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, January 13, 2014


It being the start of the new year, I decided I would “beat the bounds” of Hollywood.  Beating the bounds is an ancient British tradition, both pagan and Christian, generally conducted by boys who walked around the boundaries of their own parish, fixing various points and landmarks in their memory, a kind of mapping without maps.  Admittedly it was normally done around Easter time rather than the beginning of the year.

As is the way with many traditions, there’s a certain amount of sadism involved.  The website strangebritain.co.uk describes it thus: “Curiously, certain stones, trees or other marker points around the boundary would also be beaten by literally bumping a boy (often a choirboy) against the mark. The boy would be suspended upside down and his head gently tapped against the stone or he would be taken by the feet and hands and swung against a tree … ‘to help them remember’.”

I would do something similar in my own neighborhood, though without the beating, hanging and head banging, but I was aware of difficulties here.  People disagree about where the boundaries of Hollywood actually are.  Hollywood has no absolute administrative or political existence, so its boundaries are at best moot. 

In the early 2000s certain parties wanted Hollywood to secede from LA, to becoming a separate entity like the cities of West Hollywood, Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.  But they conceived a sprawling version of Hollywood with Mulholland Drive as its northern boundary (and trust me, the David Lynch movie aside, you don’t want to go walking on Mulholland Drive), and extending east to include Los Feliz and Silver Lake, areas that saw themselves as geographically and philosophically separate, and very much NOT part of Hollywood.  A referendum was held, and in the end none of the people who would have been affected seemed very interested in seceding.  Google currently draws a map which is a more more limited version of that secessionist scheme.

The fact is that people draw maps in their own image of Hollywood, and I chose to walk the version drawn by the LA Mapping Project, a scheme devised by the LA Times, based on “statistical profiles of communities.”  (These maps will enlarge if you click on them).

Actually this Mapping Project draws a smaller version of Hollywood than I’m accustomed to.  By its reckoning neither the Hollywood Hills nor the Hollywood sign are actually in Hollywood, nor is East Hollywood, which seems to me a part of it.  By their reckoning I don’t live in Hollywood either.  Still, the big appeal of the Mapping Project version was that a walk around this boundary would come in at just under 10 miles.  That seemed like a decent halfday’s walk, rather more with a stop for lunch and the occasional diversion for poking around. 

The route was simple enough – a couple of miles along Franklin Avenue, where Joan Didion lived, where Janis Joplin died, then a left turn south on Fairfax and another onto Fountain.  When Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis the best way an aspiring actress could get into Hollywood, Bette replied, "Take Fountain!" 

Then an odd dogleg via Sycamore to get on to La Brea; the dogleg required because of the very specific, and odd, boundary of the city of West Hollywood, which abuts Hollywood proper. Then Melrose, past Paramount Studios and across Bronson Avenue – from which Charles (nee Buchinsky) took his name.  Finally another left turn and a long schlepp north up Western, past Ed Ruscha’s former digs, up to the Pink Elephant, a liquor store that supplied at least some of Charles Buckowski’s alcohol needs, then back into Franklin, and the circuit would be complete.  These are some snapshots and observations made along the way. 

Here, where I set off from, painted on the side of one of those inscrutable metal boxes that I guess has something to do with telephones, somebody had painted an image of the Brooklyn Bridge.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

And there was this very cool, battered Cadillac displaying itself in the Gelson’s parking lot (which I thought was a good harbinger), and the hotdog delivery truck in the background was reassuring that not everybody in this city is a health nut.

Further along Franklin, a Hollywood sign, though not of course THE Hollywood sign. 

The truth is, you can find signs of Hollywood and Hollywood signs all over the place.  That’s one of my favorites above, seen on a different walk, in downtown L.A.

Above is a novel technique to stop people parking in a red zone.  You designate it “douche parking” so that if anybody parks there, they’re by definition a douche.  “Wait,” the would-be parker thinks, “I’m not a douche, this isn’t the place for me.”  I wonder if it works.

Here on Fountain, a dumpster with a quotation from Carlos Castenada on the side.  I was going to write, “surely the only dumpster in town with a quotation from Carlos Castenada,” but this town being as it is, it seems perfectly possible that there’s more than one.  This is the kind of thing that makes Hollywood lovable.

And there’s the kind of thing that makes it less lovable.  Do we, does anyone, really need “a canine social club?”  Well of course the answer is no, but you can be sure this isn’t the only one in this town.

Fortunately on Melrose there was a good old fashioned bookstore, made even more appealing by being illuminated by a sort of magical light, though the guy behind the counter said he thought the store wasn’t likely to be in business in nine months time.

The light was also picking up this beautifully painted pawn shop.  I guess if you have to go to a pawn shop you might as well go to one with an eye-catching paintjob.  The sign saying “collectables” is especially intriguing.

And as is the way with magical light, it soon fades.  Here’s the Pink Elephant by night.  Yes, it is next door to a store that sells used appliances.  And yes, that is the Griffith Park Observatory behind it, illuminated on high.  “While the city was busy we wanted to rest/She decided to drive up to observatory crest,” as the song has it, but I didn’t.

I went to touch base and complete the circuit, take another look at Brooklyn Bridge by night.  It now seemed a lot more appropriate - sort of.

You know each year at about this time I think, this could be the year when I walk systematically along every street in Hollywood.  At this point, I’ve lived here long enough that I believe I probably have walked down every street in Hollywood, though I may have missed the odd one, so doing it systematically, marking it out on the map, filling in the grid, does have it’s appeal, the problem is that in the end I’m not a very systematic walker.   But who knows, maybe this will be the year.

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