple of decades when it’s in ruins and being demolished.

On a final note, I know that Hollywood has some reputation as a sexy, if not a sexist, place.  I encountered two rather dubious examples of the male gaze on my walk.

First, above, another manikin, some company for the Hulk perhaps, offering to buy junk TVs.  You can see there’s been some serious amateur breast enhancement here, but I think I’d have to say I’ve seen worse boob jobs in this town.  The women on the left look disapproving, though whether of the manikin or of me taking the picture it’s hard to say.

And secondly there was the above example of street art – a “slap” – of Frida Kahlo, kind of nice in its way, but then somebody had drawn a mustache on her.  I still can’t decide whether this is needlessly and superfluously cruel – I mean nobody needs reminding that the lady’s top lip did sprout some serious growth - or whether it’s some cleverly subversive reference to Duchamp’s Mona Lisa.  I hope it’s the latter, but maybe it’s both.

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