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.
Showing posts with label Glendale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Glendale. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2016


When I first arrived in Los Angeles it seemed to me that neon was everywhere. Somehow you feel safe walking at night when there’s neon around, glowing above your head. I’m not sure that you are, but it feels that way.

One Sunday afternoon, in those early LA days, I even visited the Museum of Neon Art which at that point was in a bleak stretch of downtown, on a block where I was the only walker.  The museum closed down not long thereafter.

I tend to think of neon signs being especially used by bars, restaurants and motels, and maybe the auto trade, but the image below shows there was a time when it could be used for just about anything.

Anyway, I settled down in L.A., and then I stopped noticing the neon.  Did it go into decline, or did I just become immured to it?  Both, I think.  But lately I seem to see an increasing amount of neon.

And now the Museum of Neon Art has reopend in shiny new premises in Glendale (so not really LA, if we’re being pedantic).  I’d been meaning to go for a while but finally got there at the weekend.

It wasn’t so very long since I last went to Glendale but boy, it’s changed.  Even a few years back much of Brand Boulevard was a reasonable approximation of a classic main street:

But now it’s rapidly turning into one giant corporate mall.  Arguably this could be said to have made the place more “pedestrian-friendly,” though personally I found it about as friendly as a pit full of komodo dragons. The fact that the temperature in Glendale is generally five to ten degrees F hotter than Los Angeles is no great encouragement to walkers either.

Well the Museum of Neon Art is great, which is to say that the neon exhibits there are great: classic, nostalgic, witty, well-crafted, smart, optimistic. Here are a few of them:

Of course I wanted more, and there is room for the exhibition space to expand, but I wanted much, much more, I wanted to be able to walk among thousands of exhibits arranged over hundreds of acres.   Of course I wanted too much, but it was the museum that put the idea into my head.

I also came out of there with an urge for a drink and some economy meat, although that may not have been entirely because of the neon.

 In fact there’s a newish, hipsterish bar that’s opened in my neighbourhood, The Know Where, well within walking distance.  I’d probably have gone there in any case, but it was definitely that neon sign that first drew me in.


Monday, February 2, 2015


If you have some reputation as a walker, a lot of people assume you can’t or don’t or won’t drive.   In my own case this isn’t true.  As I often say (in fact I’ve said it so often I’m not absolutely sure I mean it anymore), “I love driving.  It’s parking that I hate.”

On the other hand I really do like walking in parking lots (that’s car parks to my English readers).  It feels vaguely transgressive to walk in a place that’s designed for cars not for walkers, although of course people have to walk at least a short distance once they’ve found their parking spot.

And of course most people want that parking spot to be as close as possible to the exit or to the store they’ve parked in front of.  I try to have the best of both worlds by parking in some distant, empty spot so that even though I’ve driven to a place I still get to do a certain amount of walking; a small thing, but my own.

I’ve discussed Ed Ruscha elsewhere on this blog, and I don’t know what his walking habits are, but since he published an artist’s book titled Thirtyfour Parking Lots I think we do know a little about his attitude to parking lots: detached, ironic, blank, subversive, romanticizing the mundane. 

And I did just read an interview with him that originally appeared in Ruscha and Photography.  Sylvia Wolf asks, “Was the idea of mapping a motivating factor in your work?  I see this in Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967) and Ruscha replies.  “The first pictures I made of the Sunset Strip were taken by walking along the street. Only when I could see that it didn’t produce works that I approved of … did I decide I should maybe try something with a motorized camera.  That’s how that idea was born: with Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles when I realized that I wanted aerial photographs of downtown.  I thought, wouldn’t it be great of they were professional pictures.”  He went up in a helicopter with the photographer Art  Alanis.  He continues, “It was astounding that, for less than five hundred dollars, we went out in a helicopter one Sunday morning – Sunday being the proper day because all the parking lots are empty – and photographed all these works in a matter of maybe an hour and a half or something.  You can cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half in a helicopter.”

