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 Hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hollywood. Show all posts

Thursday, December 21, 2017


I was at a party a couple of nights back and got talking to guy who’d grown up in Hollywood in the early nineties.  He went to Hollywood High, alma mater of Keith Carradine, Linda Evans, Fay Wray and Terry Richardson – to name a broad selection.

And the guy said that any time you walked in Hollywood in the early 90s you were always in danger of turning a corner and realizing you’d set foot in the “wrong” street, and then you’d be confronted by junior gang members who demanded to know what you were doing on “their” street.  The answer, “I’m just walking home from school,” wasn’t a good enough answer.

Of course, he said, you learned the rules pretty fast one way or another, learned where you could walk and where you couldn’t, but there was always this lurking anxiety that you might get it wrong.  
And some people think that Hollywood has become too safe and gentrified, eh?  Yeah, don’t you just hate it when there are no gang members confronting you on the street?

I’m not naïve enough to think that Hollywood is now an entirely safe haven of peace and tranquility, but as you walk around you don’t worry much about straying into enemy territory.  And of course it being Christmas and all, Hollywood looks pretty festive right now.  Even if the inhabitants behind this particular window haven’t quite got into the Christmas spirit yet:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


The days have been hot – pushing 90 degrees – and it’s been humid (that’s known as “monsoonal moisture” in these parts), but I’ve been walking because it’s what I do.  And of course I’ve been doing it early-ish or late-ish in the day to avoid the worst of the heat, and I’ve been walking more or less in the neighborhood, although trying to head for those streets that, for one reason or another, I never usually walk down. 

It must be a few years since I walked past the garden below, with its blue glass decorations.  It’s right alongside the street, and most of those bottles and vases are just a stone’s throw away, and yet they remain intact. This seems a reason to be cheerful.

They’ve been trimming – pollarding, I suppose is the word - the trees in parts of the neighborhood – a huge operation, big trucks, a big crew, a big mess, especially when it comes to the ficus trees – a job that needs doing, and it doesn’t do the trees any harm, they'll be back just as big next year, but of course it does mean there are certain sidewalks where you can’t walk at all.  And it must be said that the guys on the crew, while by no means hostile, didn’t look very cheerful:  maybe it’s the heat, and maybe the one below just doesn’t like being photographed.

Now, I don’t know much about the school system in Los Angeles.  Some people say it’s a disaster, some people send their kids to public schools (which means exactly the opposite in the States than it does in Britain) and they say they’re fine.  Even so, this sign warning drivers that there’s a school nearby, may be a symbol that not everything is absolutely as it should be.

Of course you can’t (and shouldn’t) walk in LA without being aware of the traffic.  Mostly it’s about avoidance, and yet my inner motorhead never quite gives up, and when I see a truck like this one, my heart does leap just a little.

And you know, I’m always fascinated by the wrapped cars of Los Angeles that I see when I’m walking.  I know there are wrapped cars in plenty of other places but I’ve never seen so many as here, and I’m never sure whether it’s for protection from the sun or to dissuade low-lifes from running a screwdriver along your paintwork, not that one precludes the other. Sometimes it’s a full cover:

Sometimes just half:

But how about this one, gift-wrapped, padded, in disguise:

As you can probably work out, this is some some kind of forthcoming model from one of the big manufacturers, being secretly road-tested.  Of course, a cynic might think that under the disguise there’s going to be some big, ugly, penis-substitute of a pickup truck, essentially no different from any of the other monsters on the roads.  My inner motorhead can be pretty cynical.

And of course, the Los Angeles housing crisis rumbles on, and here’s one feller who’s found a temporary solution:

It looks like one of those “forts” that kids build in their grandparents’ back yards, although since the guy was passed out and there was “drug paraphernalia” visible on the mattress, the phrase “not in my back yard” sprang rather readily to mind.

Friday, June 2, 2017


Those of us who walk, and like to consider the meaning of walking, tend to believe that a walk is something special.  We like to think a walk can be a source of inspiration, a form of meditation, a sacrament, a journey of discovery both of the world and the self.  And of course it can be, and often is, all those things.

But sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes it’s just a walk. 

And of course it ought to be possible to walk without thinking, without writing about it after the event, without blogging about it, without taking photographs en route and downloading them when you get home. But you know, we’re all creatures of habit, and sometimes “just walking” is much harder than it sounds, perhaps much harder than it ought to be.

Sure, you don’t want to get into a rut, but when walking has becomes a means of looking, observing, recording, and also I suppose, metaphorically, a form of hunting and gathering, it becomes hard “just” to go for a walk.  Maybe that’s OK after all, and even if it’s not I’m not sure we can do much about it.  We are how we walk: we walk how we are.

Here are some things I saw and snapped on some recent walks within the borders of Hollywood.  They don’t add up to a source of inspiration, or a form of meditation, a sacrament, or a journey of discovery both of the world and the self.  But we’re just going to have to live with that.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


 Nobody would pretend that Selma Avenue in Hollywood is one of the great walking streets, nor one of the great places for urban exploration - it runs for about a mile and a half, east/west, between and parallel to Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard.  But it’s not without interest, because nowhere is.

Back in the day Selma used to a be a place where young men, inspired perhaps by Midnight Cowboy, hung out and plied their trade. There’s still a YMCA in the street, but you can’t stay there these days however much fun it might be.  This is John Rechy below on the steps of the First Baptist Church of Hollywood, which has stood on Selma in its present form since 1935.

Currently Selma is the site of all kinds of development and redevelopment, and I dare say a truckload of “gentrification.”  Restaurants close and are replaced by new ones that don’t necessarily look any better than the old ones, but presumably they have a better business plan.  There’s a stylish barber’s shop, a store that sells only vinyl, and there used to be a tent city of homeless people, but they were recently moved on by the cops.

There’s some curious stuff on the sidewalk:

 Some curious window treatments:

And there’s this, which may be the best reason for walking along Selma – an amazing example of scarcely improvable, ramshackle, improvised urban infrastructure.  It may possibly be a Thomasson (op cit) although possibly not because this thing, however ramshackle and improvised, is actually functional.

As I hope you can see in the above pictures (one mine, one from Google), and I know it's not easy, it’s essentially, two telegraph poles stuck together.  There’s one big, tall, fully-formed pole, supporting wires that run high across the street, and then there’s a shorter pole attached to it, accommodating wires that run in a somewhat different direction at a lower level. 

Two big, tall, fully-formed poles might have seemed the way to go but apparently the powers that be couldn’t find an extra pole of the required length.  They ended up with one that was shorter than the other, that wouldn’t even reach from ground level to the required height of the wires running crosswise.

So what would you do?  Well, what they evidently did was attach the short pole to the big pole but they had to hold it three or four feet off the ground.  In order to do that they used brackets and then a length of lumber for support.  But even the length of lumber proved too short and so they put a lump of wood underneath that as a shim.

It’s wonderful.  It works, I guess.  And frankly this is the way I personally do “handyman” projects – ham-fisted but functional.  You might imagine the powers that be in Hollywood would operate with more style and skill.  The fact that they don’t is somehow charming but also unsettling.  Is the whole of Hollywood held together with wire and string?  I think we all know the answer to that one.

Friday, May 27, 2016


There’s a story, maybe it’s a fable, maybe it’s even in the Bible (in which case I suppose it’s a parable), about a man who goes around, walking in the usual way, looking at this, looking at that, just generally looking in all directions at whatever grabs his attention.

And one day he happens to look down and he sees money lying on the ground.  It has to be a shiny coin of some value for the story to work, so let’s say it’s a silver dollar.  He picks it up and changes his life.  From then on whenever he walks he only looks at the ground, hoping to find more money.

And he goes around like that for years, always looking at the ground when he walks, but he never finds any more silver dollars.  And then one day he’s walking along and he sees something shining in the gutter and he thinks, “OK, at last, more money!”  But it isn’t a silver coin, it’s a fragment of broken mirror and when he looks down at it he sees a reflection of the sky up above his head, and then he looks up at the sky itself and he sees it looks wonderful, and he realizes what he’s been missing all these years.


Well, I certainly look around at thing as I walk.  I like to think I look in all directions (though not all simultaneously, of course), and sometimes I do look notice things on the ground.  I think I have found the odd bit of money here and there, but not much, and I’m sure I must have seen a few mirror fragments.  But it hasn’t changed my life.

And lately, I’ve been noticing things painted on the pavements and sidewalks where I’m walking.  Some of it’s street art, and some of it’s done by guys who work for the utility companies, and the latter is usually much more inscrutable and enigmatic.

Of course on Hollywood Boulevard you have to look down at the ground if you want to see the Walk of Fame and the stars set in the concrete, that celebrate showbiz people.  But a couple of miles east of the Walk of Fame, I found this star that celebrates self-loathing. 

It’s a Hollywood thing, I’m sure, but by no means only a Hollywood thing.