To be fair not every one of Ruscha’s lots is completely and utterly empty, a vehicle pops up here and there, but even so they’re some of the most denuded parking lots I’ve ever seen.  You definitely can’t see any people walking in them either but maybe we’d be too high to see them even if they were there.

Empty and abandoned parking lots are wonderfully attractive, and of course perfect for the perverse pedestrian.  It’s even better if the lot is attached to a business that’s no longer functioning.  The cars are gone and nature reasserts itself trough the tarmac.

 Thanks to Google earth the parking lot enthusiast can easily make any number of faux Ruscha images, although generally there are plenty of cars visible.  Here’s the parking structure at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Boulevard:

Here’s the parking lot at my local Vons supermarket:

And here’s lot at the LA Zoo:

I became unwillingly reacquainted with the parking lot at LA Zoo just last week.  I was driving up the 5 Freeway when my car started madly overheating and by the time I got to the exit and found the zoo lot (much emptier than in the pic above) the small quantity of coolant that remained in the reservoir was boiling fiercely.
        I coasted to a halt in an empty part of the lot, and called the AAA who said they’d send out a tow truck.  While I waited I paced up and down the lot, but it wasn’t exactly “real” walking, and then a cop in a truck pulled up to see what I was doing.  He could see that the car hood was up and he seemed pretty sympathetic (I guess cops who work the zoo beat don’t get too embittered) and he said he’d send the AAA man in my direction if he saw him.
         And then, in one of those “Only in L.A. moments” he said, “Wait a minute.  Don’t I know you?  Don’t I know your face?  Are you an actor?”
         I said I wasn’t.
         “Well in that case, did I ever arrest you for something?”
         How we laughed.

The tow truck came, my car ended up in a repair shop in Glendale where it would have to stay overnight, and I had to find a way of getting home, which was about ten miles away.  I knew the route pretty well and had walked every section of it at one time or another and so I set off walking.  And after I’d been going for a short while, in considerable heat, not dressed for it, in shoes that weren’t good for walking, I suddenly thought, “Are you insane?”  And then I saw a bus that said “Hollywood” on the front and I got on.  In fact the bus didn’t go all the way to my part of Hollywood so I still ended up walking a couple of miles, which somehow seemed appropriate, the end of a thoroughly imperfect day.  And of course my car remained, parked (as it were) since it wasn’t going anywhere, in a repair shop ten miles from home.  From above it would have looked much like this (not really impressive enough to be a Ruscha).

Monday, November 10, 2014


And speaking of limps, I just saw an interestingly odd movie titled Act of Violence.  It’s a very noir movie, set in and around Los Angeles, shortly after World War Two – it was released in 1948 - and although it has some standard nourish elements, not least car chases, there are some interesting walking elements too.

As IMDB more or less has it: “An embittered, vengeful POW (played by Robert Ryan – he’s the guy with the limp – that’s him above, crossing the street) stalks his former commanding officer (Van Heflin, who’s trying to live a new and decent life in the California hinterlands – a fictional town called Santa Lisa) who betrayed his men's escape attempt from a Nazi prison camp.”  Meaty stuff.

It’s directed by Fred Zinnerman and based on a story by Collier Young, who was married to Joan Fontaine and Ida Lupino, among others, so you know he wasn’t afraid of strong women. He also created Ironside, a hero who it must be said didn’t do a lot of walking.

Act of Violence has scenes set all over the place, including Big Bear and Glendale (the Glendale station stands in for Santa Lisa), but it’s when Van Heflin goes to downtown L.A. for some kind of trade conference, and falls in with some bad seeds, that things get really psychogeographic.

We see the mean streets of Bunker Hill, the Angel’s Flight Railway, the 3rd Street Tunnel (that's it above I think – though, if you told me it was the 2nd Street Tunnel I wouldn’t argue with you).  The city looks magnificently menacing and magnificently unfamiliar, and no place for anybody to go walking at night.

Noir though the movie may be, the poster, is definitely colorful.